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Confessing Fears for Republicanism

Floridian Stephen R. Mallory served as the brilliant naval chief of the Confederacy, and developed the open-sea raider and ironclad solutions to his country’s grand deficit in naval power. A profound thinker, after the war he reflected upon the demise of the Founders’ republic, seeing that “times of high political excitement formed by sectional jealousies, local schemes for power, combinations and demagogues, becomes the most tyrannical form in which the power of man can be exercised.”

Confessing Fears for Republicanism

“This was his sober comment on the state if the Union as 1866 began: “When I calmly survey the condition of public sentiment and the condition and increase of the country now with their condition in 1826, just forty years ago, and the wonderful innovations made in that time upon what were held to be the rights of the States and the true principles of our government, I confess my fears for republicanism.

With a Union composed of a few compact States, and a limited population, it was easy to preserve the sovereignty of the States and to repress the tendency of the Central government, the agent of the States, to encroach upon their rights and powers.

But the difficulty of doing so increases with the growth of the country, the increase of area, population, Federal patronage, which places in the Executive hands a large standing Army and Navy and more offices and pensions to bestow than the Crown of England during the same term.

So greatly do I apprehend disastrous changes that as an American citizen today I would compromise upon a Government as just and stable as that of Britain. God preserve our Country, I pray, and may my fears prove unfounded.

A paper constitution is a very good thing usually so long as it lasts as intended by its framers; but it is necessarily open to construction; hence to change, and to such construction as to destroy its good and develop its bad features. As the country and people for whom it was written change, the paper constitution must change to suit them; and construction, not amendment, quietly affects, undermines and destroys it.”

(Stephen R. Mallory: Confederate Navy Chief; Joseph T. Durkin, University of North Carolina Press, 1954, excerpts pp. 377-378)

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