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It is rather surprising that people should have thought it worth while to talk so much about it.
But there are arguments to fall back upon in favour of the North when this one about the illegality of secession falls through; they are, I fancy, principally three. 1. The United States Government is the best in the world. 2. The secession is a rebellion on the part of Aristocrats against Democracy; and this is a pet argument with Mr Bright, upon whom the bare idea of an aristocrat, even when removed from him by the whole width of the Atlantic, operates like a red rag upon a bull. 3. Slavery is a dreadful thing: and this cry is echoed with vociferous irrelevancy by hundreds of voices, the leader of it being our present Foreign Secretary.
As to the first, it is enough to recall what was said in the House of Commons by a member of the present Government, I rather think Lord Palmerston, on a different subject. After one of those extraordinary tirades with which the Irish members used to regale the House on the subject of Italy, in which the King of Sardinia used to be abused in a style not often heard in the society of gentlemen, and in which the governments of the South Italian sovereigns were spoken of as the most blessed régimes which a benevolent Providence had ever sent down for the welfare
of sinful man, while that of Piedmont was characterised as keeping its subjects groaning under a most portentous tyranny,—the Ministerial orator answered, that very possibly all this was true, but that the Italians apparently did not think so; and if the wretched people were so benighted as to prefer this wicked new government to the paternal old one, that was their business. The reply was cheered on the Liberal side of the House. I fancy that a good many of the cheerers would not see the point of it so clearly if it were repeated with the word “ Confederates” substituted for “Italians.”
The second reason has a double flaw. In the first place, it is not true; and in the second, it would not be to the point if it were. Aristocracy may be a very bad form of government, and an aristocratic class may have great and grievous faults; but it is rather too hard to say that such a class is fit for nothing but to be knocked on the head like a pack of wolves ; and that, if a democracy should have it in its power to pommel it, and should see fit to use that power pretty freely, said class is to take its pommellings like a lamb, making no attempt even to get away, and be only too thankful for the honour of being so treated by the great and glorious "representatives of the people.” But when the great and glorious representatives are not even its own people, but a collection of foreigners, perhaps even the fact that the latter should have voted themselves to be the greatest nation upon “ airth” might be held even by the most violent democrat as a sort of excuse for their wincing a little. In fact, granting the whole assertion to be true, and supposing the Southern States to be so many Venices, with the whole Venetian apparatus of government, Council of Ten and all, they have certainly contrived to identify themselves with the people under their rule in a very remarkable way. It is curious that many of the most vehement anti-Confederates are also most vehement philo-Poles; or in other words partisans of one of the most oppressive aristocracies that has ever been known. I wonder, if the Russians were to cut off the head of their Czar and establish a Democracy with a President elected every four years, whether the views of these gentlemen would undergo any modification.
But in fact there is no truth in the idea at all. If there were, I should have no particular interest in trying to disprove it. There seems a kind of impression abroad that an aristocratic government must necessarily be a bad one. The two other systems, monarchy and democracy, have respectively their ardent adherents ; but that which lies between them has but few, and those seem to be very shy of the name. Even Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, while the upshot of his book on ‘ Forms of Government' leads irresistibly to the conclusion that that is the form which he prefers, rather implies than asserts that he does so. I cannot think this impression either a just or a sensible one. There is no form of government which can suit all times and places, but all the three will be suitable to some; and granting a clear stage, and no particular reasons in favour of any one of them, I think the balance of arguiment is in favour of the second. “A liberalised aristocracy,” said the 'Times' on one occasion, “affords the best security to freedom.” It may be that I have some prejudices of inheritance or education by which I am unconsciously influenced. But if it be so, such prejudices would rather impel me to try and believe that the Southerners are aristocrats. If along with a far higher measure of that constancy in peril which is perhaps the highest title to glory of the old Venetians, they had a slight tinge of the less objectionable parts of Venetian institutions, I do not know that I should like them any the worse for it; and I am perfectly disinterested in wishing to show that they have no such tinge.
I fancy that there is in some of the Southern States what may be called an approach to an aristocratic class ; that is, a class of men who hold the same land as their grandfathers held, and can pretend to something like a pedigree. If any one thinks that a reproach, he is welcome to do so. But this class, if it exists (for I do not know much about it), does not, I think, extend beyond the older settlements of the Atlantic States. And of aristocratic government there is no trace. The idea which the Northerners have contrived to disseminate among their partisans on this side of the Atlantic—that of a limited class of enormously wealthy landowners living among a vast population of negroes whom they keep in a state of cruel bondage, and of an impoverished and brutalised class called “white trash” which hangs about the taverns, toadying the masters as a matter of business, and kicking the slaves for pleasure—is not only a mistake, but an absurdity..
It would be a mistake to say that there is no such thing as an aristocracy in the United States. It is one, it is true, which those of Sparta, Rome, or Venice might not have been particularly anxious to acknowledge as akin to themselves, for its members lay no claim to character or statesmanship, and would repudiate the imputation of being gentlemen. But if a class of men, hereditary or not, succeeds in getting the government into its own hands and keeping the people out of it, such a class is fairly entitled to the name, even though its members be under-bred, low-minded jobbers. Such an aristocracy is the class