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Wakemanites, Free Negroes and Bloomers, disturb the peace of society, threaten the security of property, offend the public sense of decency, assail religion, and invoke anarchy. Society has the right, and is in duty bound, to take care of itself; and when public opinion becomes powerless, law should intervene, and punish all acts, words, or opinions, which have become criminal by becoming dangerous or injurious.
We would rejoice to see intolerance of error revived in New England. Laxity of rule and laxity of public opinion is sin of itself, and leads to thousands of sins. New England is culpable for permitting Parker and Beecher to stir up civil discord and domestic broils from the pulpit. These men deserve punishment, for they have instigated and occasioned a thousand murders in Kansas; yet they did nothing more than carry into practice the right of private judgment, liberty of speech, freedom of the press and of religion. These boasted privileges have become far more dangerous to the lives, the property and the peace of the people of this Union, than all the robbers and murderers and malefactors put together.
The Reformation was but an effort of Naturethe vis medicatrix naturæ-throwing off what was false, vicious, or superfluous, and retaining what was good.
The great men of the day but show larger portions of the common thought. Men, and all other social and gregarious animals, have a community of thought, of motions, instincts and intuitions. The social body is of itself a thinking, acting, sentient being. This is eminently observable with the lower animals. Bees and herds perform their evolutions with too much rapidity and precision, to leave any doubt but that one mind and one feeling, either from within or without, directs their movements. The great error of modern philosophy is the ignorance or forgetfulness of this fact. The first departure from it was not the Reformation—for that was preëminently a social idea and a social movement;—but the doctrine of the right of private judgment, which speculative philosophers and vain schismatics attempted to engraft upon it, or deduce from it. Human equality, the social contract, the let-alone and selfish doctrines of political economy, universal liberty, freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion, spring directly from this doctrine, or are only new modes of expressing it. Agrarianism, Free Love, and No Government, are its logical sequences: for the right to judge for ourself implies the right to act upon our judgments, and that can never be done in a world where the private appropriation of all capital, and the interference of government, restricts our free agency,
paralyzes our action on all sides.
We sometimes think the burning of the Alexandrian Library was a providential purification, just as the fictitious burning, by Cervantes, of Don Quixote's library ridded the world of the useless rubbish of the Middle Ages, by the ridicule so successfully attached to it. Sure we are, that a fire that would consume all the theological and other philosophical speculations of the last two centuries, would be a happy God-send.
Our Revolution, so wise in its conception and so glorious in its execution, was the mere assertion by adults of the rights of adults, and had nothing more to do with philosophy than the weaning of a calf. It was the act of a people seeking national independence, not the Utopian scheme of speculative philosophers, seeking to establish human equality and social perfection.
But the philosophers seized upon it, as they had upon the Reformation, and made it the unwilling and unnatural parent of the largest and most hideous brood of ills that had ever appeared at one birth, since the opening of the box of Pandora. Bills of Rights, Acts of Religious Freedom and Constitutions, besprinkled with doctrines directly at war with all stable government, seem to be the basis on which our institutions rest. But only seem to be; for, in truth, our laws and government are either old Anglo-Saxon prescriptive arrangements, or else the gradual accretions of time, circumstance and necessity. Throw our paper platforms, preambles and resolutions, guaranties and constitutions, into the fire, and we should be none the worse off, provided we retained our institutions and the necessities that begat, and have, so far, continued them.
All government proceeds ab extra. Neither individuals nor societies can govern themselves, any more than the mouse can live in the exhausted receiver, or the clown lift hipiself by the lappel of his pantaloons. The South is governed by the necessity of keeping its negroes in order, which preserves a healthy conservative public opinion. Had the negroes votes, the necessity would be removed, because the interest of the governing class would cease to be conservative. The necessity, the governing power ab extra, would be removed. The little republics of ancient Greece were able to preserve the most artificial social arrangements, under the necessities which slavery and foreign hostile pressure from without begat. They were afraid of change, because insurrection was dangerous.
If government on paper were really useless and harmless, we should say nothing about it. But it is fraught with danger, first because we are apt to rely on it for safety and security of rights, and secondly because it rarely suits the occasion. Men and societies are endowed by Providence generally with sufficient knowledge and judgment to act correctly or prudently under circumstances as they arise; but they cannot foresee or provide for the future, nor lay down rules for other people's conduct. All platforms, resolutions, bills of rights and constitutions, are true in the particular, false in the general. Hence all legislation should be repealable, and those instruments are but laws. Fundamental principles, or the higher law, are secrets of nature which God keeps to himself. The vain attempt of “frequent recurrence to them,” is but the act of the child who builds card houses, for the pleasure of knocking them down. Recurrence to fundamental principles and appeals to the higher law, are but the tocsin of revolution that may upset everything, but which will establish nothing, because no two men are agreed as to what the higher law, alias “fundamental principles," is.
Moses, and Lycurgus, and Solon, and Numa, built their institutions to last, enjoined it on the people never to change them, and threw around them the sanctity of religion, to ward off the sacrilegious hand of future innovation. "A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles,” and the kicking down of card houses, was not part of their science of government. We have often thought, that of all the lost arts, the art of government was the only one whose loss we would deplore, or whose recovery is worth the pains of study and research.