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Oh for the death the righteous die!
An end, like Autumn's day declining,
With holier, tenderer beauty shining :
From off the Eternal altar flowing,
The spirit to its worship going!” — pp. 58 - 60.
ART. IV. Address of the Democratic State Conven
tion of Massachusetts, holden at Worcester, September 20, 1837.
We have introduced this Address, because it gives us an opportunity for expressing ourselves on the vexed and sometimes vexatious question of Democracy. In common with the great body of our countrymen, we are sturdy democrats; and, do what we can to prevent it, democracy will more or less tincture all that we write. But in order to avoid all just occasion of offence to those - if such there be — in whose minds the word Democrat calls up unpleasant associations, and to save ourselves from being misapprehended or misinterpreted, we design, in this article, to give as clear and as satisfactory an exposition, as we can, of what we understand by democracy, and of the sense in which we consider ourselves and wish others to consider us democrats.
1. We may understand by Democracy a form of government under which the people, either as a body or by their representatives, make and administer their own laws. This is the original and etymological sense of the word; and in this sense, a Democrat is one who believes in, or contends for a popular forin of government. All, or nearly all Americans are democrats in this sense of the word. We have estabVOL. I. NO. I.
lished a democratic government, both for the Confederacy and for the several States; and there are few among us, if any, who would exchange it for another. Some may have less faith than others in the utility or permanence of this form of government; here and there one, perhaps, may be found with an individual preference for a limited monarchy; but virtually the whole people are seriously and honestly bent on preserving the institutions the wisdom of our fathers adopted. There may be those who question the propriety of this or that public measure, who object to this or that law, but none who object very strenuously to the form of the government itself. The American people are not revolutionists. They are conservatives, and to be a conservative in this country, is to be a democrat.
2. By the word Democracy we may designate the great body of the people, the unprivileged many, in opposition to the privileged few. In this sense of the word, a Democrat is one who sympathizes with the masses, and who contends that all political and governmental action should have for its end and aim the protection of the rights and the promotion of the interests of the poorest and most numerous class. The whole, or nearly the whole American people are democrats also in this sense of the term. There may be differences of opinion, as to the means of promoting the good of the many, as to what constitutes their good, and as to the amount of good God has made them capable of receiving, obtaining, or enjoying, but none as to the principle that the government is bound to seek “the greatest good of the greatest number.”
3. The term Democracy may also be applied, as it is applied in this country, to a certain political party. There is a political party in this country called the Democratic party. It sprang up on the adoption of the Federal Constitution, to which it was opposed, and which it refused to accept without some important amendments. It came into power with Mr. Jefferson, in 1801, and has had at least the nominal control of
the General Government ever since, though it has seldom had a majority in all the States. Its first party appellation was that of Anti-Federalist; in 1798 it was called the Republican party ; since 1812, especially since 1825, it has assumed the name of the Democratic Republican or Democratic party. When we use the word democracy to designate this party, we call an adherent of this party a democrat. A democrat in this sense, however, does not imply so much the one who believes in the general doctrines of the Democratic party, and who countenances its principal measures, as the one who enters its ranks, puts on its livery, submits to its rules and usages, and feels himself bound by his duty to his party to vote for its candidates and to support its policy, whether he like them or not. He must be a good man and true, one on whom the party can count, and who will not disturb it by any obstinate adherence to the convictions of his own understanding, or the dictates of his own conscience. In the sense of a member of this party, a considerable number of the American people are not democrats. Some are not democrats because they disapprove the doctrines and measures of the Democratic party; others, because they have a very great aversion to being swallowed up in a multitude that goes hither and thither, just as some irresponsible will directs. We are of the latter class. We do not call ourselves democrats in a party sense, because we have a great dislike to party tyranny, and because, wherever we are, we must speak according to our own convictions, and act as seemeth to us good, without asking the leave of a party. In a party sense, we are nothing. There is no party that can count on our fidelity. In politics, as in morals, theology, and philosophy, we are eclectics, and hold ourselves free to seek, accept, and support truth and justice wherever we can find them.
No party is always wrong ; no one is always right. We agree with all parties where they agree with us; but where they do not agree with us, we cannot and will not surrender our own convictions, for the sake of agreeing with them or with any one of them.
4. The word Democracy, in the last place, may be taken as the name of a great social and political doctrine, which is now gaining much in popularity, and of a powerful movement of the masses towards a better social condition than has heretofore existed. In this sense the word is used in England and on the continent of Europe, though not often in this country. A democrat, in this sense of the word, is rather a philosophical, than a party democrat. He takes the word, not in a party and historical sense, but in a broad, philosophical sense. He distinguishes between party democracy as it exists in this country, and philosophical democracy, or democracy as it should be. With the first we do not concern ourselves. In the second, we take a deep interest, both as a man and as a citizen; and this Review will ever be found its fearless and untiring advocate.
But, what is philosophical democracy? or the social and political doctrine, which may be called, not in an historical and party sense, but in a philosophical sense, the Democratic Doctrine ? This is not a question without significance. It is a question it behooves every American citizen to ask, and, as far as he can, to answer. It needs a deliberate answer, such an answer as it has never yet, to our knowledge, received. Not a few of those who call themselves democrats are entirely ignorant of what democracy is, and wholly unable to legitimate the doctrines or the measures they support. Notwithstanding the much that has been said and written about democracy, it is yet more of an instinct, an impulse, a sentiment, than an idea. The masses feel its and yield to its direction, but they see not whither they are going, and they comprehend not wherefore they ought to suffer themselves to be borne along on its current. They go, perhaps, where they ought to go, but they go blindly, without legitimating or being able to legitimate their course. It will not be useless
power then to attempt to seize this vague sentiment, this democratic instinct, and to do something to present it in a form that shall enable men to perceive what it is, and what are the grounds on which it may be legitimated.
Democracy, in the sense we are now considering it, is sometimes asserted to be the sovereignty of the people. If this be a true account of it, it is indefensible. The sovereignty of the people is not a truth. Sovereignty is that which is highest, ultimate; which has not only the physical force to make itself obeyed, but the moral right to command whatever it pleases. The right to command involves the corresponding duty of obedience. What the sovereign may command, it is the duty of the subject to obey.
Are the people the highest ? Are they ultimate ? And are we bound in conscience to obey whatever it may be their good pleasure to ordain? If so, where is individual liberty? If so, the people, taken collectively, are the absolute master of every man taken individually. Every man, as a man, then, is an absolute slave. Whatever the people, in their collective capacity, may demand of him, he must feel himself bound in conscience to give. No matter how intolerable the burdens imposed, painful and needless the sacrifices required, he cannot refuse obedience without incurring the guilt of disloyalty; and he must submit in quiet, in silence, without even the moral right to feel that he is wronged.
Now this, in theory at least, is absolutism. Whether it be a democracy, or any other form of government, if it be absolute, there is and there can be no individual liberty. Under a monarchy, the monarch is the state. “ L'Etat, c'est Moi,” said Louis the fourteenth, and he expressed the whole monarchical theory. The state being absolute, and the monarch being the state, the monarch has the right to command what he will, and exact obedience in the name of duty, loyalty. Hence absolutism, despotism. Under an aristocracy, the nobility are the state, and consequently,