« PreviousContinue »
THIRD SERIES, NO. I.—WHOLE NUMBER LVII.
THREE PROGRESSIVE EXPERIMENTS IN HUMAN GOVERNMENT.
By JOSEPH F. TUTTLE, Marietta College, Ohio.
OURS is a world of experiment. Oft repeated experiment, and as oft repeated failure, are necessary to secure even an approximation to perfection. Art has its infancy, its uncultivated youth, and then the ripe beauties of manhood. Science at first shoots out rays dimmer than starlight, then come the long and joyous beams of light, flashing from beneath the horizon, then the sun itself emerges, and careers upward to the full blaze of noonday. Literature at first stammers with harsh utterance, experiment converts this into the mellow tones of luxuriant but undisciplined manhood, and finally chastens this unpruned luxuriance into the angelic strains which flow from the lips of a Shakspeare and a Milton.
The Creator has not enthroned his creatures on the pinnacle of perfection. Effort must be expended, mind developed, genius waked up, energies fired, to realize the ideal perfection which burns so brightly in the human soul. Wheresoever the creature may rank, or whatever his original THIRD SERIES, VOL. I. NO. I.
power, he will behold reared above him mountains which his spirit will strive to scale, and when these have been attained, still other and mightier mountains will greet his eye, and arouse the godlike energies of his soul. Progress is a law of the rational universe. It was never intended that the soul, the offspring and image of Deity, should remain the passive recipient of blessings conferred by Omnipotence. That were an unworthy destiny. Thought, ceaseless and pleasurable, was destined to range over an infinite field, forever winging a bolder flight, and exploring the beautiful and grand so munificently scattered throughout infinity. In a word, it was the design of God that mind should revel in the delicious joys of activity, of progress, of eagerly reaching forward to its ideal perfection, and yet forever realize that such an idea of perfection is only consummated in God.
With these thoughts in mind, it will not seem strange that men were left to experiment on the different modes of national government. For ages this world has been one vast workshop, and the genius of man the indefatigable statuary. At one time he has chiselled, from the rough marble of society, a form beautiful as ever greeted the eye of an artist, and his heart has throbbed wildly, as he fancied his hope fulfilled. But this form was as the lifelike statue of Pygmalion. As the artist gazed on the delicate image, he became enamoured with its bewitching loveliness, but with all its delicate beauty and bewitching loveliness, it was cold marble. No ethereal fire warmed it into immortality, and it soon perished. Again the statuary toils for the desired end. At length his breath is almost suspended with joy, as he beholds another form moulded into full proportion, not so symmetrical as the former, yet not destitute of symmetry. Its magnificent bust, its brawny limbs, its iron sinews, gave token of extraordinary power. It moved and breathed, but its lustreless eye gave no evidence of immortal fire kindled at the seat of life. Its countenance was stern, and its hand swayed an inexorable sceptre. As the elated artist gazed upon this child of his genius, he thought that beauty, power, life, were here combined in per
fection. For ages it remained apparently the heir of immortality. The nations bowed submissively to its yoke. Then it began to decay, it tottered, it fell; it was not immortal.
Despair now seemed to gather around the artist, as he beheld the signal defeat of his cherished hopes. It was thenif I may be permitted to follow out the figure-that a beam of light from heaven flashed upon his soul and inspired his energies anew. Under the master-touches of genius another magnificent form was developed from the massive marble. The delicate beauty of the first creation combined with the lordly grandeur of the second. But the current of life leaping through the transparent veins, the eye kindled into the impassioned light of thought, and the countenance resplendent with the emotions of soul, all showed that the breath of immortality had waked the lifeless marble into deathless life. That was the ideal perfection, realizing the combination of beauty, power, immortality.
But to speak in plain terms, may not these figures be representatives of three grand experiments in human government, which either have been made or are now making in the world? In a certain sense all the experiments conducted among different nations, may be considered as modifications of these three, Grecian Democracy, Roman Law, and Christian Republicanism. It is proposed to develope at some length each of these systems, considering them as steps of progression toward perfection in human government.
Democracy in its purest form was the prevailing system of government in Greece. In other countries the patriarchal rule of families ripened into despotism, reducing the masses under the power of irresponsible men. But in Greece, from the very first, there was manifested a passion for popular freedom, which burnt brightly until quenched in blood by Roman power. Nor is it any well founded objection to this assertion, that such men as the thirty tyrants, Pericles, and Themistocles, exercised arbitrary power over the people; for "the thirty," by their horrid excesses during a single year, endeavoring to stifle the spirit of freedom, really added fuel to the flame, and
fanned it into incontrollable fury: whilst such men as Pericles and Themistocles perverted eloquence, the true child of freedom, to lull the people to peace, and then lead them to tyrannize over themselves.
But let us glance at the theory of a government occupying 2000 years in working out its appropriate results. Sixteen centuries elapsed in bringing this system to its acme. The democratic principle was diffused throughout Greece, but often manifested itself in outbursts of popular passion, at times threatening the very existence of the different tribes. Of course, at first, every thing was as rough as the block of marble just taken from the mountain, but every war, every insurrection, every revolution, every law enacted, tried and repealed, every step in the arts, science, and literature, were like the skilful strokes of a statuary. As age after age passed, democracy in theory assumed a beauty which can only be figured forth by the master works of their own sculptors. The Athenian government may be considered as the model of Grecian democracy, and he must indeed be destitute of enthusiasm, who has looked upon this without admiration. Their fleets and armies are led on to victory by men whom the people elected: if these commanders acted a noble part, from the people they received their richest reward, whilst the coward and the traitor were hurled headlong to ruin by the same potent sovereign. Had a citizen been wronged, he plead his cause before the people. Had high-handed crime been committed, the people pronounced the condemnation. Had the state suffered loss or insult, the people in full assembly weighed the wrong or insult, and denounced public vengeance. This was the great tribunal of the nation, the supreme arbiter, the fountain of law and power.
Nor was this assembly in its perfection the tumultuous rabble some have supposed. No indecent levity or trifling disgraced the deliberations of these popular governors, but all their assemblies were opened with solemn sacrifices to the gods, with invocations for wisdom and prudence to be communicated to every citizen. The rich did not overshadow
the poor, but the meanest citizen weighed as much as the loftiest in the enactment of public decrees. Nor did the youth forget to pay due respect to old age; all waited for the words of wisdom which might fall from the lips of their ancients. Indeed, in some respects, the Athenian Assembly might be held up as a model for some modern legislatures making far higher pretensions to decorum and dignity. The influence of this body in kindling suns of eloquence, whose brightness has astonished all succeeding ages, need not be mentioned, nor is it necessary to allude to the very defect, so far as the purposes of justice were concerned, exhibited in this fact. Suffice it to say that the very deformity, gross though it be when squared with justice, has added an imperishable grandeur to Grecian democracy. The potent energies of eloquence no doubt were perverted, but with all its perversions we mention admiringly the singular instrument which swayed the minds of multitudes, and gilds with bright rays the system which gave it birth.
And in glancing rapidly over this system, we must not omit the venerable tribunal of wisdom, the Areopagus. At first sight this may seem inconsistent with pure democracy, but really is not. For none but men who had discharged faithfully the duties of the Archonship could be admitted to membership in this court. The people elected the Archons, and for ten years must these officers, having reached a full maturity previous to election, discharge their high and responsible trust, as a probationary trial before admission into this august body. The nobility of the Areopagus may be inferred from a single fact. Pericles, a man of lofty genius, adding glory to his country's name by a series of brilliant public actions, and by a liberal patronage of art, science, and literature, rendering Athens illustrious to this day, was not able to secure admittance, because he had not discharged the preliminary duties, and obtained a character of unblemished probity. And it is the darkest stain on the fame of this remarkable man, that with all his munificent patronage of genius, he