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IN presenting to the public the first number of “The American Review,” it will not be inappropriate to set forth the reasons that have led to its establishment. This is not because custom has made it proper, or that the public have a right to expect from each new actor a preliminary bow; but mainly because the reasons themselves are of weighty and earnest import. They arise on different grounds, and present their appeal by different considerations; but the result from them all is a united voice that speaks to the American people.
The predominant interests of our countrymen are involved in the issue of great and often-recurring political contests. These contests are always of prevailing concern, at times all-absorbing; and the leading intellects of the country, so long as our institutions shall happily remain free, must be largely devoted to the discussion of questions pertaining to the management of the national government. As the country progresses in extent and increases in population and wealth, these * questions are becoming more varied and complicated. The necessity for new measures, and for the enlarged application of established principles to meet the exigencies of the times, demands constant action on the part of those to whom the people have committed their most sacred interests; and the formation of parties taking antagonistical positions
on these matters is a necessary result, aside from the inducements to division arising from personal ambition, cupidity, and love of place and power, which are found mixed up with all human affairs. Of such organizations, numerously existing or constantly springing up, the greater part are indeed of a local nature, or grow out of temporary excitements: two, however, embrace nearly all the rest, and mainly divide the commonwealth. These great organizations are born of different elements, exist by different means and in a different atmosphere. In every thing of vital concern, their relation, by principles, policy, practice, is that of natural, unavoidable opposition. The one is in all things essentially conservative, and at the same time is the real party of progress and improvement. It commends itself to the people, and is supported by them, not less for its rigid adherence to the Republican creed—for its unwavering support of constitutional and established rights, and its endeavors to preserve law, liberty, and order inviolate—than for the ameliorating and liberalizing tendency of its principles and policy. Such is that portion of the community who have justly adopted from the men of the Revolution the ever-honored title of Whigs. In all that tends to give strength to the confederacy, and knit together its various sections by the indissoluble bands of a common interest and affection, the Whig party occupy the advance ground. Protection to the laborer and the producer, to the merchant and manufacturer; integrity and economy in the discharge of official trusts; the vigilant defence, as against the world, of national dignity and honor; the observance of honor and good faith in all our dealings with and treatment of other nations; the establishment and maintenance of a sound currency; an enlargement of the means of revenue, and a proper provision for its safe-keeping; an extension of the resources of the country by the construction of harbors, roads, and canals, as the wants of the people demand them; a vigorous administration of the laws; the separation of the seats of justice, by all possible barriers, from popular impression; the adoption, by constitutional means, of such regulations as shall confine the exercise of Executive power within due bounds; the general promotion of knowledge, and an enlargement of the means of education;—these form an outline of the distinctive principles of the Whig party, and by these and other cognate sentiments and measures it will be known to posterity. When the personal rivalries and partisan asperities of the day shall have been forgotten, and the mellowing hand of Time shall have consigned to the Future only the virtues of the Present, the positions and aims of the Whig party will stand out like watchtowers and beacon-lights on the mountain side, and be referred to and quoted as monuments to inspire, as precedents to guide, another race of statesmen and patriots; and whatever it may now do, the world will then acknowledge the moral heroism of those who, doubtless with some defects and some temporary mistakes, yet withstood in their day, the tide of corruption, the insidious arts of demagogues, and the clamors of faction, and taking their stand on the platform of the Constitution, defended the honor and integrity of their country from open and * secret assault, and preserved to their countrymen the inestimable blessings of a good government. The other great political division is as essentially anarchical in its principles and tendencies. In saying this, we would not be understood as denying to the body of its members their claims to sincerity; for the mass of a people, whatever may be their predilections, and however erroneous their views, are unquestionably sincere and honest in their
*The Review is intended to date from the beginning of the year 1845; though the first number, as advertised, has been issued preliminarily in the autumn.
professions. But whatever the pretensions of their leaders may be, they are practically working to destroy the prosperity of the nation, to corrupt the morals of the people, to weaken the authority of law, and utterly to change the rimitive elements of the government. e know that these are grave charges: we believe that they can be substantiated. A portion of the evidence lies in actual results. It is an unhappy and imperishable part of the national history. Professing an exclusively democratic creed, and a desire to advance the “greatest good of the greatest number,” the period of the dominancy of this party in the government has been signalized by widespread ruin and distress, as plainly as the smouldering pile and the ravaged field ever marked the course of an invading army. A profligate waste of the national treasures; a general depression in all the various branches of business and enterprise; the country without a currency at all equal to its wants; the checking, at a vast loss, the progress of internal improvements; a depreciation of nearly every species of property; a denial to the people of their only means of securing an adequate market for the products of the soil, cheating honest industry of its rewards; a dishonorable feeling with respect to public debts; a blind obedience to party dictation, in which the voice of conscience is stifled and patriotism and the eternal rules of justice thrown aside as worthless considerations; a corruption of the elective franchise; the civil power set at defiance; countenance and support given to organized revolutionary parties acting in direct hostility to the laws, and in subversion of all government; the basest perfidy towards an unoffending nation proposed and upheld, and a candidate for the dignities of the chief magistracy selected on account of his willingness to carry out the foul design;—these acts and consequences have attached themselves to and distinguished the party which has strangely arrogated to itself the title of Democratic, as if democracy consisted not in levelling-up and preserving, but in reducing all things to an equality of degradation and ruin. Yet these, however disastrous, are less to be regarded. Practical errors of individuals or of nations are comparatively of little consequence. They are of the present, and may be retrieved. They belong soon to history, and their effects become weaker with remoteness in the past. It is the elements native to the character, the ineradicable principles and tendencies, that are of abiding concern. And these, with the party of whom we speak, appear to us o wrong and pernicious. As we have said, the mass of them are doubtless sincere; but they receive doctrines from designing leaders, of which they recognise neither the mature nor the end. They are led on they know not well to what; but discerning men in the Republic cannot fail to see that they are, in different ways, according to different sections of the community, practically working to relax the whole spirit of law among us, to disorganize and change the original framework and proportions of our government, and, under the deceptive name of advancement, insensibly descending in a rapid progression to evil. There is scarcely any dangerously radical opinion, any specious, delusive theory, on social, political, or moral points, which does not, in some part of the country, find its peculiar aliment and growth among the elements of that party. They are not content with sober improvement; they desire a freedom larger than the Constitution. They have a feeling, that the very fact that an institution has long existed, makes it insufficient for the growth of the age—for the wonderful demands of the latter-day developments. In a word, change with them is progress; and whenever the maddened voice of faction, or the mercenary designs of party leaders demand a triumph over established institutions and rightful authority, they rush blindly but exultingly forward, and call it “reform.” It is thus, that in some sections of the Union they have sought to make the judiciary, which of all elements in a government should be left free from external influences, subject to periodical revolution by the people, and have shown themselves ready to set aside the most solemn state covenants on a bare change of majorities. . It is thus, that in other sections they have exhibited a marked hostility to useful corporations, even to the crying down of institutions of learning as aristocratic monopolies. It is thus that everywhere, and at all times, they have been disposed to make the stability of legislation dependent on the dominancy of a party, and to consider the idea of law as having no majesty, no authority, no divine force inherent in itself— as not a great Idea enthroned among
men, coeval with Eternal Justice, which feeling alone can keep it from being trampled under foot of the multitude— but as derived from, and existing by, the uncertain sanctions of the popular will. And in all this they are not merely loosening the foundations of order and good government: they are paving the way— first, indeed, to anarchy, but next to despotism. For while in the false idea of “liberty” and “progress” they would deny the existence or renounce the exercise of those large and beneficent constitutional powers provided by the sages of the Revolution, they permit their acknowledged exponents to usurp the most extended and unlawful authority, and would give to the Chief Executive a power most liable to be abused, and greater than is possessed by the crowned head of any constitutional monarchy in Christendom. To resist earnestly and unweariedly these destructive measures and principles, and, in so doing, to support freely and openly the principles and measures of the Whig party, is one great object of this Review. Yet in this we claim that degree of independence which every right-minded man in the Republic should vindicate—liberty to judge for ourselves as great interests change and new events arise. The need of such a journal has long been deeply and widely felt. The Whig newspaper press is conducted with a degree of ability and address never perhaps excelled in any country; but its expositions and appeals are necessarily brief, and but by few either remembered or preserved beyond the occasion which calls them forth. The Review will be a means of presenting more grave and extended discussions of measures and events, and of better preserving them to after times. But aside from the important field of national politics, there is yet another, waster and more varied, demanding as constant and stern a conflict for the truth and the right, and making far larger requisitions on the intellect and attainments of whoever would earnestly work for the well-being of his country. We speak of the great field of literature, philosophy, and morals. It is not to be doubted, indeed, that these, from the nature of things, are so closely blended with all other elements that go to compose a state, as to make whatever influences affect these vitally, affect also, for evil or for good, the entire political fabric. We have the voice of history to this conclusion, since great governments have never fallen but by being first corrupted and undermined by the speculations of ignorant, or fancy-ridden, or designing men. But in relations of their own—above the form politic—as affecting those higher destinies of men, their social, intellectual, spiritual existence, they are of importance never to be estimated. And the aspect of the times reflects on them a yet more grave and serious import. †. has been no age of the world in which the physical energies of men have effected so rapid and wonderful achievements—no age in which their intellects have been sharpened to greater acuteness—and no age rifer with all speculative errors, with the falsest principles of taste in art and literature, with subtle delusions affecting the whole foundations of the social system. It becomes thus an age bearing in its bosom mighty and doubtful issues for the future. And this, whether we look to the eastern or the western hemisphere. The institutions of Europe seem rapidly verging to dissolution. Old forms have passed away— old foundations have been broken up. Though the convulsions of a former age, which threw down many dynasties, and thrones, and ancient usages, appear now fully subsided, it is but a deceitful calm. There is yet a power abroad on the surface of society, and a commotion in its lowest depths, fearfully ominous of some of those great events which change the face of the moral world, and shake it to its centre. In our own country, likewise, the sane restlessness is bearing us hurriedly onward, but we fear to worse ends. The nations of Europe are restless under the burden of oppression; we are restless under the weight of mere duty and custom. We are a people eager for novelty; we care more for the newness of a thing than for its authority. This is a trait which, while it opens the way to striking physical improvement, has an unfavorable influence upon us in many respects. It affects our morals, since morality can have no sober growth but on a ground of stability and recognised truth. It affects all our philosophy and speculative belief, since old opinions, however well considered and just, are readily abandoned for new ones. It affects all regular formation of national custom and character, because we suffer our tastes and habits to be continually changing. It especially affects, what must have all these for a
partial foundation—the growth of our national literature. For if tastes may change and customs be laid aside with the hour, and opinions be held no longer than they are able to excite, and faith be considered a matter of choice, it is obvious that our literature must be forever unsubstantial and fugitive. It can have no dignity, because no consistency—little beauty as a whole, because little harmony of the parts—no great body of impression, from the want of uniformity among its effective elements. Our literature has never been sufficiently earnest. It has been too much the product of light moments, of impulsive efforts, of vacation from other and engrossing employments. There have been many graceful and pleasing productions, and some exhibiting a degree of power that justifies the highest hopes of what might be ; but few great designs, long considered and carefully planned out, have been entered upon with that serious and stern determination with which Milton commenced a work “which posterity should not willingly let die.” But surely, if literature has, what we know it has ever had, a forming influence on the minds of those who form and rule the minds of the multitude, it is not a light thing, a thing to be played with at languid intervals as one of life's ornaments, but a matter to be borne in hand with earnest and fixed resolves. We are speaking here of original works among us; but what shall we say of the criticism of the times? We confess to an almost total distrust of its judgments. Never exhibiting great independence or power of discerning, it has grown of late even more slavish, weak, and meaningless. Foreign productions sent over, ticketed and labelled, receive an imprimatur accordingly; the writings of our own countrymen, deserving of cordial and ready praise, must often wait for the dicta of foreign judges; and a sea of trash seems rapidly swallowing up the delicate perceptions, and calm thought, both of critics and people. For these reasons also, in addition to those of a political nature, has it been determined, “quod bonum, felix, faustumque sit,” to establish a national Review. Adding only, that all sectarian discussions and all sectional controversies will be avoided, so that the work may be of equal acceptability in every part of the country, we ask for it a support according to the character it shall be found to bear.
THE POSITION OF PARTIES.
A straNGER in the country, having little knowledge of our political divisions, would be greatly confused in his attempts to ascertain the real meaning of the terms “democracy” and “democratic.” Having received from former free states the impression that the word properly respects the “power of the people,” which it literally signifies, exercised by a majority of themselves for the people's good, he would naturally look around to see if the modern multitude who employ that ancient appellation are a sufficient part of the community for such a possession, to what large measures of public policy they have given rise, and with what line of conduct they or their leaders have, in general, pursued the interests of the commonwealth. To his surprise, unless he had made of demagogues and their arts a philosophic study, he would find the term, in its better sense, peculiarly misapplied. He would remark, on the one hand, that by far the greater and more intelligent portion of the people, and the portion from which nearly every measure which has in any degree tended to the common benefit, together with each and all of those broad principles that can lead the nation steadily on to prosperity and true greatness, long since originated, make no use of that attractive title, but are content to consider themselves abiders by the Constitution, consistent supporters of the Federal Republic.
By an opposing minority on the other side, he would hear the term vociferated with great zeal at all meetings in streets and club-rooms, whatever might be the occasion of their assembling, and in whatever part of the Union he might chance to be. Anxious to know, as having the finest opportunity since the days of the Athenian ‘democratie,” the exact weight of the word, especially in their own minds, and what amount of distilled opinion has filtered down to them through the ages intervening, the stranger requests one of the more favorable specimens to define his creed. He replies— “I am a Democrat.” It is intimated to him that principles and names are different things, and he is pressed to state what particular measure he supports that
is peculiarly democratic in its nature; what great doctrine he believes in ;briefly, what he is for.—Why, he is “for democracy'” He supports “the rights of the people !” He “believes in Jefferson " Sometimes the explanation would be varied to the negative form, by recounting, which they are able to do more : readily and at much greate length, what they are against. The matter pressed still further, a labarynthine definition would be the issue, garnished with such a variety of prefixes, according to the locality of the speaker, as to render a consecutive series of ideas out of the question. Our friend, the stranger, grows disturbed in mind. He has lost his old ideas of the word, and gained no new ones. It has become to him a cabalistic phrase, equivalent to the term “great medicine” among the Chippewas or Pottawatamies. But what is this to the public : The cloak is of use to the party that wear it. They have given to it a most ample latitude of comprehension, and have compelled it to cover, like charity, a multitude of sins. We shall not quarrel with them, however, for possession of the name. During the few unfortunate years in which they have held the false tenure, the have so encumbered the domain wit useless and dangerous structures, so imbued it with unnatural, unconstitutional and destructive elements, so divided and undermined it with radical tendencies leading swiftly downwards to ruin, that we hardly know if any period of rightful usage by the worth and patriotism of the nation could restore it to a just and honorable significance. Nor is it, in truth, of much consequence. Names in themselves are nothing, principles and conduct everything ; and we are desirous rather, in this article, of setting before the public the two great antagonist parties in the country, as they actually stand. We think this will be best effected by sketching, briefly and clearly as may be, the former history up to this time—especially the rise and progress, the early and the latter formation—of the Democratic party. Facts are substantial things: they cannot be lightly blown away by the breath that utters the “euphonious name” so volubly.