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Federal Union, the John Fiske

(q. v.), the eminent historian, contributes the following essay, originally delivered as a lecture in London, England:

The great history of Thucydides, which after twenty-three centuries still ranks (in spite of Mr. Cobden) among our chief text-books of political wisdom, has often seemed to me one of the most mournful books in the world. At no other spot on the earth's surface, and at no other time in the career of mankind, has the human intellect flowered with such luxuriance as at Athens during the eighty-five years which intervened between the victory of Marathon and the defeat of Aegospotamos. In no other like interval of time, and in no other community of like dimensions, has so much work been accomplished of which we can say with truth that it is κτῆμα ὲζ ἀεὶ —an eternal possession. It is impossible to conceive of a day so distant, or an era of culture so exalted, that the lessons taught by Athens shall cease to be of value, or that the writings of her great thinkers shall cease to be read with fresh profit and delight. We understand these things far better to-day than did those monsters of erudition in the sixteenth century who studied the classics for philological purposes mainly. Indeed, the older the world grows, the more varied our experience of practical politics, the more comprehensive our survey of universal history, the stronger our grasp upon the comparative method of inquiry, the more brilliant is the light thrown upon that brief day of Athenian greatness, and the more wonderful and admirable does it all seem. To see this glorious community overthrown, shorn of half its virtue (to use the Homeric phrase), and thrust down into an inferior position in the world, is a mournful spectacle indeed. And the book which sets before us, so impartially yet so eloquently, the innumerable petty misunderstandings and contemptible jealousies which brought about this direful result, is one of the most mournful of books.

We may console ourselves, however, for the premature overthrow of the power of Athens, by the reflection that that power rested upon political conditions which could not in any case have been permanent or even long-enduring. The entire political system of ancient Greece, based as it was upon the idea of the sovereign independence of each single city, was one which could not fail sooner or later to exhaust itself through chronic anarchy. The only remedy lay either in some kind of permanent federation, combined with [341] representative government; or else in what we might call “incorporation and assimilation,” after the Roman fashion. But the incorporation of one town with another, though effected with brilliant results in the early history of Attica, involved such a disturbance of all the associations which in the Greek mind clustered about the conception of a city that it was quite impracticable on any large or general scale. Schemes of federal union were put into operation, though too late to be of avail against the assaults of Macedonia and Rome. But as for the principle of representation, that seems to have been an invention of the Teutonic mind; no statesman of antiquity, either in Greece or at Rome, seems to have conceived the idea of a city sending delegates armed with plenary powers to represent its interests in a general legislative assembly. To the Greek statesmen, no doubt, this too would have seemed derogatory to the dignity of the sovereign city.

This feeling with which the ancient Greek statesmen, and to some extent the Romans also, regarded the city, has become almost incomprehensible to the modern mind, so far removed are we from the political cirmcumstances which made such a feeling possible. Teutonic civilization, indeed, has never passed through a stage in which the foremost position has been held by civic communities. Teutonic civilization passed directly from the stage of tribal into that of national organization, before any Teutonic city had acquired sufficient importance to have claimed autonomy for itself; and at the time when Teutonic nationalities were forming, moreover, all the cities in Europe had so long been accustomed to recognize a master outside of them in the person of the Roman emperor that the very tradition of civic autonomy, as it existed in ancient Greece, had become extinct. This difference between the political basis of Teutonic and of Graeco-Roman civilization is one of which it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance; and when thoroughly understood it goes further, perhaps, than anything else towards accounting for the successive failures of the Greek and Roman political systems, and towards inspiring us with confidence in the future stability of the political system which has been wrought out by the genius of the English race.

We have seen how the most primitive form of political association known to have existed is that of the clan, or group of families held together by ties of descent from a common ancestor. We saw how the change from a nomadic to a stationary mode of life, attendant upon the adoption of agricultural pursuits, converted the clan into a mark or village-community, something like those which exist to-day in Russia. The political progress of primitive society seems to have consisted largely in the coalescence of these small groups into larger groups. The first series of compound groups resulting from the coalescence of adjacent marks is that which was known in nearly all Teutonic lands as the hundred, in Athens as the φρατρία or brotherhood, in Rome as the curia. Yet alongside of the Roman group called the curia there is a group whose name, the century, exactly translates the name of the Teutonic group; and, as Mr. Freeman says, it is difficult to believe that the Roman century did not at the outset in some way correspond to the Teutonic hundred as a stage in political organization. But both these terms, as we know them in history, are survivals from some prehistoric state of things; and whether they were originally applied to a hundred of houses, or of families, or of warriors, we do not know.1 M. Geffroy, in his interesting essay on the Germania of Tacitus, suggests that the term canton may have a similar origin.2 The outlines of these primitive groups are, however, more obscure than those of the more primitive mark, because in most cases they have been either crossed and effaced or at any rate diminished in importance by the more highly compounded groups which came next in order of formation. Next above the hundred, in order of composition, comes the group known in ancient Italy as the pagus, in Attica perhaps as the deme, in Germany and at first in England as the gau or ga, at a later date in England as the shire. Whatever its name, this group answers to the tribe [342] regarded as settled upon a certain determinate territory. Just as in the earlier nomadic life the aggregation of clans makes ultimately the tribe, so in the more advanced agricultural life of our Aryan ancestors the aggregation of marks or village-communities makes ultimately the gau or shire. Properly speaking, the name shire is descriptive of division and not of aggregation; but this term came into use in England after the historic order of formation had been forgotten, and when the shire was looked upon as a piece of some larger whole, such as the kingdom of Mercia or Wessex. Historically, however, the shire was not made, like the departments of modern France, by the division of the kingdom for administrative purposes, but the kingdom was made by the union of shires that were previously autonomous. In the primitive process of aggregation, the shire or gau, governed by its witenagemote or “meeting of wise men,” and by its chief magistrate who was called ealdorman in time of peace and heretoga, “army-leader,” dux, or duke, in time of war,—the shire, I say, in this form, is the largest and most complex political body we find previous to the formation of kingdoms and nations. But in saying this, we have already passed beyond the point at which we can include in the same general formula the process of political development in Teutonic countries on the one hand and in Greece and Rome on the other. Up as far as the formation of the tribe, territorially regarded, the parallelism is preserved; but at this point there begins an all-important divergence. In the looser and more diffused society of the rural Teutons, the tribe is spread over a shire, and the aggregation of shires makes a kingdom, embracing cities, towns, and rural districts held together by similar bonds of relationship to the central governing power. But in the society of the old Greeks and Italians, the aggregation of tribes, crowded together on fortified hill-tops, makes the Ancient City—a very different thing, indeed, from the modern city of later Roman or Teutonic foundation. Let us consider, for a moment, the difference.

Sir Henry Maine tells us that in Hindustan nearly all the great towns and cities have arisen either from the simple expansion or from the expansion and coalescence of primitive village-communities; and such as have not arisen in this way, including some of the greatest of Indian cities, have grown up about the intrenched camps of the Mogul emperors.3 The case has been just the same in modern Europe. Some famous cities of England and Germany—such as Chester and Lincoln, Strasburg and Maintz—grew up about the camps of the Roman legions. But in general the Teutonic city has been formed by the expansion and coalescence of thickly peopled townships and hundreds. In the United States nearly all cities have come from the growth and expansion of villages, with such occasional cases of coalescence as that of Boston with Roxbury and Charlestown. Now and then a city has been laid out as a city ab initio, with full consciousness of its purpose, as a man would build a house; and this was the case not merely with Martin Chuzzlewit's “Eden,” but with the city of Washington, the seat of our federal government. But, to go back to the early age of England—the country which best exhibits the normal development of Teutonic institutions—the point which I wish especially to emphasize is this: in no case does the city appear as equivalent to the dwelling-place of a tribe or of a confederation of tribes. In no case does citizenship, or burghership, appear to rest upon the basis of a real or assumed community of descent from a single real or mythical progenitor. In the primitive mark, as we have seen, the bond which kept the community together and constituted it a political unit was the bond of blood-relationship, real or assumed; but this was not the case with the city or borough. The city did not correspond with the tribe, as the mark corresponded with the clan. The aggregation of clans into tribes corresponded with the aggregation of marks, not into cities but into shires. The multitude of compound political units, by the further compounding of which a nation was to be formed, did not consist of cities but of shires. The city was simply a point in the shire distinguished by greater density of population. The relations sustained by the thinly peopled rural townships and [343] hundreds to the general government of the shire were co-ordinate with the relations sustained to the same government by those thickly peopled townships and hundreds which upon their coalescence were known as cities or boroughs. Of course I am speaking now in a broad and general way, and without reference to such special privileges or immunities as cities and boroughs frequently obtained by royal charter in feudal times. Such special privileges—as for instance the exemption of boroughs from the ordinary sessions of the county court, under Henry I.4—were in their nature grants from an external source, and were in nowise inherent in the position or mode of origin of the Teutonic city. And they were, moreover, posterior in date to that embryonic period of national growth of which I am now speaking. They do not affect in any way the correctness of my general statement, which is sufficiently illustrated by the fact that the oldest shire-motes, or county assemblies, were attended by representatives from all the townships and hundreds in the shire, whether such townships and hundreds formed parts of boroughs or not.

Very different from this was the embryonic growth of political society in ancient Greece and Italy. There the aggregation of clans into tribes and confederations of tribes resulted directly, as we have seen, in the city. There burghership, with its political and social rights and duties, had its theoretical basis in descent from a common ancestor, or from a small group of closely related common ancestors. The group of fellow-citizens was associated through its related groups of ancestral household-deities, and through religious rites performed in common to which it would have been sacrilege to have admitted a stranger. Thus the ancient city was a religious as well as a political body, and in either character it was complete in itself and it was sovereign. Thus in ancient Greece and Italy the primitive clan assembly or township-meeting did not grow by aggregation into the assembly of the shire, but it developed into the comitia or ecclesia of the city. The chief magistrate was not the ealdorman of early English history, but the rex or basileus who combined in himself the functions of king, general, and priest. Thus, too, there was a severance, politically, between city and country such as the Teutonic world has never known. The rural districts surrounding a city might be subject to it, but could neither share its franchise nor claim a co-ordinate franchise with it. Athens, indeed, at an early period, went so far as to incorporate with itself Eleusis and Marathon and the other rural towns of Attica. In this one respect Athens transgressed the bounds of ancient civic organization, and no doubt it gained greatly in power thereby. But generally in the Hellenic world the rural population in the neighborhood of a great city were mere περίοικοι, or “dwellers in the vicinity” ; the inhabitants of the city who had moved thither from some other city, both they and their descendants, were mere μέτοικοι, or “dwellers in the place” ; and neither the one class nor the other could acquire the rights and privileges of citizenship. A revolution, indeed, went on at Athens, from the time of Solon to the time of Kleisthenes, which essentially modified the old tribal divisions and admitted to the franchise all such families resident from time immemorial as did not belong to the tribes of eupadrids by whom the city was founded. But this change once accomplished, the civic exclusiveness of Athens remained very much what it was before. The popular assembly was enlarged, and public harmony was secured; but Athenian burghership still remained a privilege which could not be acquired by the native of any other city. Similar revolutions, with a similarly limited purpose and result, occurred at Sparta, Elis, and other Greek cities. At Rome, by a like revolution, the plebeians of the Capitoline and Aventine acquired parallel rights of citizenship with the patricians of the original city on the Palatine; but this revolution, as we shall presently see, had different results, leading ultimately to the overthrow of the city system throughout the ancient world.

The deep-seated difference between the Teutonic political system based on the shire and the Graeco-Roman system based on the city is now, I think, sufficiently apparent. Now from this fundamental difference [344] have come two consequences of enormous importance—consequences of which it is hardly too much to say that, taken together, they furnish the key to the whole history of European civilization as regarded purely from a political point of view.

The first of these consequences had no doubt a very humble origin in the mere difference between the shire and the city in territorial extent and in density of population. When people live near together it is easy for them to attend a town-meeting, and the assembly by which public business is transacted is likely to remain a primary assembly, in the true sense of the term. But when people are dispersed over a wide tract of country, the primary assembly inevitably shrinks up into an assembly of such persons as can best afford the time and trouble of attending it, or who have the strongest interest in going, or are most likely to be listened to after they get there. Distance and difficulty, and in early times danger too, keep many people away. And though a shire is not a wide tract of country for most purposes, and according to modern ideas, it was nevertheless quite wide enough in former times to bring about the result I have mentioned. In the times before the Norman conquest, if not before the completed union of England under Edgar, the shire-mote or county assembly, though in theory still a folk-mote or primary assembly, had shrunk into what was virtually a witenagemote or assembly of the most important persons in the county. But the several townships, in order to keep their fair share of control over county affairs, and not wishing to leave the matter to chance, sent to the meetings each its representatives in the person of the town-reeve and four “discreet men.” I believe it has not been determined at what precise time this step was taken, but it no doubt long antedates the Norman conquest. It is mentioned by Professor Stubbs as being already, in the reign of Henry III., a custom of immemorial antiquity.5 It was one of the greatest steps ever taken in the political history of mankind. In these four discreet men we have the forerunners of the two burghers from each town who were summoned by Earl Simon to the famous Parliament of 1265, as well as of the two knights from each shire whom the King had summoned eleven years before. In these four discreet men sent to speak for their township in the old county assembly, we have the germ of institutions that have ripened into the House of Commons and into the legislatures of mod ern kingdoms and republics. In the system of representation thus inaugurated lay the future possibility of such gigantic political aggregates as the United States of America.

In the ancient city, on the other hand, the extreme compactness of the political structure made representation unnecessary and prevented it from being thought of in circumstances where it might have proved of immense value. In an aristocratic Greek city, like Sparta, all the members of the ruling class met together and voted in the assembly; in a democratic city, like Athens, all the free citizens met and voted; in each case the assembly was primary and not representative. The only exception, in all Greek antiquity, is one which emphatically proves the rule. The Amphictyonic Council, an institution of prehistoric origin, concerned mainly with religious affairs pertaining to the worship of the Delphic Apollo, furnished a precedent for a representative, and indeed for a federal, assembly. Delegates from various Greek tribes and cities attended it. The fact that with such a suggestive precedent before their eyes the Greeks never once hit upon the device of representation, even in their attempts at framing federal unions, shows how thoroughly their whole political training had operated to exclude such a conception from their minds.

The second great consequence of the Graeco-Roman city system was linked in many ways with this absence of the representative principle. In Greece the formation of political aggregates higher and more extensive than the city was, until a late date, rendered impossible. The good and bad sides of this peculiar phase of civilization have been often enough commented on by historians. On the one hand the democratic assembly of such an imperial city as Athens furnished a school of political training superior to [345] anything else that the world has ever seen. It was something like what the New England town-meeting would be if it were continually required to adjust complicated questions of international polity, if it were carried on in the very centre or point of confluence of all contemporary streams of culture, and if it were in the habit every few days of listening to statesmen and orators like Hamilton or Webster, jurists like Marshall, generals like Sherman, poets like Lowell, historians like Parkman. Nothing in all history has approached the high-wrought intensity and brilliancy of the political life of Athens.

On the other hand, the smallness of the independent city, as a political aggregate, made it of little or no use in diminishing the liability to perpetual warfare which is the curse of all primitive communities. In a group of independent cities, such as made up the Hellenic world, the tendency to warfare is almost as strong, and the occasions for warfare are almost as frequent, as in a congeries of mutually hostile tribes of barbarians. There is something almost lurid in the sharpness of contrast with which the wonderful height of humanity attained by Hellas is set off against the fierce barbarism which characterized the relations of its cities to one another. It may be laid down as a general rule that in an early state of society, where the political aggregations are small, warfare is universal and cruel. From the intensity of the jealousies and rivalries between adjacent self-governing groups of men, nothing short of chronic warfare can result, until some principle of union is evolved by which disputes can be settled in accordance with general principles admitted by all. Among peoples that have never risen above the tribal stage of aggregation, such as the American Indians, war is the normal condition of things, and there is nothing fit to be called peace— there are only truces of brief and uncertain duration. Were it not for this there would be somewhat less to be said in favor of great states and kingdoms. As modern life grows more and more complicated and interdependent, the great state subserves innumerable useful purposes; but in the history of civilization its first service, both in order of time and in order of importance, consists in the diminution of the quantity of warfare and in the narrowing of its sphere. For within the territorial limits of any great and permanent state the tendency is for warfare to become the exception and peace the rule. In this direction the political careers of the Greek cities assisted the progress of civilization but little.

Under the conditions of Graeco-Roman civic life there were but two practicable methods of forming a great state and diminishing the quantity of warfare. The one method was conquest with incorporation, the other method was federation. Either one city might conquer all the others and endow their citizens with its own franchise, or all the cities might give up part of their sovereignty to a federal body which should have power to keep the peace, and should represent the civilized world of the time in its relations with outlying barbaric peoples. Of these two methods, obviously the latter is much the more effective, but it presupposes for its successful adoption a higher general state of civilization than the former. Neither method was adopted by the Greeks in their day of greatness. The Spartan method of extending its power was conquest without incorporation: when Sparta conquered another Greek city, she sent a harmost to govern it like a tyrant; in other words she virtually enslaved the subject city. The efforts of Athens tended more in the direction of a peaceful federalism. In the great Delian confederacy which developed into the maritime empire of Athens, the Aegean cities were treated as allies rather than subjects. As regards their local affairs they were in no way interfered with, and could they have been represented in some kind of a federal council at Athens, the course of Grecian history might have been wonderfully altered. As it was, they were all deprived of one essential element of sovereignty, the power of controlling their own military forces. Some of them, as Chios and Mitylene, furnished troops at the demand of Athens; others maintained no troops, but paid a fixed tribute to Athens in return for her protection. In either case they felt shorn of part of their dignity, though otherwise they had nothing to complain of; and during the Peloponnesian war Athens had to reckon with their tendency to revolt as well as with [346] her Dorian enemies. Such a confederation was naturally doomed to speedy overthrow.

In the century following the death of Alexander, in the closing age of Hellenic independence, the federal idea appears in a much more advanced stage of elaboration, though in a part of Greece which had been held of little account in the great days of Athens and Sparta. Between the Achaian federation, framed in 274 B. C., and the United States of America, there are some interesting points of resemblance which have been elaborately discussed by Mr. Freeman, in his History of federal government. About the same time the Aetolian League came into prominence in the north. Both these leagues were instances of true federal government, and were not mere confederations; that is, the central government acted directly upon all the citizens and not merely upon the local governments. Each of these leagues had for its chief executive officer a general elected for one year, with powers similar to those of an American President. In each the supreme assembly was a primary assembly at which every citizen from every city of the league had a right to be present, to speak, and to vote; but as a natural consequence these assemblies shrank into comparatively aristocratic bodies. In Aetolia, which was a group of mountain cantons similar to Switzerland, the federal union was more complete than in Achaia, which was a group of cities. In Achaia cases occurred in which a single city was allowed to deal separately with foreign powers. Here, as in earlier Greek history, the instinct of autonomy was too powerful to admit of complete federation. Yet the career of the Achaian League was not an inglorious one. For nearly a century and a half it gave the Peloponnesos a larger measure of orderly government than the country had ever known before, without infringing upon local liberties. It defied successfully the threats and assaults of Macedonia, and yielded at last only to the all-conquering might of Rome.

Thus in so far as Greece contributed anything towards the formation of great and pacific political aggregates, she did it through attempts at federation. But in so low a state of political development as that which prevailed throughout the Mediterranean world in pre-Christian times, the more barbarous method of conquest with incorporation was more likely to be successful on a great scale. This was well illustrated in the history of Rome—a civic community of the same generic type with Sparta and Athens, but presenting specific differences of the highest importance. The beginnings of Rome, unfortunately, are prehistoric. I have often thought that if some beneficent fairy could grant us the power of somewhere raising the veil of oblivion which enshrouds the earliest ages of Aryan dominion in Europe, there is no place from which the historian should be more glad to see it lifted than from Rome in the centuries which saw the formation of the city, and which preceded the expulsion of the kings. Even the legends, which were uncritically accepted from the days of Livy to those of our grandfathers, are provokingly silent upon the very points as to which we would fain get at least a hint. This much is plain, however, that in the embryonic stage of the Roman commonwealth some obscure processes of fusion or commingling went on. The tribal population of Rome was more heterogeneous than that of the great cities of Greece, and its earliest municipal religion seems to have been an assemblage of various tribal religions that had points of contact with other tribal religions throughout large portions of the Graeco-Italic world. As M. de Coulanges observes.6 Rome was almost the only city of antiquity which was not kept apart from other cities by its religion. There was hardly a people in Greece or Italy which it was restrained from admitting to participation in its municipal rites.

However this may have been, it is certain that Rome early succeeded in freeing itself from that insuperable prejudice which elsewhere prevented the ancient city from admitting aliens to a share in its franchise. And in this victory over primeval political ideas lay the whole secret of Rome's mighty career. The victory was not indeed completed until after the terrible social war of B. C. 90, but it was begun at least four centuries earlier with the admission of the plebeians. At the [347] consummation of the conquest of Italy i B. C. 270 Roman burghership already extended, in varying degrees of complete ness, through the greater part of Etruri and Campania, from the coast to the mountains; while all the rest of Italy was admitted to privileges for which ancient history had elsewhere furnished no precedent. Hence the invasion of Hannibal ha] a century later, even with its stupendous victories of Thrasymene and Cannae, effected nothing towards detaching the Italian subjects from their allegiance to Rome; and herein we have a most instructive contrast to the conduct of the communities subject to Athens at several critical moments of the Peloponnesian War. With this consolidation of Italy, thus triumphantly demonstrated, the whole problem of the conquering career of Rome was solved. All that came afterwards was simply a corollary from this. The concentration of all the fighting power of the peninsula into the hands of the ruling city formed a stronger political aggregate than anything the world had as yet seen. It was not only proof against the efforts of the greatest military genius of antiquity, but whereever it was brought into conflict with the looser organizations of Greece, Africa, and Asia, or with the semi-barbarous tribes of Spain and Gaul, the result of the struggle was virtually predetermined. The universal dominion of Rome was inevitable, so soon as the political union of Italy had been accomplished. Among the Romans themselves there were those who thoroughly understood this point, as we may see from the interesting speech of the Emperor Claudius in favor of admitting Gauls to the senate. The benefits conferred upon the world by the universal dominion of Rome were of quite inestimable value. First of these benefits, and (as it were) the material basis of the others, was the prolonged peace that was enforced throughout large portions of the world where chronic warfare had hitherto prevailed. The pax romana has perhaps been sometimes depicted in exaggerated colors; but as compared with all that had preceded, and with all that followed, down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, it deserved the encomiums it has received. The second benefit was the mingling and mutual destruction of the primitive tribal and municipal religions, thus clearing the way for Christianity—a step which, regarded from a purely political point of view, was of immense importance for the further consolidation of society in Europe. The third benefit was the development of the Roman law into a great body of legal precepts and principles leavened throughout with ethical principles of universal applicability, and the gradual substitution of this Roman law for the innumerable local usages of ancient communities. Thus arose the idea of a common Christendom, of a brotherhood of peoples associated both by common beliefs regarding the unseen world and by common principles of action in the daily affairs of life. The common ethical and traditional basis thus established for the future development of the great nationalities of Europe is the most fundamental characteristic distinguishing modern from ancient history.

While, however, it secured these benefits for mankind for all time to come, the Roman political system in itself was one which could not possibly endure. That extension of the franchise which made Rome's conquests possible, was, after all, the extension of a franchise which could only be practically enjoyed within the walls of the imperial city itself. From first to last the device of representation was never thought of, and from first to last the Roman comitia remained a primary assembly. The result was that, as the burgherhood enlarged, the assembly became a huge mob as little fitted for the transaction of public business as a town meeting of all the inhabitants of New York would be. The functions which in Athens were performed by the assembly were accordingly in Rome performed largely by the aristocratic senate; and for the conflicts consequently arising between the senatorial and the popular parties it was difficult to find any adequate constitutional check. Outside of Italy, moreover, in the absence of a representative system, the Roman government was a despotism which, whether more or less oppressive, could in the nature of things be nothing else than a despotism. But nothing is more dangerous for a free people than the attempt to govern a dependent people despotically. The bad government kills out [348] the good government as surely as slavelabor destroys free-labor, or as a debased currency drives out a sound currency. The existence of proconsuls in the provinces, with great armies at their beck and call, brought about such results as might have been predicted, as soon as the growing anarchy at home furnished a valid excuse for armed interference. In the case of the Roman world, however, the result is not to be deplored, for it simply substituted a government that was practicable under the circumstances for one that had become demonstrably impracticable.

As regards the provinces the change from senatorial to imperial government at Rome was a great gain, inasmuch as it substituted an orderly and responsible administration for irregular and irresponsible extortion. For a long time, too, it was no part of the imperial policy to interfere with local customs and privileges. But, in the absence of a representative system, the centralizing tendency inseparable from the position of such a government proved to be irresistible. And the strength of this centralizing tendency was further enhanced by the military character of the government which was necessitated by perpetual frontier warfare against the barbarians. As year after year went by, the provincial towns and cities were governed less and less by their local magistrates, more and more by prefects responsible to the emperor only. There were other co-operating causes, economical and social, for the decline of the empire; but this change alone, which was consummated by the time of Diocletian, was quite enough to burn out the candle of Roman strength at both ends. With the decrease in the power of the local governments came an increase in the burdens of taxation and conscription that were laid upon them.7 And as “the dislocation of commerce and industry caused by the barbarian inroads, and the increasing demands of the central administration for the payment of its countless officials and the maintenance of its troops, all went together,” the load at last became greater “than human nature could endure.” By the time of the great invasions of the fifth century, local political life had gone far towards extinction throughout Roman Europe, and the tribal organization of the Teutons prevailed in the struggle simply because it had come to be politically stronger than any organization that was left to oppose it.

We have now seen how the two great political systems that were founded upon the ancient city both ended in failure, though both achieved enormous and lasting results. And we have seen how largely both these political failures were due to the absence of the principle of representation from the public life of Greece and Rome. The chief problem of civilization, from the political point of view, has always been how to secure concerted action among men on a great scale without sacrificing local independence. The ancient history of Europe shows that it is not possible to solve this problem without the aid of the principle of representation. Greece, until overcome by external force, sacredly maintained local self-government, but in securing permanent concert of action it was conspicuously unsuccessful. Rome secured concert of action on a gigantic scale, and transformed the thousand unconnected tribes and cities it conquered into an organized European world, but in doing this it went far towards extinguishing local self-government. The advent of the Teutons upon the scene seems therefore to have been necessary, if only to supply the indispensable element without which the dilemma of civilization could not have been surmounted. The turbulence of Europe during the Teutonic migrations were so great and so long continued that on a superficial view one might be excused for regarding the good work of Rome as largely undone. And in the feudal isolation of effort and apparent incapacity for combined action which characterized the different parts of Europe after the downfall of the Carolingian empire, it might well have seemed that political society had reverted towards a primitive type of structure. In truth, however, the retrogradation was much slighter than appeared on the surface. Feudalism itself, with its curious net-work of fealties and obligations running through the fabric of society in every direction, was by no means purely disintegrative in [349] its tendencies. The mutual relations of rival baronies were by no means like those of rival clans or tribes in pre-Roman days. The central power of Rome, though no longer exerted politically through curators and prefects, was no less effective in the potent hands of the clergy and in the traditions of the imperial jurisprudence by which the legal ideas of medieval society were so strongly colored. So powerful, indeed, was this twofold influence of Rome that in the later Middle Ages, when the modern nationalities had fairly taken shape, it was the capacity for local selfgovernment—in spite of all the Teutonic reinforcements it had had—that had suffered much more than the capacity for national consolidation. Among the great modern nations it was only England— which in its political development had remained more independent of the Roman law and the Roman church than even the Teutonic fatherland itself—it was only England that came out of the medieval crucible with its Teutonic self-government substantially intact. On the mainland only two little spots, at the two extremities of the old Teutonic world, had fared equally well. At the mouth of the Rhine the little Dutch communities were prepared to lead the attack in the terrible battle for freedom with which the drama of modern history was ushered in. In the impregnable mountain fastnesses of upper Germany the Swiss cantons had bid defiance alike to Austrian tyrant and to Burgundian invader, and had preserved in its purest form the rustic democracy of their Aryan forefathers. By a curious coincidence, both these free peoples, in their efforts towards national unity, were led to frame federal unions, and one of these political achievements is, from the stand-point of universal history, of very great significance. The old League of High Germany, which earned immortal renown at Morgarten and Sempach, consisted of German-speaking cantons only. But in the fifteenth century the League won by force of arms a small bit of Italian territory about Lake Lugano, and in the sixteenth the powerful city of Bern annexed the Burgundian bishopric of Lausanne and rescued the free city of Geneva from the clutches of the Duke of Savoy. Other Burgundian possessions of Savoy were seized by the canton of Freiburg; and after awhile all these subjects and allies were admitted on equal terms into the confederation. The result is that modern Switzerland is made up of what might seem to be most discordant and unmanageable elements. Four languages— German, French, Italian, and Rhaetian— are spoken within the limits of the confederacy; and in point of religion the cantons are sharply divided as Catholic and Protestant. Yet in spite of all this, Switzerland is as thoroughly united in feeling as any nation in Europe. To the German-speaking Catholic of Altdorf the German Catholics of Bavaria are foreigners, while the French-speaking Protestants of Geneva are fellow-countrymen. Deeper down even than these deep-seated differences of speech and creed lies the feeling that cones from the common possession of a political freedom that is greater than that possessed by surrounding peoples. Such has been the happy outcome of the first attempt at federal union made by men of Teutonic descent. Complete independence in local affairs, when combined with adequate representation in the federal council, has affected such an intense cohesion of interests throughout the nation as no centralized government, however cunningly devised, could ever have secured.

Until the nineteenth century, however, the federal form of government had given no clear indication of its capacity for holding together great bodies of men, spread over vast territorial areas, in orderly and peaceful relations with one another. The empire of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius still remained the greatest known example of political aggregation; and men who argued from simple historic precedent without that power of analyzing precedents which the comparative method has supplied, came not unnaturally to the conclusions that great political aggregates have an inherent tendency towards breaking up, and that great political aggregates cannot be maintained except by a strongly centralized administration and at the sacrifice of local self-government. A century ago the very idea of a stable federation of forty powerful states, covering a territory nearly equal in area to the whole of Europe, carried on by a republican government elected by universal suffrage, and [350] guaranteeing to every tiniest village its full meed of local independence—the very idea of all this would have been scouted as a thoroughly impracticable, Utopian dream. And such scepticism would have been quite justifiable, for European history did not seem to afford any precedents upon which such a forecast of the future could be logically based. Between the various nations of Europe there has certainly existed an element of political community, bequeathed by the Roman Empire, manifested during the Middle Ages in a common relationship to the Church, and in modern times in a common adherence to certain uncodified rules of international law, more or less imperfectly defined and enforced. Between England and Spain, for example, or between France and Austria, there has never been such utter political severance as existed normally between Greece and Persia, or Rome and Carthage. But this community of political inheritance in Europe, it is needless to say, falls very far short of the degree of community implied in a federal union; and so great is the diversity of language and of creed, and of local historic development with the deep-seated prejudices attendant thereupon, that the formation of a European federation could hardly be looked for except as the result of mighty though quiet and subtle influences operating for a long time from without. From what direction, and in what manner, such an irresistible though perfectly pacific pressure is likely to be exerted in the future, I shall endeavor to show elsewhere. At present we have to observe that the experiment of federal union on a grand scale required as its conditions, first, a vast extent of unoccupied country which could be settled without much warfare by men of the same race and speech, and secondly, on the part of settlers, a rich inheritance of political training such as is afforded by long ages of self-government. The Atlantic coast of North America, easily accessible to Europe, yet remote enough to be freed from the political complications of the Old World, furnished the first of these conditions: the history of the English people through fifty generations furnished the second. It was through English self-government that England alone, among the great nations of Europe, was able to found durable and self-supporting colonies. I have now to add that it was only England, among the great nations of Europe, that could send forth colonists capable of dealing successfully with the difficult problem of forming such a political aggregate as the United States have become. For obviously the preservation of local self-government is essential to the very idea of a federal union. Without the town-meeting, or its equivalent in some form or other, the federal union would become ipso facto converted into a centralizing imperial government. Should anything of this sort ever happen—should American towns ever come to be ruled by prefects appointed at Washington, and should American States ever become like the administrative departments of France, or even like the counties of England at the present day—then the time will have come when men may safely predict the break — up of the American political system by reason of its overgrown dimensions and the diversity of interests between its parts. States so unlike one another as Maine and Louisiana and California cannot be held together by the stiff bonds of a centralizing government. The durableness of the federal union lies in its flexibility, and it is this flexibility which makes it the only kind of government, according to modern ideas, that is permanently applicable to a whole continent. If the United States were to-day a consolidated republic like France, recent events in California might have disturbed the peace of the country. But in the federal union, if California, as a State sovereign within its own sphere, adopts a grotesque constitution that aims at infringing on the rights of capitalists, the other States are not directly affected. They may disapprove, but they have neither the right nor the desire to interfere. Meanwhile the laws of nature quietly operate to repair the blunder. Capital flows away from California, and the business of the State is damaged, until presently the ignorant demagogues lose favor, the silly constitution becomes a dead-letter, and its formal repeal begins to be talked of. Not the smallest ripple of excitement disturbs the profound peace of the country at large. It is in this complete independence that is preserved by every State, in all matters [351] save those in which the federal principle itself is concerned, that we find the surest guarantee of the permanence of the American political system. Obviously no race of men, save the race to which habits of selfgovernment and the skilful use of political representation had come to be as second nature, could ever have succeeded in founding such a system.

Yet even by men of English race, working without let or hinderance from any foreign source, and with the better part of a continent at their disposal for a field to work in, so great a political problem as that of the American Union has not been solved without much toil and trouble. The great puzzle of civilization—how to secure permanent concert of action without sacrificing independence of action—is a puzzle which has taxed the ingenuity of Americans as well as of older Aryan peoples. In the year 1788 when our federal union was completed, the problem had already occupied the minds of American statesmen for a century and a half—that is to say, ever since the English settlement of Massachusetts. In 1643 a New England confederation was formed between Massachusetts and Connecticut, together with Plymouth, since merged in Massachusetts, and New Haven, since merged in Connecticut. The confederation was formed for defence against the French in Canada, the Dutch on the Hudson River, and the Indians. But owing simply to the inequality in the sizes of these colonies— Massachusetts more than outweighing the other three combined—the practical working of this confederacy was never very successful. In 1754, just before the outbreak of the great war which drove the French from America, a general Congress of the colonies was held at Albany, and a comprehensive scheme of union was proposed by Benjamin Franklin, but nothing came of the project at that time. The commercial rivalry between the colonies, and their disputes over boundary-lines, were then quite like the similar phenomena with which Europe had so long been familiar. In 1756 Georgia and South Carolina actually came to blows over the navigation of the Savannah River. The idea that the thirteen colonies could ever overcome their mutual jealousies so far as to unite in a single political body was received at that time in England with a derision like that which a proposal for a permanent federation of European states would excite in many minds today. It was confidently predicted that if the common allegiance to the British crown were once withdrawn, the colonies would forthwith proceed to destroy themselves with internecine war. In fact, however, it was the shaking off of allegiance to the British crown, and the common trials and sufferings of the war of independence, that at last welded the colonies together and made a federal union possible. As it was, the union was consummated only by degrees. By the Articles of Confederation, agreed on by Congress in 1777, but not adopted by all the States until 1781, the federal government acted only upon the several State governments, and not directly upon individuals; there was no federal judiciary for the decision of constitutional questions arising out of the relations between the States; and the Congress was not provided with any efficient means of raising a revenue or of enforcing its legislative decrees. Under such a government the difficulty of insuring concerted action was so great that, but for the transcendent personal qualities of Washington, the bungling mismanagement of the British ministry, and the timely aid of the French fleet, the war of independence would most likely have ended in failure. After the independence of the colonies was acknowledged, the formation of a more perfect union was seen to be the only method of securing peace and making a nation which should be respected by foreign powers; and so in 1788, after much discussion, the present Constitution of the United States was adopted—a Constitution which satisfied very few people at the time, and which was from beginning to end a series of compromises, yet which has proved in its working a masterpiece of political wisdom.

The first great compromise answered to the initial difficulty of securing approximate equality of weight in the federal councils between States of unequal size. The simple device by which this difficulty was at last surmounted has proved effectual, although the inequalities between the States have greatly increased. To-day the population of New York is more than [352] eighty times that of Nevada. In area the State of Rhode Island is smaller than Montenegro, while the State of Texas is larger than the Austrian Empire, with Bavaria and Wurtemberg thrown in. Yet New York and Nevada, Rhode Island and Texas each send two Senators to Washington, while on the other hand in the lower House each State has a number of representatives proportioned to its population. The upper House of Congress is therefore a federal, while the lower House is a national body, and the government is brought into direct contact with the people without endangering the equal rights of the several States.

The second great compromise of the American Constitution consists in the series of arrangements by which sovereignty is divided between the States and the federal government. In all domestic legislation and jurisdiction, civil and criminal, in all matters relating to tenure of property, marriage and divorce, the fulfilment of contracts and the punishment of malefactors, each separate State is as completely a sovereign state as France or Great Britain. A concrete illustration may not be superfluous. If a criminal is condemned to death in Pennsylvania, the royal prerogative of pardon resides in the governor of Pennsylvania: the President of the United States has no more authority in the case than the Czar of Russia. Nor in civil cases can an appeal lie from the State courts to the Supreme Court of the United States, save where express provision has been made in the Constitution. Within its own sphere the State is supreme. The chief attributes of sovereignty with which the several States have parted are the coining of money, the carrying of mails, the imposition of tariff dues, the granting of patents and copyrights, the declaration of war, and the maintenance of a navy. The regular army is supported and controlled by the federal government, but each State maintains its own militia, which it is bound to use in case of internal disturbance before calling upon the central government for aid. In time of war, however, these militias come under the control of the central government. Thus every American citizen lives under two governments, the functions of which are clearly and intelligibly distinct.

To insure the stability of the federal union thus formed, the Constitution created a “system of United States courts extending throughout the States, empowered to define the boundaries of federal authority, and to enforce its decisions by federal power.” This omnipresent federal judiciary was undoubtedly the most important creation of the statesmen who framed the Constitution. The closely knit relations which it established between the States contributed powerfully to the growth of a feeling of national solidarity throughout the whole country. The United States to-day cling together with a coherency far greater than the coherency of any ordinary federation or league. Yet the primary aspect of the federal Constitution was undoubtedly that of a permanent league, in which each State, while retaining its domestic sovereignty intact, renounced forever its right to make war upon its neighbors, and relegated its international interests to the care of a central council in which all the States were alike represented and a central tribunal endowed with purely judicial functions of interpretation. It was the first attempt in the history of the world to apply on a grand scale to the relations between States the same legal methods of procedure which, as long applied in all civilized countries to the relations between individuals, have rendered private warfare obsolete. And it was so far successful that, during a period of seventy-two years in which the United States increased fourfold in extent, tenfold in population, and more than tenfold in wealth and power, the federal union maintained a state of peace more profound than the pax romana.

Forty years ago this unexampled state of peace was suddenly interrupted by a tremendous war, which in its results, however, has served only to bring out with fresh emphasis the pacific implications of federalism. With the eleven revolted States at first completely conquered and then reinstated with full rights and privileges in the federal Union, with their people accepting in good faith the results of the contest, with their leaders not executed as traitors, but admitted again to seats in Congress and in the cabinet, and with all this accomplished [353] without any violent constitutional changes —I think we may fairly claim that the strength of the pacific implications of federalism has been more strikingly demonstrated than if there had been no war at all. Certainly the world never beheld such a spectacle before.


1 Freeman, Comparative politics, 118.

2 Geffroy, Rome et les Barbares, 209.

3 Maine, Village communities, 118.

4 Stubbs, Constitutional history, i., 625.

5 Stubbs, Select charters, 401.

6 La Cite antique, 441.

7 Arnold, Roman Provincial administration, 237.

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