When I speak of the
visionary philosopher, I do not mean him that had
"Read Alexander Ross over;"
but who had seen the great Stewart, who delivered lectures in this country,
on the perfectibility of man, and this student, or disciple had been disposed
to carry the matter farther, and discuss the perfectibility of beasts.
It is impracticable, said the Governor. Instinct has but narrow limits;
and is not improvable, as is human reason. However sagacious a fox may
be, in eluding hounds and catching poultry, the distinction is immense
in the nature of the intellect. I hope you would not think of extending
the right of suffrage to these. There is no incorporating wild-cats and
jack-daws in the community. We have enough to do with men that have the
shapes of Christians, let alone,opossums, and jack-alls, and bears of
the forest that have no reflection; or if they could reflect, would their
keepers permit that intercourse with peaceable inhabitants, as to render
the interchange of civilities safe and convenient? In point of capacity
they would be deficient, and unqualified even for the ministerial offices
of government. But as to those duties or professions which require some
discrimination of meum and tuum, they ever remain totally
What, said the Philosopher, persisting in his theory, have you not heard
it said, that judge this, or judge that, is an ass, that another is a
horse, and of even a juris consult, or barrister, for instance is a panther;
a bear, especially when he is hard upon a witness in his cross examination?
Might it not be practicable to bring a brute beast to be even capable
of filling an office of trust or honour?
I grant that a judge, figuratively, said the governor, may be a horse,
or a buffalo, or an ass; or that a counsellor may somewhat resemble the
ferocity of a tyger at the bar. But that these animals, stript of all
figure, and colouring of speech, should in reality, and in propria
personae, be put upon the bench, or licensed to plead, would be more
than I am yet prepared to think advisable.
You are not aware of the hypothesis of Darwin, said the philosopher, that
man may have been originally a cray-fish, or a flying squirrel?
I am not, said the Governor. And though I do not know that the Lord spoke
all things to Moses that he is said to have spoken; for there may have
been some mistakes in the translations from the Hebrew, as in other versions;
yet there seems to me more probability in the cosmogony, of that Hebrew
writer, than in the reveries of Darwin in his Temple of Nature, or his
Zoonomia. And even supposing the brutal to be capable of amelioration
from one nature to another, until it reaches the human, it would seem
to me, that its rights should keep pace only with the improvement of its
forms; and that we should wait until the elephant comes to sit upon his
one end, and cease to go upon all-fours, before we think of introducing
even the noblest of animals, in point of intellect, into a participation
of civil institutions. The swinish multitude, are spoken of as having
a right to vote; but that also is figurative, and it is not meant that
a pig can be actually admitted at the hustings to give in a ticket; much
less that a wolf, just taken in a trap, should be made a justice of the
peace, or an alderman.
What, said the philosopher, has there not been a time when the beasts
Annosa ab illice cornix."
said the Latin schoolmaster, who had just joined the conversation.
It is fabulous, said the Governorl, I have seen what is called the history
of Reynard the Fox; and what beasts were when under the monarchy, where
the lion was king; and I think a good book might be written, called the
Republic of Beasts, pourtraying the cabals of men, and their contentions
in a free government. But to constitute a republic in reality, of the
four-footed creation, would be carrying matters a step farther than has
ever yet been attempted. In that case I acknowledge we would have no occasion
for the common law; nor tribunals or forms of administering justice; jury
trial might be abolished; for scratching and scrambling would be the way
of every one.
Blackstone has a chapter, said the blind lawyer, "on the redress
of private wrongs, by the mere act of the parties."
That would make shorter work than even an arbitration, said a bystander.
But, said the Governor, to speak seriously, though it may give a wise
man indignation to see incapacity in office, which will always be the
case in any government, and perhaps not more in a republic than in any
other; nay I incline to think less so, which it behooves me to say, who
am honoured with one, under that kind of constitution, yet I am opposed
to the extreme of universal suffrage, to all the denizens of the forest,
as some are pleased to style them, and which phrase may have misled this
philosopher to think them capable of being denizen amongst men. But if
you think the experiment worth making let a number be collected, and go
into the measure with caution, and deliberation. You will see what a conflict
will take place, and what a warring there will soon be--
said the Latin schoolmaster.
Plase your honours, said Teague O'Regan, who was listening, a shape will
be de safest baste to halter first, and try in de plough o'de commonwealth.
If de pretty baste can say ba, in de congress o' de nation, dey cannot
say dat it is de ass sat spake.
There may be a prettier, but there cannot be a greater beast than yourself,
Teague O'Regan, said some one in the crowd; and yet we have heard of you
getting an office; what is more, we see you in one, not just on the bench,
as in a neighbouring state, but in an office though executive.
It is said the Captain,
our now Governor, who opposes the innovation of giving horned cattle a
vote, proposed you for congress, and would have no objection to have seen
you President of the Union.
That is not the fact, said the Governor; I did object to it, but I was
overruled and induced to let the experiment be made; but I never did approve
of such extraordinary advancement; though were I to be guided by what
I see here, I might not think the presumption so preposterous. How much
better are many of you that are in office, than Teague O'Regan?
The visionary philosopher having taken wind, went on. Why need Cyrano
de Berjerac have gone to the moon, said he, to see monkeys and baboons
in the capacities of waiting men, if we had been supplied with domestics
of that description here? And why limit our experiments to what may be
made of men? The perfectibility of human nature, no one can doubt, who
has heard the lectures of Stewart, the pedestrian, who was in this country
some years ago. And why not the perfectibility of animals that are not
human? I have heard a man called a calf, a sheep, a hog, a goose, and
why not, one day, hear these called man? And to accomplish this, I would
admit them to the elective franchise; at least all above a certain age,
and who have come to the years of discretion.
Years of discretion! said the Governor. Did you ever hear of a beast coming
to the years of discretion? Instinct is not common sense: for common sense
is that degree of understanding, that portion of intellect, which is generally
distributed to the human species. Where the capacity is in any way distinguished,
we call it talent; but where that portion of judgment, which enables us
to judge with reasonable correctness, on common subjects, is given, we
call it common sense. A man may be a scholar, a lawyer, a judge; that
is, may have the reputation of a scholar, and may have the commission
of a judge, and yet want common sense; by which I mean sense in common
things. For a knowledge of abstract rules may go some length to make a
man of science; but common sense is judgment in the application of rules.
It is the comparing things; and hence it is that I do not think this philosopher,
though he may surpass the magi of Babylon in a knowledge of the stars,
can have common sense, in urging this matter upon a young people, just
beginning a new government. What would you do with a horse upon a bench;
to eat hay, and dung on it: a monkey a prothonotary, to crack nuts, and
be restless: an ass to quote British precedents, and to say, my lord has
said this, and my lord has said that; if indeed he could not say any thing,
and not rather bray what he had to say? We have dunces enough of our breed
to be doing with a while yet. Why enlarge the sphere of stupidity? A pretty
bar we would have of it in point of order, if elks and panthers were admitted
to conduct a cause; motions for new trials in abundance. The pertinacity
of the unicorn would be unsufferable.
What! said Will Watlin, a constable; have we not heard a bar called a
bear guardian; interrupting one another, troublesome to the court. I should
like to see a cat, and a racoon wrangle as some of these have done. The
mild and the modest man has no chance. All is carried by a coup de
main, which some interpret a stroke of the fist. If I am not permitted
to take up my staff and apply it to knock them, as I should be warranted
in doing, in case of a wild boar, or a rhinoceros, I should take them
across the noodle, as I would have done many a lawyer, if the rules of
court permitted it.
I am for enlarging the sphere of jurisprudence, said Harum Scarum; and
the province of admission to bench or bar. Is any man afraid of the rivalship
of turkey-buzzards? What can check the hospitality of letting all into
the pale of our union? We shall have more to contend against the savages.
Pro aris et focis, said the Latin schoolmaster.
We shall have more to contend against the savages, continued Harum Scarum;
for increase numbers in a government, and in that proportion you render
them active in support of their privileges. Men that ought to think, can
learn to stand upon their heads, and to run upon all fours; and why not
beasts of the wood learn to think? I dislike the having all things in
a common course. Nature herself has given us the variety of seasons, and
revolutions of the sun and moon, and heavenly bodies, and why not in the
affairs of men; and especially in their social institutions as to representation,
In the mean time, about a score of young persons, by climbing up into
trees to hear the debate, or to see what was going on in the centre of
the meeting, were seen by the spectators, and mistaken for opossums that
were turned into men already, by the bare proposition of advancing them
to naturalization; and though this error was corrected in a short time
by one of them who had fallen and brought intelligence of the cause of
the ascension, and the mistake of the transformation; yet it but struck
the notion deeper into the heads of the vulgar, of having accession from
the quadrupeds at the next census of free inhabitants; and a man with
a strong voice in particular called out that it should be so. A bull happening
to roar, and a horse neigh at the same time, it was called out that it
was the voice of the people.
In the multitude of a town meeting, or even in a whole community, it requires
but a few persons, stationed at convenient distances, and dispersed in
due proportion, to raise a voice, and to call out in favour of a proposition,
to give it currency and acceptability. Every one fearing to be in the
minority, will seize the opportunity of coming round to the majority.
It is "the height of ability to distinguish the times," says
the Duke de Rochefaucault; and I know no proof of discernment in a republic
greater than to foresee which way the current is like to set, and to sail
with it: or rather, if you can influence at all, to seize occasion by
the forelock, and by disposing a few frogs in a pond to roar, make it
to be supposed that the public opinion is in the direction you chuse to
have it. Shall a man value himself on predicting the weather, and not
the changes of political events? At least this is the principle upon
which the greater part of politicians act.
The governor finding that he was like to be on the unpopular side of the
question, was willing to ease away, and come under the lee of the Chief
Justice, who though but a blind man could see farther into the nature
of the occasion than his excellency. His opinion was to let the thing
take its course, and in a short time the public would be convinced how
impracticable it was to extend liberty, where nature meant that it should
have limits. He thought it best to address himself to their feelings in
point of interest, than to call in question the practicability of the
Philosopher, said he, there is no doubt, but there is truth in what you
say; and your proposition might be carried into effect with suitable restrictions.
But if we should admit the beasts to the rights of citizenship, we should
have set them free as we have the negroes. The very right of suffrage
would be a manumission; and it would be unreasonable to extend the privilege
to such as are of ferae naturae, and exclude tame beasts. Now if
cattle or oxen, or horses become entitled to equal privileges, we could
not treat them as beasts of burden, or use them for the draught; much
less could we knock down a pig or shoot a deer, or take the skin off a
bear; not even ride a horse, but on condition of taking turns, and letting
him sometimes ride us. Who of you would be hitched in a sledge, or stand
at the tongue of a wagon for a whole night, champing cut straw, and rye
meal, or bear the whip of the carter in the day time? Who would be ringed
and yoked like a pig, to keep you from getting thro' a fence?
These observations, however ridiculous, had more effect in quelling the
commotion, than any direct reasoning; because whatever crosses the thought,
and gives a different direction to the imagination, has been known to
be most effectual in relieving a derangement of the mind.