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The coming Despotism.

The roving prophet of the great London newspaper, in a late letter, foretells remorselessly the downfall of the liberty of the Press in America. He has had conversations with some Army-officer who told him that presently the army would come to New York, and suppress, by violence, all criticism of military movements. After the accomplishment of this enterprise we are told, the Army will proceed to establish a Despotism and exalt a Dictator. After this — but here the prophet stops, most provokingly, we think; for while the fit was on him, it would have been obliging if he had treated us to a couple of columns more of the mysterious future. It is merely tantalizing to have a Bickerstaff at all, if we are to be put off with less than ten hundred Olympiads. And yet, for our own humble part, we must confess to a tolerable degree of quietude. The newspaper press is its own champion aud watchful sentry; and it will take care for that liberty by the tenure of which it exists. The task is not, indeed, so hard a one as it was in England not many years ago, when Lord Eldon was accustomed to send to Newgate every editor who thought Bonaparte a better general than the Duke of York. In the advance of civilization, certain facts become philosophically settled; and among these is the fact that when one newspaper is tyrannically suppressed, ten, still more obnoxious, are sure to take its place. It may happen, indeed, as a matter of mere military policy, that the Government may feel [188] compelled, during the existence of actual war, to control the circulation of journals openly in the interest of the enemy; but the right to do this, by no means implies the right to prevent the discussion, in good faith, of any public policy. No Government can be expected to become the common carrier, in a time of extreme danger, of libels aimed at its very life. But there is an easily perceptible distinction between an attack upon the existence of a Government, and a criticism of its measures. Every Administration expects and tolerates opposition. It is the mischievous hostility which. is not content with less than a blow at the whole political fabric, which must be restrained. This distinction the American people, ever jealous of their civil rights, well enough comprehend.

It is easy, certain things being conceded, to suppose plausibly enough certain other things. Given an army itself so servile, and its leaders so corrupt as to attempt the destruction of newspapers, and we have an army likely, in some mad moment, to attempt the overthrow of the Constitution. If we are in peril of this we cannot avoid it; for it is a danger incident to our position. But on the other hand, it seems to us that now, when we are asking so much of our citizen-soldiers, it would be the extreme of discourtesy, childishly to suspect them. We have called them from domestic happiness and the ease and safety of peace; we have asked of them the utmost of sacrifices in the greatest of causes; and, luring them only by the gathering cry of loyalty to liberty, we have placed in their hands the ark of the Constitution. It is [189] no time for distrust. It is no time for foreboding. It is no time, Heaven knows, in a sneaking spirit of cynical suspicion, to doubt the honor and worthiness of human nature. When soldiers like ours, Freemen all of them in blood and bone, who never knew a master before, are submitting with hardly a solitary murmur to the extreme rigor of military discipline, it is but fair to presume, that only an indelible and paramount affection for free institutions could have called them to the field, or kept them there.

It is easy to hint and to insinuate. But where is the general officer who has given in the past, any sign or token that he contemplates any such usurpation? And by what right is it assumed that well-educated and intelligent soldiers can be seduced into becoming the mere instruments of a single ambitious and unscrupulous man? We have not undertaken war for the sake of war, nor would fifty years of fighting make it palatable to the national mind. The genius of our people is no more military than that of the people of England. We can fight but we prefer peace. Moreover, those who speculate in this loose way upon the future of the Republic, leave out one essential element of fair calculation. The loyal States are not in arms because they are eager for political novelties and bent upon political experiment. They are in a position of the most thorough and absolute conservatism. They are contending under the sway of no insane fancies, and they are the dupes of no brilliant dreams. The Revolted States, it is true, are entering upon untried fields, and engaging [190] in the pursuit of phantoms; but we know just where we are, and just what we are seeking.

There is the Constitution as the Fathers of the Republic framed it. There are the laws which they enacted, and the laws which we have enacted. Before us are our political duties not complicated and dubious, but simple and easy to be understood. We bring to this great trial a sober sense of the value of human liberty, and we strike no blow without a thought of the blessings of freedom. It is not in such a school as this that we are to unlearn all the lessons of our history; it is not under such influences, that we are to surrender our most creditable prejudices; it is not while we are desperately clinging to the traditions of the Republic, that we are to fling ourselves at the feet of a despot. When foreign nations judge us, we claim something on the score of character. It is grossly unfair, and no better than sheer trifling with historic examples, to predicate our future upon the fate of less enlightened and more turbulent states. We claim that our social problem is not perplexed by the presence of large masses of hungry and ignorant men, to whom any change may prove, or may seem, a blessing. Is it then for nothing that our populations are, as a rule, well educated? Is it for nothing that we have a more general diffusion of intelligence than can be found in any other land? Are all our multiplied institutions of learning and religion impotent for good influence upon the popular mind and morality? If so, let us hear no more of the blessings of knowledge! [191] Let us do our best to bring back the old medieval midnight! let us burn our school-houses and our libraries! let us, with what stomach we may, own that man is a fool, from head to foot, and make the best of a bad matter by having at least a hollow laugh at our own ridiculous destiny! For ourselves, whatever of good-hap or sorrow the future may hold, we do not yet bate one jot of heart or of hope. Why should we, at a moment like this, when the people are proving that patriotism and self-devotion are not empty words? And why should we insult honest men, who are giving their lives and fortunes to the cause of human freedom, by speculating upon the chances of their all becoming slaves? If they were fighting for plunder, if any unhallowed dream of personal aggrandizement called them to the field, we might suspect their integrity. Moreover, while the General Government is thus assailed, we find every loyal State calmly carrying on its political administration, preserving the peace within its borders, and levying large taxes which are cheerfully met by the citizens. As the parts are, so will. the whole be. The political stability of the States will insure that of the Union; and when that fails us, it will be time to fear a Dictator, and not till then.

November 7, 1861.

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