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up, in scarcely a figurative sense, the steady flame of life? The truth is, that, the farther our researches extend, the wider our philosophy explores, the deeper our discoveries peņetrate, the more are we struck with the evidence of almighty contrivance, design, and power. If we take but a drop of water, we find it crowded with myriads of beings, deriving life, and sustenance, and pleasure, from its uncounted particles. If we take the wing of the minutest insect, we know that its slender fibres and its glossy down are perforated by thousands of vessels, and nerves, and filaments, which convey its appropriate nutriment, and impart to it its beautiful colors. Not a single function is misplaced ; not a single ligature is superfluous. Nay, perhaps it is not too bold an assertion, which has sometimes been made, that such are the mutual ties and dependencies of things, such the laws of action and reaction, of attractive support and repulsive effort, that not a single atom could be struck out of existence, without involving the destruction of the universe.
If these humble efforts should answer no other purpose, than thus to draw us to a more enlarged and varied contemplation of our relations to the first Almighty Cause, they would not be without their reward. They would awaken a livelier gratitude, and more cheerful confidence towards the Author of our being. They would create a new sense of the dignity of intellectual pursuits, and of the powers of human genius. They would increase our aspirations after that better world, where darkness shall no longer cover our paths, but the light of truth thall break upon our souls with unclouded glory and majesty.
ON THE SCIENCE OF GOVERNMENT; DELIVERED BEFORE THE AMERICAN
INSTITUTE OF INSTRUCTION, AUGUST, 1834.
The objects of the American Institute of Instruction are, as I' understand them, in a great measure, if not altogether, of a practical nature. Under such circumstances, the time passed here might well be deemed ill employed, if any attempt were now made merely to bring together topics for literary amusement and recreation; or an elaborate discourse, designed to gratify the taste of scholars, should be substituted for plain, direct, and grave discussion. I shall, therefore, proceed at once to the task, which has been assigned to me on the present occasion, and endeavour to bring before you such views as have occurred to me, touching “The Science of Government, as a Branch of popular Education.”
The subject naturally divides itself into three principal heads of inquiry. In the first place, is the science of government of sufficient general importance and utility, to be taught, as a branch of popular education? In the next place, if it be of such importance and utility, is it capable of being so taught ? And, in the third place, if capable of being so taught, what is the best or most appropriate method of instruction ? My object is to lay before you some considerations on these topics, in the order in which they are stated; and I think, that I do not overvalue them, when I assert, that there are few questions of a wider or deeper interest, and few of a more comprehensive and enlarged philosophy, so far as philosophy bears upon the general concerns of human life.
First, then, as to the importance and utility of the science of government. Of course, I do not intend here to speak of the necessity of government in the abstract, as the only social bond of human society. There are few men in our age, who are disposed to engage in the vindication of what some are pleased to call
natural society, as contradistinguished from political society; or to pour forth elaborate praises in favor of savage life, as superior to, and more attractive than, social life. There is little occasion now to address visionaries of this sort ; and if there were, this is not the time or the place to meet their vague and declamatory asseverations. It is to the science of government, that our attention is to be drawn. The question is not, whether any government ought to be established; but what form of government is best adapted to promote the happiness, and secure the rights and interests, of the people, upon whom it is to act. The science of government, therefore, involves the consideration of the true ends of government, and the means, by which those ends can be best achieved or promoted. And in this view it may be truly said to be the most intricate and abstruse of all human inquiries; since it draws within its scope all the various concerns and relations of man, and must perpetually reason from the imperfect experience of the past, for the boundless contingencies of the future. The most, that we can hope to do, under such circumstances, is, to make nearer and nearer approximations to truth, without our ever being certain of having arrived at it in a positive form.
This view of the matter is not very soothing to human pride, or human ambition. And yet the history of human experience, for four thousand years, has done little more than to teach us the melancholy truth, that we are as yet but in the infancy of the science; and that most of its great problems remain as yet unsolved; or have been thus far solved, only to mortify human vanity, and disappoint the spirit of political prophecy. Aristotle and Cicero, the great masters of antiquity in political philosophy, exhausted their own ample resources, rather in the suggestion of hints, than in the formation of systems. They pointed out what had been, or then were, the forms and principles of existing governments, rather to check our ardor, than to encourage our hopes; rather to instruct us in our duties and difficulties, than to inflame our zeal, or confirm our theories. They took as little courage from the speculations of Plato, pouring out his fine genius upon his own imaginary republic, as modern times have from examining the Utopia of Sir Thomas Moore, or the cold and impracticable reveries of one of the most accomplished men of the last age, David Hume.
The truth is, that the study of the principles of government is the most profound and exhausting of any, which can engage the human mind. It admits of very few fixed and inflexible rules ; it
is open to perplexing doubts and questions, in most of its elements; and it rarely admits of annunciations of universal application. The principles, best adapted to the wants and interests of one age or country, can scarcely be applied to another age or country, without essential modifications, and perhaps even without strong infusions of opposite principles. The different habits, manners, institutions, climates, employments, characters, passions, and even prejudices and propensities, of different nations, present almost insurmountable obstacles to any uniform system, independently of the large grounds of diversity, from their relative intelligence, relative local position, and relative moral advancement. Any attempt, to force upon all nations the same modifications and forms of government, would be founded in just as little wisdom and sound policy, as to force upon all persons the same food, and the same pursuits; to compel the Greenlanders to cultivate vineyards, the Asiatics to fish in the Arctic seas, or the polished inhabitants of the south of Europe to clothe themselves in bearskins, and live upon Iceland moss and whale oil.
Government, therefore, in a just sense, is, if one may so say, the science of adaptations — variable in its elements, dependent upon circumstances, and incapable of a rigid mathematical demonstration. The question, then, What form of government is best? can never be satisfactorily answered, until we have ascertained, for? what people it is designed ; and then it can be answered only by the closest survey of all the peculiarities of their condition, moral, intellectual, and physical. And when we have mastered all these, (if they are capable of any absolute mastery,) we have then but arrived at the threshold of our inquiries. For, as government is not a thing for an hour or a day, but is, or ought to be, arranged for permanence, as well as for convenience of action, the future must be foreseen and provided for, as well as the present. The changes in society, which are for ever silently, but irresistibly, going on; the ever diversified employments of industry; the relative advancement and decline of commerce, manufactures, agriculture, and the liberal arts; the gradual alterations of habits, manners, and tastes; the dangers, in one age, from restless enterprise and military ambition, in another age, from popular excitements and an oppressive poverty, and in another age, from the corrupting influence of wealth and the degrading fascinations of luxury ;— all these are to be examined and guarded against, with a wisdom so comprehenzive, that it must task the greatest minds and the most mature experience.
Struck with considerations of this sort, and with the difficulties . inherent in the subject, there are not a few men among those, who aim to guide the opinions of others, who have adopted the erroneous and alarming doctrine, so forcibly expressed by Pope, in a single couplet :
“ For forms of government let fools contest;
Whate'er is best administered, is best.” As if every thing were to be left to the arbitrary will and caprice of rulers; and the whole interests of society were to be put at risk upon the personal character of those, who constitute the existing government. According to this theory, there is no difference between an absolute despotism, and a well organized republic; between the securities of a government of checks and balances, and a division of powers, and those of a sovereignty, irresistible and unresisted; between the summary justice of a Turkish Sultan, and the moderated councils of a representative assembly.
Nay, the doctrine has been pressed to a farther extent, not merely by those, who constitute, at all times, the regular advocates of public abuses, and the flatterers of power; but by men of higher characters, whose morals have graced, and whose philosophy has instructed the age, in which they lived. The combined genius of Goldsmith and Johnson arrived at the calm conclusion, that the mass of the people could have little reason to complain of any exercises of tyranny, since the latter rarely reached the obscurity and retirement of private life. They have taught us this great conservative lesson, so deadening to all reforms and all improvements, with all the persuasive eloquence of poetry.
“In every government, though terrors reign,
Though tyrant kings and tyrant laws restrain,
That part, which laws or kings can cause or cure!” If this were true, it would, indeed, be of very little consequence to busy ourselves about the forms or objects of government. The subject might amuse our leisure hours, but could scarcely touch our practical interests. But the truth is far otherwise. The great mass of human calamities, in attages, has been the result of bad government, or_ill adjusted government; of a capricious exercise of power, a fluctuating public policy, a degrading tyranny, or a desolating ambition. Bad laws and bad institutions have gradually sunk the peasantry and artisans of most countries to a harsh and abject poverty ; and involved them in sufferings, as varied and