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The war, furthermore, was impolitic. If unsuccessful, it could not fail to disgrace us; if successful, it could hardly fail to weaken Mexico, already too weak for our interest. The true policy of this country is, not to destroy, absorb, or weaken Mexico, but to preserve her nationality and independence, and to strengthen her. It is a great evil to a nation to have only weak neighbours, and worse than madness for 118 to seek to be the only power on the North American continent. Solitude is no more the norinal state for a nation than for an individual, and in the case of either, without special grace, is hurtful. If the nation has only weak neighbours, it will be constantly tempted to the practice of injustice; and if no neighbours, it will be torn by intestine divisions, and sink into anarchy or despotism.
But especially was this war impolitic in consequence of the slave question, already threatening the Union, and with difficulty restrained within constitutional limits. The war, if successful, can hardly fail in extorting from Mexico a portion of her territory, and that territory to some extent not unsuitable to a slave population. Its annexation to the Union must bring on, in all its tierceness, the contest between the free states and the slave states,-a contest in which both have much to lose, and neither any thing to gain. The free states are resolved not to pour out their blood and treasure to extend what they regard as a detestable system, and, if new territory is acquired, they cannot, as we have seen, avoid doing so, without trampling on the constitution, which we are afraid, if forced to the alternative, they will not hesitate to do. The administration should have foreseen this, and avoided the war, if possible, for this reason, if for no other; for, if the antislavery party find itself strong enough to prevent the extension of slavery in defiance of the constitution, it will not stop there. It will no longer respect constitutional barriers; but will take up the question of slavery in the states, and immediate emancipation or civil war will be the alternative,—both bad, and one hardly more to be deprecated than the other. If no foreign element be introduced to give additional force to the excitement already so fearful, the friends of the constitution may be able, at least for a time, to keep it from any direct interference with slavery where it is; but introduce such an element, let there be a colorable pretext for asserting that the free states are called upon, not merely to let slavery alone, but to aid in extending it, and there is no longer among us any power to control the consequences. The present administration should have considered this, and have studiously avoided every occasion of fanning the excitement. It has, we are sorry to say, not done so. It has gained no friends by its policy at the North, and it has done its best to ruin the South.
In the present posture of affairs, and in view of the probable results of the war, there is only one constitutional course to be pursued, and that is for both the friends and the eneinies of the slave system to unite in resisting the further extension of the territory of the Union. This is politic and constitutional. Mexico must not be dismembered, nor a foot of her territory permanently annexed to the Union. Let this be the settled policy of both parties. Let not the South think of converting the North to her views of slavery, nor the North attempt to check the progress of slavery by trampling on the constitution. It is too late in the day to attempt the former, and it is always out of season to dream of the latter. But both may unite in resisting any extension of the present territory of the Union, and, in doing so, remove all additional pretext for excitement. The territory of the Union is large enough, and he is as poor a patriot as he is a statesman who would seek to extend its bounds. The insane rage of a portion of our people for annexation, and the influence demagogues acquire for nefarious purposes by appealing to it, must be checked, or our national honor is gone, our national sense of justice obliterated, and our free institutions become our reproach. A firm and successful resistance of the attempt likely to be made to extend the territory of the Union, by cessions extorted from Mexico, will have this salutary effect, and we trust it will be made.
LEGITIMACY AND REVOLUTIONISM.
[From Brownson's Quarterly Review for October, 1848.]
We take, in our political essays, unwearied pains to make ourselves understood, and to guard against being misapprehended; but, through our own fault or that of our readers, our success has rarely corresponded to our efforts. On all sides, from all quarters, we are charged with being hostile to liberty and favorable to despotism,-the enemy of the people, and the friend of their oppressors. We could smile at this ridiculous charge, were it not that some honest souls are found who appear to believe it, and some moon-struck scribblers make it the occasion of exciting unjust prejudices against our friends, and of placing them, as well as ourselves, in a false position before the public. Injustice to us personally is of no moment, and demands of us no attention ; but when, owing to our peculiar position, it can hardly fail to work injustice to others, we are bound to notice and to
The age in which we live is an age of theoretical, and, to a great extent, of practical anarchy. Its ideas and movements are marked by impatience of restraint, denial of law, and contempt of authority. We have seen this, and have felt it our duty to protest against it, and to do what we could, in our limited sphere, to recall men to a sense of the necessity of government, and to the fact of their moral obligation to uphold the supremacy of law. This is our offence. Yet one would naturally suppose that people of ordinary intelligence, somewhat acquainted with our past history, might, without much difficulty, believe that in this our motive has been to serve the cause of freedom, not that of despotisin. We, in fact, have done it, because liberty is impossible without order, order is impossible without government, and government in any worthy sense of the terın is impossible without a settled conviction on the part of the people of its legitimacy, and of their obligation in conscience to obey it. Nothing deserving the name of government can be founded on the sense of the agreeable or of the useful. Governments, so called, which appeal to nothing higher, more catholic, and more stable, are mere creatures of passion or caprice, and must follow the lead of popular folly and excess, instead of restraining them, and directing the general activity to the public good. They are not governments, but mere instruments for the private gain or aggrandizement of the adroit and scheming few who contrive to possess themselves of their management. It is philosophically and historically demonstrable, that the permanence and stability of government, and its wise and just administration for the common weal,--the only legitimate end of its institution,—are impracticable, unless the government is held to rest on the universal and unalterable sense of duty, under the protection of religion.
This truth, though, in fact, a very commonplace truth, our age overlooks, or, if it does not overlook, it rejects. Hence the danger with which liberty in our times is threatened. We have believed it, therefore, not improper to guard against this danger, and in order to do so, we have traced government back to its source, and to the foundation of its authority. We have found its origin, not in the people, but in God, from whom is all power; and we have concluded from this its divine right, within its legitimate province, to our allegiance. It has, since it derives its authority from God, a divine right to command, and, if so, we must be bound in conscience to obey it. Then it rests, not on the sense of the agreeable or of the useful, to fluctuate as these fluctuate, but on the sense of duty,—and not merely duty to our country or to mankind, but duty to God-a duty founded in the unalterable relations of man to his Maker. This raises political allegiance and obedience to the law to the rank of moral virtue, and declares their violation to be a sin against God, to whom we belong, all we have, and all we are, Hence, in its legitimate province, even civil government becomes sacred- and inviolable; and therefore we assert, on the one hand, our duty to obey it, and, on the other, deny the right of revolution, what La Fayette calls “the sacred right of insurrection.”
Here, in general terms, is the doctrine we have endeavoured to inculcate. That it is hostile to the political atheisin now so rife, we concede. We are Christians, and do not understand the possibility of being Christians, and yet atheists in politics. We have but one set of principles, and these are determined by our religion. We cannot adopt one set of principles in our religion and a contradictory set in onr politics, saying “Good Lord” in the one, and
“ Good Devil” in the other. We are too far behind the age
for that. But that this doctrine is hostile to liberty or favorable to despotism, we do not concede, -nay, positively deny. In setting it forth, we have dwelt on that phase of it directly opposed to the dangerous tendencies of the age, because it was not necessary to guard against tendencies from which we have nothing to apprehend, and because we presume that our readers would of themselves see that it had another phase equally opposed to the opposite class of tendencies. But for the hundredth time in our short life we have learned that the writer who presumes any thing on the intelligence or discrimination of the bulk of readers presumes too inuch, and will assuredly be disappointed. The doctrine protects the government against radicals, rebels, and revolutionists; but it protects, also, the people against tyrants and oppressors. The fears of our politicians on this last point, whether real or affected, do little credit to their sagacity. The monsters which affright them a little more light would enable them to see are as harmless as the charred stumr or decaying log which the benighted traveller mistakes for bear or panther.
When we assert the doctrine of legitimacy, we are understood to assert passive obedience and non-resistance to tyrants; but needs it any extraordinary intellectual power and cultivation to perceive that legitimacy, while it smites the rebel or the revolutionist, must equally smite the tyrant or usurper? If the doctrine asserts the right of legitimate, it must deny the right of illegitimate government; if it denies the right to disobey the legitimate authority, it must also deny the right of illegitimate authority to command; if it disarms the subject before the legal authority, it must equally disarm the illegal authority before the subject. How, then, from the fact that we are forbidden to resist or to subvert legitimate government, the legal constitution of the state, conclude that we are forbidden to resist or to depose the tyrant? Tyranny, oppression, is never legal, and therefore no tyrant or oppressor ever is or can be the legitimate sovereign. To resist him is not to resist the legitimate authority, and therefore demands for its justification no assertion of the revolutionary principle. How is it, then, that you do not see that the doctrine of legitimacy gives a legal right to resist whatever is illegal, and therefore lays a solid foundation for liberty?
People, we know, are prejudiced against the doctrine