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or the accidental circumstances, which have effectually contributed to the firm establishment of that inestimable right.
Descended, as we are, from those who had already made great progress, we are apt to think that we have gone far beyond not merely our fathers, but our contemporaries in the path of political freedom, and that therefore we can have little to learn, and much to teach. We plume ourselves upon the progress we have made, and in some respects we are, doubtless, in advance of others; but what foul disgrace would it not have been to us, if we had entirely neglected to improve the peculiar and providential advantages of our situation. There is ample room for humility that we have not done more, and that we are not more practically established in the principles we profess to follow. The path of political freedom is emphatically the path of improvement, and of continual exertion. If our fathers toiled to attain the great object, we also must labor to preserve, to improve, and to transmit it. It is not a task of limited extent, which when once finished we have done for ever. It is an art which may be practised with an undefined degree of skill; it is a science which may be carried forward far beyond our present attainments; it is a blessing which, like most of the other blessings of life, is consigned to our care and vigilance for its preservation. We know of no way to obtain just ideas of its nature, or a knowledge of the means by which it may be gained, preserved, or destroyed, but by consulting the records of history, and especially of its own history, as it has appeared in England and in this country. We think, too, that even Americans have something to learn as to the true nature of political liberty, the means of its preservation, and the dangers to which it is exposed. Many among us seem to imagine that national liberty consists exclusively in freedom from foreign control ; in the choice of our own rulers; and in the power of displacing them when they no longer please
that frequent elections are sufficient to secure it; and that there is nothing to fear for it, but foreign force, or the growth of domestic aristocracy. They have yet to learn, that some who have chosen their own governors without fear of foreign influence, have only chosen despots; that frequent elections may be only the source of frequent tumults, or unimportant change of men; and that the enemies of liberty are as numerous as the uncontrolled passions of politicians, and the unenlightened prejudices of multitudes. We conceive it to be of the utmost importance to us and to our children, that the true basis of liberty, and the true principles by which it is to be maintained and augmented, should be amply developed, and generally, as well as thoroughly, understood. If we do not know the nature of the foundation, we cannot erect the suitable edifice; and a single error of principle may lead to numerous and fatal mistakes in practice.
The dangers of liberty have in all past time been considered so great and fearful, that it has been apparently the direct object of many governments to prevent that state of things which it ought to have been their object to promote, namely, the equal enjoyment of individual rights, and the universal protection of property and life. It has been, and is still, in most countries, thought necessary for the good order of society, that its government should be in the hands of a few individuals; while the great mass of human beings are regarded either as a sort of live stock, the sole end of whose existence is the benefit of the few, or as a species of domestic enemies to be crushed and borne down by the hand of power, and whose well-being is absolutely incompatible with the necessary dignity and splendor of the government. Even England, a few centuries ago, groaned under as heavy a despotisın as the rest of the world ; and it is only by comparing her condition under the Norman kings with her present state, or with that of our own country, that we can learn the comparative value of arbitrary and free systems of govern
It may not seem necessary to impress us with a sufficient sense of the importance of political freedom, yet it will hardly be useless, occasionally to look back upon what we have escaped; to form some idea, if we can, of the state of things when the Commons, that name which now conveys such impressions of dignity and power, had no political existence ; when laws were made by the authority of an individual, and enforced by the edge of the sword, and the point of the spear; when usurpation and violence were the order, and ignorance and poverty the well-being, of society. The wildest anarchy to which the abuse of popular power has ever led, can be reproached with nothing worse than the legitimate effects of uncontrolled despotism; and the study of the means by which the evils of both may be avoided is
- N. S. VOL. VI. NO, III.
among the most important and interesting which can affect the condition of human society. It is delightful to trace the causes that have lifted up even a corner of the dark veil which hung over the world; and it is, to the last degree, important to us to distinguish the circumstances which have operated upon character, and the characters that have produced events tending to the combination of liberty and order, which constitutes our birthright, and our pride, and the hope which is common to us and the civilized world.
At this moment, the study is doubly interesting, when a struggle is going on in Europe, upon which we can look at once with the calmness of posterity and the sympathy of contemporaries. Regarding it with the former feeling, we cannot consider its ultimate issue as at all doubtful. Great changes in what by many are considered as circumstances necessary to social order, will, without question, occur; but our sympathetic fears as to the effect of these changes may be very much moderated, by a consideration of the consequences that have ensued from previous changes of condition in points which have, in like manner, been thought necessary to the well-being of society. It has been regarded, for instance, as very necessary, that the distinction between the different classes of society should be broad and impassable; that a great gulf should be fixed between the noble and ignoble. But it was reserved for the history of England to show that this barrier may be safely passed ; and that not merely no injury, but that great benefit, will result to the commonwealth from the almost promiscuous union of the two classes, and from the equal extension to all orders of the restraints and the privileges of law. It has been firmly believed, in former ages, that uniformity of religious, as well as political opinions, was necessary to the proper organization of society; and that this uniformity ought to be enforced by persecution, the union of church and state, and exclusive privileges attached to certain forms of church government or dogmas of theological opinion. The experience of later times has proved that toleration is certainly not dangerous, that persecution is an unmitigated evil, and that difference of religious belief cannot be prevented, and, if indulged, proves harmless ; and our own experience has, at length, demonstrated, that to support religion by temporal power is not merely unnecessary, but is, in fact, reversing the true
order of things ; for temporal power could have little support, were it left unsanctioned by religious principle and motives. Again, it has been, nay, incredible as it may seem, it is, thought dangerous to the welfare of society to extend the advantages of the most common education to what are called the lower orders. The history of England can now show whether or not it is a real cause for alarm; and with us, where the distinction of high and low is practically, as well as theoretically, unknown, universal education is the sole, but firm and sufficient basis of the whole structure of society. The fear is reversed ; we are alarmed lest the benefits of education should not be widely and rapidly enough extended.
The truth is, that all these fears for the welfare of society resolve themselves into fears for the actually existing state of things. Those who possess power are naturally reluctant to lose it; those who have privileges, to part with them; however society in general may be benefited by their loss. And when we recollect the extreme difficulty with which a change is effected in any thing which has become consolidated by habit, and that almost every political system has really outlived its adaptation to the state of society, we may perhaps be persuaded that a prospect even of great change may not, necessarily, be a prospect of evil, and that the breaking up of some existing establishments may really be, what it
professes to be, a reform. The dread of change, too, consists, not merely in the apprehension of alteration for the worse, but in positive attachment to what is fixed, — the love of permanence. There is something very imposing in the idea of long duration, and it has in all ages been an important object with governments to secure, not so much the permanent enjoyment of just rights, as the unchangeable establishment of certain forms and customs. This feeling is a proof of the vastness of human conceptions and desires ; it is a sort of longing after immortality,' which may show our adaptation to other states of existence, but which, it is certain, cannot be gratified in this. God has stamped mutability upon man and all his works. He has reserved unchangeable duration for himself alone. The only way in which we can hope to secure the permanence of any of our schemes or systems, is by providing some mode in which they may be adapted to the necessities of coming ages. But the fixing of a certain form of government, not only for ourselves but for for all our successors, is, fortunately, as impossible as it would be unwise. It will last till men have the wish and the power to change it, and no longer; and the only way to prevent convulsions is to present an opportunity for those quiet alterations which will adapt it to new and unforeseen wants of society. The mind of man, as it was not made perfect and unchangeable, was constituted with an unlimited capacity of improvement; it'strives for enlargement, and if bounds are attempted to be fixed to it short of the perfection to which it aspires, it will assuredly burst them. In the science of government, as in all other things, we cannot stand still ; we must either advance or recede; change is, at all events, perpetual, and the great difficulty in regulating that change is, to read aright the signs of the times, to perceive what
the actual condition of men requires, and to adapt ourselves and our wishes to the existing necessity.
If these views are in any degree correct, the outcry against innovations and innovators is no less unjust than it is common. Unhappily the worst forms of government have usually been first established ; and, had it not been for the efforts of innovators, they might have been perpetuated to the present day, to the immeasurable detriment of the world. The struggles which have been sometimes necessary, and which perhaps will be so again, are undoubtedly appalling ; but is it upon the patriot striving for the improvement of his country, that the blame of those struggles is to be exclusively thrown? Are they to escape reproach who pertinaciously adhere to systems because they are old, or because they find personal advantages in the abuses which are to be remedied? Who is acting most in conformity with the best principles of our nature, he who endeavours to adapt systems to circumstances, or he who is attempting to force men's wishes and wants to conform to previously existing systems? The history of England abounds in innovations, ay, in revolutions for which we especially should be always and profoundly grateful; and it strikes us as not a little singular that the very country where revolutions have been really most numerous, and where more changes have actually been effected in conformity with the dictates of public opinion than in any other in Europe, should be held up, as it is by many, as a model for the permanency and durability of its institutions. The conquest by William the First was a revolution, and a disastrous