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as the state is absolute, the nobility are also absolute. Whatever they command is binding. If they require the many to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water to them, then “hewers of wood and drawers of water” to them the many must feel it their duty to be. Here, for the many, is absolutism as much as under a monarchy. Every body sees this.
Well, is it less so under a democracy, where the people, in their associated capacity, are held to be absolute? The people are the state, and the state is absolute; the people may therefore do whatever they please. Is not this freedom? Yes; for the state; but what is it for the individual ? There are no kings, no nobilities, it is true; but the people may exercise all the power over the individual, that kings or nobilities may; and consequently every man, taken singly, is, under a democracy, if the state be absolute, as much the slave of the state, as under the most absolute monarchy or aristocracy.
But this is not the end of the chapter. Under a democratic form of government, all questions, which come up for the decision of authority, must be decided by a majority of voices. The sovereignty, which is asserted for the people, must, then, be transferred to the ruling majority. If the people are sovereign, then the majority are sovereign; and if sovereign, the majority have, as Miss Martineau lays it down, the absolute right to govern. If the majority have the absolute right to govern, it is the absolute duty of the minority to obey. We who chance to be in the minority are then completely disfranchised. We are wholly at the mercy of the majority. We hold our property, our wives and children, and our lives even, at its sovereign will and pleasure. It may do by us and ours as it pleases. If it take it into its head to make a new and arbitrary division of property, however unjust it may seem, we shall not only be impotent to resist, but we shall not even have the right of the wretched to complain. Conscience will be no shield. The authority of the absolute sovereign extends to
spiritual matters, as well as to temporal. The creed the majority is pleased to impose, the minority must in all meekness and submission receive; and the form of religious worship the majority is good enough to prescribe, the minority must make it a matter of conscience to observe. Whatever has been done under the most absolute monarchy or the most lawless aristocracy, may be reënacted under a pure democracy, and what is worse, legitimately too, if it be once laid down in principle that the majority has the absolute right to govern,
The majority will always have the physical power to coerce the minority into submission; but this is a matter of no moment in comparison with the doctrine which gives them the right to do it. We have very little fear of the physical force of numbers, when we can oppose to it the moral force of right. The doctrine in question deprives us of this moral force. By giving absolute sovereignty to the majority, it declares whatever the majority does is right, that the majority can do no wrong. It legitimates every possible act, for which the sanction of a majority of voices can be obtained. Whatever the majority may, exact, it is just to give. Truth, justice, wisdom, virtue can erect no barriers to stay its progress; for these are the creations of its will, and may be made or unmade by its breath. Justice is obedience to its decrees, and injustice is resistance to its commands. Resistance is not crime before the civil tribunal only, but also in foro conscientia. Now this is what we protest against. It is not the physical force of the majority that we dread, but the doctrine that legitimates each and every act the majority may choose to perform ; and therefore teaches it to look for no standard of right and wrong beyond its own will.
We do not believe majorities are exceedingly prone to encroach on the rights of minorities; but we would always erect a bulwark of justice around those rights, and always have a moral power which we may oppose to every possible encroachment. The majority, we
believe, always leave the minority in possession of the greater part of their rights, not however as rights, but as favors. It is to this we object. We cannot, and will not, consent to receive as a boon, what we may demand as a right. Our liberties belong to us as men; and we would always feel that we hold them as our personal property, of which he who despoils us is a thief and a robber.
The effects of this doctrine, so far as believed and acted on, cannot be too earnestly deprecated. It creates a multitude of demagogues, pretending a world of love for the dear people, lauding the people's virtues, magnifying their sovereignty, and with mock humility professing their readiness ever to bow to the will of the majority. It tends to make public men lax in their morals, hypocritical in their conduct; and it paves the way for gross bribery and corruption. It generates a habit of appealing, on nearly all occasions, from truth and justice, wisdom and virtue, to the force of numbers, and virtually sinks the man in the brute. It destroys manliness of character, independence of thought and action, and makes one weak, vacillating, – a time-server and a coward. It perverts inquiry from its legitimate objects, and asks, when it concerns a candidate for office, not, who is the most honest, the most capable ? but, who will command the most votes ? and, when it concerns a measure of policy, not, what is just? what is for the public good ? but, what can the majority be induced to sup
Now as men, as friends to good morals, we cannot assent to a doctrine which not only has this tendency, but which declares this tendency legitimate. That it does have this tendency needs not to be proved. Every body knows it, and not a few lament it. Not long since
it was gravely argued by a leading politician, in a Fourth of July Oration, that Massachusetts ought to give Mr. Van Buren her votes for the presidency, because, if she did not, she would array herself against her sister states, and be compelled to stand alone, as the orator said with a sneer," in solitary grandeur.” In the access of his party, fever, it did not occur to him that Massachusetts was in duty bound, whether her sister states were with her or against her, to oppose Mr. Van Buren, if she disliked him as a man, or distrusted his principles as a politician or a statesman. Many good reasons, doubtless, might have been alleged why Massachusetts ought to have voted for Mr. Van Buren, but the orator would have been puzzled to select one less conclusive, or more directly in the face and eyes of all sound morals, than the one he adduced. The man who deserves to be called a statesman never appeals to low or demoralizing motives, and he scorns to carry even a good measure by unworthy means.
There is within every man, who can lay any claim to correct moral feeling, that which looks with contempt on the puny creature who makes the opinions of the majority his rule of action. He who wants the moral courage to stand up “in solitary grandeur,” like Socrates in face of the Thirty Tyrants, and demand that right be respected, that justice be done, is unfit to be called a statesman, or even a man. A man has no business with what the majority think, will, say, do, or will approve; if he will be a man, and maintain the rights and dignity of manhood, his sole business is to inquire what truth and justice, wisdom and virtue demand at his hands, and to do it, whether the world be with him or against him,- to do it, whether he stand alone “in solitary grandeur," or be huzzaed by the crowd, loaded with honors, held up as one whom the young must aspire to imitate, or be sneered at as singular, branded as a "seditious fellow," or crucified, as was Jesus, between two thieves. Away then with your demoralizing and debasing notion of appealing to a majority of voices! Dare be a man, dare be yourself, to speak and act according to your own solemn convictions, and in obedience to the voice of God calling out to you from the depths of your own being. Professions of freedom, of love of liberty, of devotion to her
VOL. I. NO. I.
cause, are mere wind when there wants the power to live, and to die, in defence of what one's own heart tells him is just and true. A free government is a mockery, a solemn farce, where every man feels himself bound to consult and to conform to the opinions and will of an irresponsible majority. Free minds, free hearts, free souls are the materials, and the only materials, out of which free governments are constructed. And is he free in mind, heart, soul, body, or limb, he who feels himself bound to the triumphal car of the majority, to be dragged whither its drivers please? Is he the man to speak out the lessons of truth and wisdom when most they are needed, to stand by the right when all are gone out of the way, to plead for the wronged and down-trodden when all are dumb, he who owns the absolute right of the majority to govern ?
Sovereignty is not in the will of the people, nor in the will of the majority. Every man feels that the people are not ultimate, are not the highest, that they do not make the right or the wrong, and that the people as a state, as well as the people as individuals, are under law, accountable to a higher authority than theirs. What is this Higher than the people? The
Not he whom men dignify with the royal title. Every man, by the fact that he is a man, is an accountable being. Every man feels that he owes allegiance to some authority above him. The man whom men call a king, is a man, and inasmuch as he is a man, he must be an accountable being, must himself be under law, and, therefore, cannot be the highest, the ultimate, and of course not the true sovereign. His will is not in itself law. Then he is not in himself a sovereign. Whatever authority he may possess is derived, and that from which he derives his authority, and not he, in the last analysis, is the true sovereign. If he derive it from the people, then the people, not he, is the sovereign ; if from God, then God, not he, is the sovereign. Are the aristocracy the sovereign ? If so, annihilate the aristocracy, and