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The necessity of Servility.

one of our Major-Generals recently remarked that “no nation can be great which does not have a servile class.” There is a fine fragrance of the camp about this neat bit of solemn loquacity. It could have come only from one who believes that the whole duty of man consists either in drilling or in being [356] drilled. The philosophical warrior who emitted, should certainly have enlarged, this observation. He should have said, “No nation can be great without wars of aggression and conquest — without a rapacious aristocracy and down-trodden, popular mass — without an enormous public debt and proportionate taxation — without an Autocrat at the head of affairs.”

After this, Pro-Slavery reasoning would have been as easy as any other style of falsehood. Rome was great-Rome submitted to a Dictator — therefore all nations desiring to be great, must establish a Dictatorship, raising to that dignity some successful soldier. Greece was great — but then all her slaves were white — therefore no nation can be great without white slaves. Imperial France was great, but it was by theft — therefore no nation can be great without stealing territory. That is why Prussian Frederick is called Great — because he stole Silesia. Alexander frequently was carried to bed much intoxicated — therefore he was styled the Great--“Drinker,” we suppose, being understood. Jonathan Wild was dubbed the Great by Fielding — why remind our readers that the novelist meant “The great thief?” It is, we repeat, a pity that our General, who believes Greatness and Rascality to be convertible terms, did not expatiate a little upon his discovery. For our own part we have thought, fondly, we suppose, that the kind of greatness to which he alludes, and which can only be secured by systematic cruelty and the oppression of man had, in this nineteenth century, gone pretty much out of fashion. [357]

Some of the clearest thinkers of the present age, if we have read aright, have supposed — was it after all, nothing but supposition?--that we had passed, or at least were rapidly passing, from feudalism to freedom, that Christianity was beginning to consummate its victory over heathenism; that the century had brought with it clearer views of social science; that honest rulers, if they must be great, now endeavor to be so, without ignoring natural right. The world has had ages of human slavery and they have been ages of sanguinary and unsatisfactory experience — have all these speculators been mistaken who have foretold better things in store for this “groaning globe?” Must we ape the vices of the past before we can copy its achievements? Must we ignore all the advantages which discovery and invention have brought to us, and seek for national greatness only in the resuscitation of bygone realities? Would we, if we could, make the United States, but a poor copy of Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage?

O agony — that centuries should reap
No mellower harvest.

Greatness!--why there is n't a greater potentate in all Africa, than the King of Dahomey! In the midst of his butcheries, wading ankle deep in human blood, building his pyramid of human skulls, he is feared by surrounding tribes, and positively adored by his own! Nations calling themselves civilized, can be great in the same way — that is, if they please [358] to relapse into savagery, there is a backward path for them, as there is for individuals — and so they may discard refined apparel for nose-rings, war-paint and nakedness — they may pull down what reporters call “palatial residences” and live in wigwams without chimneys and without windows — they may be content with subsisting upon the uncertain supplies of the chase.

Brigham Young has nine wives or ninety, we forget which; and very much is he censured for an impropriety which, some will think, must carry with it its own punishment. But this may with perfect truth be said for the Polygamous Prince of Utah — that he has the ancients upon his side. In comparison with Solomon, President Young is a model of moderation, and in plurality of ribs, he is unquestionably far below Darius, Xerxes, or the Grand Turk. Was n't Persia a great nation? All polygamy, sir? Was n't Mahomet a great conqueror? Look at his ten wives, sir! to say nothing of his mistresses, sir! Pray, if our Pro-Slavery sages may argue in their way from the past, in support of their favorite wickedness, why should n't poor Mr. Young be allowed a similar logic? It does not seem to occur to the philosophical doughfaces that there may be danger in their passion for other histories of forgetting our own.

Admitting that all great nations have heretofore been cursed by a servile class, it is certainly as true that our Revolutionary Fathers aimed at the establishment of a Republic which should rival antique [359] greatness without recourse to antique crimes. They did not profess to aim at a revival of Grecian or Roman characteristics. They knew, for they were men of culture, quite as well as the sciolists of the present know, that Involuntary Servitude existed in Greece and Rome; but it would be difficult and probably impossible to find in any act of their hands, or in any word of their mouths, the evidence that they sought for national greatness through the enslavement of their fellow-creatures. The whole current of testimony runs in the other direction.

The feeling of the founders of the Republic made no distinction between black and white. The debates in the Congress, the known opinions of Jefferson, of Franklin, and of other leading spirits of the Revolution, and the weight of tradition, all prove this to a certainty. They did not pretend to establish institutions which should merely equal those of the past. Their honorable and humane ambition was to present to the world an ameliorating discovery in political science — that of the equality of all men. If they had been absolutely faithful, in spite of temptation, to the great idea which animated their career; if they had valiantly stood by the truth in practice, as they did by the truth in theory, from what sorrows and crimes and bitter experiences would they not have saved their children? It is for us to finish the work of the Fathers! It is for us to accept their teachings and to transmute them into the fine gold of a truly Christian polity! As we are wiser than the men of the Middle Ages, let us prove that ten [360] centuries of hard experience have not been thrown away upon the race!

February 4, 1863.

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