A Constitution All Sail and No Anchor
Lord Macaulay on American Institutions
“On May 23, 1857, he stated: “You are surprised to learn that I have not a high opinion of Mr. Jefferson, and I am surprised at your surprise. I am certain that I never . . . uttered word indicating an opinion that the supreme authority in a state ought to be to be entrusted to a majority of citizens told by the head, in other words the poorest and most ignorant of society.
I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization, or both . . . I have not the smallest doubt that if we had a purely democratic government [in England] . . . Either the poor would plunder rich, and civilization would perish; or order and prosperity would be saved by a strong military government, and liberty would perish . . .
Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause. As long as you have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land, your laboring population will be far more at ease than the laboring population of the Old World, and, while that is the case, the Jefferson politics may continue without causing any fatal calamity.
But the time will come when New England will be as thickly populated as old England . . . then your institutions will be fairly brought to the test . . . I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity as I have described, do things that will prevent prosperity from returning . . . There will be, I fear, spoliation. The spoliation will cause distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation. There is nothing to stop you. Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.
Your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by the barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth . . . your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions. Thinking thus, of course, I cannot reckon Jefferson among the benefactors of mankind . . .”
On October 9, 1858, Macaulay continued: “I am perfectly aware of the immense progress which your country has made, and is making in population and wealth. But I see no reason for attributing these things to the policy of Jefferson. The progress which you are now making is only a continuation of the progress which you have been making ever since the middle of the seventeenth century . . . enjoyed by your forefathers, who were loyal subjects of the kings of England . . . I do not admit that the prosperity which your country enjoys arises from those parts of your polity which may be called, Jeffersonian.” [The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, Sir George Trevelyan, Vol. II, New York, 1875, pp. 407-412]
(The Correspondence Between Henry Stephens Randall and Hugh Blair Grigsby, 1856-1861, Frank J. Klingberg and Frank W. Klingberg, editors, Volume 43, University of California Press, 1952, excerpts pp. 185-186)