« ForrigeFortsæt »
self-exaltation would be left without any check; and to give free license to principles, so strong and universal, would be fraught with imminent danger. No man is entirely free from their influence; and small would be the number, who could preserve a strict integrity in such circumstances. While public men are subjected to the closest observation of the whole people ; while every eye is fixed upon them, and every voice ready to be raised at their slightest deviation from duty, at their smallest assumption of power, they are much less apt to take such a step. By doing thus, they would be sure to defeat their own purposes, and destroy all their political expectations.
But in this country we have little reason to apprehend a lack of public watchfulness. No man can be brought before the people as a candidate for any office, without undergoing the most searching scrutiny, both in regard to his public and his private character. No man can hold any office of trust, without having every action bruited about the country, and held up in every light in which political friendship on the one hand, and political enmity on the other, is able to place it. The public, with its hundred eyes all turned upon him, will observe every transaction ; and no political Hermes can hope, with any charm, to lull its sleepless vigilance. The press, with its hundred tongues, will trumpet every deed through the whole land. Where a people is divided into parties, and arrayed under different political banners, there is not the slightest cause to fear a want of adequate caution and jealousy. The party which holds the supremacy will never be able to make any encroachment, or aggrandize itself in the least, through insufficient watchfulness and suspicion in the party which it has defeated. That party will hold it as its bounden duty to look with constant distrust on the movements of its more fortunate rival; and if the least violence should be offered to any of our political righis; if the least attempt be made to grasp any power; ay, if only a suspicion of such a thing be once raised; the alarm would be sounded, and echoed by one after another, till it had reached the farthest corner of the nation.
We say, then, there will always be sufficient watchfulness. There is no danger of our falling into a stupid indifference. Rather have we cause to fear we shall be rent by the undue violence of party jealousy. Our whole existence as a nation shows this. A proper caution, a moderate distrust, a fearless censure when deserved, is necessary under such a government. For thus only can we preserve the body politic in a healthful state. But the violence of party, which shows itself in unmerited and indiscriminate censure and reproach ; which assails the noblest character with its harpy talons, and befouls and lacerates all it touches; which breathes the breath of calumny on the purest motives, and sullies the brightest patriotism; which, not content with blackening the public character of a man, enters within the sacred precincts of private life, and pretends to discover vices and failings, which exist only in the dark imagination of some hireling pander to party passion—this state of things, we say, is of all the least desirable. Better, ay, thrice better suffer a little for too much confidence in men, than let our baser passions run riot in such a manner ! They will surely gain a fearful
ascendency over all our generous and nobler principles, if left thus unrestrained.
A wide distinction is made by most persons, between slandering public and private men. It seems to be considered a matter of course, that a public man must be vilified and calumniated, whether he deserves it or not; and such a state of feeling lessens the crime in the eyes of the community. Nay, we think it is hardly ever considered a crime to cast censure and reproach on the character of a public man. It is always expected from his political antagonists. Hundreds of sheets, daily and weekly issued, are teeming with their falsehood and scurrility. The press is very cautious, as a general thing, in regard to originating calumnies against a private citizen. It is quite careful, too, not to repeat charges and accusations when made by others, unless it has ample proof that they are true. The terrors of the law are sufficient to check any propensity to do this. Private slander walks in secret, and does its dark work with hints and whispers ; public slander stalks forth under the broad eye of day, and proclaims its falsehoods with the voice of a trumpet. This state of things is sanctioned by that maxim, too often made a rule of action, “ All is fair in politics." The political press seems generally to have adopted it. Every organ of a party, and every petty journal, is ready to propagate anything to throw discredit on its rival. The grossest falsehoods and the foulest charges are freely used, and met on the other hand by equal abuse and recrimination. Let a man possess motives as pure as the sunlight; let him be as upright and stanch a patriot as ever breathed the air of heaven; and if he receives the nomination of one party for an exalted office, he is immediately assailed by every fuming speech-maker, and every venal scribbler, in the ranks of the other. Were one to judge of any man who has been supported by either party in several of our presidential elections, without any other means of information than the columns of opposing journals, he might well think him one, who would leave
“ A villain's name to other times, Linked with no virtue, but a thousand crimes."
Nor is the press alone at fault in this matter. It is unjust to blame it, for all this virulence and abuse. The people are more willing to believe charges against a public man, than against any other individual. Every imputation on his character is “proof conclusive" of his guilt, with those of a different political creed. They turn a deaf ear to every thing which may be urged in his extenuation. They behold all bis actions through a distorting medium. Political prejudices are stronger than any other. The passions are more easily roused, and when roused, are more ungovernable. Men who can preserve their coolness and candor on any other subject, are often hasty and blinded by prejudice in their politics.
It is one of the worst evils of this state of things, that political service is brought into disrepute among upright and honorable men. To be a politician in the eyes of many, is to be a demagogue—a crafty and unprincipled aspirant to office and distinction.
There are so many of the latter character, who are ever clamorous for some reward for merits which few but ihemselves can discern, that the reproach which deservedly falls on them, is extended to the whole class. If one enters the political arena—if he mingles in the strife with those of a base and despicable character—he is soon confused with the rest; and amidst the cloud of dust which the violence of the contest has raised, they all appear alike to the multitude. Again, so many dishonest and intriguing men are chosen to office, in the heat and frenzy of popular excitement, that there is too much reason for the odium which attaches to political life. But this very thing is, in great measure, the result of the licentious and unsparing calumny bestowed on public men. Those of a reckless and profligate nature, care little for what is said of them, provided they accomplish their purposes. They are destitute of all virtuous sensibility; and it is vain to think of making any impression on them, with the ordinary weapons of abuse. They are willing to abide the pelting of the pitiless storm; for it hurts not their feelings, it does them no injury. They are steeled to all the influences which affect the ingenuous and sensitive man. The latter will shrink from a life, which exposes him to such opprobrium. He will choose some more quiet calling. He will renounce political life, and devote himself to some one of the professions, or seek the still more calm and pleasing walks of science and literature. Hence, we often hear it said, that comparatively few of the best men are now elevated to the high places of our government. The profession of law is considered a steppingstone to political honor and preferment. But so far as we are acquainted, the most honest and upright men in that profession are the least engaged in political life. In the great body of politicians, there are some noble and high-minded men, who scorn personal considerations, in comparison with the duty they owe their country; but the number is too small even to operate as the "little leaven," which "leaveneth the whole lump.” We think that more than one body of the same number as our Congress, might be selected from those in professional life, and those engaged in literary and scientific pursuits, who would combine more honesty and patriotism, as well as talent, than half-a-dozen such Congresses as we often have. Such a state of things in public life is verily an unhappy one. Our institutions were founded, and our constitution framed, by the best men of the age. Would we preserve our government in its original purity; would we maintain our constitution unshaken and our rights unimpaired, we should give to our best men the direction of public affairs. Any state of things which deters the best men from undertaking such duties, is much to deprecated.
Political life has little of the sincerity and friendship, which cheers and gratifies the private citizen. All the kindly feeling, all the unfeigned sympathy, all the generous esteem, and all the sincere charity, which was cherished and exercised towards the statesman in his private lise, is banished from the walks he has now entered. The political friends of a distinguished statesman are generally but cringing flatterers, who surround him and fill his ear with their empty adula
tions, in the hope of gaining some portion of the emolument and distinction, which he is able to bestow
“Who crook the pregnant hinges of the knee,
Where thrift may follow fawning." While he is borne on the calm waters of popular favor, while the breeze is prosperous and fortune sits smiling at the helm, they throng into his wake, and the constant cry of each is,
“Say, shall my little bark attendant sail,
Pursue the triumph, and partake the gale?” But when adversity comes, and he has ceased to be the favored one, they abandon him at once. It is a heartless and a hollow thing—this friendship in politics. Political enmity, on the other hand, is the most bitter and unrelenting. Whatever severity has been indulged in by an opponent, in a war of words, is not easily forgiven. Nowhere is sarcasm more powerful, and more injurious in its effects. It is seldom combined with that pleasantry and good nature, which makes it heal while it wounds. It continues to rankle and exasperate. Its essence is bitterness and malignity. We believe that more duels and affrays which have occurred in our land, have
sprung from political differences, than from any other cause ; ay, we might rather say, than from all other causes together.
Is it said that a truly great man ought to be above the reach of such an influence, and pay no regard to the low and paltry accusations of the party press ? It is much easier to say this, than to endure the trial. Greatness of intellect does not divest a man of the ordinary feelings of his race. He is “ of like passions” with the rest of his kind. Nay, he has often much more regard for his reputation, than those of a less noble stamp. His most valued jewel is his own good
Whatever injures that, wounds him the most deeply. Fine feelings and a keen sensibility are often united with greatness of mind. An individual of this character could undergo no worse ordeal, than to be supported for office, through a single political canvass. By the aspersions of a party press, he is at once changed from the respected citizen and the genuine patriot, into the veriest villain and demagogue in the land. The transformation has been as sudden, as if he had been touched by the magic wand of Comus. Though he may be able to bear
up under all this load of abuse ; though he may despise the base and skulking wretches who pen the slanders, who are protected from notice by their own insignificance, or by withholding their real names, it is still a hard, a vexatious, a disagreeable situation. Though he may not be overpowered by their united attacks; though he may not suffer a political death from all their “ paper bullets of the brain ;" it is still enough to keep him in constant disquiet and irritation. Like the traveler of Swist
, when attacked by the pigmy inhabitants of the island on which he had been cast, he is vexed and annoyed by the cloud of little Lilliputian arrows, which a host of puny scribblers are VOL. XI.
showering upon him. We sometimes see a great and noble statesman, who is wholly regardless of all such attacks upon his character; and though we can but think he has grown callous by long abuse, or is naturally destitute of that delicate sensibility, which shrinks from public censure, we honor and admire such a man. We admire him, who in the colossal dignity of his character, stands calm and unmoved amidst all the rage and violence of party struggles; who quails not before the fiercest storms of popular abuse ; who is listed above the petty contentions that embroil the mass of men; who, strong in the rectitude of his own intentions, and firm in his own integrity, maintains his post and flings all slanderous charges to the winds.
"As some tall cliff, that lifts its awful form,
There can be no greater injustice, than to vilify the character of an honest public man. He has broken away from the attachments of long acquaintance, the strong bonds of friendship, the still closer and more tender ties of kindred and family, and all the affections and delights, which cluster round the spot where one has spent his early years. He has relinquished the quiet and social enjoyments of the citizen, and given himself to the cares and toils of his country's service. Shall he then receive unmerited abuse as his “exceeding great reward ?” Shall he suffer all the annoyances of a pitiless malevolence, in addition to the burdensome and harassing duties of his station ? Shall he experience all the bitterness of ingratitude, where he should rather enjoy the pleasing and satisfactory approbation of a grateful people? There is something radically wrong in public opinion, when it tolerates such an evil. A nation ought to be as jealous of the good name of its public men, as of its own reputation. Whatever is calculated to tarnish their good name, should meet with a prompt and unqualified rebuke. It is often said, that the character of public men is public property; and it is acting the part of a madman, for a people to tear in pieces and destroy its own possessions. A nation should cherish her public men, as her most precious treasures. She should hold them up before the world, and point to them with exultation, while with the Roman matron, she should say, “These are my jewels.". It is a poor reward for all the abuse men receive when living, that when dead the voice of calumny will be silenced, and their name mentioned with unmingled honor and respect. It doubtless often affords them consolation ; but how much better would it be, to sweeten their toils and smooth the rough pathway of public life, with the honest and heartfelt expressions of gratitude and esteem! The last days of Washington were embittered by the slanderous attacks upon his character ; and though none now speak of him, save with reverence and admiration, it is enough to call forth tears to think the declining life of so good a man, should have been rendered unhappy by the malice and