- Published: 27 December 2011
In this condition of things, when the domineering spirit of party frowns on moderation as apostacy or cowardice, who are the men to listen to truth and impartial discussion! Who will hazard the opprobrium of both parties, to expose their mistakes and attempt to arrest the career of men, whose intemperate zeal has pushed our affairs to this alarming crisis?
Let it be considered, that nothing is more injurious to a cause than to attempt to defend, what is not susceptible of defense. The advocate, who dwells on a weak point, exhausts his own powers, while he tires the patience, and impairs the confidence, of his judges. By insisting on every thing, a party often loses every thing—This is especially true in political affairs, where numerous interests are to be consulted, and numerous opinions to be reconciled to a common result. If men would withdraw their attachment from systems and names, the sober, reflecting, unambitious citizens of both parties would, at this moment, coalesce on every measure essential to the public safety. If instead of enlisting under the standard of federalism and republicanism, they would investigate principles, and understand the true interests of the United States, the great body of the people would unite in their conclusions. If the charm of names cannot be dissolved, our condition is hopeless. The supporters of the present administrator, more especially in the Southern States, are not all jacobins nor disorganizers. Great numbers of respectable men abandoned the late administration, because they believed the government had abandoned the primary objects of the revolution, and made improper concessions to the British government. Of this fact there is certain evidence. Their opinion is probably not correct, in the latitude in which it is entertained; but it is not to be denied, that some measures gave countenance to it.—Both parties have committed errors—the true policy of our country unquestionably lies between the extremes of their measures. The federalists as a party, appear to have the most correct ideas of government—ideas drawn from a view of the nature of man, and from the history of society—and experiment will ultimately decide in their favor. At the same time, they have pushed their measures farther than the temper of the people will bear; and the writer believes, that in their honest zeal to preserve peace with Great-Britain, and a revenue undiminished, they have made some necessary concessions to the British government, in regard to a neutral commerce in time of war.
The present ruling party, on the other hand, led astray by closer theories, are making experiments in government, which all history and the observations of every day, demonstrate to be idle and futile. Their principles are incompatible with the safety of society, and their administration disdains all constitutional obstacles to the accomplishment of their schemes. The consequences of such a system, pursued to its extent, are more easily imagined than described.
To avert the evils that threaten our public tranquility, more temper and forbearance, with mutual disposition to conciliate confidence, must be manifested by the respective parties. Whatever may be the fact, with regard to the precise degree of merit in their systems, it is prudent for both to recede from some of their pretensions. There is no exact standard of political right and wrong, by which discordant opinions can, in all cases, be adjusted. Even the Constitution is not sufficiently explicit to furnish this standard. Our substance for such a common arbiter, must be found in mutual concessions, which will answer the purpose; for it is a remark on which great stress is laid, that harmony of councils will obviate the errors and defects of legislation. Mutual concessions, therefore, would be honorable to the parties—they are due to truth—they are demanded by the imperious voice of public duty and national safety. Nor is it to be questioned, that without receding from some of the ground which has been taken, the most upright and able men in the country, will find it extremely difficult to recover the influence which they have lost, and which they certainly deserve.
It is morally impossible, that the body of a people, can be enemies to public happiness. They may be, and often are, misled; yet in every case of this kind, the evil will find a remedy in the inconveniences resulting from their councils. It is the remark of an accurate observer of human nature, "That a few men only have discernment enough to distinguish in speculation, what is expedient and useful, from what is improper and pernicious; most men are taught only by experience."* Experience alone can convince the great mass of people of their mistake; and for the effect of experience we must wait with patience. It is worse than useless to rail at men for being in error, or for being misled. Instead of weakening their confidence in their leaders, or convincing them of their mistake, personal ill treatment serves to confirm them; and resentment coming in aid of natural attachment to a preconceived opinion, renders the possessor incorrigible.
*Pauci prudentia, bonesta ab deterioribus, utilia ab noxiis, discernunt; plures aliorum eventis docentur. Tacit An. Lib. 4. 33.
This impolitic conduct often multiplies the foes of a good cause; without necessity, and widens a breach which a temperate policy would serve to heal. If a man cannot assent to every measure of his party, he is abused and his reputation slandered; perhaps too by the very men who clamor most bitterly against the same conduct in their opposers. The man’s pride and independence of mind revolt at the indignity, which he is conscious he does not deserve; resentment stimulates him to vindicate his principles, and finally to abandon his persecutors. This mistaken policy, of erecting a particular system of measures, as an idol, and chastizing every man who will not fall down and worship it, has accelerated the overthrow of the federal interest—in one state, it has been the most fruitful source of opposition to that interest—nor is there any party or cause, which this species of overbearing persecution, would not gradually fritter away and destroy.
Triumphant jacobinism, in any country, is a formidable calamity, overwhelming all good order, all social security, and all improvement, in promiscuous ruin. But jacobinism is a monster which devours her own offspring. No nation of jacobins can exist, nor can a race of such monsters long tyrannize over a nation. The reign of error, of vice, of folly and passion, must ever be short, in proportion as it is violent and destructive.
The turbulence of the democratic spirit is a violent disease, incident to free states. France has felt the full force of its pangs—but the crisis is past and she is convalescent. Whether the United States are to suffer all the violence of the disease, or only its milder symptoms, time only can determine. One thing is obvious—the present state of inflammation will not bear stimulant applications.
If arguments will not restrain the intemperate zeal and vindictive spirit of men in power, menaces and provocations will only serve to irritate that spirit. Nor will it be of any use to hold up to view the terrors of civil war. Foreign danger, indeed, would call for more passion; but internal dissensions call for less. No internal disputes should unsheath the sword—that should be reserved exclusively for defense against a foreign foe. A constitution prostrated—the independence of the judiciary destroyed—a revenue defrauded—offices committed to worthless men—these would be severe national calamities—but infinitely less evils than a drawn sword. Let rash heads be suspected—let violent hands be restrained—let public evils be left to operate on our citizens, till they have learnt the cause and are willing to apply a peaceable remedy. As sure as the revolutions of the day and night, the pernicious effects of a bad system of measures will alarm the fears and open the eyes of its advocates; provided the passions of the people can be liberated from the influence of hasty councils, and guarded from the exasperations of headstrong men. The people can neither be forced nor provoked to renounce their errors. Nine tenths of the blood that has been shed in civil commotions, would have been spared, if a few ambitious leaders had been restrained, until the people could have had time to pause and deliberate.
Amidst the angry passions of parties, the writer has hitherto preserved that independence of mind, without which men is not better than a machine. His opinions, except on the point before mentioned, have been uniform from the year 1793, when parties began to assume their present complexion. In 1793, he defended the conduct of our government in regard to neutral commerce—on this subject, a more careful investigation, has compelled him to change his opinion.
In the following collection, the remarks addressed to the President were written for the public prints, with little regard to style or arrangement. The short essay on the Rights of Neutral Nations, was originally intended for the same channel of communication; but was found to be too lengthy. If any mistake, in fact or opinion, shall be found in any part of this miscellany, it will be cheerfully acknowledged and corrected. The principles are such as the writer believes to be just, and equally suited to all parties and every change of administration. The remarks have been dictated by no personal animosity, nor are intended to answer any private views. They have exclusively, for their object, the public interest—that interest which good citizens pursue, under all changes of political affairs, unallured by the smiles, unawed by the frowns, of violent party men.—The writer has endevoured to treat the several subjects with candor; and he trusts, his language is marked with that respect for private characters, and public opinion, which he sincerely feels.