A republican government secures to the people the greatest portion of happiness that any government can; yet noise and change, from the nature of man, are interwoven in its institutions. Ambition is a shade of human nature; it is scarcely more natural for men to breathe, than it is for them to wish to control; at least to be free from the control of others. When in authority, men have a little of both; i. e. a little power to control others, and a little refuge from the control of others; hence the station of office is courted.
It is always easier to see defects in others, than to avoid them ourselves; add to this, government itself is but a choice among evils; and very frequently cases occur, in which the best possible mode of administration will be attended with glaring inconveniences. At such times, those who are out of office, and perhaps out of the confidence of the people, and at the same time wish to secure the last that they may gain the first, will avail themselves of every embarrassment, which those in the administration have to encounter, give every measure the most unfavorable, if not a false coloring, to render the laws obnoxious, and supplant those who are in authority.
As men are ambitious, so they are avaricious; and as offices are pre-eminent, and generally more lucrative than husbandry and mechanism, it is not to be wondered at that men fish for them.
But the noise and tempests in a republic, generally proceed from those who have no power to injure; whereas the noise of a monarchy is clothed with awful majesty. Hence the calm of despotism, so called, is like the calm silence of the people when the thunders roar. Which, then, is to be preferred? The joys of a public feast, attended with a little noise and riot, or the profound silence that reigns, when the shafts of lightning fly and the people are afraid to speak?
The contentions that arise among individuals and parties, in a republic, frequently remind me of an instance that happened among the domestic animals of the good old Mr. Pebody. His whole stock consisted of a goose, a sow, and a dog. The industrious goose in painful labor, without the aid of the others, had laid herself a nest of eggs, and was brooding over them with patient inquietude, in hopes of a good reward for her labor. The avaricious sow attacked the goose, and devoured half of her eggs. The ambitious dog, seeing the defenceless goose suffer so unjustly from the sow, grew big with patriotism and benevolence, and was moved with choler against the sow, that had committed such an assault and battery upon a goose, and ran upon her in the fury of his might, and drove her from the nest. He then reasoned like other ambitious dogs, that an old worn out soldier, in the service of the goose, ought not to go unrewarded; and therefore enacted a new fee-bill for himself, which consisted in the other half of the eggs. These two quadrupeds were no friends to each other, but agreed that the goose might live and qua, qua, qua forth her rights and liberties, and lay eggs for them to eat.
Offices should be decently honorable; otherwise government falls into contempt; but if they are too pompous, the liberties and morals of the people are ruined. Salaries should be competent; if otherwise, none but the rich can discharge offices; but if they are very lucrative, the republic will always be haunted by office-hunters.
In the United States, where land is abundant and fertile, and where long habit has rendered the husbandman honorable, where the greater portion of the people are better informed than in other countries, and with the experience of all former ages before them, it is hoped they will escape the rocks on which former republics have split Under this head, I would remark, that there is a common saying, “that a republican government is the best in the world if people only have virtue enough to bear it.” If people had virtue enough, there would be no need of any government. Government becomes necessary on account of the vices of men. Can a royal monarch, or a splendid junto of nobles, make the people happy without virtue? The great empires of the earth have crumbled into atoms for the want of virtue, as well as the most flourishing republics. How subject we are to place our eyes on the pomp and splendor of the court and overlook the miseries of the people. Those who so frequently are making the above observation, should do all they can to save and foster that government which they own is best; but for the most part, the remark is made by men who are wishing to sap the foundation of a republican government, trick the people out of their liberties, and raise themselves to a state of pre-eminence above the control of others.
Miscellaneous Essays, In Prose and Verse.
Elder John Leland
Published sometime since 1810 (precise year unknown)
The Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland
Pages 418 – 419