Opinion is as much a matter of fashion as dress itself. Moral terms, moral principles, and moral qualities, admit neither of admeasurement nor precise definition. Taste seems to be the only standard by which to adjust conflicting theories in morals, and taste is itself the creature of fashion and of individual caprice. In physics, controversies may be definitively settled, because the world has agreed to adjust them by fixed standards of weight, measure, price, &c.
Let the reader reflect abstractedly on any moral term whatever—virtue, vice, liberty, slavery, love, &c.—and he will find “that none of them convey precise and definite notions to his own mind; that his opinions about them fluctuate, and are modified by time and circumstances; and that no one else’s notions of their meaning exactly coincide with his own. He will also find that the meaning of moral terms changes from age to age, and fluctuates with fashion.
To decide controversies about them he can only appeal to authority—to the preponderance of human opinion; and authority is a standard as doubtful, vague, and illusory, as the moral terms themselves. Men have been cutting each other’s throats from the beginning of time in wars waged about words, whose meaning or whose value, can never be determined. For their lives they could not tell for what they were fighting, yet they become more dogmatical and more intolerant, just as their ideas become more beclouded and confused. Such have been all the wars about religious tenets, and about political liberty. Religious truth is felt, but can never be defined, and Liberty is as undefinable and illusory as the electric spark. Such controversies generally end only when the exhausted combatants discover that they have been fighting about words, not ideas, and that in truth, there is no appreciable difference of opinion between them.
To illustrate our theory, and to advance with our subject, let us compare Bonaparte and Washington physically—which was the taller man? A standard of measure universally agreed on, and which admits of no dispute, decides the question in favor of Washington. Which was the heavier man? A like standard of weight determines the comparison also on the side of Washington.
Now let us quit the field of physics and enter that of morals. Which was the braver man? We have no exact and agreed standard to appeal to. What is bravery? Why tastes and opinions differ, and there is no common arbiter to settle the difference. If it mean love of the excitement of danger, thirst for blood, and reckless excitability in battle, why Bonaparte was the braver man. But if true bravery include calm fortitude under adversity, and a deliberate willingness to sacrifice life and fortune for one’s country, then was Washington far the braver.
Let us advance a step farther, and inquire which was the greater man? No two human beings will exactly agree as to what constitutes human greatness; and no one individual entertains precise, comprehensive, and definite notions on this subject. He may talk about it, and write about it, and make arguments and definitions in trying to convince others, but he remains unconvinced himself. No one has a distinct notion of human greatness.
Very many moral and intellectual qualities are required to constitute it. Yet we can neither determine the exact nature and value of any of those qualities, nor their aggregate value, when found in the same character. In such an estimate, too, we should have to deduct moral and intellectual vices and weaknesses, which are to be treated as minor quantities. Yet these minor quantities are as little susceptible of valuation or measurement as moral virtues or positive quantities.
How silly and unsatisfactory must all moral controversies be, since in endeavoring to determine which was the greater man Washington or Napoleon, we can arrive at no data, no agreed premises, with which to begin the argument!
We ourselves have decided opinions on the subject, but shall not endeavor to convince others. We think Washington was the greatest of the moderns, and Bonaparte only a great warrior—too selfish, too false, too unreliable, for a subordinate command, and too reckless, rash, and injudicious, to sway the destinies of a nation. He was a great warrior because he shed oceans of human gore, and inflicted more of human misery than any other hero. His defeats were grander than his victories; and he consequently brought deeper disgrace and more suffering on his own country than all his devastations inflicted on other nations. Cromwell we consider great, but only a great brute. Devoid of genius, he possessed an almost unerring instinct, and added the affection for offspring, generally found in the brute, to his intuitive instinct. Bonaparte possessed genius, without instinct or affections of any kind. His judgment was bad, because he deemed all men base, and selfish, and acted on this false estimate of human nature. He loved his country and his family, only as instruments by which to further his ambitious, base, and selfish ends, and never hesitated to sacrifice either of them to attain these ends.
It has lately become the fashion, not only to speak in high terms of the military talents of Bonaparte and Cromwell, but to gloss over their treasons; and, worse than all, to commend and approve the military despotisms which they established and wielded. Strange, at first view, that the leaders in this new fashion of thought, which eulogizes military despotism and the reign of terror instead of law, are generally ultra-liberals, like Macaulay, who would pull down all old institutions to establish the largest liberty and the sovereignty of the individual, and then forthwith inaugurate military despotism to cure the evils of the anarchy they have invoked.
The Wonder, however, ceases when we recollect that ultra-liberals are conceited, dogmatical, lawless men, who would attain their revolutionary purposes by trampling on old institutions, disregarding precedent and authority, and violating laws and constitutions. Regicide republicans are the national parents of military despotism. Usurpation and tyranny are begun by them, and they naturally enough eulogize the tyranny of a single despot, which is infinitely preferable to the tyranny of the masses. Surfeited with their own work, they hail the usurper who restrains their blood-stained hands.
Mr. Carlyle, who is no liberal, concurs with Mr. Macaulay in the laudation of military usurpers and despots. They come, however, from the same overbearing, conceited, Scotch Calvinistic stock, which, after succeeding in overthrowing the belief in the infallibility of the Pope, fell a victim to the belief in the infallibility of the individual. In all human social institutions, whether political, religious, judicial, or military, infallibility must reside somewhere; for they must each have a head beyond whose decisions there is no appeal. The Presbyterians saw that to make kings or bishops the head of the church. was but to create a new order of popes. The Independents, looking further, discovered that infallibility no more belonged to presbyteries and synods than to kings and bishops, and so set up each man his own church, and the doctrine of individual infallibility. But each man having discovered that he alone was the true expositor of Scripture, felt it a sacred duty to compel every other man to think and to act on all subjects just as he himself thought and acted. The right of private judgment once successfully asserted, and every man becomes not only a pope for himself, but a pope for other people. What is true in religion is equally true in politics. Conscience requires of every man, if he believes he understands the art of government better than other people, to force other people to conform to his notions. Military despotism, as an approved doctrine and practice, grew out of Calvinism. All Protestants would have been Calvinists but for the stern will and strong arm of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, who most wisely arrested the downward course of anarchy, by substituting themselves for the deposed popes. Everybody who ever saw a Puritan, or who ever heard or read of a Puritan, knows that from the days of Calvin and Knox, down to those of Cotton Mather, and still later to Parker, Cheever, Wendell Phillips, and John Brown—everybody knows that they have been the same arrogant, self-righteous, conceited race—each man thinking and acting on the belief of his own infallibility, and of other people’s fallibility. Every man desiring to be a despot himself, naturally admires and approves despots, provided their rule does not interfere with his own schemes.
History will show that Geneva was the birthplace of modern isms, modern infidelity, anarchy, and military despotism. Thousands of Protestants, just after the breaking out of the Reformation, fled from Scotland to Geneva and Frankfurt, there imbibed Calvinistic notions, brought them back to Scotland, and thence diffused them through England. Their cruelties and absurdities brought all religion into disrepute and begot English infidelity. Here infidels and Independents worked lovingly together in upsetting the throne, beheading the king, inaugurating anarchy, and setting up the protectorate, to drive out anarchy by military despotism. The French infidelity and the French political philosophy that brought about her revolution came from the school of Geneva and from England. Despite of the oceans of blood which Calvinism has occasioned to be shed, it still sticks to its idols, and reveres equally the memories of John Knox and Calvin, of Cromwell and Napoleon, of Cook and John Brown. The Socialists, or infidel wing of the Calvinists, openly advocate the “sovereignty of the individual,” and repudiate in theory all forms of political government, except what they term “self-elected despotism.” They but give philosophical terms and expression to Calvinistic practices. Religion and politics cannot be kept apart, for religion has ever been, and will ever be, one of the most potent governmental powers. We shall never hesitate to treat of sects, churches, and creeds, in their political aspects.
In America, the Revolution placed all churches on the political Calvinistic platform, for it freed them all equally from a political head. Moral suasion seemed to be the only engine left to enforce religious conformity. The objections which we have made above to Calvinistic churches apply, in theory, equally to all American churches since that event. The result has been, that all Northern churches have exhibited anarchical and schismatic tendencies, while all Southern churches have become eminently conservative, kind, and respectful to each other, and so alike in their moral deportment and whole walk in life that the Christian in one church cannot be distinguished from the Christian in the other churches. This difference between the churches North and South must be entirely owing to difference in social institutions. Our society is historical and biblical, like most of the societies that have existed on earth. We look to the past to guide us in the future. We respect authority, because authority clashes not with our interests or our social forms. We are conservatives, because our system works well. The social and political forms of the North are like nothing in heaven or upon earth. Universal suffrage and human equality are new things under the sun. They can find no precedents or authority to guide them, because no people were ever similarly circumstanced. They are innovators and Utopians from necessity. They have expelled Nature, God, law, religion, property, marriage, parental and masterly authority, and are mainly attempting to do God’s work by substituting free love and communism, “the sovereignty of the individual,” and “self-elected despotism,” for all old institutions. Half-educated, silly, low-bred, wicked, the refuse of European society, they are the “vile body ” which Providence has selected on which to permit the experiment of man-made society to be tried. Its failure will redound to the universal benefit of mankind. It will best teach the lesson that the many were formed to obey, the few to command—that minorities, not majorities, should govern. The institution of domestic slavery alone has sufficed to make the South conservative and religious, and its absence to render the North anarchical and infidel. Cromwell and Bonaparte, like all military despots, destroyed or paralyzed all institutions, and attempted to govern by the sword. To employ terror, to enforce obedience, instead of the mild influence of that authority which the prestige of old and venerable institutions shed around them.
The government of the sword cannot be lasting, because habit divests men of their fears, and further, because the son of a usurper is generally looked on and hated as a mere parvenu, who, without his father’s merits, or the prestige of hereditary rights, seeks to succeed to his father’s power. The Roman empire was not a mere military despotism. All the admirable institutions of the early days of the republic were retained, and the emperor himself was but a perpetual dictator, an office which the extent of the Roman dominions rendered necessary. The civil law, the most splendid and enduring monument of human genius, grew up under the empire. Never was justice more wisely or impartially administered between man and man than under the very worst of the emperors. The consulate and the senate, though shorn of much of their power, remained, and with the prestige belonging to all old institutions must, by their influence, authority, and counsel, have had greater weight in the general administration of affairs than the emperors themselves, who were generally too ignorant of state affairs to wish to meddle much with them. Religion, too, remained, and that was always felt and recognized as a power in the Roman state. After the time of Constantine it became the chief power of state, and upheld the Roman-Byzantine empire for almost twelve hundred years.
The Roman empire owed its wonderful vitality and duration to its institutions. It was a government of institutions—the only normal, natural, and durable form of government. The government of the sword, when all old institutions have been overthrown or silenced, like those of Bonaparte and Cromwell, may last during the life of a talented, popular, strong-willed usurper. The government of constitutions, like those of Plato, Abbe Sieyes, and Locke, does well if it last six months. Institutions and governments are of natural growth and origin, they are prescriptive; their birth, like the sources of the Nile, is beyond human ken, knowledge, or comprehension. Our governments, State and Federal, are institutional, not constitutional. The forests of ancient Germany, the borders of the Nile and the Jordan, and the fields of Italy, were their birthplaces, but neither history nor tradition reaches back to the time of their nativity. We are glad that this subject of institutions is enlisting the attention and the study of the learned and philosophic. This REVIEW, for December, contained an admirable essay on this subject, from the pen of R. Cutter of New-York, entitled Political Constitutions. Institutions are conservative, because they are natural—constitutions are charlatanic and Utopian, because they are the attempts of man to expel Nature, and to supply her place and perform her office. Our so-called constitutions are mere selections from and modifications of time-honored institutions.
The institution of slavery, which gives more of strength, unanimity, solidity, and durability, to society, than any other, had been swept away before the days of Bonaparte and Cromwell. The Independents had destroyed the Church in England, and their offspring, the atheists, had done the same thing in France. Cromwell abolished the aristocracy and the legislative branch of government. Napoleon abolished the latter and found the former already abolished. They both over-awed the judiciary, and in fine made a tabula rasa of society. Each repented of his folly when too late. They would have erected new institutions in place of those destroyed, but found that institutions may be suppressed, expelled, or destroyed by man, but cannot be made by him. They were not wise reformers like Washington, Solon, Lycurgus, Numa, Confucius, and Alfred, but rash Utopians, like Locke, Plato, Abbe Sieyes, and Jefferson. Since writing thus far we have read some remarks of Mr. Cox, of Ohio, in the House of Representatives, which elucidate and sustain our doctrine, that the overthrow of old institutions lets in the theories of “individual infallibility” in religion, of “individual sovereignty” in politics, and of “free love” in morals. The majority in this and the preceding Congress are as vulgar, ignorant, and brutal, as the Praise God Barebones Parliament, and ten times more immoral and infidel. Hear Mr. Cox:
“Mr. Cox insisted that Wendell Phillips was a fair exponent of Republican principles, being identical in doctrine with Horace Greeley and Gov. Chase. All these isms, including free love, were connected by the dangerous doctrine of individual sovereignty, which Wendell Phillips preached, and John Brown learned his lessons in the same school. It was true, the people of the Northwest did not approve these doctrines, for the 170,000 Democrats of Ohio repudiated them. In 1860 he believed these revolutionists and insurrectionists would all be overwhelmed if they had a conservative Cincinnati platform, unaltered. He regretted to hear disunion doctrines advanced on that side of the chamber, for the great Northwest was opposed to disunion, per se, or per anything else. They could catch the music of the Union as quick as the Highland girl at Lucknow could catch the distant sound of the slogan from the bagpipes of her clan marching to the rescue.”
One chief reason why ultra-liberals laud usurpers is, that they break up the line of hereditary descent, and seem, practically, to demonstrate that kings do not rule by divine right. This they think the first and necessary step toward the successful assertion of the proposition, that the right to govern society belongs, naturally or divinely, to a majority of the people.
Now, we hold that kings have a divine right to rule, and to transmit to their offspring the right of ruling after them, just as farmers have a divine right to their farms, and to transmit them to their heirs at their deaths. We assume that divinity governs human affairs, and, as the right of kings to rule their kingdoms has been almost universally admitted, nay held as the most sacred of all human rights, and next to this right of kings, in respect and sacredness, has ever been the right of landowners to their lands, and in each case, hereditary right and descent have almost always been, under some modification, acknowledged and practical—seeing all this, we hold that there are natural rights, being part of the course of Nature; and natural rights are divine rights, else God is not omnipotent, and does not govern Nature.
Of all the social and political heresies growing out of the emancipation of the feudal slaves and the Reformation, this denial of the divine right of kings has been attended with the most disastrous consequences. It was the immediate cause of the English revolution and all the other European revolutions since that time. It has occasioned the confiscation of millions of church and individual property, and now stands boldly and openly arrayed against the right of individual property and the right of hereditary descent.
We are taught at colleges and at law schools that “property is a conventional, not a natural right;” that “law confers the right to property, and that when it suits public convenience, law may and should take away this right;” that “men have no natural right to dispose of their possessions by will, and their children, or next of kin, no natural right to those possessions in the absence of such will, but that legatees, devisees, children, and next of kin, derive their right solely from the law. The law giveth and the law may take away.” Now in all these instances law but follows, affirms, and modifies nature. Nature is various, yet consistent, and although the right to private property and hereditary right be universally acknowledged rights, yet circumstances may qualify and modify the precise character of these rights, and laws are made only to meet these varying circumstances.
It was an admirable remark of Professor Holmes, that semi-socialism is more common and more dangerous than socialism, because more insidious. The dull, commonplace orthodox people of the world say that individual property is a mere creature of the law, but there is a vis inertiae, a sickly, weak conservatism about these commonplace people that inclines them not to disturb or alter the law. They occupy the standpoint of semi-socialism, and are resolved not to stir an inch farther. The men of genius, however, with singular unanimity (except in slave society), say that private property has become a nuisance, and should be abated. They show that the laboring classes are starving in Europe and our North, not because their industry does not produce enough to support them abundantly, but because capital (property) fleeces them of their earnings. “Property is a thief.” This apothegm is the inexorable sequence from the denial of the divine right of kings. Regicides but teach “bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.” The eulogists of Cromwell and Napoleon must accept this doctrine, that “private property is a nuisance,” to be consistent.
Mr. Macaulay is the most eloquent of declaimers, and the weakest of philosophers. He never sees beyond his nose, and therefore never foresees the legitimate deductions which profounder and more logical minds will draw from his theories and admissions. He is sowing the seeds of anarchy broadcast because he has no idea of the character of the crop which he so assiduously cultivates. Carlyle is a man of genius, but he is reckless, rash, bold, original, affected, and half-ideal. He is right in saying “the world is too little governed;” wrong in repudiating institutions, forms, ceremonies, or “phantasms,” as he calls them, and relying on the government of mere force and the naked sword. Queen Victoria is a sham, a phantasm, yet because she is the incumbent of an old and venerated institution, the throne of England, her government is wiser and milder, and yet more powerful and efficient, than that of any military usurper that ever lived.
No portions of history show more clearly how deeply imbedded are the idea, the faith, and the reverence for hereditary right, in the human mind, than the histories of France and England after the death of Cromwell and the fall of Napoleon. People and politicians should adapt themselves to such natural feelings, not attempt to expel them. The English are a cautious and practical people, and always consult nature rather than speculative philosophy in matters of government. They have respected hereditary right in the main, venturing only slightly to modify it. Queen Victoria traces her royal descent back to Cerdic, beyond the bound of history, into the misty regions of tradition.
Never was prince welcomed to the throne with such enthusiastic joy and hearty acclamation as Charles II. Never despot so despised and execrated as Cromwell. His body, taken from Westminster Abbey and flung into the Thames, sealed the verdict of his infamy. No eloquence of declamation, no ingenuity of sophistry, no coloring, and no distortion of facts, can ever reverse that verdict. The enthusiasm with which the return of Charles was welcomed, shows the almost reverential attachment of the people to hereditary right. The execration of the memory of Cromwell, on the other hand, evinces the natural hatred and contempt which all mankind entertain for parvenus and usurpers. The two facts prove how important it is to preserve old institutions, such as hereditary royalty in England. It is the office, the institution that governs, rather than the incumbent. The popedom is a memorable instance of this truth. There have been many weak and wicked popes, yet veneration for the office makes it grow stronger as it grows older.
In the settlement of the crown, in 1688, England afforded another example of the respect for hereditary right. The Parliament only ventured to substitute a Protestant female branch of the House of Stuart, instead of the dethroned Catholic branch—for the House of Hanover is descended from James I.
France exhibited the same attachment to hereditary right. After wickedly beheading Louis XVI., and trying, first, Jacobinical anarchy, then the military despotism of Napoleon she restores the Bourbons to the throne. Finding the rule of the direct line intolerable, like England, she substitutes a collateral branch—the house of Orleans. But revolution had not spent its fury in France, and Louis Philippe was expelled to make room for the rule of socialism and anarchy. All men prefer military despotism to anarchy, and all France welcomed the usurpation of Napoleon III. But the end is not yet. While military despotism is preferable to anarchy, hereditary rule is far preferable to usurped military rule.
Nature is various, and adopts herself to circumstances. Elective republican government is sometimes natural and best, but hereditary monarchy is the most natural, and therefore has ever been the most common form of government. Kings must be of royal, or at least noble descent, to gratify and satisfy the innate and almost universal propensity of mankind, to reverence that mysterious thing—a noble pedigree, that traces back to no plebeian origin. Greece is well governed by a German prince. She would not have submitted to a Greek, however distinguished. A parvenu king is so universally despised that usurpers are always afraid to adopt the title. Brazil is admirably governed by a scion of the royal house of Portugal. The rest of South America have no respectable or durable governments, because they need the clay that kings are made of, and have not sufficient virtue and intelligence to sustain republican governments. We write this for the special benefit of New-England. When she quits the Union, and is annexed to Canada, we advise her, by all means, to get Victoria and Prince Albert to procure one of their poor German royal cousins to rule over them. They have hundreds of such cousins, any one of whom would make a better king than the wealthiest and most enlightened member of the codfish aristocracy.
We dwell upon this subject of the Divine hereditary right of kings, because it is one of pressing and practical importance to every owner of lands and slaves, to every owner of real property, or of property of any sort, in America. Property is assailed—labor is arrayed against capital—laborers are more numerous by far than property-holders, and they are led on by men of greater genius and audacity than any who have undertaken to defend the rights of property. The infection has not reached the South, nor will it if we are properly prepared for its approach.
If kings have no natural right to their thrones and their kingdoms, Southern planters have far less natural right to their dominions and their subjects. They are but little kings, with farms for kingdoms and slaves for subjects. Bishop Meade is right in treating the old African slave-trade as a providential movement. We hold our slaves by the will of Providence, by Divine right. The settlement of America by whites, and the expulsion of the Indians, were also providential movements. We hold our lands also by Divine right. Our titles to our properties are as good as those of kings to their thrones. As good, but no better. Let us beware how we run a tilt against hereditary monarchy, for we are hereditary monarchs ourselves.
It is not inconsistent with the idea of Divine right, that the title may be forfeited for crime or incapacity; but it is wrong and dangerous to attaint the blood, unless the heir be as criminal, or incapable, as the ancestor.
Had Cromwell restored the Stuarts, and Bonaparte the Bourbons, they might have given peace to their countries. At all events, the self-abnegation of such acts would have evinced moral greatness, and rendered them deservedly illustrious. In our estimate of human greatness, the chief element is the readiness to sacrifice self for country. Cromwell and Napoleon sacrificed country to self. Notoriety, not fame, is what they deserve. The morbid appetite for excitement is ever ready to make heroes of those who administer to this vicious taste, and I will canonize a John Brown in default of a better subject for admiration. Great crimes excite more of wonder and admiration than great virtues. Hence few can appreciate the greatness of Washington, while all admire Napoleon, and too many are ready to palliate the crimes, cruelty, brutality, and hypocrisy even of Cromwell. With the masses, a wonderful man is a great man, whether he fire a magazine which destroys the lives and possessions of thousands of his neighbors, or calmly resigns his life, like Leonidas, to defend, or to save his country.
We propose to take but a single view of the character of Washington. All admit that his moral and intellectual faculties were finely balanced and proportioned, and hence resulted his admirable judgment and lofty morality. Yet few give him credit for genius. Now genius, like other moral terms, is susceptible of no exact definition. We might well contend that a character resulting from the proper balance of good moral and intellectual faculties, exhibited in itself the highest order of genius. But even in the narrow sense in which the term is usually employed, Washington was a man of decided genius. He had but little advantage of school education, and left school entirely before he was sixteen years of age. He acquired with ease and rapidity whatever was taught in his school, and exhibited a strong predilection for mathematics. He became a distinguished practical surveyor while yet a boy, and had attained so much reputation that at nineteen years of age he was appointed to a military command of much dignity and responsibility. At twenty-one years of age his reputation for courage, judgment, and enterprise, stood as high as that of any man in the colony of Virginia. At this age he was selected to fulfil an important mission to the French and Western Indians.
He discharged the duties pertaining to his perilous and responsible mission with distinguished ability, and won universal admiration. Dull men, by assiduous labor, often become proficient and distinguished in their callings; but dull boys never win distinction. Washington’s early career affords conclusive evidence of genius, urged on by a generous and noble ambition. Like Bonaparte and Wellington his genius was mathematical and military. The fine balance of intellectual and moral faculties which he acquired in after-life was owing to his early converse with affairs, and his pure domestic associations. Washington possessed not only genius, but a lofty soul and undaunted courage, impelled and directed by a quick, cultivated, and comprehensive intellect. His reading was rather select than extensive, but quite sufficient to direct his observation of men, manners, and events. Ushered early into life, no man ever had better opportunities to become wise from observation and experience, and no one ever better improved his opportunities. His perception was quick and delicate, his comprehension broad and profound, and hence he readily generalized, digested, and assimilated all facts brought to his attention by reading or observation, and deduced from them wise and useful practical conclusions. His writings and his conversation exhibited not knowledge, but that wisdom which is the result of thoroughly digested knowledge. He united to genius—which too often misleads and betrays—wisdom and virtue, the only safe guides of human conduct.
Too much learning and reading are quite as common, and far more disgusting than too little. The intellectual dyspeptic, the man who has read a great deal, and reflected very little, who has swallowed his knowledge whole, and retained it undigested and unassimilated in his memory, and who is ever ready to repeat and retail it in this crude state to the weary listener, is the most intolerable of human bores. No doubt Horace’s Sacra via acquaintance, who addressed him, Nos sumus literati! and stuck to him like a leech, was one of these learned fools.
Bonaparte’s world was the military school and the camp. He became too good a soldier to be good at anything else. He looked on men as mere automate. He was grossly materialistic, and underrated human nature. He ignored all moral motives in the government of the world, and relied solely on physical and pecuniary forces—on men and money. Although the distinction of his early life was entirely owing to the revolutionary fervor and enthusiasm of the French, not to their numbers, yet in later life he relied entirely on the superior number of men that he could bring into the field, and on the amount of bribery which he could offer to his enemies. The Cossacks taught him, too late, that numbers cannot conquer men love their government and their country. That even in war, moral force, in the long run, conquers physical force. Bonaparte was really a very weak, because a very bad man. He acted upon the presumption that mankind were controlled in their conduct only by base, sordid, and selfish motives. Hence the latter part of his career was more distinguished for the number and magnitude of his defeats, than the former part for the brilliancy of his victories. His genius for mathematics and military science was unduly developed naturally, and carried to extravagant excess by his education, and camp life and habits. His mind became one-sided, and hence he saw and judged of all things through the artificial and distorted medium of his profession. History exhibits no instance of human littleness to compare with his conduct in Helena. So far from exhibiting moral grandeur, calm composure, and dignified resignation, his impatience and his petulancy present a startling resemblance to the ferocious tiger restlessly pacing his cage, snarling, growling, and thirsting for blood. In very truth, the man had sunk into the beast of prey. He felt it, and regretted it; for before his banishment he had said, he was only fitted for a camp life. A Fejee chieftain could not have admitted more.
Wellington was a truly great man. Ambitious, but only ambitious, like Washington, to win fame by the honorable, faithful, and brilliant discharge of duty, he was a gentlemen and a patriot, and no temptation could have induced him to practise the hypocrisy, duplicity, and falsehood of a Cromwell or a Bonaparte. He was no mere soldier, but also a learned scholar and wise, practical statesman. Yet he had lived too much in camp, and carried the manner of the martinet into civil life. Washington acquired and practised that exact system, punctuality, and precision, which are best learned in military life. But he knew where to drop the professional manner, and did not make a merit of order and punctuality, and parade them to view or obtrude them to notice. He had the ars celare artem. Although the most systematic of farmers, he only appeared at Mount Vernon as the retired statesman and private gentleman. His education and early life were eminently calculated to give to him that finely balanced character which elevates him above all the great men of modern times; yet it is a great mistake to suppose that because he was not odd and eccentric that therefore he possessed no genius.
If perpetrating mischief on the grand scale constitute human greatness, then Bonaparte was the greatest of men, and Cromwell quite a considerable human butcher.
There is one view of the rising admiration for these usurpers and military despots from which a useful moral may be deduced. Except in the South, the times are out of joint, anarchy seems impending, and men naturally look to usurpation and military despotism as the preventive or cure for anarchy. Order, subordination, security of person and property, all men desire. These are best secured by old laws, old offices, and old institutions, to which society has become accustomed, habituated, and adapted, and has learned to respect, to obey, and to venerate. But laws, and institutions, and the habits, feelings, and sentiments, which adapt men to them, are of slow growth and accretion. Anarchy is not tolerable for a day, and the liberals who invoked it, frightened at its approach, are ready and anxious to call in the bloody hand of self-elected despotism to exorcise the demon they have raised.
Tyranny which enforces order and affords security to person and property against all, save the tyrant who governs, has always been popular. We do not recollect a single popular prince or governor in all history who was not a tyrant, except Charles II. of England. Charles, though no tyrant himself, gave full scope to the natural appetite for tyranny, by permitting the people to play at Kilkenny-cats, and tyrannize over each other. He was a man of amiable feelings, an affable and accomplished gentleman, a man of taste and wit, and a practical philosopher. He saw that his father had fallen a victim to his clemency and his virtue, and that the people who murdered him were fawning, spaniel-like, before himself, who had inherited none of his father’s virtues. Seeing all this, he justly contemned and despised the nation, and left them to torture and torment each other, while he was satisfied to “eat, drink, and love.” His character was the material outgrowth of the times, and he played his role to perfection. He has been misunderstood and underrated.
This is a digression. But Charles is one of our historical favorites. Indeed, everybody loves Charles and his great-grandmother, Mary of Scotland, they sinned so gracefully; and everybody hates John Knox, Cromwell, his Roundheads and Puritans, and their descendants, John Brown, Cook, and Coppic. The vices of the former were light, venial, and graceful; the crimes of the latter, vulgar, brutal, disgusting, and horrible.
To return to our tyrants. Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar were both tyrants, yet the most popular and beloved of ancient potentates. Julius Caesar was mild, indulgent, and forgiving, and like Charles I. and Louis XVI., he fell a martyr to his virtues. Henry VIII. was the most cruel tyrant and the most popular prince that ever ruled England. Had Elizabeth been a man, no doubt she would have been equally cruel and equally popular. She played her part pretty well for a woman, and was exceedingly tyrannical and exceedingly beloved. The Plantagenets, the only military heroes of England, were all tyrants, and almost all deservedly popular. Louis XVI. and Charles V. were very tyrannical, and they acquired the title of Great. But the list would be endless The tyrannical captains of vessels are beloved, the amiable captains beget mutinies, and are murdered, &c., &c.
Men prefer tyranny and good social order, to liberty and anarchy—Quad erat demonstrandum.
Published in DeBow’s Review, Volume 28, Issue 2, August 1860, pp. 139-154.