Browsing "Democracy"

Aristocratic, Undemocratic, Intolerant Rhode Island

The aristocratic landholders who were unwilling to share the vote in Rhode Island were among those who made their fortunes in the slave trade of Providence and Bristol, exchanging New England rum for African slaves on the Ivory Coast. They saw their ill-gotten fortunes and all public monies become the target of the newly-enfranchised democrats, both natives and recent immigrants. Neither wealthy or poor-white Rhode Islanders viewed free black citizens as worthy of voting rights.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Aristocratic, Undemocratic, Intolerant Rhode Island:

“[April 17, 1842]:  I was struck with the lively interest he [William Ellery Channing, Unitarian minister, of Boston] took in the political affairs of Rhode Island, — a neighboring State, containing about 110,00 inhabitants, and now convulsed by a revolutionary movement [the Dorr Rebellion] in favor of an extension of the suffrage. The sympathies of Dr. Channing appeared to lean strongly to the popular party, which, in his opinion, had grievances to complain of, however much, by their violent proceedings they had put themselves in the wrong.

Although the State has been flourishing, it is entirely free from debt, a large majority of the people have, for the last forty years, called loudly on the privileged landholders to give up their exclusive right to voting, and to extend the suffrage to all adult males, in accordance with the system established in all the neighboring States. Their demands did not differ very materially from those which the legislature was willing to concede, except that the democrats claimed the suffrage, not only for every American-born citizen, but also for the new-comers, or the settlers of a few years standing. Both parties agreed to exclude the free blacks.”

(Sir Charles Lyell, Travels in North America in the Years 1841-1842, (New York, 1845), I, pp. 83-84)

 

Andrew Jackson and the Spoils System

Small “r” republican John C. Calhoun of South Carolina predicted the result when political victory became a license for partisan favors to be distributed to base and corrupt party men.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Andrew Jackson and the Spoils System:

“[For] the first forty years of our history were singularly free from the spoils system, with the coming of Andrew Jackson, “the man of perpetual fury,” all this had been changed. Jackson frankly divided the spoils of political victory with his fellow Democrats and established a precedent which successive administrations, Democrat, Whig and Republican alike, had eagerly followed, till slowly, but with terrible certainty, the partisan conception had grown into a system, generally accepted as an unavoidable incident of popular government.

There had, of course, always been indignant protestants. Calhoun, in 1835, declared:

“So long as the offices were considered as public trusts, to be conferred on the honest, the faithful and capable, for the common good, and not for the benefit or gain of the incumbent or his party, and so long it was the practice of the Government to continue in office those who faithfully performed their duties, its patronage, in point of fact, was limited to the mere power of nominating to accidental vacancies or to newly created offices, and would, of course, exercise but a moderate influence either over the body of the community or over the office holders themselves; but when this practice was reversed – when offices, instead of being considered as public trusts, to be conferred on the deserving, were regarded as the spoils of victory, to be bestowed as rewards for partisan service – it is easy to see the certain, direct and inevitable tendency . . . to convert the entire body of those in office into corrupt and supple instruments of power, and to raise up a host of hungry, greedy and subservient partisans, ready for every service, however base and corrupt.”

(Grover Cleveland, The Man and the Statesman, Volume I, Harper & Brothers, 1923, pp. 121-122)

Nov 18, 2014 - Democracy    No Comments

Fears of Descending into Democracy

“Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a two-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.

And when the drums of war have reached a fever-pitch, and the blood boils with hate, and the mind is closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all their rights unto their leader and gladly so.”    Julius Caesar.

Fears of Descending into Democracy 

One of John C. Calhoun’s greatest fears was that democracy in the United States would evolve into a class warfare system whereby the taxpaying class would be perpetually looted by the tax consuming class.

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by dictatorship.”

Alexander Fraser Tytler, 1787, on the decline and fall of the Athenian Republic

 

“…He announced that democracy itself had created a new tyrant—public opinion. Tocqueville saw the powers of this strange new democratic monster. “The majority lives in the perpetual utterance of self-applause, and there are certain truths which the Americans can learn only from strangers or from experience. Democracy not only infuses a taste for letters among the trading classes, but introduces a trading spirit into literature. The ever increasing crowd of readers and their continuing craving for something new ensures the sale of books that nobody much esteems.”

Daniel Boorstin, Introduction to Democracy in America.

 

“Our real disease…is democracy.”

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

 

“Democracies have even been spectacles of great turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 10.

“Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that found between order and chaos.”

John Marshall, US Supreme Court Chief Justice.

 

“In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed, and never will exist.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, III, 1762.

 

“In the degenerate state to which democracy never fails to reduce a nation, it is almost impossible for a good man to govern, even if he could get into power, or for a bad man to govern well.”

Gouverneur Morris, May, 1812, to DeWitt Clinton.

 

“Morris spoke out against democracy in every branch of government. This was not an unusual position at the (Constitutional) Convention: “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy,” Elbridge Gerry said roundly during the Convention’s first week. But Morris added a twist of his own. A broad franchise across the board would empower the rich, who would control poor or fickle voters. “The people never act from reason alone. The rich will take advantage of the passions and make these the instrument for oppressing them. Give the votes to people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich who will be able to buy them.”

(Gentleman Revolutionary, Gouverneur Morris, The Rake Who Wrote The Constitution)

 

“The United States, by trying to survive as a republic, was defying one of the most certain laws of history. As thinkers then interpreted the past, republics seemed sure to die because self-government could last only as long as the populace possessed enough virtue to voluntarily sacrifice private interest for the public good. The example of previous republics showed that a free people would eventually grow selfish and prefer their own ease to vigilance on behalf of liberty.

Thus the people would become corrupt, and economic dependence would lead to political subjugation and to tyranny. Republics, like people, had an ineluctable life progression, and with the onset of corruption, liberty began to die. Americans had no guarantee that their new republic would not repeat this familiar cycle.”

(Light Horse Harry Lee, the Legacy of the American Revolution, Charles Royster, 1981)

 

“Besides the unsuitableness of the republican form to the genius of the people, America is too extensive for it. That form may do well enough for a single city, or small territory; but would be utterly improper for such a continent as this. America is too unwieldly for the feeble, dilatory administration of democracy. Rome had the most extensive dominions of any ancient republic. But it should be remembered that very soon after the spirit of conquest carried the Romans beyond the limits that were proportioned to their constitution, they fell under the despotic yoke. A very few years had elapsed from the time of their conquering Greece and first entering Asia, till the battle of Pharsalia, where Julius Caesar put an end to the liberties of the country.”

Anonymous, The True Interest of America Impartially Stated, 1776.

 

“We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”  Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) Debates of the Federal Convention, June 26, 1787.

 

“One of the worst forms of government is a pure democracy, that is, one in which the citizens enact and administer the laws directly. Such a government is helpless against the mischiefs of faction.” James Madison, The Federalist Papers, 1787.

 

“The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be, liberty.” Fisher Ames (1758-1808) Speech in the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, January 15, 1788.

 

“When a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves, and [are] fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes.” George Washington (1732-1799) Letter to Marquis de Lafayette, April 28, 1788.

 

“It has been observed by an honorable gentleman that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position in politics is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity. When they assembled, the field of debate presented and ungovernable mob, not only incapable of deliberation, but prepared for every enormity.”

Alexander Hamilton, New York Ratification Convention, June 21, 1788

 

“The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.”

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to William Hunter, March 11, 1790.

 

“When the Constitution was framed, no respectable person called himself or herself a democrat.” Charles Beard

 

“Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton were republicans, but never democrats. Hamilton openly repudiated any democratic affiliation; Washington did not go that far but he was frankly distrustful of democracy; Jefferson accepted its principle and argued eloquently for the theory, but his conception of democracy was fantastically far removed from the ideas of his successors. It never occurred to Jefferson to doubt that while the people should rule, they should exercise their power through representatives drawn form the gentry—not indeed gentlemen by heredity, but those who had earned the title by their own demonstrated quality. Jefferson believed in an aristocracy of brains and character, not of blood; but he believed in aristocracy.”

Gerald W. Johnson, American Heroes and Hero Worship, 1941.

 

“It is the almost universal mistake of our countrymen, that democracy would be mild and safe in America. They charge the horrid excesses of France not so much to human nature, which will never act better when the restraints of government, morals and religion are thrown off, but to the characteristic cruelty and wickedness of Frenchmen.

The truth is, and let it humble our pride, the most ferocious of animals, when his passions are roused to fury and are uncontrolled, is man; and of all governments, the worst is that which never fails to excite, but was never found to restrain those passions, that is, democracy.

It is an illuminated hell, that in the midst of remorse, horror and torture, rings with festivity; for experience shows that one joy remains to this most malignant description of the damned, the power to make others wretched.”

Fisher Ames, The Dangers of American Liberty, 1805.

“A democracy cannot last. Its nature ordains that its next change shall be into military despotism, of all known governments, perhaps, the most prone to shift its head and the slowest to mend its vices.

The reason is, that the tyranny of what is called the people, and that by the sword, both operate alike to debase and corrupt till there are neither men left with the spirit to desire liberty, nor morals with the power to sustain justice.”

Fisher Ames, The Dangers of American Liberty, 1805.

 

“Remember, democracy never lasts long . . . There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy.”

John Adams, Letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1812.

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