網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

that the turmoil, tumult, and contention it involves, deter men of thoughtful minds, peaceful tempers, and retired habits from coming

forward to bear their part in it. The more popular the system, the pressure of this objection becomes more sensibly felt. Now, the object of every nation is, or should be, to call to its councils and place at the head of its affairs the ablest and most virtuous of its citizens. That form of constitution which could show that it best secured this end, would go far towards showing that it was itself the best. Now, the honest and deeply reflective man, whose views of the true interests of a nation are soundest and most comprehensive, will often be found of a character which unfits him for conciliating the popular voice, and inspires in him a distaste for public struggles. The same habits of patient and quiet thought which have guided him to wisdom, indispose him to carry that wisdom to a noisy and contentious market. The profound and subtle understanding which is an invaluable assistant at the Council Board, is commonly accompanied with a refined and fastidious taste which shrinks from the contest with reluctant colleagues, angry opponents, or an unappreciating and coarse constituency. Thus we find that in democracies, and more or less in all governments which approach that form, the most useful men are often shut out from public life. That they allow themselves to be so, is no doubt partly a weakness and a dereliction of duty on their side; but when the highest kind of wisdom is likely to be overlooked, and their duties are made irksome to the wise and good, the public will have to bear by far the greatest share both of the penalty and blame. It is an ill-omen for a nation, that calm, delicate, and philosophical minds should abjure her service, and retire into privacy. The mischief is already perceptible in England, notwithstanding the limitation of our suffrage, the variety of our constituencies, and the generally correct and gentlemanly spirit of our popular Assembly. Bút in France it is seriously felt; and in America it has long been a source of regret and alarm to her most intelligent sons.

Thirdly, — representative government prevents our chief officers of state from regarding merit in the distribution of their appointments as much, or as exclusively, as the interest of the country demands, and as we believe they themselves would wish. The applicants for every vacant office are innumerable; and their respective claims are supported by influential parties whose alliance, from public motives, must be rivetted, whose hostility must not be risked, or to whom a debt of gratitude is owing for former services. The distribution of patronage is, and we fear must inevitably be, materially affected by a view to the pur

1850.

Time lost in Self-defence.

529

chase of parliamentary support. Paley in his day shocked the more moral sections of the public by broadly stating the extent, in which influence had succeeded to prerogative: and in itself this is unquestionably an evil and a danger. But we do not mention it as a reproach to any set of ministers, when kept within due bounds. It is to be regarded rather as one of the inherent defects in a parliamentary system, - as part of the price which we pay for representative institutions, - a price which the sense and virtue of our statesmen, aided by the watchfulness of the people, it may be hoped, will continue to prevent from becoming too exorbitant. Indeed, a marked improvement in this respect has taken place in England within the last few years. Still the danger remains one which only a generally high tone of public morality can keep at bay; and it is one to which France is more especially exposed from the immense number of places at the disposal of the government, - we have seen it put at nearly 600,000,--and the universal spirit of place-hunting stimulated, though not generated, under the late dynasty. The spirit is of older date. Madame de Stael bears witness to it under the Empire.

Under a Parliamentary Government, an inordinate amount of the time and strength of our statesmen is wasted in parrying attacks on themselves and their measures: days and hours that ought to be devoted to the silent and undisturbed study of the country's wants, are habitually consumed in meeting the assaults of implacable and sleepless adversaries; and energies that should be spent in the actual work of administration, are frittered away in the far more harassing task of personal defence. This is a sore and a growing evil, and one under which the public service suffers most deplorably. Any senator, whom hostile feeling, love of notoriety, or genuine though restless patriotism, prompts to bring charges of partiality, malversation, or injudicious conduct against a minister, may occupy the time of the House and the country in the investigation of charges which often turn out frivolous or groundless; and the minister is called away from his appropriate duties — already far too heavy for his strength — to rake up the ashes of long-forgotten transactions, and prepare and collect documents needed for his justification, but become useless for any other purpose.

purpose. We have seen many instances of this in our days, --some indefensible enough of very recent date. It is well, no doubt, that all public measures, especially such as are to be embodied into laws, should undergo the ordeal of the severest and most searching criticism ; it is well too that all public men should feel that they are acting in the light of day, and before an audience, by whom their characters will be considered public property, and no lapse or failing be permitted to pass with

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

impunity; — but in these points, as in so many others, the immoderate use of a valuable privilege may be a serious drawback on its value, ----so much so, that the price paid for it at last may depopularise and discredit what ought to be the grand censorial office of a House of Commons. Popular bodies will always want reminding more or less of the celebrated protest of their most illustrious member to his constituents at Bristol: 'I must beg leave just to hint to you, that we may suffer very great detriment by being open to every talker. It is not to be imagined how much service is lost from spirits full of activity 6 and full of energy, who are pressing to great and capital objects, when you oblige them to be continually looking back. · Whilst they are defending one service, they defraud you of a hundred. Applaud us when we run; console us when we fall; cheer us when we recover; but let us pass on - for God's sake, let us pass

on. But this is not the only evil arising from the same cause. The constant, pervading recollection that they have to run the gauntlet betwixt ranks of hostile critics, almost inevitably compels Ministers to frame their measures with a view to the ordeal through which they will have to pass, rather than with a sole reference to the public good. They construct, not the best they are capable of, but the most passable. Statesmen under an auto cratic government are at liberty to bring forward such enactments as diligent inquiry and practised sagacity satisfy them will be most conducive to the public weal : they can disregard the opposition or the doubts of those less informed or less far-sighted than themselves, and can trust to time to vindicate the wisdom of their views. But statesmen under a representative system are unable thus to appeal from the present to the future: they can pass no measures for which they cannot make out a case clear and satisfactory to the public at the moment: their projects must be plausible, as well as sound, - they must seem, as well as be, wise and expedient, - and often the reality must be sacrificed to the seeming. Here, again, the extent of the mischief will be measured by the degree to which the democratic element prevails in the assembly; since that will probably be the measure of the degree in which the wisdom of the trained statesman surpasses the wisdom of the legislative many.

It will be readily believed that we have been led to dwell upon the difficulties and drawbacks inherent in the working of free institutions with no idea of disparaging them, or casting doubts

their value; but in order to warn those nations which are new to them, and those which are striving after them, that, when they have won them their work is not ended, often

upon

1850.

The Schools and Municipalities of America.

531

indeed only half begun; that these institutions are not unmixed blessings, nor self-acting charms; that their real value must depend

upon the wisdom and the virtue of those who manage them. In themselves they can confer neither personal freedom, nor good government, nor national prosperity; they are simply a means of obtaining these signal advantages. They are a spell of power, but not of power for good alone. They afford a field for the exercise of all patriotic virtues : while they dispense with none. For France this warning is especially needed; since, in truth, she is trying an experiment which, taken in all its collateral circumstances, is altogether new. The apparent similarity of her institutions to those of England and America should not blind her to this vital fact. She is trying the experiment of the most completely democratic government the world ever saw -- with the broad basis of a suffrage all but universal — among a people the vast numerical majority of whom are not only defective in general education, but are wholly destitute of that special political education which habits of municipality (so to speak) can alone bestow. In America general education is cared for, and universally spread among the people to an unparalleled degree; in no country is so large an annual sum willingly raised and expended for this noble purpose. Severe economists in everything else, they are prodigal in this. But this is not all — the Americans have an instinctive faculty for self-government-a faculty which is kept in continual practice. They govern themselves in every detail of social life; in every town, in every village, in every hamlet, they can at once extemporise a municipal administration, without the least aid from the central power. By this means their political education is continually going on; every American is early and daily accustomed to discuss and act in political affairs; and the result is, that he understands these when he understands anything, and often when his education is deplorably defective on all other points. In England, it is true, though political training and habits of combined action are far more widely diffused than in France, yet the mass of our people are nearly as uneducated; but then we have a very limited suffrage, and a still powerful aristocracy. France, in her perilous political experiment, possesses neither the safeguards of America nor those of England.

We do not mean to predict that therefore the experiment must fail — we hope better things; but we say that it must encounter dangers severer than have menaced either of its prototypes; and that its success must depend upon the manifestation of qualities to which Frenchmen have not yet made good their claim. Their perils are obvious; and we think their course is clear. It will not mend the matter to seek, either

by fraud or force, to give the cards another shuffle. Having based their constitution' on universal suffrage, and having thus secured a fair and simple means of ascertaining the popular will, their plain duty is not to flinch from the consequences of this fundamental principle, but to bow to that will as the supreme law. It is more sensible and more conservative than they suppose. Let them enlighten it as fast as they may change it when they can by eloquence and reason; but obey it unreservedly while unchanged. Let it be recognised on the part of all — as an axiom of their understanding, a dogma of their creed, a fixed, unquestionable rule of their public morals — that the majority must rule ; -- that, on the one hand, any appeal to arms or to secret conspiracy on the part of the minority is treason to the majesty of the law, for which no dishonour can be too deep, no penalty too sharp or peremptory; that, on the other hand, (as a correlative proposition) any attempt by their Rulers to coerce, prevent, or vitiate that free expression of the popular voice by which only the real majority can be ascertained, is an equal treason and equal crime.

Majorities and minorities have reciprocal rights and duties. Any tampering with the fair broad basis of the suffrage - any fetters upon free discussion—any restrictions on the decent freedom of the press—are, on the part of the victorious majority, as clear, undoubted violations of the rights of their antagonists, as insurrection and conspiracies would be on the part of the defeated minority. While every man has a vote, and full freedom in the expression of his views, no excuse can exist for violence or secret plots. On the other hand, while every man bows to the decision of the aggregate votes of the community, no excuse can exist for tyranny on the side of the dominant party. Everything must be decided by votes, and votes must be gained by discussion. This is the inevitable corollary of the Revolution: in accepting it frankly, and following it out boldly, lies now the only hope of freedom or salvation — the endeavour to escape from it can lead only to bloodshed and confusion. In a forbearing respect for each other's rights the antagonist parties will do well to seek safety and peace. For if peace is their object, to this they must come at last. Otherwise, as long as each persists in encroaching on the power and province of the other - in pursuing secretly ulterior designs incompatible with loyalty to the constitution they have sworn to maintain

in employing power, when they have obtained it, to cripple and disarm their opponents — in refusing allegiance to any government, and obedience to any law, which does not embody their own crotchets, or which is not established by their own party - we can see no prospect but continued turbulence and

« 上一頁繼續 »