« PreviousContinue »
to go along with all the extravagancies that are subsequently engendered.
Then, it is farther to be kept in mind, that in all such times, party spirit produces its usual effects with increased and extended influenceand that multitudes, who, standing by themselves, would never have approved of the measures that are adopted, yet feel their party involved in the maxims that have been embraced, and would consider it as the most to be avoided of all things, to desert that party to which, in its more moderate doings, they had pledged their support-and the relinquishment of which, in its seasons of hazard and of struggle, they regard as certainly bringing on them the odious imputation of being renegades to their opinions.
Besides this, there are at all times in every community, a vast proportion of persons engaged in the active and commercial transactions of daily life-who feel that their interest is to yield to the opinion that is paramount at the time--or, at any rate, to offer no resistance to that current which is bearing all around them in one common direction--such persons feel, by that delicate tact which private interest always produces, that they must keep well with the multitude of their supporters--and that
any appearance of opposition to their sentiments, would be equivalent to a relinquishment of those interests, on which their private and domestic success is mainly dependent. This consideration, accordingly, goes far to account for the rapidity and the extent with which, in all times of general excitation, the great and unthinking, but busy and self-interested mass of the community, never fail to admit the opinions that are most current, and most in favour with the people at the time, as it also does for the readiness with which, on any great change of sentiment, the same sort of persons adopt the maxims that have again assumed the ascendency.
Then, it must still farther be kept in mind, that in all great communities, there are at all times a vast multitude of persons of the lowest and most unprincipled grades, who delight in change and mischief solely for their own sakes—who have been accustomed to eye with a bitter scowl the more fortunate condition of the respectable and flourishing classes whom they see around them--who are ready to support any opinions hostile to existing things that may be advanced, solely because they dislike everything that is established---and who are earnest to advance to the work of destruction only that their appetite for mischief may be
gratified-or because they have an obscure hope, that when all other classes are made to suffer, their own condition runs some chance of being bettered.
And lastly, even men of moderate views, in such times--but who are not unfavourable to some melioration of the social order-still hope, even when things are obviously advancing to destruction, that the excitement is only for a time--that society and the good sense of the community will regain the calm which they seem for a season to have lost-and that the interests that are at stake are too great to be permitted to run the awful hazard, which is sometimes represented as awaiting them. Such persons, accordingly, still continue “to hope even against all appearance of hope”---and like voyagers on some great but unexplored river, they steer their little barks in the direction of the stream, ever fondly looking for calmer skies and a more placid current, till the rush of the waters becomes too mighty for their skill, and they too, like every thing else around them, are borne to certain ruin, by the dash of the cataract.
In concluding these observations, then, it may be safely stated, that though there are times, when public affairs are in such a crisis, that the utmost wisdom of even the most enlightened and guiding
minds is at fault, and that the most difficult of all questions, then, is to determine whether the safest course is to resist the torrent or to yield quietly to its impulse-still there ought, from all past history and present observation and experience, to be no question as to the statement--that the greatest of all the errors which leading men in such circumstances can commit, although it is an error which they have uniformly been disposed, in all past times to sanction, is that of calling the people into any active share, direct or indirect, in the functions of government during such times—for that is an influence which will undoubtedly prove ruinous, sooner or later, to the very best schemes of improvement—and that, therefore, the purer, and more enlightened, and more valuable, consequently, the ideas entertained by the leading men of the community are felt to be, and the more anxious and disinterested their wish to give the full benefit of such principles to the body of the community, the more assiduous and jealous should be their care, that no vulgar influence should mingle with their endeavours—but that all their measures and all their instruments should be suited to the high, and pure, and useful character of the views they entertain, and to which they wish to give their best and most unimpeded effect.
III. CHANGES THAT ARE DESIRABLE.
In proceeding to this part of our subject, we desire it to be distinctly understood, that we do not aim at suggesting expedients for the removal of any particular existing abuses—or for the melioration of any one society—but simply at the exhibition of certain maxims which should be kept in mind at all times—and which it should be the object, both of the governors and the governed, to identify as much as possible with the specific arrangements they have it in view to improve. We take the position, in short, not of political reformers, whose object it is to propose alterations in any existing institutions—but of moralists or philosophical speculators, who view society from a vantage ground, above the agitation of present pursuits,—and who seek chiefly to evolve the maxims which should guide the operations of a well-conditioned and progressive community at all moments of its course—and especially with a view to that advancing tendency under which all political institutions ought to be considered.
Before proceeding, however, to the statement of these maxims, there are one or two observations of a preliminary nature, to which it may be proper to draw the attention of the reader.