H105, American History I

Thomas R. Whitney, A Defence of the American Policy (1856).

Chapter 3, Human Equality — Taxation and Representation

American Republicanism implies popular sovereignty.  But when it says the people shall govern, it means that they shall govern to the extent of their intellectual and moral capacity.  The spirit of our institution does not presuppose that every man is competent to govern or take a part in the government.  It does not presuppose that all are qualified to choose their rulers — or if it does admit this principle as a general rule, it reserves the right to determine the exceptions to the rule.  Under this reservation three classes of citizens, native born or otherwise, are especially prohibited from taking any part in public affairs — even from the right to vote.  This settles the question, that however, all men may be created equal in the language of the Declaration, they are not equal under the law of the land, and that inequality is the result of their personal incapacity to perform the responsible duties of free, honest, and intelligent citizens.  The law declares them incompetent on account of either a moral or a mental inability.

To declare equality in the contracted, strict sense of the term would be to declare that mind and matter are identical.  What is equality but stagnation?  Equality is not found, and cannot be attained in the moral, social, physical, or elemental universe.  Inequality is the source of action; action is the source of life, thought, fruition.  It is attraction and repulsion that cause the electric particles to vibrate, and the needle to point the north.  Equalize the attractive power, and the compass becomes inert, the chemistry of vegetation is no more, and the principle of life ceases to act.  It is on the unequal ground that the pure steam meanders, or rushes onward in the full vigor of vitality; but in the equilibrium of the stagnant pool the waters become fetid and repulsive.

If the earth were an even plain, how the eye would weary over it!  Draw the misty vapors for ever from the sky, and it would lose its grandeur.  Let the hues of the flowers be equalized into a single tint, and there would be no attraction to please the sense of the optic nerves.  So is it in the moral and social world.  It is the inequality in desires, necessities, taste, genius, station, talent, power, and mind, that calls forth the energy of man, and causes him to invent, achieve, amass, adorn, aspire, or toil, and so gives zest to life, and impetus to the on-rolling car of progress.

Establish equality in these things, and a moral paralysis would pervade the earth.  The perfection of he universal system is the result of superior and subordinate inequalities, the attractive power of the superior orbs controlling the motion of the inferior, thus consummating the harmonious equilibrium of the great whole, and evincing the omnipotent and perfect wisdom of Almighty God.

To argue, therefore, that the founders of the Republic asserted a contrary theory, or that they meant to be understood as declaring all men “equal” in intelligence, genius, or morals; that all men are equally competent for self government or even self protection, were but to insult their intelligence and degrade them in the eyes of the world.

The classes to which I have alluded as forbidded to participate in the government, are the idiots, the insane, and the convicted felons....

Chapter 6, Romish Priests and American Politicians — The Church Political

....As one of the people, I write for the people.  I am one of the millions who have too long allowed a few men to do their political thinking for them.  I have determined to think for myself, read for myself, and, as far as I can, to understand for myself, free from the dictation of any party or faction, and I believe it would be better for civil and religious liberty if all my countrymen would “go and do likewise.”  We have all been too long harnessed in the party traces of a few designing men, and we have allowed them to rule over us until their union and our free institutions have been brought to the very verge of annihilation — another step, and we plunge into the abyss of anarchy and national chaos!  Too long we have worshipped “hickory  poles” and “hard cider” — too long have the ambitious leaders of party thrown in our eyes the dust of “tariff” and “free trade,” “bank” or “no bank,” “slavery” or “anti-slavery,” till we have been blinded to the trust which our honest old grandfathers left to us, and our dearest interests have been made the subjects of bargain and sale.  The patriarchs of the nation left us the inheritance of temporal and spiritual freedom, with the Holy Bible and the Constitution for our guides.  The one is now sacrilegiously desecrated, and the other is trampled under foot; the Bible is thrown from our schools at the dictation of Romish priests, and the Constitution is violated and ignored by the public enactment of fanatical legislation.

One of the surest guarantees of permanent nationality is the perfect homogeneousness of the people.  It is, therefore, an important duty on the part of the statesman, to encourage all the pertains to unity of character and custom, and to discountenance every influence that tends to produce the opposite result.  This duty is the more imperative in the United States, where the conflict of individual character and custom is kept so constantly active by an unceasing and multifarious emigration.  The course recommended by Governor Seward [of New York], instead of lessening, would increase the heterogeneous element by encouraging foreign languages and customs.  Instead of forcing them into our body politic, and enforcing a unity of interest and feeling by instruction in the language and customs of America, Mr. Seward would encourage social antagonisms and multiplied nationalities within the American circle.  A stronger evidence of his incapacity as a statesman could not exist....

Chapter 11, The Right of Suffrage

....In this I take direct issue with democracy.  As I understand the term, I am no democrat.  If democracy implies universal suffrage, or the right of all men to take part in the control of the State, without regard to the intelligence, the morals, or the principles of the man, I am no democrat.  If democracy implies freedom without restraint, license without control, or impulse without judgment, I am no democrat.  As soon would I place my person and property at the mercy of an infuriated mob, and hope to save them, as place the liberties of my country in the hands of an ignorant, superstitious, and vacillating populace.  How can the greatest of all sciences — the science of government — be appreciated or attained by the mind that is besotted with ignorance?  How can liberal institutions be conserved without patriotism by the masses?  How can the security of a people be guaranteed by the vacillating impulses of depravity?  How can true and rational liberty be maintained by those who recognize it only as the outlet of their passions and desires?  Men who cannot govern themselves, whether from imbecility or venality, must not essay to govern others.  Men who are lax in principle, will make laws and elect lawgivers in conformity with their own notions of right and wrong; hence the utmost prudence should be observed in granting or extending the right of suffrage....

The legitimate qualifications of a voter in the United States do not, by any means, involve the highest grade of intelligence, nor even the most perfect standard of morality.  They require intelligence sufficient to form the basis of an independent opinion on the prominent measures of national policy, and the honesty and capacity of men; and they require morality sufficient to form a firm and inflexible political integrity, and an unwavering patriotism, or love of the home country and its institutions.  These qualifications are sufficient, and there are but few Americans who have not acquired them by intuition, before they arrived at the age of manhood.

The first political idea that is presented to the mind of one reared under the influences of American Republicanism, is equality.  Through the avenues and surroundings of republican custom, the mind of the American boy steps naturally upon the platform of equality, as soon as he is old enough to comprehend any general principles.  He finds no privileged class above him to subdue and neutralize his youthful spirit — no aristocracy to overawe the innate impulses and aspirations of the free soul.  He looks around, and finds himself the peer of his associates; he encounters no superior of his own age — no master except over his imperfections.  His mind roams at large, and gains strength by activity; he reads, he listens to his elders, he forms opinions on topics within the scope of his mind, and fearlessly expresses them, and thus, by early habit learns to demand of others “nothing but what is right, and to submit to nothing that is wrong.”  It is the character of righteous independence, and thus fortified, he enters with a firm step and a reflecting mind, upon the duties of a citizen.  This independence of character gives force to his principles, and vigor to his integrity.  It quickens his perception, encourages a becoming self-respect, expands his understanding, and thus qualifies him early for a rational comprehension and a free exercise of the prerogative of an intelligent and moral citizen.

These qualifications are rarely found in one trained to submission, and imbued with a sense of his own inferiority.  Such a man, coming from the twilight of bondage into the broad meridian of freedom, is dazzled with the unaccustomed glory that surrounds him.  His confused senses cannot endure the light.  He is lost, bewildered.  He can neither comprehend nor realize his new position.  Accustomed to cringe in the presence of his “betters,” he looks in vain for a living shrine that will accept the homage of his bended knee.  By slow degrees, he at length imbibes a faint idea of the transition that he has encountered.  He is told that he inhabits a land of liberty and equality.  He gets a confused notion that a great change has taken place in his condition, but the nature of the change is yet unrevealed to his mental faculties.  He has heard something about “liberty” before, without knowing what was meant, but the word “equality,” is not found in his lexicon, and he can’t make out how it is that he is “as good as other people.”  His mind is not a blank, it is worse than a blank.  He has had engraven thereon, by the hand of a stern artist, thoughts and fancies adapted to his former state — lessons, not of rational obedience, merely, but of low, slavish, abject submission, and it is difficult to rub out the impression, and make a clean surface.

Is such a man in a condition to exercise the right of suffrage side by side with the free-born, and free-cultured intelligence?  Should the vote of such a man be permitted to neutralize and render nugatory the vote of the most enlightened mind in the nation?  Such is its effect.  I leave common sense to answer the question.

But the man does not always remain thus?  No.  Let us pass to the next transition.  The tablets of his mind are undergoing a further change.  The attrition of surrounding elements are gradually making their mark upon them, obliterating the old impressions only by new excoriations, the one commingling with the other without order, and the whole presenting an unintelligible mass of cross hatchings, etchings, lines, and interlines.  The old memories are imperfectly hidden while yet the new impressions are equally indistinct.  The man realizes his new position without comprehending its moral.  He experiences an awkward relief from time-honored restraint.  He perceives that he has a right to speak his mind, and he does so, freely; giving off, like a blurred copperplate, the confused impressions of the matrix.  He talks of democracy like a parrot, and seasons his essays of partisan devotion, with reminiscences of the “ould country,” the “Faderland,” or “La Belle France.”  St. Patrick and General Jackson are synonymous; the “Marseillaise” mingles with the homespun air of a “Yankee Doodle”; Washington and Victoria are blended in a halo around the brim of the same wine-cup, and beer-bibing infidelity pours out its boisterous libations over the quiet surface of an America, Christian Sabbath.  The unshackled mind asserts its crude estimate of freedom, and degenerates into licentiousness.  The flood-gates of passions and desires, long pent up, and closed by unnatural restraints, are now thrown apart, and the individual, having conceived a false estimate of liberty, rushes forth to the opposite extreme.  Is this man qualified to perform rationally the duties of an American citizen?  Is he fit to exercise the delicate and momentous trust, the power of the suffrage, and to choose men to make laws for a well-governed community?  The use of the ballot presupposes illustration, a clear perception of moral right and wrong, an understanding of the governing principle of the nation in which it is employed, a stern political integrity, and, above all, an unadulterated and inflexible patriotism.  In a political point of view, this man possesses not one of these qualifications....

Chapter 24, The United American Mechanics

The Mechanics of America have heretofore occupied a position in society which has not been attained by their class in any other nation.  In European countries, the word mechanic designates not only a class but a caste in society; and that too, of a low grade.  The dignity of labor is not recognized in their effete social systems.  But here it has been otherwise.  The reasons of this difference are obvious.  In all aristocratic systems, the sole protection of the aristocracy lies in distinctions of caste, and the broader those distinctions are made, the better for the aristocrats, and the worse for the producing classes.  It is not because labor is disreputable in itself that aristocracy sneers at it, but because of this feigned distinction, which is essential to the very existence of a privileged class.

The effect of this distinction is threefold — moral, social, and financial. Its moral effect is to degrade the workingman in his own estimation, and render him easily subservient to the dominion, the whims, or the caprice of those who lord it over him.  The social effect is to deprive him of his rights as a man; to place him in a position subordinate to others, and by closing the doors of promotion against him, dampen his ambition, and confine his efforts to the bare necessities of the present.  The financial effect is the natural result of his moral and social condition.  Owing to that condition of hopeless passiveness, the spirit of noble emulation is stifled in his bosom, and he entertains no aspirations for a loftier position in life.  His necessities alone are present to his view, and to supply them is the burden of his ambition and his energies.  He is willing to work for them alone, and the competition of poverty, brought about by these influences, compels him to be content with a mere pittance.

In the United States the only castes intrinsically recognized are founded upon merit.  This is the natural and imperative result of our system of government in its unadulterated form.  The American mechanic is morally, socially, and politically on a par with his fellow-citizens of every calling, whether rich or poor, and his right to the highest executive office of the nation is as complete, perfect, and undisputed as that of any other living man.

This being his attitude in society, his self-respect is stimulated, and his ambition awakened.  He has an inducement to emulate the best in the land, and he strives by mental culture to qualify himself for the highest intellectual pursuits and enjoyments.  How many of our American mechanics have been elevated to positions of lofty honor and responsibility!  How many have given lustre to the name of America!

The question before us at the present moment is this:  Can the American mechanic retain his rights and high social position against the competition of immigrant labor?  "Coming events cast their shadows before."  The view that I have given of this class is a view of the primitive, natural position of the mechanic, under the unadulterated workings of our system of government.  It is a view of his position where all things and all men are in that state of social as well as moral and political equilibrium which is contemplated by our institutions.  If that equilibrium is destroyed by any unnatural or uncontemplated antagonism between capital and labor — if the interests of capital become from any cause opposed to the interests of labor, it follows that the rewards of labor must be reduced, and although the intrinsic rights of the mechanic remain, his means of acquiring and assuming those rights are proportionately lessened.

Before the unequal competition of immigrant labor cast its shadow over the industrial interests of our country, every American journeyman mechanic was enabled, by the force of his industry, to maintain a financial position equal to that of his social, moral, and political position.  He was sure of employment, at wages adapted to the dignity of his franchise; to the necessities of the present, and the vicissitudes of the future.  He could dwell in his own cottage, supply his family with comforts and luxuries, rear his children respectably, find time for his own mental improvement, and lay by a little of his earnings each week for a rainy day.  Neatness and cleanliness pervaded his home, and the cheerful hearth was to him the ever-welcome refuge from toil.  But with a superabundant immigration from Europe came a train of evils which are now rapidly developing themselves.  Many an American mechanic still lives in the enjoyment of all his just privileges, but how great the proportion of those who, from want of employment, or reduced compensation, or both, have been alienated from their homes, their comforts, their ambition!  How vast the number of those who have been driven from their employments to make room for the under-bidding competition of the foreign laborer!  The American mechanic cannot live upon the pittance demanded by his European competitor.  It is not his custom — it was not the custom of his fathers — it is degrading to his sense of self-respect.


Here are the elements of competition which the American mechanic is called upon, by excessive immigration, to withstand — Imposture and pauperism!  The elements are too unequal.  The odds are against him.  He cannot contend with them.  His moral sensibilities — his sense of self-respect forbid it.  The alternative presented is poverty or disgrace.  He chooses the former, and quits his shop, in hopes that something will "turn up" to his advantage.  He seeks in vain for employment at remunerating prices.  It is not to be had.  He must work at the prices of the foreign pauper, or remain idle.  He turns to the country, but even there the same spectacle is presented.  Foreigners are working the farms.  The teeming earth, which has till now sent forth its abundance from beneath the hand of the hardy American farmer, struggles on in a succession of short crops, under the cheap system of European tillage.

In his pressing necessities, the discharged workman bethinks him of the public service.  He determines, as a last resort, to obtain some subordinate public office, from the emoluments of which he may support his family with respectability.  He has done good service to his party in times past, and he is sure it will not deny him an appointment. For the first time in his life he looks into the public departments, and applies for a situation.  He finds every post occupied — occupied by foreigners!  There is nothing left to him but submission or beggary.  In the workshop, on the farm, and in the public offices, the aspect is the same.  In every department he encounters the drudging and importunate foreigner.

To turn from the home of childhood and the associations of early life, and seek subsistence on the broad prairies of the far West — to build his house in the wilderness, and endure the hardships of a pioneer life, becomes his final recourse.  But even there he finds the same competition.  The foreign squatter has staked out the best portions of the public domain.

Thus the personal interests of the American mechanic are submerged, his rights neutralized, and his hopes thwarted by excessive immigration of the poor of Europe. These are the direct effects.  Indirectly, the effects assume a different phase.  The introduction of this degraded element into the industrial arena of the country, is in itself calculated to promote caste, and stimulate a puerile aristocratic taste among the rich.  In such hands, labor puts on a repulsive aspect — is shorn of all dignity.  With them, the instincts of refinement, heretofore shared by the working-men of America, in common with all their fellow-citizens, are unknown.  They present the positive distinction between intellectual labor and mere drudgery, and thus they themselves draw the distinguishing line which forms the basis of caste, and encourages an aristocratic, anti-republican sentiment.

Again, the effect of excessive cheap labor is to aggrandize capital.  And this affords another incentive to aristocracy — an aristocracy of wealth, which is the worst of all aristocracies....