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REPRESENTATIVE PHI BETA KAPPA
THE TRUE WEALTH OR WEAL OF NATIONS
BY HORACE BUSHNELL
Delivered before the Alpha of Connecticut, at Yale College,
August 15, 1837.
IT is truly a great satisfaction to me, that I appear before you, not to claim a place, but only to supply a chasm in the succession of your distinguished and eloquent speakers. I am thus permitted to feel, that I discharge an office rather of good will and fraternity, than of ambition; and if I do not leap into the chasm that has occurred, with exactly the zeal of a Curtius, I may at least cherish the hope, as I go down, that the ground will close over me, and the line of your distinguished orators pass on without any mark of disruption.
I propose to speak of the greatness and happiness of states, and especially of our own; which I shall do, not ambitiously, or as coveting the distinction of an orator, but in the way of practical and grave discussion.
Wherein consists, and how shall be attained, the true greatness and felicity of a state?
My chief concern will be to offer something which, for argument and doctrine, is worthy of so grave a problem. I hope it may appear, that a ground is here open for the erection of a science more adequate, in some respects, than the science, so called, of political economy; and one that shall base itself on higher and more determinate principles. That the body and form of such a science can be developed in a single discourse, will not be supposed. If I am able to open a passage, so that we may look in upon the field to be occupied, or if I may but excite to investigation of the subject the young men of this honored university, who are soon to fill public stations and diffuse the leaven of their opinions in every part of the republic, my end will be answered.
If any, in our present crisis of difficulty and depression, have ceased to hope for their country, it needs to be remembered, as a check to this precipitate despair, how much of mischief and misrule every great nation has had to survive. Moreover, I know not the time when the prospects of our country, judiciously viewed, were brighter than now. That we are able to bear so violent a shock without any disruption of the laws, is enough, in itself, to encourage new confidence in our institutions. This strong-handed compulsion, too, which has checked the impetuosity and the increasing recklessness of our people, is accomplishing, by force, what arguments and warnings were powerless to effect -- compelling them to know the worth of principles and of wise and judicious leaders. We have not yet come to the end of our institutions, but rather to an interregnum of sobriety and reason, in which truth may find a place to interpose her counsels, and in which, I trust, the most solid and healthful principles are to find a more ready reception.
It is in this confidence that I now speak. And while I am encouraged by the temper of the times, I cannot expel the conviction, too, of some positive and peculiar agreement between my subject -- I trust also between the principles to be advanced -- and a destiny of real greatness, certainly to be reached by our country. There are too many prophetic signs admonishing us that Almighty Providence is pre-engaged to make this a truly great nation, not to be cheered by them, and set ourselves to a search after the true principles of national welfare, with a confidence that here, at last, they are to find their opportunity. This western world had not been preserved unknown through so many ages, for any purpose less sublime, than to be opened, at a certain stage of history, and become the theater wherein better principles might have room and free development. Out of all the inhabitants of the world, too, a select stock, the Saxon, and out of this the British family, the noblest of the stock, was chosen to people our country; that our eagle, like that of the prophet, might have the cedars of Lebanon, and the topmost branches of the cedars, to plant by his great waters. A belt of temperate climate was also marked out for our country, in the midst of a vast continent, with a view, it would seem, to preserve the vigor of the stock, and make it fruitful here, as it ever has been, in great names and great actions. Furthermore, it is impossible to glance at the very singular territory we occupy, without perceiving that the two great elements of force are to be developed together, in this people, as they never yet have been in history. These elements, of course, are weight and motion -- vastness of conception and vigor of action. Though we have a field every way ample to contain two hundred millions of inhabitants, there is yet no vast central inland, remote from the knowledge and commerce of mankind, where a people may dream out life in the gigantic but crude and sluggish images of Asiatic repose. Vast as it is, and filling the minds of its people always with images of vastness, it is yet surrounded, like the British islands, and permeated, like Venice itself, by the waters of commerce -- becoming thus a field of vastness, not in repose, but in action. On the west it meets the Pacific, and the waters of another hemisphere. On the east and south, a long bold line of coast sweeps round, showing the people more than a thousand leagues of the highway of the world. On the north, again, stretches a vast mediterranean of congregated seas, sounding to each other, in a boisterous wild chorus, and opening their gates to the commerce of far-distant regions. Then again, across the land, down all the slopes and through valleys large enough for empires, sweep rivers that are moving lakes. All the features of the land are such as conspire to form a people of vast conceptions, and the most intense practical vigor and activity. And already do these two elements of force appear in our people, in a combination more striking and distinct than ever before in any people whose education was so unripe. Need I say, that such a people cannot exist without a great history. We have been told, that stars of nobility and orders of hierarchy, as they exist in the old world, are indispensable, as symbols, to make authority visible, and inspire the people with great and patriotic sentiments. But how shall we long for these, in a country where God has ennobled the land itself in every feature, filling, it with the signs of his own august royalty, and training the people up to spiritual vastness and force by symbols of his own!
But we detain our subject. Plato, Locke, and other philosophers who have written theoretically concerning government, failed to establish any conclusive doctrine, Only because they busied themselves in planning constitutions, and discussing the forms of government. Forms must be the birth of circumstances, not of any abstract or absolute doctrine. The attempt of Locke, seated in his study, to produce a complete frame of government for South Carolina, was one of signal audacity, and worthy of the very signal defeat it met in its application.
Civil philosophy, if any such thing is possible, must begin with a definition of the object of the civil state, and confine itself to adjusting the principles, not the forms, by which that object may be secured. There is always some end or object, some good pursued by a state, which determines its polity. The institutions of Lycurgus, for example, have their object in the formation of a valorous people. The Spartan state, accordingly, never advances in wealth or in the arts, never becomes a truly polite nation, never even adds to her empire by conquest. All the lines of her history and polity terminate together in producing a den of lions. The Roman state, in like manner, concentrated its aim on the pursuit of empire, and no bird or beast of prey was ever more constant to its instincts, than the Roman policy to its object, till it achieved the dominion of the world. Other nations have pursued objects more complex, falling of course into systems of polity equally complex with their objects. The great fundamental question, then, on which everything in civil philosophy hinges, is to determine what is the end which a state ought to pursue, or in what the true greatness and felicity of a state consists. Which makes it the more remarkable, that almost no thought has been expended in bringing this question to a definite settlement. Even Lord Bacon soberly puts forth the atrocious, the really Satanic doctrine, "that it is the principal point of greatness, in any state, to have a race of military men, and to have those laws and customs which may reach forth unto them just occasions (as may be pretended) of war." What a conception to be given out by a philosopher! And yet even this very shocking way of greatness would have, at least, the merit of making a soldierly and manly people -- just what we are most likely to miss of in the present drift of society. For it is the really shameful fact, that we are now turning our policies and public measures, more and more, on questions of money and trade; as if property were the real end of statesmanship. Since the words wealth and weal are brothers of the same family, many appear to imagine that the political economists, Adam Smith and his disciples, having carefully defined that national wealth which is to be the end of their science, have therein defined that national weal which is the true end of statesmanship -- a mistake that has occurred the more naturally, that the general deification of money begets a tendency in the same direction. And so it comes to pass, in the modern school of nations, especially in those that have conquered to themselves the great principle that government is for the good of the governed, that their evil genius seems about to plunge them into the miserable delusion of confounding the good of the governed with money and possessions and so to rob them of all the noble advantages they had gained. Ceasing to care, any more, for what the people are, the great question now is, what are they to have? Under the supposed auspices of the new science, a new era of misgovernment is thus inaugurated. And the danger is that the free nations so called will become mercenary as free; nations without great sentiments or great men; without a history; luxurious, corrupt, and, in the end, miserable enough to quite match the worst ages of despotism.
There is, besides, in the new science of political economy, careful as it is in its method, and apparently unanswerable in its arguments, an immense oversight which is sure to be discovered by its final effects on society, and to quite break up the aspect of reality it has been able to give to its conclusions. It deifies, in fact, the laws of trade; not observing that there is a whole side of society and human life which does not trade, owns no stands superior to trade, wields, in fact, a mightier power over the public prosperity itself -- just because it reaches higher and connects with nobler ends. Could these price-current philosophers only get a whole nation of bankers, brokers, factors, ship-owners and salesmen, to themselves, they would doubtless make a paradise of it shortly -- only there might possibly be no public love in the paradise, no manly temperance, no sense of high society, no great orators, leaders, heroes.
After all it is not the whole question -- this question of economy. Suppose, for example, that some very young nation one that has not yet run itself into all manifold industries and forms of creation, like the older nations, were to put implicit faith in the new science, and consent to buy, always, what she can cheaper buy than create; so to become, in fact, a producer of but one article -- cotton, for example, or wheat. Such a state will be no complete creature, like a body whose breathing, pulsing, digesting, assimilative, and a hundred other, processes, all play into each other, in that wonderful reciprocity that makes a full toned vital order, but it will be like a body having only a single function. It will be low in organization. It will have no great consciousness and scarcely any consciousness at all. For it has no relational system of parts and offices. The men are repetitions, in a sense, of each other, and society is cotton, or wheat, all through -- nothing more. Mind is dull, impulse morbid and unreliable. There is no great feeling, nothing to make either a history of, or a man. Living thus a thousand years, the nation becomes nothing better than a provincial country a thousand years old. Could they now sell out all the great gains, made by their wise trading economy, and buy, for such a price, the dear, deep public love that belongs to a people duly manifolded in their works and productive arts, the rich gifts of feeling and sentiment, the ennobled state-consciousness, out of which spring the soldiers and heroes, the orators and poets, and the great days of a great people, it would be just the wisest trade and best economy they have ever known -- best, I mean, not only for the character it would bring, but for their creative energy and even for the total, at last, of their wealth itself. Nay, if they would only march disgustfully out, some day, leaving all their lands and properties behind, just to get rid of their ineffable commonness, their exodus, for a purpose so manly and so truly great, would even beat the exodus of Moses.
What, then, it is time for us to ask, is that wealth of a nation which includes its weal or solid well-being? that which is the end of all genuine policy, and all true statesmanship? It consists, I answer, in the total value of the persons of the people. National wealth is personal, not material. It includes the natural capacity, the industry, the skill, the science, the bravery, the loyalty, the moral and religious worth of the people. The wealth, of a nation is in the breast of its sons. This is the object which, accordingly as it is advanced, is sure to bring with it riches, justice, liberty, strength, stability, invincibility, and every other good; or which, being neglected, every sort of success and prosperity is but accidental and deceitful.
That any statesman should look upon the persons of his countrymen as secondary, in consequence, to money and possessions; or that he should not value the revenue of great abilities and other high qualities that may be developed in them, -- vigor, valor, genius, integrity, -- above any other possible increase or advantage, discloses a sordid view of state policy, and reflects on the people themselves, in a manner fit to be resented. "You will confer," says Epictetus, "the greatest benefit on your city, not by raising the roofs, but by exalting the souls of your fellow citizens; for it is better that great souls should live in small habitations, than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses." It is not difficult to feel the justice of this noble declaration; for it is not a secret to any one of mankind, that a very rich man may yet be a very insignificant man, -- nay, that he must be so, if he has lived only for gain, and made all wisdom to consist in economy. To understand that states are made up of individuals, is still less difficult. Well was it that the sordid god of gold and of misers was placed under ground; by what strange mistake is he to be brought up now and installed king of nations?
The truth, which I assert, and which seems too evident to require any formal argument, is happily illustrated by reference to the Mexican state, as contrasted with our own. It was not a peaceful band of emigrants or exiles who landed there to find a refuge, and a place to worship God according to their own consciences. It was not the Saxon blood, nor the British mind, filled with the determinate principles and lofty images of freedom enshrined in the English tongue. They came in the name of a proud empire, armed for conquest and extirpation. The infernal tragedy of Guatemozin was the inaugural scene of Mexican justice. They loaded themselves with gold and silver. They rioted in plunder and spoil, founded nothing, cherished no hope of liberty, practiced no kind of industry but extortion, erected no safeguards of morality. What is the result? Worthless, or having no personal value in themselves, there has grown out of them what alone could grow; a nation of thriftless anarchists and intriguers, without money at the very mouth of their mines, without character abroad or government at home, and with nothing to hope for in the future, better than they have suffered in the past. How striking an example, to show that neither a fine country nor floods of gold and silver, can make a nation great, without greatness in the breasts of her sons!
Revert now to the simple beginnings of our founders. They brought hither, in their little ships, not money, not merchandise, no array of armed force, but they came freighted with religion, learning, law, and the spirit of men. They stepped forth upon the shore, and a wild and frowning wilderness received them. Strong in God and their own heroic patience, they began their combat with danger and hardship. Disease smote them, but they fainted not; famine, but they feasted on roots with a patient spirit. They built a house for God, then for themselves. They established education and the observance of a stern but august morality, then legislated for the smaller purposes of wealth and convenience. They gave their sons to God; through him, to virtue; and through virtue to the state. So they laid the foundations. Soon the villages began to smile, churches arose still farther in the depths of the wilderness, industry multiplied her hands, colleges were established, the beginnings of civil order completed themselves and swelled into the majesty of states. And now, behold, the germs of a mighty nation are manifest -- art, industry, and power, rushing on a career of expansion never equaled in the history of man. What addition, we are now tempted to ask, could any amount of wealth have made to the real force and value of these beginnings? Or, having a treasure in her sons, what is there beside, whether strength, growth, riches, or anything desirable, which a state can possibly fail of? Wealth is but the shadow of men; and lordship and victory, it has been nobly said, are but the pages of justice and virtue.
But let us descend, for a few moments, to grounds of mere economy. Let it be granted, that wealth is the true and principal object of state polity. I am, anxious to inquire, how wealth is to be created, and especially, in what form wealth is to be accumulated. It would almost seem that the fancy which floats so delightfully before the minds of men, in their pursuit of private gain, must throw the same charm over national wealth. The state is to become prodigiously rich, they seem to imagine,
against her old age; and then she will be able, with the stock laid in, to support her great family at their ease, on the mere interest of the money. But how is her great wealth to be laid up, or in what shape? Not in notes and bills, certainly, that are due from one to another within the nation; for it adds nothing to the wealth of a family, that one of the sons owes another. Not in specie; for gold and silver are good for nothing in themselves, but only as they will buy something else. And if they were confined within the nation, and not allowed to purchase articles from abroad, as the case supposes, they would only pass from hand to hand within the nation, and the prices of all articles would be raised, according to the plenty there is of gold and silver. Silver, perhaps, being as plenty as iron, a ton would be exchanged for a ton of iron, and the man who owns a hundred tons of it, would have it piled up in the street -- as rich as he now is with a few thousand dollars, and no more. But if not in notes and bills, not in specie, in what form is the national wealth to be laid up? In a cultivated territory I reply, in dwellings, roads, brides, manufactories, ships, temples, libraries, fortifications, monuments; -- things which add to the beauty, comfort, strength, or productiveness, of the nation. But what are all these things, but the products and representatives of personal quality and force in the people? And what shall ever maintain them in good keeping or repair, but such quality and force? Taken together, they are scarcely more than a collection of the tools of industrv and production; and if a nation, without application, or skill, or such a state of morals as permits the security of property, were to receive a country ready furnished with such a wealth, the productive farms would soon be impoverished, the towns decayed, the ships rotten, the stands of art and machinery dilapidated and wrecked. Only change the quality of the British people into that of the Mexican, and five years would make their noble island a seat of poverty and desolation. Where, then, is wealth to be laid up, but in the personal quality and value of the people? This immaterial wealth, too, which many would think quite unsubstantial in its nature, is really more imperishable and indestructible by far than any other. There is never any amount of property and goods laid up by a nation, which the mere accident of a war, or an unsettled government, may not destroy, in a few years, so as to leave the nation virtually poor. But immaterial values, such as native capacity, attachment to home, knowledge, skill, courage, and the like, are a stock, which ages only of reverse and declension can utterly consume. No failure of commerce, no famine, no war and conflagration desolating the land, no rapacity of conquest, can reach these treasures. Time only, with all his legions of ruin, can slowly master them. And if, perchance, a respite should be given, they will suddenly start up as a capital that had been invisible, and, in a few years, fill the land with all its former opulence.
Take another aspect of the subject. The great foe to wealth which statesmen have to contend with, is dead consumption -- that which annihilates value without reproducing it. It can be shown, for example, from unquestionable data, that fashionable extravagance in our people, such as really transcends their means to a degree that is not respectable; theatrical amusements, known to be only corrupt and vulgar in character; together with intemperate drinking, and all the idleness, crime, and pauperism, consequent, have annihilated, since we began our history, not less than three or four times the total wealth of the nation. This dead consumption is the great cancer of destruction, which eats against all industry and production. It must be kept out, or cut out, or the flesh must be more than supplied, else there is no advance of wealth. Now if economy is to furnish the law of civil administration, as according to current reasonings it is, let economy provide a remedy against this all-devouring and fatal consumption. And since it originates only in a corruption of quality in the people -- in a want of simplicity, temperance, providence, and good manners -- since the spendthrifts of the family are the bad sons, let the statesman take care not to educate spendthrift sons. Let him turn his whole attention to the great subject of preparing a just, provident, industrious people. Let him spare no possible expense for this object. Let him, in fact, forget all economy in his devotion to higher aims, and by that time he will be a consistent and thorough economist.
But the distribution of wealth is a matter of more consequence to a state than its amount. When the Roman state was at the height of its wealth, there were not more than twenty landholders in Italy; the rest of the people were dependents -- an idle, thriftless, profligate race, ripe for every possible mischief and sedition. There could not be a more miserable condition in any state; it permitted no such thing as character, law, security, or domestic comfort. But I will require it of any statesman to show how a more equal division of property can be effected, without robbery, unless by means of intelligence, application, frugality, devotion to home and family, in the breasts of the people. Let me add that the changes now rapidly taking place in New England, the broad and partially hostile distinctions that begin to display themselves, are sad omens, and leave us no time to squander in merely economical policies.
It is farther to be noted, that the wealth of a nation must be defended, as well as constructed. We have not yet reached the day when mere principles of equity are a sufficient bulwark to nations. Even if the days of absolute conquest are past, there are yet a thousand liabilities to violent encroachments on the honor and rights of a people, which they cannot be passive under, without sacrificing a national spirit, and well-nigh dissolving the bonds of government itself. But where lies the strength of a nation's defense? In such things as money purchases -- ships, fortifications, and magazines of war? No! the real bulwarks of a nation are the bodies of her sons; or, I should rather say the spirit and principles of her sons. They are public love, wisdom, and high command, attachment to home, and bravery. Courage is necessary to the spirit and true manhood of a people, though pursuing a policy even of non-resistance. And true courage is a high trait. It is not to be bought with money, not to be inspired by an occasion. It cannot be infused into a mean-bred and sensual people. It is the brother in arms of conscious integrity. In its highest examples it is supernatural, and by faith in God waxes valiant. How often has the single sentiment of courage been worth more to a people, in a merely economical estimate, than any possible amount of treasure?
To seek farther illustration of a position so nearly self-evident as the one I advance, would only reflect suspicion upon it. The personal value of a people is the only safe measure of their honor and felicity. Economy holds the same place in their polity, which it holds in the life of a wise and great man -- a subordinate place, and when subordinate, honorable. But their highest treasures as a state, they behold in capable and manly bodies, just principles, high sentiments, intelligence, and genius. To cherish these in a people, to provide a noble succession of poets, philosophers, lawgivers, and commanders, who shall be the directing head, and the nerves of action; to compact all into one energetic and stately body inspirited by public love -- this is the noble study of true philosophic statesmanship. "Alas, sir!" exclaimed Milton, suddenly grasping this whole subject as with divine force, "a commonwealth ought to be but as one huge Christian parsonage, one mighty growth and stature of an honest man, as big and compact in virtue as in body; for look, what the grounds and causes are of single happiness to one man, the same ye shall find them to a whole state." Here, in a single sentence, he declares the true idea of a state, and of all just administration.
But however correct in theory, such views, it will be suspected, are after all, remote and impracticable. How, especially, can we hope to bring our intractable democracy upon so high a ground of principle? I cannot entirely sympathize with such impressions. History clearly indicates the fact, that republics are more ductile than any other form of government, and more favorable to the admission of high-toned principles, and the severer maxims of government. The confederate republics of Crete and the daughter repub1ic of Sparta, were no other than studied and rigorous systems of direct personal discipline upon the people, in which wealth and ease were in no wise sought, but sternly rejected. And in what monarchy, or even despotism, of the world, where but in plain republican Rome, the country of Cato and Brutus, is a censor of manners and morals to be endured, going forth with his note-book, and for any breach of parental or filial duty observed, for seduction of the youth, for dishonor in the field, for a drinking bout, or even for luxurious manners, inflicting a civil degradation upon the highest citizens and magistrates? The beginnings, too, of our own history are stern temperament, and such as perfectly to sympathize with the highest principles of government. Indeed I have felt it to be, in the highest degree, auspicious, that the ground I vindicate before you requires no revolution, being itself the true American ground. May we not also discover even now, in the worst forms of radicalism and political depravation among us, a secret elemental force, a law of republican feeling, which, if appealed to on high and rigid principles, would yield a true response? We fail in our conservative attempts, more because our principles are too low, than because they are too high. A course of administration, based on the pursuit of wealth alone, though bad in principle anywhere, is especially bad in a republic. It is more congenial to the splendors and stately distinctions of monarchy. It concentrates the whole attention of the nation upon wealth. It requires measures to be debated only as they bear upon wealth. It produces thus a more egregious notion of its dignity, continually, both in the minds of those who have it, and of those who have it not, and thus it exasperates every bad feeling in a republic, till it retaliates destruction upon it. But a system of policy, based on the high and impartial principles of philosophy, one that respects only manly bodies, high talents, great sentiments and actions, one that values excellence of person, whether found in the palaces of the rich or the huts of the poor, holding all gilded idleness and softness in the contempt they deserve -- such a system is congenial to a republic. It would have attractions to our people. Its philosophic grounds too, can be vindicated by a great variety of bold arguments, and the moral absurdity of holding wealth in higher estimation than personal value, can be played out in the forms of wit and satire, so as to raise a voice of acclamation, and overwhelm the mercenary system with utter and final contempt.
I ought to say, that no constitutional change in our system is requisite or contemplated. It is only necessary that we sustain the distinctness and high independence of the state governments. The general government is mainly fiscal and prudential in its sphere of action. The highest and most sacred duties belong to the individual states. It is the exact and appropriate sphere of these, to prepare personal wealth in the people. They should be as little absorbed, therefore, as possible, in the spirit and policy of the general government. Each State should have the interest, in itself, of a family, a sense of character to sustain, a love of its ancestors and its children, a just ambition to raise its quota of distinguished men, to be honored for its literature, its good manners and the philosophic beauty of its disciplinary institutions.
But let us glance at some of the practical operations of our doctrine more particularly. The personal value of the people being the great object of pursuit, the first care of a state will of course be to preserve and ennoble the native quality or stock of its people. It is a well-known principle of physiology, that cultivation, bodily and mental and all refinements of disposition and principle do gradually work, to increase the native volume and elevate the quality of a people. It is by force of this principle, long operating, that states occupying a similar climate have become so different in temperament, talent, and quality of every kind. In this principle, a field of promise truly sublime opens on the statesmen of a country. And yet, I know not that more than two or three lawgivers ever made the ennobling of their stock a subject of practical attention. The free mingling and crossing of races in the higher ranges of culture and character would doubtless be a great benefit to the stock. But the constant importation, as now, to this country, of the lowest orders of people from abroad, to dilute the quality of our natural manhood, is a sad and beggarly prostitution of the noblest gift ever conferred on a people. Who shall respect a people, who do not respect their own blood? And how shall a national spirit, or any determinate and proportionate character, arise out of so many low-bred associations and coarse-grained temperaments, imported from every clime? It was in keeping, that Pan, who was the son of every body, was the ugliest of the gods. It is well known, too, that vices and degraded manners have a sad effect in sinking, the quality of a people. We hear of one whole people, who are in danger of dwindling to absolute extinction, by force of this simple cause. And let the day but come to any people, when it is true that every man participates in the infected blood of drunkenness, or any corrupt vice, and it will be a people as certainly degenerate, to some degree, in bodily stature and force, in mental quickness and generosity. Do I then speak of enforcing morals by law? Certainly I do. Only a decent respect for the blood of the nation requires it. But the punishments declared against such vices as poison the blood of a nation, ought to be suitable; they ought to be such as denote only contempt. If it would be too severe, in the manner of an ancient Roman punishment, to inclose the delinquent in a sack, with some appropriate animals, and throw him into the water, let him somehow be made a mark for mockery and derision. But let there be no appearance of austerity in the laws against vice. Let cheerful and happy amusements be provided, at the public expense. Let the youth be exercised in feats of agility and grace, in rowing and the spirited art of horsemanship. Erect monuments and fountains, adorn public walks and squares, arrange ornamental and scientific gardens, institute festivals and games for the contest of youth and manhood in practical invention, in poetry, philosophy, and bodily prowess. Provide ways and means, go to any expense, to enliven the state and make the people happy, without low and vulgar pleasures. The sums now expended, every year, in a single article of appetite and of dead consumption, would defray every expense of this kind. In the same view, great cities will not be specially desired, and all confined employments will be obviated, as far as possible. For it is not in great cities, nor in the confined shops of trade, but principally in agriculture, that the best stock or stable of men is grown. It is in the open air, in communion with the sky, the earth, and all living things, that the largest inspiration is drunk in, and the vital energies of a real man constructed. The modern improvements in machinery have facilitated production to such a degree, that when they become diffused through the world, only a few hands, comparatively will be requisite in the mechanic arts; and those engaged in agriculture, being proportionally more numerous, will be more in a condition of ease. Here opens a new and sublime hope. If a state can maintain the practice of a pure morality, and can unite with agriculture a taste for learning and science, and the generous exercises I have named, a race of men will ultimately be raised up, having a physical volume, a native majesty and force of mind, such as no age has yet produced. Or if this be not done, if the race are to sink down into idleness and effeminate pleasures, as production is facilitated, the great inventions we prize will certainly result in a dwarfed and degraded staple of manhood.
Pass, now, from the subject of native quality and capacity, to that of personal and moral improvement. God has given eyes to the body of man, by which to govern his feet and guide his other motions. So he has given to the mind a regulative eye -- a faculty, who's very office it is to command all the others. But suppose some one to busy himself in devising a system by which men shall be enabled to walk by the sense of smell or of touch. It were not a more absurd ingenuity, than to attempt a state policy which shall govern men through their appetites, or their love of gain, or their mere fears. The conscience must be entered, order and principle must be established in the seat of the soul's regency; and then a conservative and genial power will flow down thence on every other faculty and disposition, every frame of bodily habit, every employment and enterprise, and the whole body of the state will rise with invigorate thrift and full proportion in ever part. To this end, a state must be grounded in religion. Though not established as a part of the political system, it must be virtually incorporate in the principles and feelings of the people. If it were possible for a people to subsist without some kind of religion, it would be a mere subsistence -- without morals, without a true public enthusiasm, without genius, or an inspired literature. The highest distinction they could possibly attain to, would be the advancement of material philosophy. Being worshippers of matter, they might be good observers of matter, but only in the lower and individual aspects of things; the Higher Reason, which dictates all material forms and relations, and dwells in them, they could not perceive. "They that deny a God," says Bacon, "destroy man's nobility; for, certainly, man is of kin to the beasts by his body, and if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature. It destroys likewise magnanimity and the raising of human nature; for take an example of a dog, and mark what a courage and generosity he will put on, when he finds himself maintained by a man, who to him is instead of a God; which courage is manifestly such as that creature, without that confidence of a better nature than his own, could never attain." This confidence of a better nature is religious faith; and here it is that man begins to look beyond mere sense and outward fact in his thoughts. And in this point of view religion is seen to be the spring of all genius. Genius is but an intellectual faith. It looks round on the world and life, and beholds not a limit, in some sense, not a reality; but the confidence, in all, of a better nature. The form, colors, and experiences of life, are not truth to it, but only the imagery of truth. Boundaries break away, thought is emancipated, a mighty inspiration seizes and exalts it; and what to others is fact and dead substance, to it is but a vast chamber of spiritual imagery. Colors are the hues of thought, forms embody it, contrasts hold it in relief, proportions are the clothing of its beauty, sounds are its music. Whose the thought is, its own reflected, or God's presented, it may never pause to inquire; or with the immortal Kepler, it may exclaim, in the pious ecstasy of a child -- 0 Lord, I think thy thoughts after thee! In either case, the world is changed -- it is no more the whole, but only the sign of things. The blank walls of sense are become significant, and a world beyond the world is beheld in distinct embodiment.
Nearly allied to religion, as a power ennobling man, is reverence for ancestors. There is something essentially bad in a people who despise or do not honor their originals. A state torn from
its beginnings is fragmentary, incapable of public love, or of any real nationality. No such people were ever known to develop a great character. Rome was not ashamed to own that she sprung of refugees and robbers, and boasted, in every age, her old seer Numa who gave her laws and a religion. Athens could glory in the fiction that her ancestors were grasshoppers, sprung out of the earth as an original race. England has never blushed to name her noble families from the Danish or Saxon pirates who descended on her coast. Piety to God, and piety to ancestors, are the only force which can impart an organic unity and vitality to a state. Torn from the past and f rom God, government is but a dead and brute machine. Its laws take hold of nothing in man which responds; they are only paper decrees, made by the men of yesterday, which the men of to-day have as good right to put under their feet. What is it which gives to the simple enactment of words written on paper, the force of law -- a power to sway and mould a mighty nation? Is it the terror of force? Why does not all force disclaim it? Is it that some constituted body of magistrates enacts it? But how do the magistrates themselves become subject to it, in the very act of pronouncing it, as if it were uttered by some authority higher than they? This is the only answer: Law is uttered by the National Life -- not by some monarch, magistrate, or legislature, of to-day, or of any day, but by the state; by that organic force of which kings, magistrates, legislatures, of all times, have been but the hands, and feet, and living instruments; that force which has grown up from small and perilous beginnings, strengthened itself in battles, spoken in the voices of orators and poets, and been hallowed at the altars of religion. Glorious and auspicious distinction it is, therefore, that we have an ancestry, who, after ever possible deduction, still overtop the originals of ever nation of mankind -- men fit to be honored and held in reverence while the continent endures.
I have not time to show in what way religion and a suitable reverence to ancestors may be promoted in our state and nation. If only a due sense of their dignity and necessity were felt, the means would not be difficult to reach. Only let every statesman, or magistrate, honor religion in his private life; let him save nothing, in his speech publicly, to reflect on the sacredness of religion; make no appeal to passions inconsistent with it in the people -- by that time wisdom will find out ways to do all which is necessary. So let every public man who has profaned the ashes of his ancestors, exulted in sweeping down their safeguards and landmarks, and excited the ignorant people to a prejudice against them, degrading to themselves and destructive to public love -- let him, I say, cease from his crime, and receive better feelings to his heart. And there, in the place where Washington sleeps, let the statesman who denies a monument because it is an expense, fall down and draw from the hallowed earth, if he may, some breath of justice and magnanimity. Beginning thus, I trust we might not cease till every spot signalized in our history is marked by some honorable token of national remembrance.
There is not a nobler office for a state, than the education of its youth, or one more congenial to a just ambition. Abandoning the mercenary and merely economical policy, and ascending to higher views, it will behold its richest mines in the capabilities of its sons and daughters. Upon the cultivation of these it will concentrate the main force of its polity, and will produce to itself a glorious revenue of judges, senators, and commanders; wives to adorn and strengthen the spheres of great men; citizens who will make every scene of life and every work of industry to smile. Oh! I blush, for once, to think of my country! It has gone abroad -- we ourselves have declared -- that we are an enlightened people. And doubtless a republican nation, one too that has filled the world with its name, must be a nation of special culture. Suppose a commissioner were sent out from some one of the venerable kingdoms of the old world to examine and report upon our admirable systems of schools. First of all, he will say, when he returns, I found in America no system of schools at all, and scarcely a system in any one school. I ascertained, that in four states adjacent to each other, there were more children out of school than in all the kingdom of Prussia. Traveling through new England, which is noted for its schools, I observed that the schoolhouses were the most comfortless and mean looking class of building, placed in the worst situations, without shades or any attraction to mitigate their barbarity. Into these dirty shops of education, the sons and daughters are driven to be taught. I found, on inquiry, that a man, for example, who would give a cheap sort of lawyer from ten to twenty dollars for a few hours' service, is giving the professor of education from one to two dollars for a whole winter's work on the mind of his son. On the whole, I found that the Americans were very providently engaged in planting live-oak timber for the service of their navy in future generations, but I did not discover that they had any particular concern, just now, about soldiers, commanders, and magistrates for the coming age. The picture is, alas! too just. Indeed, the public are not altogether insensible to these things. I hear them often complained of by those who do not seem to understand that they are only the legitimate fruit of their own principles. What other result could possible appear, in a country whose policy itself is only concerned with questions of loss and gain?
A national literature consummates and crowns the greatness of a people. The best actions, indeed, and the highest personal virtues, are scarcely possible, till the inspiring force of a literature is felt. There cannot even be a high tone of general education without a literature. A state must have its renowned orators and senators; the spirit of its laws and customs must be developed in a venerable body of judicial learning; its constitutions must have been clothed with gravity and authority by the admiration of philosophers and wise men; its beginnings, its great actions, its field of honor, the names of its lakes, rivers, and mountains, must have been consecrated in song; then the nation becomes, as it were, conscious of itself, and one, because there is a spirit in it which the men of every class and opinion, nay, the earth and the air, participate. But, alas! there must be something of true manhood and spiritual generosity, to produce such a literature. A mercenary mind is incapable of true inspiration. The spirit of gain is not the spirit of song; and philosophers will not be heard discoursing in the groves of paper cities. Besides, had our country been pursuing, as it ought, the noble policy of producing its wealth in the persons of its people, those relaxations by which the right of suffrage has been put into the hands of the unworthy, would never have been made. And then, after they were made, our most cultivated citizens would not have withdrawn from their country so despairingly; they would have come forward, in the spirit of public devotion, and contributed all their energies to the noble purpose of making our whole people, since they are called to rule, fit to rule. They would even have consoled themselves in that which they had feared, by the discovery of a philosophic necessity, that their country, at whatever sacrifice, should be completely torn from British types, in order to become a truly distinct nation. Least of all, would the best talents of the nation have lent themselves to the task of soberly reasoning out discouragement to our institutions, because they are not supported by noble and priestly orders. The worst radicalism which our country has ever suffered, has been this, which, under the guise of a sickly and copied conservatism, has discouraged all nationality, by demanding for the state that which is radically opposed to its fundamental elements, and which God and nature have sternly denied. A nation must be distinct, and must respect itself as distinct from all others, else it cannot adorn itself with a literature, or attain to any kind of excellence. And, in this view, the most efficient promoter and patron of American literature, is that man who has honored the Constitution of his country by the noble stature of his opinions and his eloquence; who has stood calm and self-collected in the midst of factious doctrines and corrupt measure on every side, and whose voice has been heard in the darkest hours, speaking words of encouragement and hope to his countrymen. Fully impressed with the grandeur of the British state and constitution, and copiously enriched himself by the wealth of British literature, he has yet dared to renounce a state of cliency, and be, in a sense, the first American. It is only needed now, that a voice of faith should break out in our colleges and halls of learning, and that our constitutions be set forth in their real grounds, and vindicated by a philosophy strongly and truly American, to hasten wonderfully the day of our literature. And the tokens are, that we must have a literature, not scholastic or cosmopolitan, like that of Germany, which is the literature of leisure and seclusion; but one that is practical and historical, one that is marked by a distinct nationality, like the Athenian and the British; one, too, it must be, of vast momentum in its power on the world. It will be eloquence, humor, satire, song, and philosophy, flowing on with and around our history. And as our history is to be a struggle after the true idea and settlement of liberty, so our literature will partake in the struggle. It will be the American mind wrestling with itself, to obtain the true doctrine of civil freedom; overwhelming demagogues and factions, exposing usurpations, exploding licentious opinions, involved in the fearful questions which slavery must engender, borne, perhaps, at times, on the high waves of revolution, reclining at peace in the establishment of order and justice, and deriving lessons of wisdom from the conflicts of experience. As American and characteristic, it will revolve about and will ever be attracted towards one and the same great truth, whose authority it will gradually substantiate, and, I trust, will at length practically enthrone in the spirit and opinions of our people. This truth is none other than, that LIBERTY IS JUSTICE SECURED. Establishing this truth in a general and permanent authority, which I trust it may do in the very process of investing the same with a glorified body in letters, it will bring our history to a full consummation. It will place our nation on the same high platform with the divine government, which knows no liberty other than law; and there it shall stand immortal, because it has found the rock of immortal principle.
But I must close. I have detained you too long, and yet I have only touched upon a few points in this vast subject, and with studied brevity. When I think of the amount of talent assembled here, in this honorable society, and in the numerous band of young men preparing here to act a part in their country, a feeling of duty constrains me to address you personally. May I not hope, that the principle I have asserted, approves itself to the sober and serious conviction of your judgment? And have you not some generous kindlings of desire and purpose stirring, in your breasts, that move you to be advocates and champions for your country, in a cause of so great honor? Feel, in every place and station, that you defraud your country, and, worse than this defraud the honor of your own mind, if you do not resist, and, on every proper occasion, denounce every merely mercenary scheming policy of government. Remind your countrymen of their persons, and the nobler wealth of the mind. A field is open before you, wherein to win a just and holy renown. Be not afraid to be republicans. Be not afraid of a principle. He who has a principle is inspired. Doubtless there is some difficulty in swaying the opinions and prejudices of our people. But the worst impediment truth has ever had to complain of, in our country, has been in its spiritless and distrustful advocates. There needs to be a certain exaltation of courage and inspired pertinacity in the advocates of truth. She must not be distrusted, or cloaked in disguises and accommodations. She must go before, in full unsoiled whiteness, and the majesty and spirit of her gait must invigorate her followers. Truth is the daughter of God. He possessed her in the beginnings of his way. Silence is her voice. The charmed orbs hear it forever, and following and revolving, do but transcribe her word. The masses and central depths also know her presence, and the gems sparkle before her in their secret places. The buried seeds and roots inwardly know her, and pencilling their flowers and preparing their several fragrances, send them up to bloom and exhale around her. She penetrates all things. Not laws, not bars, nor walls can exclude her goings. Even prejudice, and the madness of the people, which cannot look upon her face, do yet behold her burnished feet with secret amazement. Understanding, then, that truth is almighty, let us become her interpreters and prophets. Have faith in truth. Install her in the affections of your youth, consecrate to her all your talents, and the full vigor of your lives, and be assured that she will in no wise permit you to fail; she will fill you with peace and lead you to honor.
In the principles I have now asserted, I have a full and immutable confidence. They are true principles. They have power to impress themselves. They only want enthusiasm to worship them, voices to speak them, minds to reason for them, and courage steadfast and resolute to maintain them, and having these they cannot fail to reign.
And in that, I see the dawn of a new and illustrious vision. I see the nation rising from its present depression, with a chastened but good spirit. I see education beginning to awake, a spirit of sobriety ruling in business and in manners, religion animated in her heavenly work, a higher self-respect invigorating our institutions, and the bonds of our country strengthened by a holier attachment. Our eagle ascends and spreads his wings abroad from the eastern to the western ocean. A hundred millions of intelligent and just people dwell in his shadow. Churches are sprinkled throughout the whole field. The Sabbath sends up its holy voice. The seats of philosophers and poets are distinguished in every part, and hallowed by the affections of the people. The fields smile with agriculture. The streams, and lakes, and all the waters of the world, bear the riches of their commerce. The people are elevated in stature, both mentally and bodily; they are happy, orderly, brave, and just, and the world admires one true example of greatness in a people.