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does not, cannot, and therefore is not intended to produce complete social equality. Other governments have governed so much, it is hard to make people understand that our's governs so little. These confused notions seem to have been entertained by Mr. Tupper in a passage in his “Proverbial Philosophy,” which we are the more inclined to quote, as it forms a sort of commentary on the assumptions of that “self-constituted Poet-Laureate of the Anglo-Saxon race," including ourselves.
“Whence, then, cometh the doctrine, that all should be free and equal ?
from another. We are equal and free, was the watchword that spirited the legions of
Satan. We are equal and free, is the double lie that entrappeth to him con
scripts from the earth. The messengers of that dark despot will pander to thy license and thy
pride, And draw thee from the crowd, where thou art safe, to seize thee in the
solitary desert. Wo! unto him whose heart the syren song of liberty hath beguiled; Wo! unto him whose mind is bewitched by her treacherous beauty. In mad zeal flingeth he away the fetters of duty and restraint, And yieldeth up the holocaust of self to that fair idol of the damned. No man hath freedom in aught save in that from which the wicked
would be hindered. He is free towards God and man, but to all else a bondman.”
If this is not a fling at the Declaration of Independence, it certainly sounds very much like it, but Mr. Tupper may be forgiven for so misinterpreting that Declaration, when our own people say so much calculated to give the words that false meaning. We know of no form of government which aims to establish equality in the sense in which Mr. Tupper so amusingly misunderstands the Declaration of Independence, unless it be the visionary scheme of the Socialist, which would take away the only alienable one of the advantages which cause social inequality, viz., property.
The truth is, our government has merely left society to take that form which providential circumstances shall impress upon it. .
Now, when thus left to itself, to crystallize as it were, it must of necessity be, in some sense of the word, an aristocracy. It cannot be a perfect equality; for, as Mr. Tupper very truly remarks, “no two minds are similar,” and “ the lightest atom of difference shall destroy the nice balance of equality.” Our Maker, for his own wise and good purposes, has endowed some of us with advantages and qualities which he has denied to others—wit, beauty, genius. We imagine few persons will object to these remarks, and to an aristocracy whose distinctions God so evidently formed. They say it is this absurd talk about “old families,” who set up a claim to rank by right of birth, which excites their indignation.
· And yet we assert that society, when thus left to crystallize of itself, according to circumstances, must of necessity be, in some sense of the word, a hereditary aristocracy. Hereditary, because one cannot very well, as a mere matter of convenient and necessary courtesy, seek the acquaintance of a man of talents, wit, or any other merit, without also visiting his family. It is only in this limited sense that the appellation “old families” expresses that to which they owe position; for their rank is not hereditary because people really take any especial pleasure in a man's company whose father was ambassador to England, or value him one whit the more for being of “good family.” The fact that such people often receive a great deal of deference and consideration long after the death of him to whom they owe elevation, does not contradict this; for this consideration is really not due to any pleasure in the company of people of “old family,” or respect for them as such, but is rather deference to the acknowledged position they have thus acquired. And though people very often think otherwise, and remark, often with very indignant criticism, on the “false principles" of society, that it sometimes apparently protects the unworthy possessors of prescriptive rank, and neglects people of merit, it is really no proof of any such exaggerated respect for “family.” What such people forget is, that society is no regular organization, and consequently it is difficult to make
it act in any degree as an unit, which it must do to confer positive marks either of favor or censure. Possibly, no one distinctly says or avowedly thinks society is an organization, but many talk in a manner which implies it, and some even rail against it, as if it were a downright personality.
It is the principle of our republic, out of its own jurisdiction, to recognize power in esse, and not power de jure, and upon this principle the claim of this aristocracy holds good, for they really have power, and that, not in spite of our republicanism, or in contradiction to it, but consistently with it; and to say it is anti-republican is to talk very unphilosophically. It is equally absurd to rail against this state of things on any other ground, and say it is wrong for people to have rank who do not win it. This transmission of position is the operation of a principle infused by a Providential hand into all society, and which will exist, to produce the same results, while man shall be a social being. That principle is, that some must suffer for the sins of others, some be benefitted by the merits of others. Why the sins of the fathers should be visited on the children, we know not. We only know it cannot be helped. The misfortune sticks to us with the taint of Adam's transgression, for which Christianity is the only remedy. He who in this case would endeavor to oppose this state of things, would only inconvenience himself. No doubt the weak-minded members of this aristocracy are often ridiculously vain of their position, but the vanity is no more ridiculous than to be vain of any other purely Providential distinction. It is no more anti-republican than for a pretty woman to be vain of her beauty.*
* From an article in the Westminster Review, which is another indication of wide spread interest in things social, the following is apposite :
" The government of Manners and Fashion may be rendered less tyrannical, as the political and religious governments have been, by some ANTAGONISTIC UNION. Alike in Church and State, men's first emancipations from excess of restriction were achieved by numbers, bound together by a common creed or a common political faith.” “ There needs, then, a Protestantism in social usages. Abortive as individual protests generally turn out, it may be that nothing effectual will be done until there arises some organized resistance to
The great accusation, however, against our “ American aristocrats' is that they so frequently array themselves against any but prescriptive claims to position. No doubt, such assumptions of conservative airs are very ridiculous, and a fair subject for satire. Still we do not think them altogether to blame. Their position has been so much misunderstood, and their has been such a disposition to ridicule their claims as “absurd in a republic,” that they have themselves mistaken their own footing, and instead of feeling that they are a necessary part of any society; they have grown to imagine their social rank the result of something foreign to republicanism and akin to nobility in monarchical countries, something in spite of, and in opposition to all claims to social rank from merit or any other cause. And so they have grown to think their social rank is to be built up upon the ruins of all social rank not derived from proscription. As might be expected, those who would be least likely to attain position by merit, are the persons who most perseveringly attempt to put down those who can win it. Theirs are the weak heads who cannot judge for themselves, and whose opinions and feelings being chiefly derived from those of other people, they have taken up the prevalent idea that they are somehow or other antagonistic to merit. Probably it would not be so great an objection to a man, that “his father sold dry goods by the yard,” did the objectors not imagine that the fact of his deriving no disadvantage from his ancestors, proved that they ought not to derive any advantage from theirs.
It is a thousand pities, some friend to the stupidities could not make them understand the impolicy of pluming themselves on a merely Providential circumstance. It so provokes people to inquire into personal traits. For a rich fool to pride himself upon his wealth, is but to hold a candle to the vacancy of that “upper tenement to let, to any stray ideas in want of a location.” They
this invisible despotism. The liberty of the subject, asserted in our constitution, has yet to be wrested from this subtler tyranny."
What we spoke of as absence of organizatiɔn, is read by others want of organization. To this suggestion, however, there might be many pros and should know strong lights do not suit them, and not provoke the world to remark that, though they are in niches, they are abominably bad statues. There is one remedy against the tyranny of “old families.” People often refer to them because their acknowledged position does often give them the key to the best society, but sensible people seek the best society, not because they value the company of members of old families, but because they suppose in that highest society are to be found people of wit, genius and merit. And should they succeed in excluding from it all but old families, which they never will, the highest society would soon lose the prestige of being the best. Even prescriptive wit, genus and beauty, which always value these qualities more than family, would prefer the circles where they are the test of admittance to those where family alone is. Because, Miss Bremer made some imprudent revelations, some of the prescriptives have said they will not invite any more “poor devils of authors” to their homes. Possibly when the poor devils of authors are gone, the charm of their entertainments may be gone. There must be an array of minor characters when Hamlet is played, and a doorkeeper to whom we must pay due notice, but after all it is Hamlet that carries us to the play, and the best society, without the best people, is the play of Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet left out. Amusing are the discussions of which this aristocracy is sometimes the subject. Practical people, who plainly see that the aristocrats are one of the powers that be,” will profess their “belief in family and blood,” and point out, that old families are a considerable element in the best society everywhere. And so they are, not because old families produce good society, but because that certain age and permanency, which is essential to the best society, also produces old families. In reply to all this, some aristocracy hater will trace back the pedigree of the old families, to end as it often does, in some shoemaker or ditcher. The discussion is still more amusing, when, as is often the case, a plebeian or patrician prestage is supposed to attach to certain occupations. We were once much amused with a young lady, who made a grand distinction between commission and dry goods merchants. She was quite at a loss to justify her distinction, until she bethought herself of