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POLITICS AND POLITICAL PARTIES.
[From Brownson's Quarterly Review for October, 1852.]
It is not so easy to comprehend American politics, and to forin a tolerable judgment of the respective merits or demerits of the two great political parties which have divided, or now divide, the country, as many of our learned newspaper editors appear to imagine. We live under a couplicated political system,—a general government for certain specified purposes, and state governments for all the remaining purposes
of government. Under one aspect we are one independent national sovereignty, with only a single government; under another, we are thirty-one independent sovereignties, with thirty-one independent governments
. Foreigners, and even many native-born citizens, are very liable to mistake the mutual relation of the Union and the states, and to assume that the general is in all respects the supreme government of the country, and that the states are only prefectures or subordinate governments, dependent on the Union, deriving their powers from it, and instituted by it for the purposes of local administration. But such is not the case. The general government, both in law and in fact, is subsequent to the states, and in all respects their creature, It derives its existence, its constitution, and all its powers from them, not they theirs from it.
The two governments, again, rest on different bases, and demand different rules for the construction of their respective powers. The general government is founded by the states, originates in compact, and has only the powers expressed in the compact, and such incidental powers as are necessary to their exercise. The state governments originate in that social necessity in which all governments, in the last analysis, originate, and hold under the law of nature, or more properly, under the law of God, from which all human governments derive their legitimacy, their legal powers, or their riglit to command and to coerce obedience. They have all the rightful powers of government not denied them by their own constitutions or expressly delegated to the Union. The general government, before acting, must inquire whether the power it proposes to exercise has been granted; the state government, before exercising a power, has only to inquire whether it has been forbidden.
The state governments have a character of their own, as republican, democratic, aristocratic, free states or slave states; the general government has no character of its own, and takes whatever character it has from the states creating it. It is not necessarily democratic or aristocratic, in favor of popular freedom or opposed to it. True, congress is bound to guaranty to each state a republican constitution ; but whether the guaranty is to the Union that each state shall be republican, or a guaranty of the Union to each state of a republican constitution, if such be its choice, may perhaps be a question. If the latter interpretation be admissible, the states may, if they choose, adopt the monarchical form of government, and the Union be thus a union of monarchical instead of simple republican states, without any change in its own character or constitution. But if this interpretation, as generally held, and most likely correctly held, be inadmissible, and it is obligatory on every state to adopt and maintain the republican form of government, still no state is bound to adopt a democratic constitution. A republican government does by no means necessarily imply a democratic government. Rome was a republic, but it was never a democracy; Venice was a republic, but it was an aristocracy, nearly, if not quite, an oligarchy; Switzerland and Holland were both republics at the time of our revolution, but neither showed any inclination to a democracy. France, while we are writing, is a republic, but the whole positive power of the nation is vested in the prince-president, and the people have, even with universal suffrage, only a qualified negative on the acts of government, similar in its nature, though not in its form, to the tribunitial veto under the republican constitution of ancient Rome. According to the usage of writers on government at the time the federal constitution was framed and adopted, a republican government is any government without a king or emperor. Under any interpretation of the constitution, then, the states have reserved to themselves the right to adopt any form of government not monarchical. They may vest the whole power of the state in an hereditary aristocracy, in the class of rich men, of poor men, in two or more classes combined, or governing as separate estates, or they may vest it in the whole people, whether noble or ignoble, learned or unlearned, rich or poor, and whichever they do the gov
ernment will be republican, and perfectly compatible both with the letter and the spirit of the constitution of the Union.
Political parties, consequently, under our system, are to be considered in a twofold relation,-in relation to the general government, and in relation to the state governments, or, as we may say, to government in general. The two relations have no necessary dependence on one another. The principles and policy of a party in relation to the constitution and administration of the general government do not necessarily determine its principles and policy in relation to the constitution and administration of the state governments, nor the principles and policy of a party with regard to the latter determine its principles and policy with regard to the former. The terms republican, democratic, aristocratic, when applied to the general government, have no meaning, as the terms federalist and state rights have no ineaning when applied to the several state governments. A national democratic party is under our system an absurdity, for all the questions which pertain to the constitution of government in general are reserved to the several state governinents. Questions of aristocracy, of democracy, oligarchy, of liberty or slavery, universal or restricted suffrage, social equality, and the like, belong to a party as a state party, not as a federal or national party. To a national party can belong only such questions as relate to the respective powers of the general and state governments, to foreign policy, to commerce, finance, national defence, and the general welfare of the Union. It would save some confusion, and many serious mistakes, if the two classes of questions were kept distinct, and parties were considered separately in relation to each, and not as necessarily right or wrong in regard to the one because right or wrong in regard to the other.
The parties in this country were at first, after the revolution, named in reference to the general governinent. From 1787 to 1798, they were named Federalists and AntiFederalists; from 1798 to 1820, Federalists and Republicans; from 1820 to 1824, Republicans only; from 1824 to 1832, National Republicans and simply Republicans or Democratic Republicans; from 1832 to the present time, the two great leading parties have been called Whigs and Democrats. Here the only party names in use since 1798 at all applicable to a national party, or a party in regard to the Union, are Federalist, and perhaps Whig. The other names
designate, if any thing, the views of parties in relation to government in general, and therefore belong to the parties only as state parties.
The names Federalist and Anti-Federalist originated at the time of the formation and adoption of the federal constitution. When the colonies met in congress and declared their independence of the British crown, they drew up and adopted certain articles of confederation. "These articles were found by experience to be inadequate to the wants of the country, and wholly insufficient for the purposes of a firm and efficient national government. The several states, consequently, appointed delegates to meet in convention to revise and amend them. The convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, and, instead of revising and amending the old articles of confederation, drew up and proposed to the states for their ratification a federal constitution, creating a union in stead of a confederation of the states, ---a general government empowered to act, within its prescribed sphere, immediately on the people of the several states, instead of a congress able to act on them, as under the old confederation, only through the mediuin of the several state governments, which it had no power to coerce into obedience. Those who were in favor of ratifying this constitution by the several states were called Federalists; those who were opposed to it, as Patrick Henry in Virginia and Samuel Adams in Massachusetts, whether on the ground of its reserving too little power to the states or giving too much power to the Union, especially to the federal executive, were called Anti-Federalists. The two parties, as parties with regard to the Union, were appropriately enough named, and the name Federalist designated a friend and supporter of the Union. Happily for the country, the Federalists were able to obtain the ratification of the constitution by the several states, and to organize, in 1789, the government, under George Washington as president, and John Adams as vice-president. They continued in power, and to administer the government, till March 4, 1801, when Mr. Jef, ferson and his party came in.
Under General Washington's first presidential term party spirit did not run high in the country; but under his second term it raged with great violence, embittered by new questions which had been raised by the French revolution, and the war between England and France growing out of that revolution. Mr. Jefferson took the lead in the opposition,
and in his private correspondence at home and abroad denounced the administration in no measured terms, hardly sparing, if indeed he did spare, the father of his country himself. The opposition to the constitution had pretty much disappeared ; several amendments had been proposed and adopted, which removed the principal objections of Mr. Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists; but opposition to the administration took the place of opposition to the constitution, and in 1798, after the election of Mr. Adams instead of Mr. Jefferson to the presidency, it became formidable. This opposition, organized under Mr. Jefferson's lead, took the name of Republican, a name that belongs, and under our system can properly belong, to no party in relation to the Ünion. The name was insidiously chosen, with the usual disingenuousness of party, and designed to imply, not only that the party bearing it were in favor of the republican form of government, which would have been well enough, but that the Federalists, their opponents, were anti-republican, and in favor of monarchy. Here was gross injustice. Mr. Jefferson and his party were undoubtedly republicans, if not democrats; but so also were the Federalists. There never has been a monarchical party in this country. The people, indeed, did not make the revolution and achieve national independence because opposed to monarchy, or for the purpose of establishing a republic; but they were, and from the first had been, republican. Even the loyalists of the revolution adhered to the mother country from loyalty, interest, habit, association, hopes or fears, not because they were attached to monarchy and opposed to republican government; at least this was true of the great majority of them. Individuals in the Federalist party may have held that a limited monarchy, like that of Great Britain, where practicable, is preferable to a republic, but none of them ever believed such a government to be practicable in the United States. Such was confessedly the case with Mr. Alexander Hamilton; but even he, as Mr. Jefferson himself acknowledges, held that a monarchy was wholly impracticable here, and that it would be the height of folly to attempt to introduce it. George Washington, John Adams, and some other eminent patriots and statesmen, no doubt, agreed with him in his monarchical preferences, but they were as firmly resolved to sustain the republic, and as ready to oppose every attempt to introduce monarchical institutions, as were Mr. Jefferson and his partisans themselves.