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Prospects of the Democracy

The Boston Quarterly Review, January, 1839

Art. VI.  Political Parties their prospects the LESSON TAUGHT US BY THE RESULT OF LATE ELECTIONS.

In all countries where there is life, where thought is active, and has scope to manifest itself in some degree, the community is divided into two parties more or less equal in numbers and strength. One party may be termed the Stationary Party, the party whose object is to retain things as  they are, or to recall the order that is passing away; the other party-may be termed the Movement Party, the party whose leading object is always to develop and improve the existing order, or to introduce a new, and, as it hopes, a better order. The members of the first named party are usually that portion of the community whom the existing order, whatever it may be, most favors, or who hope the most from things as they are; and consequently of those who have, or fancy they have, the most to lose by a change: the members of the last named party are, in general, those on whom the burden of the existing order chiefly falls ; who suffer the evils of things as they are, and of course, of those who have the most room to hope that a change will better their condition.

They whom the existing order of things most favors are in most countries the few; they whom it favors the least are the many. The interest, then, sought to be promoted by the stationary party, is necessarily the interest of the few in contradistinction to that of the many. Its object is always to secure or increase the special advantages of the few over the many. It is therefore always the party of privilege, the aristocratic party. The movement party is the opposite of the stationary party. Its object is to diminish the privileges enjoyed by the few, and to introduce as great a degree of equality as is practicable among all the members of the community. It is therefore the party of equality, and consequently, the democratic party. The war which is ever carried on between these two parties, whatever the name it may bear, or the forms it may assume, is always, at bottom, a war of Equality against Privilege.

These two parties may be found in every country in Christendom ; and in every country in Christendom does the war of Equality against Privilege rage with more or less fierceness, and with prospects of an issue more or less favorable to the movement or democratic party. Here, as well as in all other Christian countries, does this fearful war rage ; and perhaps never with more fierceness than at this present moment. But Equality is stronger here than elsewhere ; it has gained here more than any where else,  has achieved more brilliant and decisive victories, and conquered a larger extent of territory. It therefore comes to the battle with high hopes, and with great confidence in its own strength, and the terror its name inspires.

Nevertheless it can count on no easy victory. Privilege exists here,  has existed here from the origin of our government,  and will exist much longer. Its forces are numerous, well disciplined, well furnished, and liberally paid; and they promise to do effectual service in its cause.
These two parties have always existed here, and they showed themselves very distinctly in the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution. The party of Privilege, the aristocratic party, feeling themselves in the position to wield the power of the government, and of course to wield it in their own favor, asked for a strong government,  one capable of holding the people in awe, in check, in submission. The party of Equality, the democratic party, on the other hand, distrustful of governments, in consequence of having suffered from their abuses, demanded a weak government and a strong people ; so that the few, by seizing its reins, should not be able to make the government trample on the rights and the interests of the many. The party of Equality triumphed, so far as the organization to be given to the Federal government was concerned.

This triumph threatened to be fatal to the party of the few. Equality was proclaimed, and the death-warrant of Privilege was signed. The partisans of Privilege took the alarm, and resolved, come what might, to save its life and prolong its reign. But how was this to be done 1 Not openly, avowedly, directly; but covertly, indirectly, while professing and appearing unto the party of the many to be laboring for the good of the whole people. They must, while seeming to yield to the popular voice, gain possession of the government, and place themselves in a position to control its measures.
This, after all, was not so difficult as it seemed. Governments cannot operate without funds ; consequently, they who can control its funds, or the sources whence it obtains them, can control its action. By connecting the fiscal concerns of government intimately with the business operations of the country, they who have the control of those operations, necessarily control the government.

Consequently, the first effort of the aristocratic party, after their defeat in the Convention, was to bring about this connexion. This they did, first, by funding the national debt, and making thereby a portion of the capitalists the creditors of the government; and secondly, by chartering a National Bank, and making it the depository of the government funds, which were to be used as the basis of loans to business men. The party of Privilege became, as a matter of course, the purchasers of government stock, and the owners of the Bank; they became, therefore, the creditors of the government, and through the bank, sustained by government funds, the creditors of the whole trading community, and through the trading community, of nearly the whole population ; and therefore able to exercise over both government and people the all but absolute control, which the creditor exercises over the debtor. With this control the aristocratic party cared little for the democratic forms of government, the people in their simplicity had adopted; nay, they became partial to those forms, for under them they could carry their measures into effect without suspicion, and make it believed that they were approved and carried into ¦effect by the people themselves.

This was the system early devised and adopted to defeat the people, and prolong the reign of Privilege. We say not that it was wholly framed before hand, "with malice prepense"' nor that all wTho supported it foresaw all its bearings. It was doubtless adopted in most cases instinctively, because the interests of those by whom it was adopted led to it; and because some whom a portion of the people respected supported it. Be this as it may, such was the system, briefly given, adopted by Hamilton, who thought altogether more of guarding governments against the turbulence of the mob, than the people against the tyranny of governments. Such was the system sustained by the old Federal party, and such, too, is the system, unless we are grossly deceived, sustained by its veritable successor, the modern Whig party. Hence the importance of the Currency question; hence the bearings of the Independent Treasury Bill. The Whig party, at least, " their leaders," wish to retain the government in the hands of the party of Privilege ; and they are well aware that they can do this only by a National Bank, which shall centralize the money power, and give it unity of aim and effort. The democratic party, the real democratic party, we mean, whatever its name,  wish for an Independent Treasury, because it is the only treasury known to the Constitution, and because they would emancipate the government from the fatal thrall of the creditor influence, and enable it to feel and obey the impulse of the popular will.

Here is the great question which now divides the country:  Independent Treasury, and a government free to follow the democratic will, or a National Bank, and a government and people under the dominion of the party of Privilege. The question is one of magnitude, of immense bearings; altogether more so than that which induced our fathers to take up arms against the mother country. There is a deeper principle involved in the question now at issue, than in that of the duty of " three pence a pound on tea," which our fathers refused to pay. If we had failed in our effort to resist foreign taxation, we should have been externally enslaved; but if we fail in our effort to resist the rechartering of a National Bank, and to secure the Independent Treasury, we become enslaved both externally and internally. The recharter of a National Bank is  a regular installation  of   the Money Power, as the hereditary sovereign of this country, who cannot henceforth be dethroned without one of those social convulsions, of which we have had an example in the French Revolution.

Well,  what is  the prospect?   What will be  the issue of this  fearful  and  protracted war of Equality against Privilege?    Which party will win the day? As yet neither  party has  won.    The battles  thus far fought have been very nearly drawn battles, and both parties have felt it  necessary to  retire  and  recruit their forces.    What will  be the issue, we know not; though we have no fears but the Right in the long run will triumph. The difficulty of foreseeing the immediate result arises from the great confusion of parties.    On the side of Privilege are whole battalions who belong to the army of Equality ; while more than one division of the army of Equality is  led on by a chief, whose only appropriate place is in the ranks of the army of Privilege.    This confusion is  disastrous.    Were the opposing parties fairly drawn out, were there no democrats  fighting for Privilege, and no aristocrats pretending to fight for Equality, the contest would  not be   doubtful.    If  all   true   Whigs,   according   to the present meaning of the term, were on one side, and all true democrats on the other,  were the line, which separates the two parties by which the country is now divided,   drawn  accurately between the partisans of Privilege and the friends of Equality, there would be no engagement; the Independent Treasury would be at once  established, and  the  project for a National Bank abandoned  in despair.    For,  there can be  no question that the  great mass  of the  people of this country are thoroughly democratic, and that they have the moral power to make  every needed  sacrifice for the triumph of democracy.    No measure, clearly seen to be anti-democratic, can stand the  least possible chance of succeeding.    No party, not believed  to be democratic, can rise even to respectable minority.

Of this our late elections  have afforded us ample proof.    We do not in  this respect  refer  to the successes of the democratic party, so called; for in fact neither party has gained much to boast of; though the democratic party has gained somewhat since 1837; but we refer to the claims which both parties set up. The Whig party, which, whether right or wrong, we have been in the habit of regarding as the legitimate heir of the old Federal party, modified merely to meet the new questions which have come up, has not been willing to rest its claims on the fact of its being the continuation of that party; but it has called itself democratic, and challenged success on the ground of being more democratic than the democratic party itself. Why has it done this, if not from the conviction that democracy is the dominant faith of the country, and that all open and avowed opposition to it must be unavailing 1 In doing this, has it not said that its success must be proportionate to the belief it can produce that it is the real democratic party ? that to conquer it must steal the democratic thunder, and swear that it is whig property 1 If so, it is well; it is a proof that the American people are sound at the core, and that nothing is necessary to carry any measure but to make it be seen to be a truly democratic measure.
The course pursued by the democratic party, so called, for the last year, has also testified clearly to the same point. We could say something against the party which has called itself democratic, were we so disposed; especially in the State of New York, where it has been twice so severely rebuked. The failures of that party have been entirely owing to itself. A party really democratic is in harmony with the dominant sentiment of the American people, and must be invincible. But the party which has borne the name has not always been true to the principle. Confident in its numbers, its organization, and the prestige of its name, it has taken too little care to be really and truly democratic in its principles. It had too little respect, at least, the men who for a long time gave it its tone, had too little respect for the equality recognised by our institutions, and which the people were craving to see realized. In this fact must we look for the cause of the reverses which it has experienced. No party ever fails or loses ground unless by its own fault; and there is no greater folly, not to say injustice, than for one party to attribute its ill success to the intrigues of another. Let a party be true to the dominant idea of its country, and its success is as certain as the revolutions of the earth. When it deserts that idea, when it loses sight of the principle which makes the life of its country, and depends on something else for success, it fails, and deservedly fails. We are free to confess that the party, calling itself democratic, had, to some extent, at least, lost sight of the democratic principle ; it had imbibed some of the doctrines, and adopted the practices, of the party of Privilege. And severely, and justly too, has it been rebuked. But,  and this is the point, it bids fair to profit by its rebukes, and henceforth to be in fact, as well as in name, the democratic party.

The failures of the administration party, not its successes, are to us the encouraging facts we witness. We say not this because we would see that party driven from power, nor because we have any apprehensions that it will be ; but because we believe that party had in many places become exceedingly corrupt. The time has not long gone by, since it was more than the reputation of a member of that party was worth, to be bold and uncompromising in the advocacy of true democratic measures and doctrines. We have not forgotten the manner in which it received, some years ago, the very proposition for an Independent Treasury which it now puts forth ; nor have we forgotten a certain Proclamation, which, for its strong centralizing doctrines, surpassed even what the boldest leaders of the old Federal party would have dared put forth under similar circumstances; nor the demoralizing doctrine unblushingly avowed on the floor of the United States Senate, that " to the victor belong the spoils; " nor the reception which was given to the really democratic doctrines proposed by the working-men, doctrines which are now, in substance, the creed of the party. We have not forgotten these things ; but we do not bring them against the party as it now is ; we refer to them merely for the purpose of showing that the failures the party has experienced were not uncaused nor unmerited. The party needed to be checked, to be made aware that it would be permitted to possess power, only on the condition of being thoroughly democratic. Its failures were a needed discipline ; its reverses, as in the case of individuals, were necessary to purify its heart, and by purifying to fortify it,  to throw it back on first principles, and compel it, as it hoped for success, to place itself in harmony with the great democratic idea which constitutes the life of the country. And it has fallen back on first principles; it has revived the old party lines, and brought on virtually the same controversy as that of '98. It has done this, and already we see the good effects of it; already do we see its strength increase, and its prospects of success brighten ; and if it will but remain true to the creed it now avows, it must soon have the great body of the Confederacy with it.

The true,  we say not the nominal,  democratic party, always relies with a firm faith on principle. It is conscious of its own rectitude, that its cause is the cause of truth and justice; and it knows the people are with it; that the prayers of all good men, the world over, are for it; and that Heaven, with all its omnipotence, stands pledged to give it success. In prosperity it is not elated; in adversity it does not despond ; but ever keeps on the even tenor of its way with a serene brow and a tranquil pulse. It confides too firmly in the power of truth and justice to ever resort to artifice for its success. Calmly, but distinctly, it proclaims its great doctrines, which are always the intuitions of the Universal Reason, and doubts not that in due time those doctrines will embody themselves in institutions, and diffuse their fragrance over the whole earth.

Into perfect harmony with this true democratic party, we think we see the democratic party, so called, now coming, and therefore do we hope. If it puts forth the doctrines it now does, and adheres to them in its practice, as we have reason to believe it will, it must secure the cooperation of every man who has democratic sympathies and hopes. As it presents itself to us to-day, it is the true Movement Party of the country, forming the advanced guard of the grand army of progress now displaying its plumes throughout the civilized world, and promising not to lay down its arms till man everywhere is free, and the true kingdom of God is established on the earth. It is the party of Liberty, of Humanity, and as such must commend itself to every friend of his race. If it fulfil its present promises, it will realize a truly democratic society; enlist religion, art, science, literature, philosophy, on its side, and prove to the world that man can be really great and good only where the people are sovereign.

The result of late elections and the present aspect of parties, teach us forcibly the necessity of adhering to the great principles which lie at the foundation of our institutions. Our present embarrassments, so far as concerns Federal politics, arise from the fact that the Republican party which came into power with Mr. Jefferson, soon lost sight of the principles of the Federal constitution, and gradually came to adopt the principles avowed by the party over which it had triumphed. At the close of the war all the tendencies of the Republican party were to the centralizing doctrines of the Federal party. The amalgamation of the two parties, which followed soon after, was brought about not by the fact that Federalists became Republicans, but by the fact that Republicans became Federalists. Here is the source of our difficulties,  difficulties which can be surmounted only by going back to the principles of '98, and, in Federal politics, planting  ourselves   firmly on   the   doctrine of  State Rights. We must revive true Federalism, and recal the Federal government to the few specific objects for which the States in their sovereign capacity instituted it. Let this be done by the democratic party, and every old Jeffersonian Republican, every young man who comprehends the theory of the Federal government, must and will rally to its support. If it does not do this, it will fail, and justly.
In the states themselves, the party must become really and truly democratic. It must go for the whole people; against all monopolies ; against all exclusive privileges ; against all aristocratic measures; and in favor of mild and equal laws; in favor of equal rights; in favor of education, literature, art, and philosophy. It must plant itself on the primitive fact, that all men are born essentially equal, and that there is something divine in every man. It must be ever on the side of freedom, sympathize with the oppressed, with all who are struggling for their rights. It must be high-toned and moral; confiding in the people, and still more in the immortal vigor of truth and justice.

Then its triumph, though it may not be to-day, nor to-morrow, is certain ; and its triumph will be a blessing to the country,  to the world.
But in order to succeed, the democratic party must bear in mind that its hopes of success should rest on the fact, that it rallies around a principle which is planted deep in the human heart, and in the triumph of which entire Humanity is interested. The masses are moved only by great and everlasting principles, which touch every individual of the race. Parties, merely as parties, are nothing to the masses; individuals, as simple individuals, are nothing to them. A Clay, a Webster, a Van Buren, a Calhoun, are nothing to them, any further than they are the impersonations of great principles. Show them that this or that man embodies in himself the cause of the millions, that in raising him to office the cause of the millions is secured, and then as the representative of a cause does he become of importance; and it is only then that he ceases to be an object of indifference. No matter how great or how worthy a man is, viewed simply as an individual, the masses will not sustain him, and ought not to sustain him, unless he represents their cause. This is seen in literature as well as in politics. What has not been said to depreciate Byron! His character has been depicted in the most unfavorable light possible; and critics and reviewers have pronounced his poems destructive of all that is dear to man and society; they have dwelt long and often on the immoralities of which he was guilty; and yet he is the Poet of the age ; every body reads him; the millions clasp him to their heart, for they recognise in him the poet of Humanity ; they hear him speaking out for man, for freedom, and declaring in tones that thrill through their inmost souls,

" And I will war, at least in words (and  should My chance so happen  deeds) with all who war
With thought;  and thought's foes by far most rude, Tyrants and sycophants have been and are.
I know not who may conquer: If I could Have such a prescience, it should be no bar
To this my plain, sworn, downright detestation
Of every despotism in every nation."

And they claim him as one of themselves, cherish him as the apple of their eye, and defend him as it were with their lives against every adversary who would rise up against him. On the other hand, with all the advantage of private and personal worth, with all the puffing and blowing, and heaving and tugging of critics and reviewers, nothing can be made of Wordsworth. The people do not hear his voice nor follow him. Though he sings of " Beggars," " Waggoners," and " Idiot Boys," and in the simplest strains, his song fetches no echo from the universal heart of Humanity. He impersonates no cause; at least, he impersonates not the cause which is dear to the millions. Ever must he live or die as the Poet of the Lakes, and experience the fate of the local and temporary objects he sings. In accordance with the same law, a Webster, with his almost superhuman talents, can wake no response to his appeals. The people do not hear him, do not follow him, because they do not recognise him as an impersonation of their cause. A Jackson, again, carries the people with him. When he speaks there comes an echo from all parts of the republic. Notwithstanding all that is said against him, notwithstanding the virulent assaults upon his moral and personal character, upon his intellect, upon his acquirements, upon his public acts, he secures the masses, because in supporting him they feel they are securing the triumph of their own cause. And if Mr. Van Buren fail in his administration, it will be because he fails to identify himself in the minds of the people with the popular cause. Let him be really and truly the representative of that cause, and no power on earth can prevent his reelection.

The contest for men is insignificant. Individuals are nothing,  causes are everything; and the man who would stand at the head of his country must be the impersonation of his country's cause. Parties, as such, again, are nothing, causes everything. Let the standard of the masses be raised, the banner of Equality be unfurled, and distinctly seen to wave over the camp of any given party, and the masses shall rally around that standard, joyously enrol themselves under that banner. Let there then be no thought about men, none about parties, but let the whole energy of the soul be given to causes. Seize the right cause, and doubt not the right party will gather round you with the right man at its head. Ideas are omnipotent; bring out the true idea, it will choose its leader, and organize its party. If the democratic party, so called, adhere to the democratic idea, if it continue to show that it has in its keeping a sacred cause, a cause dear to Humanity, and which ought to prevail, it may rest assured of complete success, for the world is under the government of justice, not of iniquity.

If it is asked again, Which of the two parties that now divide the country will succeed? We answer, We know not. But Truth and Justice reign, and they have decreed that this shall be the land of Freedom ; and the party which best represents the cause of Freedom will triumph. The party which best represents this cause is, in our judgment, at the present moment, the party which calls itself democratic. Since it has fallen back on first principles, it has come into harmony with the mighty spirit of Freedom now agitating the world; and we doubt not its ultimate success. Through it now speaks the voice of Eternal Principle, which is the voice of the people ; and the voice of the people is the voice of God ; and when God speaks, who dare deny that he will be heard and obeyed?