Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy

William Leggett, courtesy of United States Library of Congress
Leggett, William
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Lawrence H. White, ed.
First Pub. Date
Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Pub. Date
Essays first published 1834-1837.
12 of 108



Evening Post, July 28, 1835. Title added by Sedgwick. Text abridged.


We perceive with pleasure that public and spontaneous demonstrations of respect for the character and talents of the late Judge Marshall have taken place in every part of the country where the tidings of his death have been received. These tributes to the memory of departed excellence have a most salutary effect on the living; and few men have existed in our republic who so entirely deserved to be thus distinguished as examples, by a universal expression of sorrow at their death, as he whose loss the nation now laments. Possessed of a vast hereditary fortune, he had none of the foolish ostentation or arrogance which are the usual companions of wealth. Occupying an office too potent—lifted too high above the influence of popular will—there was no man who in his private intercourse and habits, exhibited a more general and equal regard for the people. He was accessible to men of all degrees, and "familiar, but by no means vulgar" in his bearing, he was distinguished as much in the retired walks of life by his unaffected simplicity and kindness, as in public by the exercise of his great talents and acquirements.


The death of such a man, of great wisdom and worth, whose whole life has been passed in the public service, and whose history is interwoven with that of our country in some of its brightest and most interesting passages, furnishes a proper occasion for the expression of general respect and regret. In these sentiments we most fully join; but at the same time we cannot so far lose sight of those great principles of government which we consider essential to the permanent prosperity of man, as to neglect the occasion offered by the death of Judge Marshall to express our satisfaction that the enormous powers of the Supreme tribunal of the country will no longer be exercised by one whose cardinal maxim in politics inculcated distrust of popular intelligence and virtue, and whose constant object, in the decision of all constitutional questions, was to strengthen government at the expense of the people's rights.

· · · · · ·


There is no journalist who entertained a truer respect for the virtues of Judge Marshall than ourselves; there is none who believed more fully in the ardour of his patriotism, or the sincerity of his political faith. But according to our firm opinion, the articles of his creed, if carried into practise, would prove destructive of the great principle of human liberty, and compel the many to yield obedience to the few. The principles of government entertained by Marshall were the same as those professed by Hamilton, and not widely different from those of the elder Adams. That both these illustrious men, as well as Marshall, were sincere lovers of their country, and sought to effect, through the means of government, the greatest practicable amount of human happiness and prosperity, we do not entertain, we never have entertained a doubt. Nor do we doubt that among those who uphold the divine right of kings, and wish to see a titled aristocracy and hierarchy established, there are also very many solely animated by a desire to have a government established adequate to self-preservation and the protection of the people. Yet if one holding a political creed of this kind, and who, in the exercise of high official functions, had done all in his power to change the character of the government from popular to monarchical, should be suddenly cut off by death, would it be unjustifiable in those who deprecated his opinions to allude to them and their tendency, while paying a just tribute to his intellectual and moral worth?

· · · · · ·


Of Judge Marshall's spotless purity of life, of his many estimable qualities of heart, and of the powers of his mind, we record our hearty tribute of admiration. But sincerely believing that the principles of democracy are identical with the principles of human liberty, we cannot but experience joy that the chief place in the supreme tribunal of the Union will no longer be filled by a man whose political doctrines led him always to pronounce such decision of Constitutional questions as was calculated to strengthen government at the expense of the people. We lament the death of a good and exemplary man, but we cannot grieve that the cause of aristocracy has lost one of its chief supports.

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Plaindealer, December 3, 1836. Text abridged.


The title chosen for this publication expresses the character which it is intended it shall maintain. In politics, in literature, and in relation to all subjects which may come under its notice, it is meant that it shall be a PLAINDEALER. But plainness, as it is hoped this journal will illustrate, is not incompatible with strict decorum, and a nice regard for the inviolability of private character. It is not possible, in all cases, to treat questions of public interest in so abstract a manner as to avoid giving offence to individuals; since few men possess the happy art which Sheridan ascribes to his Governor in the Critic, and are able entirely to separate their personal feelings from what relates to their public or official conduct and characters. It is doubtful, too, if it were even practicable so to conduct the investigations, and so to temper the animadversions of the press, as, in every instance, "to find the fault and let the actor go," whether the interests of truth would, by such a course, be best promoted. The journalist who should so manage his disquisitions, would indeed exercise but the "cypher of a function." His censures would be likely to awaken but little attention in the reader, and effect but little reformation in their object. People do not peruse the columns of a newspaper for theoretic essays, and elaborate examinations of abstract questions; but for strictures and discussions, occasional in their nature, and applicable to existing persons and events. There is no reason, however, why the vulgar appetite for abuse and scandal should be gratified, or why, in maintaining the cause of truth, the rules of good breeding should be violated. Plaindealing requires no such sacrifice. Truth, though it is usual to array it in a garb of repulsive bluntness, has no natural aversion to amenity; and the mind distinguished for openness and sincerity may at the same time be characterized by a high degree of urbanity and gentleness. It will be one of the aims of the Plaindealer to prove, by its example, that there is at least nothing utterly contrarious and irreconcilable in these traits.


In politics, the Plaindealer will be thoroughly democratic. It will be democratic not merely to the extent of the political maxim, that the majority have the right to govern; but to the extent of the moral maxim, that it is the duty of the majority so to govern as to preserve inviolate the equal rights of all. In this large sense, democracy includes all the main principles of political economy: that noble science which is silently and surely revolutionizing the world; which is changing the policy of nations from one of strife to one of friendly emulation; and cultivating the arts of peace on the soil hitherto desolated by the ravages of war. Democracy and political economy both assert the true dignity of man. They are both the natural champions of freedom, and the enemies of all restraints on the many for the benefit of the few. They both consider the people the only proper source of government, and their equal protection its only proper end; and both would confine the interference of legislation to the fewest possible objects, compatible with the preservation of social order. They are twin-sisters, pursuing parallel paths, for the accomplishment of cognate objects. They are sometimes found divided, but always in a languishing condition; and they can only truly flourish where they exist in companionship, and, hand in hand, achieve their kindred purposes.


The Plaindealer claims to belong to the great democratic party of this country; but it will never deserve to be considered a party paper in the degrading sense in which that phrase is commonly understood. The prevailing error of political journals is to act as if they deemed it more important to preserve the organization of party, than to promote the principles on which it is founded. They substitute the means for the end, and pay that fealty to men which is due only to the truth. This fatal error it will be a constant aim of the Plaindealer to avoid. It will espouse the cause of the democratic party only to the extent that the democratic party merits its appellation and is faithful to the tenets of its political creed. It will contend on its side while it acts in conformity with its fundamental doctrines, and will be found warring against it whenever it violates those doctrines in any essential respect. Of the importance and even dignity of party combination, no journal can entertain a higher and more respectful sense. They furnish the only certain means of carrying political principles into effect. When men agree in their theory of Government, they must also agree to act in concert, or no practical advantage can result from their accordance. "For my part," says Burke, "I find it impossible to conceive that any one believes in his own politics, or thinks them to be of any weight, who refuses to adopt the means of having them reduced to practice."


From what has been already remarked, it is matter of obvious inference that the Plaindealer will steadily and earnestly oppose all partial and special legislation, and all grants of exclusive or peculiar privileges. It will, in a particular manner, oppose, with its utmost energy, the extension of the pernicious bank system with which this country is cursed; and will zealously contend, in season and out of season, for the repeal of those tyrannous prohibitory laws, which give to the chartered moneychangers their chief power of evil. To the very principle of special incorporation we here, on the threshold of our undertaking, declare interminable hostility. It is a principle utterly at war with the principles of democracy. It is the opposite of that which asserts the equal rights of man, and limits the offices of government to his equal protection. It is, in its nature, an aristocratic principle; and if permitted to exist among us much longer, and to be acted upon by our legislators, will leave us nothing of equal liberty but the name. Thanks to the illustrious man who was called in a happy hour to preside over our country! the attention of the people has been thoroughly awakened to the insidious nature and fatal influences of chartered privileges. The popular voice, already, in various quarters, denounces them. In vain do those who possess, and those who seek to obtain grants of monopolies, endeavour to stifle the rising murmur. It swells louder and louder; it grows more and more distinct; and is spreading far and wide. The days of the chartermongers are numbered. The era of equal privileges is at hand.


There is one other subject on which it is proper to touch in these opening remarks, and on which we desire that there should exist the most perfect understanding with our readers. We claim the right, and shall exercise it too, on all proper occasions, of absolute freedom of discussion. We hold that there is no subject whatever interdicted from investigation and comment; and that we are under no obligation, political or otherwise, to refrain from a full and candid expression of opinion as to the manifold evils, and deep disgrace, inflicted on our country by the institution of slavery. Nay more, it will be one of the occasional but earnest objects of this paper to show by statistical calculations and temperate arguments, enforced by every variety of illustration that can properly be employed, the impolicy of slavery, as well as its enormous wickedness: to show its pernicious influence on all the dearest interests of the south; on its moral character, its social relations, and its agricultural, commercial and political prosperity. No man can deny the momentous importance of this subject, nor that it is one of deep interest to every American citizen. It is the duty, then, of a public journalist to discuss it; and from the obligations of duty we trust the Plaindealer will never shrink. We establish this paper, expecting to derive from it a livelihood; and if an honest and industrious exercise of such talents as we have can achieve that object, we shall not fail. But we cannot, for the sake of a livelihood, trim our sails to suit the varying breeze of popular prejudice. We should prefer, with old Andrew Marvell, to scrape a blade bone of cold mutton, to faring more sumptuously on viands obtained by a surrender of principle.*22 If a paper, which makes the right, not the expedient, its cardinal object, will not yield its conductor a support, there are honest vocations that will; and better the humblest of them, than to be seated at the head of an influential press, if its influence is not exerted to promote the cause of truth.

Notes for this chapter

The story to which allusion is here made cannot too often be repeated. We copy it from a life of Marvell, by John Dove. It is as follows: The borough of Hull, in the reign of Charles II. chose ANDREW MARVELL, a young gentleman of little or no fortune, and maintained him in London for the service of the public. His understanding, integrity, and spirit, were dreadful to the then infamous administration. Persuaded that he would be theirs for properly asking, they sent his old schoolfellow, the LORD TREASURER DANBY, to renew acquaintance with him in his garret. At parting, the Lord Treasurer, out of pure affection, slipped into his hand an order upon the Treasury for 1,000l., and then went to his chariot. Marvell looking at the paper, calls after the Treasurer "My Lord, I request another moment." They went up again to the garret, and Jack, the servant boy, was called. "Jack, child, what had I for dinner yesterday?" "Don't you remember, sir? you had the little shoulder of mutton that you ordered me to bring from a woman in the market." "Very right, child. What have I for dinner to day?" "Don't you know, sir, that you bid me lay by the blade-bone to broil?" " 'Tis so, very right, child, go away. My Lord, do you hear that? Andrew Marvell's dinner is provided; there's your piece of paper. I want it not. I knew the sort of kindness you intended. I live here to serve my constituents; the Ministry may seek men for their purpose; I am not one."


End of Notes

14 of 108



Plaindealer, December 17, 1836.


The fanciful parallel which we drew between democracy and political economy, in the first number of this paper has provoked a writer in one of the morning prints to bestow upon us a whole column of animadversions. The points which have particularly excited his indignation, if we may judge from his use of italicks, are, our having spoken of democracy and political economy as twin sisters, pursuing a parallel direction, for the accomplishment of kindred objects; and as both alike considering the people the only proper source of government, and their equal protection its only proper end. We confess the sin of having been rather more figurative in the passage which has given umbrage than is our wont; and shall do penance by using only the soberest expressions in our present article; since it is hardly suitable to mystify so grave a subject with "the sweet smoke of rhetorick," to borrow the phrase of an old English writer.


The critick who querulously assails our positions with regard to the nature and objects of political economy, fortifies himself by citing some sentences from Say, which he unfairly interpolates, however, with parenthetical commentaries of his own, giving them a degree of meaning which, had they been honestly quoted, they would not have expressed. But there is one passage, in the introductory advertisement of the very edition of Say from which he copied his extracts, that he seems wholly to have overlooked. Speaking of the prospects of economick science in America, that writer says, "Where should we expect sound doctrines to be better received, than amongst a nation which supports and illustrates the value of free principles by the most striking examples. The old states of Europe are cankered with prejudices and bad habits: it is America will teach them the height of prosperity which may be reached, when governments follow the counsels of reason, and do not cost too much."


Dugald Stewart, a writer of at least equal authority with Say, in numerous passages expresses his conviction that the same maxims which constitute the fundamental doctrines of political economy, should also be the guiding principles of political government. "Laissez non faire," he says, and "Pas trop gouverner" comprise, in a few words, the most important lessons of political wisdom. It will hardly be denied that these sentiments are thoroughly democratick. Adam Smith, also, a writer whose opinions have generally been considered as entitled to some respect, contends, in different places, that the same principles which constitute the foundation on which the whole science of political economy rests, furnish, also, the proper basis of political government. In a passage which is quoted by Stewart in his memoir of the author of the Wealth of Nations, that great writer says, "Man is generally considered by statesmen and projectors as the materials of a sort of political mechanicks. Projectors disturb nature in the course of her operations with human affairs, and it requires no more than to let her alone, and give her fair play in the pursuit of her ends, that she may establish her own designs." And again, "Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical."


These sentiments, according to our view, comprise the essence of both democratick and economick theory. The advantages which modern policy, says Dugald Stewart, "possesses over the ancient, arise principally from its conformity, in some of the most important articles of political economy to an order of things recommended by nature; and it would not be difficult to show that where it remains imperfect, its errours may be traced to the restraints it imposes on the natural course of human affairs." We might extend this article to a much greater length by similar extracts from various other writers of high repute; but we have adduced sufficient authority for the views we expressed as to the coincidence of democracy and political economy, in their fundamental principles, and in their ultimate ends. They are both for the largest liberty, within the bounds of social order; both are equally opposed to all special privileges and immunities; and both would leave men to manage their own affairs, in their own way, so that they did not invade each others natural rights.

15 of 108



Plaindealer, December 24, 1836.


The Evening Post, in one of its recent excellent articles on the protective system, speaking with particular reference to the impost on coal, expresses the opinion that it is the duty of our rulers to lighten the burdens of the people as much as possible, "especially when they fall on articles of first rate necessity; and it is easy," the Evening Post adds, "to distinguish between those that do, and those that do not."


We are very willing to see the protective system attacked, either in gross or in detail. If we find that we cannot procure the immediate reduction of all duties to the exact revenue standard, as graduated on an equal ad valorem scale, we must be content to concentrate our forces upon particular articles or classes of articles, and thus attempt to accomplish the overthrow of the tariff, somewhat after the manner that the redoubtable Bobadil proposed to overthrow an army. We are afraid, however, that this mode of operation, in our case, as in his, will fail of effecting any very important result. But while we are willing to join the Evening Post in bringing about a reduction of the tariff, either by piecemeal or wholesale, we cannot quite agree with the sentiment it expresses, as an abstract proposition, that it is the especial duty of rulers to reduce taxes on necessaries, and to discriminate between those which are so, and those which are not. It seems to us, on the contrary, that the true theory of taxation, whether direct or indirect, whether levied upon commerce, or assessed, without any intermediary agency or subterfuge, upon the property of the people, is that which falls with equal proportional weight upon every variety of commodity. While we should contend, with the utmost earnestness against the imposition of a tax, the effect of which would be to burden the poor man and let the rich go free; we should oppose as positively, if not as zealously, a contrary system, which tended to place the load, in any undue degree, upon the shoulders of the rich. We are for equal rights; for the rights of the affluent and the needy alike; and we would not admit, in any case, or to any extent whatever, the principle of either laying or repealing duties for the special advantage of the one class or the other. We have had too much already of discriminating duties.


If we must raise the revenues of our federal government from imposts on commerce, the true theory to contend for, in our view of the subject, is an equal ad valorem duty, embracing every commodity of traffic. The importer of foreign coal will tell you a pathetic story of the hardships and sufferings of the poor at this inclement season of the year. He will borrow perhaps the eloquent language of the Evening Post, to describe the shivering inmates of garrets and cellars, and the poor lone woman who buys her coal by the peck. He will draw you to her wretched abode, and show her surrounded by her tattered offspring, expanding their defenceless limbs over a few expiring embers that mock them with ineffectual heat. When he has raised your sympathy to the proper pitch, he will then call on you to exert your influence to procure the repeal of a duty which places beyond the reach of thousands of shuddering wretches one of the prime necessaries of life, and leaves them to all the horrors of unmitigated winter, as it visits the unfed sides and looped and windowed raggedness of the poor. The dealer in foreign grain will have a similar tale to relate. He will expatiate on the sufferings of the indigent from the high price of bread, and ask you to exempt breadstuffs from taxation. The importers of books and charts, and of mathematical instruments, will talk of the advantages of a wide diffusion of literature and science, and ask for a repeal of duties on those articles in which their trade consists. Colleges will represent that the cause of education requires their libraries and laboratories should come duty free. Railroad corporations will point out the many political and commercial benefits that must accrue to the country from facilitated intercourse between its distant parts, and ask that their engines and other appliances be released from the burden of taxes. All these applications, and many others of a like kind, have something specious to recommend them to a favourable consideration, and some have been listened to and granted. The prayers of corporate bodies have been affirmatively answered, while a deaf ear has been turned to those of the ill-fed and unprivileged poor. In our sense, however, they ought all to be treated alike, and all to be rejected. The only legitimate purpose of a tariff is that expressed by the Constitution, "to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare;" and the debts should be paid and the general welfare provided for, in strict accordance with the great distinguishing principle of our government—the equal rights of the people. This never can be entirely accomplished while imposts on foreign commerce furnish the means of revenue; but it is the obvious duty of legislators to do nothing to increase the unavoidable inequality of the burden.


The true system of raising revenue, the only democratic system, and the one which we trust the people of this Confederacy will some day insist upon adopting, is that of direct taxation. We hope the day will come, (and we think we see the evidences of its approach) when not a Custom House will exist in the land; when tidewaiters and gaugers, appraisers and inspectors, will be unknown; and when commerce, that most efficient friend of the best interests of man, and brightener of the links of international amity, will be as free to go and come, as the breeze that fills her sails, or the wave that bears her freighted stores. The system from which we now derive the resources of our government is in utter opposition to the maxim on which our government is founded. We build up our institutions professing the utmost confidence in the intelligence and integrity of the people; but our very first act betrays distrust both of their sagacity and virtue. We fear they have neither sense enough to see that the expenses of government must be defrayed, nor honesty enough to pay them if directly applied to for that purpose; and hence we set about, by various modes of indirection, to filch the money from their pockets, that they may neither know how much they contribute, nor the precise purpose to which it is applied. Could a system be devised better calculated to encourage lavish expenditure, and introduce variety of corruption? To preserve the government simple and pure, the people should know what they pay, and for what object. This would excite men to that degree of vigilance which is necessary to the preservation of their rights; it would restrain their political agents from neglecting or exceeding their trusts; and it would prevent government from that otherwise inevitable, however gradual, enlargement of its powers and offices, which, in the end, must prove destructive of the liberties of the people. A system of indirect taxation tends, with steady and constant force, to undermine the basis of popular rights. It is, in its very nature, an aristocratic system, and bears upon its front the evidence of distrust of popular capacity and virtue. A system of direct taxation, on the contrary, is a candid and democratic system. It is built on the presumption that the mass of men have sufficient intelligence to know in what good government consists, and sufficient integrity to pay what is required to maintain their rights. It is, in short, the only true theory of taxation; and the day will be an auspicious one for the great cause of human liberty when it is adopted by the American people.

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Plaindealer, January 21, 1837.


A resolution is before Congress, introduced by Mr. Davis, instructing the Committee on Commerce to inquire into the expediency of making provision for the nautical education of American seamen. It would be well if the first object of their inquiry should be the constitutionality of such a provision. According to our understanding of the federal compact, no such power as that proposed to be exercised is given to the general government. An institution, however, created by the federal authority, for the instruction of seamen, would have precisely the same warrant, as the institution which now exists for the instruction of cadets for the army. Congress might also, by the same latitude of construction, erect colleges for the education of shipwrights, carpenters, riggers, caulkers, blacksmiths, sailmakers, and, in short, for the education of persons for every variety of human occupation. Those who have ever taken the pains to read the Journal of the Convention which framed the Constitution, must be satisfied that the power which Congress has exercised in establishing the Military Academy at West Point was not only never intended to be given, either expressly, or as an incident of express powers, but was in terms, and on three several occasions, plainly denied. The project of Mr. Davis is constitutional, if the Military Academy is a constitutional institution, and not otherwise. A strict construction of the federal charter, which is the only kind of construction consistent with democratick freedom, would prohibit both.

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Plaindealer, March 4, 1837. Extract deleted.


The late disgraceful riot in this city has been followed by its natural consequence: impaired confidence in the security of private right in this community. Persons at a distance, having commercial relations with us, are fearful of trusting their property within the reach of men, who have shown themselves so regardless of the first principles of social order, and so little apprehensive of municipal opposition. The owners of flour and grain, in particular, and of other articles of such universal daily consumption as to be classed among the necessaries of life, hesitate to send them to a city where they may be seized, on their arrival, by an infuriated mob, and scattered to the winds of heaven. The result of this must inevitably be an exacerbation of the misery which the poor now experience. Prices, exorbitant as they are, must rise to a still higher pitch, as the supply, receiving no augmentations from abroad, becomes less and less adequate to the demand. And those miserable creatures, who, in their delusion, thought to overthrow the immutable laws of trade, and effect, by a sudden outbreak of tumultuary violence, what no force of compulsion, however organised and obstinate, could possibly accomplish, will be among the very first to reap the fruit of their folly: for, as they are among the very poorest members of the community, any additional advance in the price of flour must put it wholly beyond their means. Thus even handed justice commends to their own lips the chalice they had drugged for others.


One of the evidences of the consternation which the recent tumult has occasioned in the minds of persons having commercial dealings with this city, particularly in articles of necessary food, is shown in the terms of a memorial which the manufacturers of flour in Rochester have addressed to the Legislature, praying for the enactment of a law to protect their property in New-York from the destroying fury of mobs.

· · · · · ·


The foregoing memorial is signed by eighteen flour manufacturing firms of Rochester. The trepidation and anxiety which it betrays on the part of all concerned in the flour trade of that city, may serve to show what must be the general feeling throughout the country, and what must be its necessary consequence in withholding from us a further supply of flour, thus inevitably increasing the burden of which we now complain. But while we copy this memorial, for the lesson it furnishes to those who seek to reform legislative abuses, or to relieve themselves from oppressive burdens, by tumultuary violence, we must not suffer it to be inferred that we approve the object of its prayer.


The power which the legislature is asked to exercise seems to us to lie beyond the proper province of government. The legitimate functions of a democratic government are simply to protect the citizens in life and property, not to provide indemnification for the loss of either. The government is the mere representative or agent of the community, appointed to guard the rights of each individual, by protecting him from the aggressions of others. This duty includes the defending of him from aggression, in the first place, and the punishing of those who commit it, in the second. But it does not extend to the punishment of an entire community for the offences committed by an inconsiderable portion, which is the position assumed by the Rochester petitioners. It is one of the first and most obvious duties of society, in the outset of its political organization, to make provision for the defence of the rights of its members, in whatever form of violence they may be assailed. The legislative agents of each community, in the discharge of this duty, make such provisions, as the general circumstances of the times, and the particular circumstances which lie within their own jurisdiction, may seem to require. Thus, while in thinly inhabited townships a few guardians of the peace, clothed with the simplest powers, are sufficient, in cities an extensive and complicated system of defence is found to be necessary. Guardians of the night, and guardians of the day, an organized force to protect property from conflagration, and an armed force to protect both life and property from riot and insurrection, are necessary in every populous town, requiring to be extended and modified, according to the increase of numbers, or the deterioration of morals. The principle of self-preservation gives rise to these precautionary and defensive measures, in the first place, and the same principle, ever active, demands that they shall be enlarged and improved, from time to time, as new exigencies arise. If anything occurs to show that the municipal authorities of any community are deficient in requisite vigilance, energy, or power, their deficiency is a proper subject of complaint; and all who are aggrieved, whose rights are in any way invaded or jeoparded through such remissness, have unquestionable ground of petition or remonstrance to a higher legislative tribunal. But no tribunal in this country, under the maxims which we acknowledge as the foundation of our political edifice, has the power to inflict the penalties incurred by a few ruffians, concerned in a violation of private right, on those who not only had no share in the offence, but who perhaps exerted themselves to the utmost to prevent it. This would be in dereliction of the plainest principles of natural justice.


Let us suppose a case. A person, residing at the Battery, by some unguarded speech or action, gives offence to a particular class of persons living in his immediate neighborhood. The cause of umbrage is reported from one to another, with the natural exaggerations of anger. Bad passions are aroused, and some inflammatory demagogue seizes the occasion—perhaps for the gratification of private malice, or perhaps for the opportunity of plunder—to excite the irritated multitude to acts of violence. They rush to the house of the unconscious offender. Their numbers are rapidly augmented by additions from the crowd of such persons as are ever ready to take part in tumult. Their shouts and cries, echoed from one to another, are as fuel to fire, and increase the fury of their exasperation. They attack the property of him who is the object of their ire, demolish his store-house or dwelling, break its contents into fragments, and scatter them in the streets, or consume them in flames. In the meanwhile the public authorities, informed of the tumult, hasten to the scene. They are joined by numerous bodies of good citizens, desirous to aid them in the suppression of disorder; and, in a little while, but not before the work of destruction is completed, the riot is suppressed, and the chief actors in it apprehended, and committed to safe custody for trial and punishment. But this whole event, from first to last, has occurred, before the tidings can reach other extremes of the metropolis. The citizen at Bloomingdale or Harlem is quietly pursuing his vocation, unconscious of the disorders which disturb the community at another point of the city. Yet the legislation asked for by the petitioners of Rochester would make him responsible for the crimes of others, with which he not only had no participation, but which, could he have known they were meditated, he would have exerted himself with the utmost zeal and diligence to prevent. He would have done so, not only from a sentiment of philanthropy, but from a motive of self-preservation; as one whose individual rights were exposed to similar hazard; as a portion of the body politic, which must always suffer, when it shows itself incompetent to protect its individual members from outrage.


The principle involved in this Rochester memorial might, with equal propriety, be extended to embrace indemnity for losses sustained in consequence of individual outrages. It is no less the duty of a community to protect the property of citizens from the attacks of single ruffians, than from those of ruffians in numbers. If the flour manufacturers of Rochester had visited this city to receive payment from their agent whose store-house was attacked, and if the wretch, who directed the attention of an excited multitude to that store-house, had, instead, chosen to waylay those manufacturers singly, and, assailing them with a bludgeon, forced them to surrender the proceeds of their merchandise, it seems to us that they would have equal ground for a petition to the legislature, asking for a law to compel the city of New-York to indemnify them for the amount of which they had been robbed. The principle of indemnity is not included in the principle of protection. Protection is an obvious duty of humanity, as well as an obvious measure of self-preservation; but the claim for indemnification as obviously rests on the unjust and arbitrary principle that the good should be punished for the crimes of the bad, and the weak for the outrages of the strong. Is there any reason, in natural justice, that the lone widow, frugally living, in some obscure corner of this city, on the slender means picked up by perpetual industry, should be burdened with a tax to compensate the flour merchant of Rochester for his losses from an outrage of which she could have had no knowledge, and over which she could exercise no control? Is there any reason why any person in this city, not implicated in the transaction, should be punished in the way proposed, that does not apply as strongly to every inhabitant of the state? If this community, in its corporate capacity did not exercise due vigilance and energy to prevent the riot in question, and protect the property destroyed, it may be that there is good ground for an action for damages; but there is surely none for a law to punish the entire community in all cases, whether the outrage was within or beyond municipal control.


The principles which should guide legislation are always reducible to the simplest elements of natural justice. The code for the government of a community of three hundred thousand persons should stand on the same basis of clear undeniable right, with that which would be instituted for a community of only three. If A, B, and C, enter into a social compact, A is clearly bound to assist B, against any violation of his rights attempted by C. But if before A can render assistance, or in spite of it, C succeeds in rifling the property of B, and escapes with it, or destroys it, any claim which might then be set up by B, for indemnity from A, would be so clearly without foundation in justice, as to shock the natural moral sense of all the rest of the alphabet, supposing them living by themselves, in an entirely distinct community.


The Journal of Commerce, we perceive, expresses approbation of the object of the memorial we have copied. It pronounces the plan "a good one," and thinks "it should be made general, applying to all property, and to all the cities and towns in the state." We cannot think the Journal of Commerce has given its usual attention to this subject; though this is not the first time it has shown a willingness to strengthen government at the expense of men's equal and inalienable rights.

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Plaindealer, March 25, 1837.


Words undergo variations in their meaning to accommodate them to the varying usages of men. Despotism, though originally confined, according to its derivation, to the government of a single ruler, and considered a term of honour, rather than reproach, is now employed to signify unlimited tyranny, whether exercised by one or legion, whether by a single autocrat, wielding all the power of the state, or by the majority of a community, combined under strict party organization, and ruling the minority with dictatorial and imperious sway. The two most prominent instances which the world now presents of these different classes of despotism, is that of a single tyrant in Russia, and that of a multitudinous tyrant in America; and it is a question which some seem to think not easily answered which is the worse, that of an autocracy, or that of a majority.


The intolerance, the bitter, persecuting intolerance, often displayed by a majority in this country, on questions of stirring political interest, towards the rights and feelings of the minority, has come to be a subject of comment by enlightened minds in Europe, that are eagerly watching the results of our great democratic experiment, and drawing arguments in favour of aristocratic government from every imperfection we exhibit. Thus, in the eloquent speech recently delivered by Sir Robert Peel, at Glasgow, there are some allusions to the intolerance of dominant parties in this country, which no candid person can peruse without admitting they contain enough of truth to give great point and sharpness to their sarcasms.


We cannot be suspected of any sympathy with Sir Robert Peel in the purpose with which he made this reference to America. Our love for the democratic principle is too sincere and unbounded, to allow us to have a feeling in common with those who desire to conserve aristocratic institutions. The democratic principle is the only principle which promises equal liberty, and equal prosperity to mankind. We yearn with intense longing for the arrival of that auspicious day in the history of the human race, when it shall everywhere take the place of the aristocratic principle, and knit all the families of mankind together in the bonds of equal brotherhood. Then shall the worn out nations sit down at last in abiding peace, and the old earth, which has so long drunk the blood of encountering millions, grow young again in a millenial holiday.


No American, having sense and soul to feel and appreciate the ineffable blessings of equal liberty, would answer Sir Robert Peel's interrogatory as he supposes. The effeminate popinjays, whom the land, overcloyed with their insipid sweetness, yearly sends abroad to foreign travel, and who prefer the glitter of courtly pomp to the widely diffused and substantial blessings of freedom, might utter such a dissuasion against the adoption of democratic principles. But no honest and manly American, worthy of that name, with intelligence enough to know, and heart enough to feel, that the best and loftiest aim of government is, not to promote excessive and luxurious refinement among a few, but the general good of all—"the greatest good of the greatest number''—would ever lisp a syllable to dissuade England from adopting the glorious democratic principle of equal political rights.


But while we thus differ from Sir Robert Peel in the tenor and purpose of the remarks we have quoted, we are forced to admit that there is but too much truth in the charge of despotism against the majority in our political divisions. The right of the majority to rule, is a maxim which lies at the bottom of democratic government; but a maxim of still higher obligation makes it their duty so to rule, as to preserve inviolate the equal rights of all. This rule of paramount authority is not always obeyed. We have seen numerous and frightful instances of its violation, in those outbreaks of "popular indignation," which men have drawn upon themselves by the fatal temerity of expressing their views on a subject of deep interest to every American, on which their sentiments differed from those of the majority. The wild excesses of riot are not chargeable alone to the madness and brutality of those who take part in them, but to the approval of others, who set on the human bull-dogs to bait the abolitionists, by calling the latter all sorts of opprobrious names; and encouraging the former by bestowing laudatory appellations on their ferocity. They are "true friends of the Constitution," they are men "who appreciate the blessings of liberty," they are "champions of union," they are patriots and heroes; while those against whom their drunken rage is directed are pointed out as fanatics, of the most diabolical temper; as incendiaries, ready to burn to the ground the temple of freedom; as murderers, ready to incite the negro against his master, and incarnadine the whole south with the blood of promiscuous and discriminate slaughter.


But to descend from the terrible instances of despotism, which the conduct of the majority on the slave question displays, we see the consequences of the same tyranny in a thousand matters of less startling moment. Does not our newspaper press show marks of the iron rule of despotism, as exercised by a majority? Whence comes its subserviency? Whence comes it that each journal goes with its party in all things, and to all lengths approving what the party approves, whether men or measures, and condemning what it condemns? Why is it that no journalist dares, in the exercise of true independence, to act with his party in what he deems conformable with its political tenets, and censure its course when it varies from them? Why is it that if, forgetting for a moment that he is not a freeman, he honestly blames some erroneous step, or fails to approve it, his reproach, or his very silence, is made the occasion of persecution, and he finds himself suddenly stripped of support? Whence comes this we ask, but from the despotism of a majority, from that bitter intolerance of the mass, which now supplies an argument to the monarchists and aristocrats of the old world, against the adoption of the principles of popular government?


The book press of our country is not less overcrowed by the despotism of the majority than the newspapers. The very work from which Sir Robert Peel makes his quotation affords us a ready illustration. Thousands are burning to read the production of De Tocqueville, and a hundred publishers are anxious to gratify the desire. But they dare not. The writer has not hesitated to express his opinions of slavery; and such is the despotism of a majority, that it will not suffer men to read nor speak upon that subject; and it would hinder them, if it could, even from the exercise of thought.


There are some bold spirits yet in the land, who are determined to battle against this spirit of despotism, and to assert and defend their rights of equal freedom, let the struggle cost what it may. They will speak with a voice that the roar of tumult cannot drown, and maintain their ground with a firmness that opposition cannot move; and if forced at last to surrender, it will be their lives, not their liberty, they will yield, considering it better to die freemen, than live slaves to the most cruel of all despots—a despotic majority.

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Plaindealer, April 15, 1837.


If Jeremy Bentham were alive now, the doings of our legislature would furnish him with some fine subjects for an additional chapter to his "Principles and Morals of Legislation." There is no subject too high or low for the ken of that sapient and potential body. It undertakes to regulate by statute all sorts of business and all sorts of opinions. A man must neither do anything, nor think anything, except as the law provides. We may eat no meat, burn no fuel, chew no tobacco, nor even visit a theatre, unless such meat, fuel, tobacco, and playhouse, are all stamped with the signet of the law. If you offer a banknote of a certain denomination, you violate a law and incur a penalty. If you receive it from another, you are no less guilty. If a friend desires to borrow money from you, and to accommodate him you withdraw it from a business where it is yielding you twenty percent, you must lend it to him at the rate of seven, or otherwise incur the liability of being sent to prison for your kindness. The good old notion that the world is governed too much, is laughed at as an absurdity by our modern Solons, who act upon the converse of the French merchants' request, to let trade alone, and undertake to regulate it in every particular.


We learn from Albany that Judge Soule's bill of abominations is likely to be adopted in the Senate by as large a majority, proportionally, as passed it in the other house. By the way, the orthoepy of this wise lawgiver's name seems to be a matter of dispute, for while some contend that it should be so pronounced as to rhyme with foul, others think the word fool presents the proper symphony. These last perhaps are governed by an analogy which has respect to something more than sound. But whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the gentleman's name, there is none whatever, in this quarter, as to the true character and effect of his proposed law. It is universally execrated by men acquainted with those laws which should alone regulate financial matters.


The motive which we hear alleged for the concurrence this bill is likely to receive in the Senate is a desire to force capital into the old channel of loans on bonds and mortgages. The forcing system is the only system for which our legislature seems to have any fondness. All its business is conducted on the hothouse plan. It first forces credit out of its natural channel, by suddenly acceding to the wishes of dishonest speculators, and multiplying the fatal brood of specially privileged banks. When the floods of paper money which these institutions force upon the community have produced their inevitable consequence, and forced the attention of the community from the regular modes of business to extravagant schemes of speculation, the legislature then undertakes to force things back again to their old positions, heedless of the ruin and distress which these compulsory and contradictory processes may occasion. We trust the day is at hand when the people will exert their moral force, and force the legislature to confine itself to the few and simple objects which alone properly belong to government, leaving men free to make their own bargains, and follow their own pursuits.


We do not believe that any great practical evil will follow immediately from the passing of Judge Soule's usury law. It but compels men to do, what the bad state of things brought about by the opposite forcing system of the legislature was already causing them to do, with an obligation stronger than legal compulsion. The bubble of credit had been inflated to bursting by the prodigal creation of bank monopolies, and astounded by its sudden explosion, the confidence of avarice is too much shaken to allow of his being any longer allured by the bait of three per cent a month. They who have money to lend are now afraid to lend it to men who offer to pay large rates of interest, and capital is on the natural reflux to those borrowers who offer smaller profits and larger securities. The proposed law of Judge Draco, therefore, may do little present harm—it may be, to a great extent, practically inoperative. But it is founded on utterly false principles, and on that account deserves the most earnest opposition. It is not the business of the legislature to make laws for the present hour, framed according to the supposed requirements of instant expediency. It is its business to draw up its code in accordance with the eternal principles of right, so that it may apply with equal justice to-day, to-morrow, and forever. This making a law to force capital one way now, and next winter making a new one to force it another, is the height of legislative folly and injustice. Had the wishes of the people, as emphatically expressed "against all monopolies" four years ago, been respected by their servants; had Andrew Jackson's veto of the charter of the United States Bank been followed, in the principal commercial states, by legislative measures of a kindred spirit; or had this state alone removed the restrictions on trade, and simply instituted a general corporation partnership law instead, leaving the community to pursue what traffick they pleased, to what extent and in what mode they pleased, we should not, at this time, stand amidst such a scene of financial desolation, having nothing but disorder and ruin to contemplate.


We all know and acknowledge the value of political and religious freedom; and we shall yet learn that commercial freedom is the next best blessing that man can enjoy. We shall yet learn, we trust, to practise, as well as to declaim, the noble and just sentiment of Jefferson, that the sum of a good government is to restrain men from injuring one another; to leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement; and not to take from the mouth of labour the bread it has earned.

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Plaindealer, June 3, 1837.


Public moralists have long noticed with regret, that the political contests of this country are conducted with intemperance wholly unsuited to conflicts of reason, and decided, in a great measure, by the efforts of the worst class of people. We apply this phrase, not to those whom the aristocracy designate as the "lower orders;" but to those only, whether well or ill dressed, and whether rich or poor, who enter into the struggle without regard for the inherent dignity of politics, and without reference to the permanent interests of their country and of mankind; but animated by selfish objects, by personal preferences or prejudices, the desire of office, or the hope of accomplishing private ends through the influence of party. Elections are commonly looked upon as mere game, on which depends the division of party spoils, the distribution of chartered privileges, and the allotment of pecuniary rewards. The antagonist principles of government, which should constitute the sole ground of controversy, are lost sight of in the eagerness of sordid motives; and the struggle, which should be one of pure reason, with no aim but the achievement of political truth, and the promotion of the greatest good of the greatest number, sinks into a mere brawl, in which passion, avarice, and profligacy, are the prominent actors.


If the questions of government could be submitted to the people in the naked dignity of abstract propositions, men would reason upon them calmly, and frame their opinions according to the preponderance of truth. There is nothing in the intrinsic nature of politics that appeals to the passions of the multitude. It is an important branch of morals, and its principles, like those of private ethics, address themselves to the sober judgment of men. A strange spectacle would be presented, should we see mathematicians kindle into wrath in the discussion of a problem, and call on their hearers, in the angry terms of demagogues, to decide on the relative merits of opposite modes of demonstration.


The same temperance and moderation which characterize the investigation of truth in the exact sciences, belong not less to the inherent nature of politics, when confined within the proper field.


The object of all politicians, in the strict sense of the expression, is happiness—the happiness of a state—the greatest possible sum of happiness of which the social condition admits to those individuals who live together under the same political organization.


It may be asserted, as an undeniable proposition, that it is the duty of every intelligent man to be a politician. This is particularly true of a country, the institutions of which admit every man to the exercise of equal suffrage. All the duties of life are embraced under the three heads of religion, politics, and morals. The aim of religion is to regulate the conduct of man with reference to happiness in a future state of being; of politics, to regulate his conduct with reference to the happiness of communities; and of morals, to regulate his conduct with reference to individual happiness.


Happiness, then, is the end and aim of these three great and comprehensive branches of duty; and no man perfectly discharges the obligations imposed by either, who neglects those which the others enjoin. The right ordering of a state affects, for weal or wo, the interests of multitudes of human beings; and every individual of those multitudes has a direct interest, therefore, in its being ordered aright.


"I am a man," says Terence, in a phrase as beautiful for the harmony of its language, as the benevolence and universal truth of its sentiment, "and nothing can be indifferent to me which affects humanity."


The sole legitimate object of politics, then, is the happiness of communities. They who call themselves politicians, having other objects, are not politicians, but demagogues. But is it in the nature of things, that the sincere and single desire to promote such a system of government as would most effectually secure the greatest amount of general happiness, can draw into action such violent passions, prompt such fierce declamation, authorize such angry criminations, and occasion such strong appeals to the worst motives of the venal and base, as we constantly see and hear in every conflict of the antagonist parties of our country? Or does not this effect arise from causes improperly mixed with politics, and with which they have no intrinsic affinity? Does it not arise from the fact, that government, instead of seeking to promote the greatest happiness of the community, by confining itself rigidly within its true field of action, has extended itself to embrace a thousand objects which should be left to the regulation of social morals, and unrestrained competition, one man with another, without political assistance or check? Are our elections, in truth, a means of deciding mere questions of government, or does not the decision of numerous questions affecting private interests, schemes of selfishness, rapacity, and cunning, depend upon them, even more than cardinal principles of politics?


It is to this fact, we are persuaded, that the immorality and licentiousness of party contests are to be ascribed. If government were restricted to the few and simple objects contemplated in the democratic creed, the mere protection of person, life, and property; if its functions were limited to the mere guardianship of the equal rights of men, and its action, in all cases, were influenced, not by the paltry suggestions of present expediency, but the eternal principles of justice; we should find reason to congratulate ourselves on the change, in the improved tone of public morals, as well as in the increased prosperity of trade.


The religious man, then, as well as the political and social moralist, should exert his influence to bring about the auspicious reformation. Nothing can be more self-evident than the demoralizing influence of special legislation. It degrades politics into a mere scramble for rewards obtained by a violation of the equal rights of the people; it perverts the holy sentiment of patriotism; induces a feverish avidity for sudden wealth; fosters a spirit of wild and dishonest speculation; withdraws industry from its accustomed channels of useful occupation; confounds the established distinctions between virtue and vice, honour and shame, respectability and degradation; pampers luxury; and leads to intemperance, dissipation, and profligacy, in a thousand forms.


The remedy is easy. It is to confine government within the narrowest limits of necessary duties. It is to disconnect bank and state. It is to give freedom to trade, and leave enterprise, competition, and a just public sense of right to accomplish by their natural energies, what the artificial system of legislative checks and balances has so signally failed in accomplishing. The federal government has nothing to do, but to hold itself entirely aloof from banking, having no more connexion with it, than if banks did not exist. It should receive its revenues in nothing not recognized as money by the Constitution, and pay nothing else to those employed in its service. The state governments should repeal their laws imposing restraints on the free exercise of capital and credit. They should avoid, for the future, all legislation not in the fullest accordance with the letter and spirit of that glorious maxim of democratic doctrine, which acknowledges the equality of man's political rights. These are the easy steps by which we might arrive at the consummation devoutly to be wished.


The steps are easy; but passion, ignorance, and selfishness, are gathered round them, and oppose our ascent. Agrarian, leveller, and visionary, are the epithets, more powerful than arguments, with which they resist us. Shall we yield, discouraged, and submit to be always governed by the worst passions of the worst portions of mankind; or by one bold effort, shall we regenerate our institutions, and make government, indeed, not the dispenser of privileges to a few for their efforts in subverting the rights of the many, but the beneficent promoter of the equal happiness of all? The monopolists are prostrated by the explosion of their overcharged system; they are wrecked by the regurgitation of their own flood of mischief; they are buried beneath the ruins of the baseless fabric they had presumptuously reared to such a towering height.


Now is the time for the friends of freedom to bestir themselves. Let us accept the invitation of this glorious opportunity to establish, on an enduring foundation, the true principles of political and economic freedom.


We may be encountered with clamorous revilings: but they only betray the evil temper which ever distinguishes wilful error and baffled selfishness. We may be denounced with opprobrious epithets; but they only show the want of cogent arguments. The worst of these is only the stale charge of ultraism, which is not worthy of our regard. To be ultra is not necessarily to be wrong. Extreme opinions are justly censurable only when they are erroneous; but who can be reprehended for going too far towards the right?


"If the two extremes," says Milton, in answer to the same poor objection, "be vice and virtue, falsehood and truth, the greater extremity of virtue and superlative truth we run into, the more virtuous and the more wise we become; and he that, flying from degenerate corruption, fears to shoot himself too far into the meeting embraces of a divinely warranted reformation, might better not have run at all."

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