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IV

DEMOCRACY AND GOVERNMENT

I

HEN the United States of America as

W sume d her place among the independent

nations of the earth, the regeneration of the human race was far from an accomplished fact. Europeans were prepared to regard the event as a forecast of a new era in human history; but it would have been an optimist indeed who could have seen in even the most favored of the thirteen little states that composed the new nation that ideal republic, founded upon virtue and assuring the reign of felicity, which John Adams in his generous moments had professed to believe in. On the contrary, the country was exhausted and demoralized. The poverty and destitution which everywhere prevailed among the mass of the

eople was only thrown into stronger relief by the prosperity of those who had somehow managed to preserve their estates, or of those newly rich whose swollen fortunes were the reward of shameless profiteering. The sense of public probity had been immensely weakened by the unrestrained lawlessness of many years as well as by the unlimited issue of government obligations that were scarcely worth the paper they were printed on. Respect for law had been half destroyed by the feebleness of governments which, under the stress of civil war, had fallen to the level of imbecility. For many years after the treaty of 1783 there was no question of an ideal stateor of the regeneration of the human race; the question was of any tolerable state, of government. The ideal republic might come, it might conceivably come in America; but the immediate task which confronted the United States was to demonstrate to the world's satisfaction that any republic could endure for a generation.

any stable

II

Probably no people indeed has ever been more constantly preoccupied with the question of the proper form of government than the people of the United States. The question of government was one of the questions that drove men out of Europe into America in the seventeenth century. The colonial assemblies were perpetually quarreling with the governor over their respective powers. The Revolution turned upon a question of government; and throughout the Revolutionary War and for some years after, one chief occupation of the people was the manufacture of constitutions. Having finally adopted a federal constitution in 1787, the people and their leaders began to discuss the question of how it ought to be interpreted. They adopted the constitution first and then tried to find out what it meant, but never could agree, and at last had to fight a desperate civil war to determine the matter.

Nevertheless, these constant wrangles about the form of the government, at least since the Revolution, have not, for the most part, had to do with fundamental questions. The French people have in the nineteenth century discussed the question of government as much as the Americans; but in France the dispute has involved fundamental issues, such as the question of whether a divine-right monarchy or a democratic republic is better. Such a dispute never has nor ever could exist in America; and this is a fact of fundamental importance for an understanding of American history and institutions-namely, that in all of our history no sane person has ever seriously proposed that a divine-right monarchy or any other kind of monarchy should be established. The only king which Americans were ever willing to recognize, even in colonial days, was a king who was too far away to have any power over them.

The most deep-rooted political instinct which Americans have, an instinct which determines all their thinking, is the feeling that they can and will, as a matter of course, govern themselves. This idea is so fixed and so universally held that if any one should suggest any kind of government other than self-government as proper for Americans the proposal would be taken as a species of joke. The traditions of monarchy and Church and nobility, which are such powerful influences in Europe because they are so interwoven in all European history—these traditions simply do not exist in the United States.

Not only have Americans always been violently opposed to monarchical government, they have always been opposed to a highly centralized government, exercising its authority from a great distance and through officials unknown in the community where they act. In America the burden of proof commonly rests on the government. The American, therefore, likes to have a government that is limited as much as possible, that is nicely checked and balanced; and for this reason he likes to have a government that is close at hand, where it can be carefully watched and kept in its proper place. From the beginning of American history the people have accordingly held on like grim death to as much local government as possible, and have surrendered only gradually and under pressure any powers to the central government, whether state or national.

Such an attitude toward government is likely to be developed in any new country where people have to depend upon themselves and where individual initiative is at a premium; but the trait was already ingrained

the first settlers. America was settled, in large part, by people who left Europe in order to free themselves from the oppression of monarchy and Church. Separatists, Puritans, Nonconformists, Quakers, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Mennonites, Dunkers—these names are associated with those Europeans who were so eccentric in their views that they could not live comfortably at home. They were opposed to monarchy, opposed to hereditary nobility, opposed to bishops, opposed to May-poles, opposed to lawn sleeves, opposed to almost all the prevailing ideas and customs. Being temperamentally cantankerous, people with whom it went against the grain to submit to outward constraint, they were disposed to look within for some “inner light” or ple of conscience” which might serve as a guide to action. And so, in order to be free from the outward constraint of king or priest

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