THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. III.—APRIL, 1859.—NO. XVIII.
IF we can believe an eminent authority, in which we are disposed to place great trust, the oldest contest that has divided society is that which has so long been waged between the House of HAVE and the House of WANT. It began before the bramble was chosen king of the trees, and it has outlasted the cedars of Lebanon. We find it going on when Herodotus wrote his History, and the historians of the nineteenth century will have to continue writing of the actions of the parties to it. There seems never to have been a time when it was not old, or a race that was not engaged in it, from the Tartars, who cook their meat by making saddle-cloths of it, to the Sybarites, impatient of crumpled rose-leaves. Spartan oligarchs and Athenian democrats, Roman patricians and Roman plebeians, Venetian senators and Florentine ciompi, Norman nobles and Saxon serfs, Russian boyars and Turkish spahis, Spanish hidalgos and Aztec soldiers, Carolina slaveholders and New England farmers, — these and a hundred other races or orders have all been parties to the great, the universal struggle which has for its object the acquisition of property, the providing of a shield against the ever-threatening fiend which we call WANT. Property once obtained, the possessor’s next aim is to keep it. The very fact, that the mode of acquisition may have been wrong, and subversive of property-rights, if suffered to be imitated, naturally makes its possessor suspicious and cruel. He fears that the measure he has meted to others may be meted to him again. Hence severe laws, the monopoly of political power and of political offices by property-holders, the domination of conquering races, and the practice of attributing to all reformers designs against property and its owners, though the changes they recommend may really be of a nature calculated to make the tenure of property more secure than ever. Even the charge of irreligion has not been found more effective against the advocates of improvement or change than that of Agrarianism,—by which is meant hostility to existing property-institutions, and a determination, if possible, to subvert them. Of the two, the charge of Agrarianism is the more serious, as it implies the other. A man may be irreligious, and yet a great stickler for property, because a great owner of it,—or because he is by nature stanchly conservative, and his infidelity merely a matter of logic. But if there be any reason for charging a man with Agrarianism, though it he never so unreasonable a reason, his infidelity is taken for granted, and it would be labor lost to attempt to show the contrary. Nor is this conclusion so altogether irrational as it appears at the first sight. Religion is an ordinance of God, and so is property; and if a man be suspected of hostility to the latter, why should he not be held positively guilty towards the former? Every man is religious, though but few men govern their lives according to religious precepts; but every man not only loves property and desires to possess it, but allows considerations growing out of its rights to have a weight on his mind far more grave, far more productive of positive results, than religion has on the common person. If there be such a thing as an Agrarian on earth, he would fight bravely for his land, though it should be of no greater extent than would suffice him for a grave, according to the strictest measurement of the potter’s field. Would every honest believer do as much for his religion?
But what is Agrarianism, and who are Agrarians? Though the words are used as glibly as the luring party-terms of the passing year, it is no very easy matter to define them. Indeed, it is by no means an easy thing to affix a precise and definite meaning to any political terms, living or dead. Let the reader endeavor to give a clear and intelligible definition of Whig and Tory, Democrat and Republican, Guelph and Ghibelline, Cordelier and Jacobin, and he will soon find that he has a task before him calculated to test his powers very severely. How much more difficult, then, must it be to give the meaning of words that are never used save in a reproachful sense, and which originated in political battles that were fought nearly two thousand years ago, and in a state of society having small resemblance to anything that has ever been known to Christendom! With some few exceptions; party-names continue to have their champions long after the parties they belonged to are as dead as the Jacobites. Many Americans would not hesitate to defend the Federalists, or to eulogize the Federal party, though Federalism long ago ceased even to cast a shadow. The prostitution of the Democratic name has lessened in but a slight degree the charm that has attached to it ever since Jefferson's sweeping reëlection had the effect of coupling with it the charming idea of success. But who can be expected to say a word for Agrarian? One might as well look to find a sane man ready to do battle for the Jacobin, which is all but a convertible term for Agrarian, though in its proper sense the latter word is of exactly the opposite meaning to the former. Under the term Agrarians is included, in common usage, all that class of men who exhibit a desire to remove social ills by a resort to means which are considered irregular and dangerous by the great majority of mankind. Of late years we have heard much of Socialists, Communists, Fourierites, and so forth; but the word Agrarians comprehends all these, and is often made to include men who have no more idea of engaging in social reforms than they have of pilgrimizing to the Fountains of the Nile. It is a not uncommon thing for our political parties to charge one another with Agrarianism; and if they used the term in its proper sense, it would be found that they had both been occasionally right, for Agrarian laws have been supported by all American parties, and will continue to be so supported, we presume, so long as we shall have a public domain; but in its reproachful sense Agrarianism can never be charged against any one of the party organizations which have been known in the United States. A quarter of a century ago, one of the cleverest of those English tourists who then used to contrive to go through—or, rather, over—the Republic, seeing but little, and not understanding that little, proclaimed to his countrymen, who had not then recovered from the agitation consequent on the Reform contest, that there existed here a regular Agrarian party, forming “the extrême gauche of the Worky Parliament," and which “boldly advocated the introduction of an AGRARIAN LAW, and a periodical division of property." He represented these men as only following out the principles of their less violent neighbors, and as eloquently dilating “on the justice and propriety of every individual being equally supplied with food and clothing,—on the monstrous iniquity of one man riding in his carriage while another walks on foot, [there would have been more reason in the complaint, had the gigless individual objected to walking on his head,] and after his drive discussing a bottle of Champagne, while many of his neighbors are shamefully compelled to be content with the pure element. Only equalize property, they say, and neither would drink Champagne or water, but both would have brandy, a consummation worthy of centuries of struggle to attain.” He had the sense to declare that all this was nonsense, but added, that the Agrarians, though not so numerous or so widely diffused as to create immediate alarm, were numerous in New York, where their influence was strongly felt in the civic elections. Elsewhere he predicted the coming of a “panic” time, when workingmen would be thrown out of employment, while possessed of the whole political power of the state, with no military force to maintain civil order and protect property; “and to what quarter,” he mournfully asked, “I shall be glad to know, is the rich man to look for security, either of person or fortune?”
Twenty-five years have elapsed since Mr. Hamilton put forth this alarming question, and some recent events have brought it to men’s minds, who had laughed at it in the year of grace 1833. We have seen Agrarian movements in New York, demonstrations of “Workies,” but nothing was said by those engaged in them of that great leveller, brandy, though its properties are probably better known to them than those of water. They have been dignified with the name of “bread riots,” and the great English journal that exercises a sort of censorship over governments and nations has gravely complimented us on the national progress we have made, as evidenced in the existence here of a starving population! One hardly knows whether to fret or to smile over so provoking a specimen of congratulation. Certainly, if a nation cannot grow old without bringing the producing classes to beggary, the best thing that could happen to it would be to die young, like men loved of the gods, according to the ancient idea. Whether such is the inevitable course of national life or not, we are confident that what took place a few months ago in New York had nothing to do with Agrarianism in reality,—using the word after the manner of the alarmists. It belonged to the ordinary bald humbug of American politics. It so happened that one of those “crises” which come to pass occasionally in all business communities occurred at precisely the time when a desperate political adventurer was making desperate efforts to save himself from that destruction to which he had been doomed by all good men in the city that he had misgoverned. What more natural than that he should seek to avail himself of the distress of the people? The trick is an old one,—as old as political contention itself. Was it not Napoleon who attributed revolutions to the belly? —and he knew something of the matter. The “bread riots” were neither more nor less than “political demonstrations," got up for the purpose of aiding Mr. Wood, and did not originate in any hostility to property on the part of the people. It is not improbable that some of those who were engaged in them were really anxious to obtain work,—were moved by fear of starvation; but such was not the case with the leaders, who were “well-dressed, gentlemanly men,” according to an eye-witness, with excellent cigars in their mouths to create a thirst that Champagne alone could cure. The juste milieu of brandy, so favored in 1832, if we can believe Mr. Hamilton, was not thought of in 1857. A quarter of a century had made a change in the popular taste. Perhaps the temperance reformation had had something to do with it. The whole thing was as complete a farce as ever was seen at an American or an English election, and those who were engaged in it are now sincerely ashamed—of their failure. If foreigners will have it that it was an outbreak of Agrarianism, the first in a series of outrages against property, so be it. Let them live in the enjoyment of the delusion. Nations, like individuals, seem to find pleasure in the belief that others are as miserable as themselves.
Of that feeling which is known as Agrarianism we believe there is far less in the United States now than there was at the time when Mr. Hamilton was here, and for a few years after that time. From about the year 1829 to 1841, there was in our politics a large infusion of Socialism. We then had parties, or factions, based on the distinctions that exist in the social state, and those organizations had considerable influence in our elections. The Workingmen’s party was a powerful body in several Northern States, and, to an observer who was not familiar with our condition, it well, might wear the appearance of an Agrarian body. No intelligent American, however, fell into such an error. It was evident to the native observer, that the Workingmen’s party, while aiming at certain reforms which it deemed necessary for the welfare of the laboring classes, had no felonious purposes in view to the prejudice of property,—and this for the plain reason, that most workingmen were property-owners themselves. Few of them had much, but still fewer had nothing, and the aggregate of their possessions was immense. They would have been the greatest losers, had there been a social convulsion, for they would have lost everything. Then they were intelligent men in the ordinary affairs of life, and knew that the occurrence of any such convulsion would, first of all, cut off, not only their means of acquisition, but the very sources of their livelihood. Industry wilts under revolutionary movements, as vegetation under the sirocco, and they bring to the multitude anything but a realization of Utopian dreams. In the long run, there has rarely been a revolution which has not worked beneficially for the mass of mankind; but the earliest effects of every revolution are to them bad, and eminently so. It is to this fact that we must look for an explanation of the slowness with which the masses move against any existing order of things, even when they are well aware that it treats them with singular injustice. For nothing can be better established than that no revolution was ever the work of the body of the people,—of the majority. Revolutions are made by minorities, by orders, by classes, by individuals, but never by the people. The people may be dragged into them, but they never take the initiative even in those movements which are called popular, and which are supposed to have only popular ends in view. That very portion of mankind who are most feared by timid men of property are those who are the last to act in any of the great games which mark the onward course of the world. Complain they do, and often bitterly, of the inequalities of society, but action is not their strong point.
The American observer of 1829-41 would have seen, too, in the Workingmen’s party, and in other similar organizations, only sections of the Democratic party. They were the light troops of the grand army of Democracy, the velites who skirmished in front of the legions. They never controlled the Democratic party; but, it is undeniable that they did color its policy, and give a certain tone to its sentiment, at a very important period of American history. The success of President Jackson, in that political contest which is known as “the Bank War,” was entirely owing to the support which he received from the workingmen of some two or three States; and it is quite probable that the shrewd men who then managed the Democratic party were induced to enter upon that war by their knowledge of the exalted condition of political opinion in those States. For their own purposes, they turned to account sentiments that might have worked dangerously, if they had not been directed against the Bank. One effect of this was, that the Democratic party was compelled to make use of more popular language, which caused it to lose some of its influential members, who were easily alarmed by words, though they had borne philosophically with violent things. For five years after the veto of the Bank Bill, in 1832, the Democratic party was essentially radical in its tone, without doing much of a radical character. In 1837, the monetary troubles came to a head, and then it was seen how little reliance could be placed on men who were supposed to be attached to extreme popular opinions. It was in the very States which were thought to abound with radicals that the Democracy lost ground, and the way was prepared for their entire overthrow in the memorable year 1840. That year saw American politics debauched, and from that time we find no radical element in any of our parties. The contest was so intense, that the two parties swallowed and digested all lesser factions. Since then, a variety of causes have combined to prevent the development of what is termed Agrarianism. The struggle of the Democracy to regain power; the Mexican war, and the extension of our dominion, consequent on that war, bringing up again, in full force, the slavery question; and the discovery of gold in California, which led myriads of energetic men to a remote quarter of the nation;— these are the principal causes of the freedom of our later party-struggles from radical theories. From radical practices we have always been free, and it is improbable that our country will know them for generations.
The origin of the word Agrarianism, as an obnoxious political term, is somewhat curious. It is one of the items of our inheritance from the Romans, to whom we owe so much, both of good and evil, in politics and in law. The Agrarian contests of that people were among the most interesting incidents in their wonderful career, and are full of instruction, though, until recently, their true character was not understood; and their explanation affords a capital warning against the effects of partisan literature. The common belief was,—perhaps we should say is,—that the supporters of the Agrarian laws were, to use a modern term, destructives; that they aimed at formal divisions of all landed property, if not of all property, among the whole body of the Roman people. Nothing can be more unfounded than this view of the subject, which is precisely the reverse of the truth. No Roman, whose name is associated with Agrarian laws, ever thought of touching private property, or of meddling with it, illegally, in any way. Neither Spurius Cassius, nor Licinius Stolo, nor the Gracchi, nor any other Roman whose name is identified with the Agrarian legislation of his country, was a destructive, or leveller. Quite the contrary; they were all conservatives,—using that word in its best sense,—and the friends of property. The lands to which their laws applied, or were intended to apply, were public lands, answering, in some sense, to those which are owned by the United States. When Spurius Cassius, a quarter of a century after that revolution which is known as the expulsion of the Tarquins, proposed a division of a portion of the public land among the poor commons, he did no more than had often been done by the Roman kings, with good effect, and with strict legality. Much of the public land was occupied by wealthy men, as tenants of the state; and some of these his law would have ousted from profitable spots, while the rest were to be forced to pay their rents, which they had done very irregularly or not at all. The operation of all Agrarian laws like that of Cassius was, undoubtedly, a matter well to be considered; for, after a man has long occupied a piece of land, he regards it as an act of injustice to be peremptorily removed therefrom, and he ought to have, at least, the privilege of buying it, if its possession be necessary to his support. This feeling must have been the stronger in the bosom of the Roman occupant in proportion to his poverty, but to legal possession he could make no claim. The position he held was that of tenant at will to the state, and he could be legally ejected at any moment. But it was not from poor occupants of the public domain, whose number was necessarily small, that opposition was experienced. It came from the rich, who had all but monopolized the use of that domain; and, in the time of Spurius Cassius, it was complicated with that quarrel of caste which we denominate the contest between the Patricians and the Plebeians. Property and political power were both involved in the dispute. The Patricians knew that the success of Cassius would make against them in two ways:—it would strengthen the Plebeians, by lifting them out of the degradation consequent on poverty, and so render them more dangerous antagonists in political warfare; and it would render the Patricians less able to contend with aspiring foes, by taking from them one of the sources of their wealth. Cassius failed, and was executed, having been tried and condemned by the Patricians, who then alone constituted the Roman people.
More than a century after the failure of Cassius, the Agrarian question was again brought before the Roman nation, on a large scale. This was the time when the famous Licinian rogations, by the adoption of which a civil revolution was effected in Rome, were brought forward. They provided for the passage of an Agrarian law, for an equitable settlement of debts, and that thereafter one of the two Consuls should always be a Plebeian. It is something to be especially noted, that C. Licinius Stolo, the man from whom these laws take their name, was not a needy political adventurer, but a very wealthy man, his possessions being mainly in land; and that he belonged to a gens (the Licinii) who were noted in after days for their immense wealth, among them being that Crassus whose avarice became proverbial, and whose surname was Dives, or the Rich. The Licinian Agrarian law provided, that no one should possess more than five hundred jugers of the public land, (ager publicus,) that the state should resume lands that had been illegally seized by individuals, that a rent should be paid by the occupants of the public domain, that only freemen should be employed on that domain, and that every Plebeian should receive seven jugers of the public land in absolute property, to be taken from those lands which the state was to resume from Patricians who possessed (that is to say, who occupied) more than five hundred jugers. Such were the main provisions of the law, which did not touch private property of any kind. The state was merely to assert its undisputed legal right over the public domain, and the Plebeians became landholders, which was the best thing that could happen to the republic, and which was what was aimed at in every community of antiquity. Even the partial observance ot this law was the cause of the supremacy of Rome being established over the finest portions of the ancient world. Had Licinius failed, Rome would have gone down in her contest with the Samnites, and the latter people would have become masters of Italy. As it was, his success created the Roman people; and from the time of that success must be dated the formation of the Roman constitution as it was recognized and acted on during the best period of the Republic. True, the Agrarian law was but one of three measures which he carried through in the face of all the opposition the Patricians could make; but the other laws were of a kindred character, and they all worked together for good. It was the triumph of the Plebeians for the benefit of all. The revolution then effected was strictly conservative in its nature, and whatever of internal evil Rome afterwards experienced was owing, not to the adoption of the Licinian law, but to the departure by the state from the practice under it which it was intended permanently to establish.
The last great Agrarian contest which the Romans had was that which takes its name from the Gracchi, and which began at the commencement of the fourth generation before the birth of Christ. On the part of the reformers, it was as strictly legal a movement as ever was known. Not a single acre of private land was threatened by them; and whoever pays attention to the details of their measures cannot fail to be struck with the great concessions they were ready to make to their opponents,—the men who had literally stolen the public property, and who pretended to hold it as of right. Perhaps it was too late for any such reform as that contemplated by the Gracchi to succeed, the condition of Rome then being in no important respect like what it had been in the time of Licinius Stolo; but one of the most interesting chapters in the history of things which might have been is that which relates to the possible effect of the Sempronian legislation. Had that legislation been fairly tried, Roman history, and therefore human history, must have taken an entirely different course, with an effect on the fortunes of every man born since that time. Whether that effect would have been good or bad, who shall say? But one thing is certain, and that is, that the Gracchi and their supporters were not the enemies of property, and that their measures were not intended to interfere with the private estate of any citizen of the Roman Republic.
Such was the Agrarianism, and such were the Agrarian laws and the Agrarian contests of Rome, which were so long misunderstood; and through that misunderstanding has the word Agrarian, so proper in itself, been made to furnish one of the most reproachful terms that violent politicians have ever used when seeking to bespatter their foes. It will be seen that the word has been applied in “the clean contrary way” to that in which it should have been applied, and that, strictly speaking, an Agrarian is a conservative, a man who asks for justice, —not a destructive, who, in his desire to advance his own selfish ends or those of his class, would trample on law and order alike. It is only within the last seventy years that the world has been made to comprehend that it had for fifty generations been guilty of gross injustice to some of the purest men of antiquity; and it is not more than thirty years since the labors of Niebuhr made the truth generally known,—if it can, indeed, be said to be so known even now. The Gracchi long passed for a couple of demagogues, who were engaged in seditious practices, and who were so very anxious to propitiate “the forum populace” that they were employed in perfecting plans for the division of all landed property amongst its members, when they were cut off by a display of vigor on the part of the government. “The Sedition of the Gracchi” was for ages one of the common titles for a chapter in the history of Republican Rome; yet it did not escape the observation of one writer of no great learning, who published before Heyne's attention was drawn to the subject, that, if there were sedition in the affair, it was quite as much the sedition of the Senate against the Gracchi as it was the sedition of the Gracchi against the Senate.1
The feeling that was allowed to have such sway in Rome, and the triumph of which was followed with such important consequences, has often manifested itself in modern times, in the course of great political struggles, and has proved a powerful disturbing cause on several occasions. One of these occasions has fallen under the observation of the existing generation, and some remarks on it may not be out of place.
The French Revolution of 1848 was followed by an alarm on the part of men of property, or of those whose profits depended on the integrity of property being respected, which produced grave effects, the end whereof is not yet. That revolution was the consequence of a movement as purely political as the world ever saw. There was discontent with the government of M. Guizot, which extended to the royal family, and in which the bourgeoisie largely shared, the very class upon the support of which the House of Orléans was accustomed to rely. Had the government yielded a little on some political points, and made some changes in the administration, Louis Philippe might have been living at the Tuileries at this very moment, or sleeping at St. Denis. But, insanely obstinate, under dominion of the venerable delusion that obstinacy is firmness, the King fell, and with him fell, not merely his own dynasty, but the whole system of government which France had known for a generation, and under which she was, painfully and slowly, yet with apparent sureness, becoming a constitutional state. A warm political contest was converted into a revolution scarcely less complete than that of 1789, and far more sweeping than that of 1830. Perhaps there would have been little to regret in this, had it not been, that, instead of devoting their talents to the establishing of a stable republican government, several distinguished Frenchmen, whom we never can think capable of believing the nonsense they uttered, began to labor to bring about a sort of social Arcadia, in which all men were to be made happy, and which was to be based on contempt for political economy and defiance of common sense. Property, with its usual sensitiveness, took the alarm, and the Parisians soon had one another by the throat. How well founded was this alarm, it would be difficult to say. Most likely it was grossly exaggerated, and had no facts of importance to go upon. That among the disciples of M. Louis Blanc there were gentlemen who had no respect for other men’s property, because they had no property of their own, it is quite safe to believe; but that they had any fixed ideas about seizing property, or of providing labor at high wages for workmen, it would be impossible to believe, even if Albert, ouvrier, that most mythical of revolutionists, were to make solemn affidavit of it on the works of Aurora Dudevant. Some vague ideas about relieving the wants of the poor, Louis Blanc and his associates had,—just as all men have them who have heads to see and hearts to feel the existence of social evils. Had they obtained possession of the French government, immediately after Louis Philippe, to use his own words, had played the part of Charles X., they would have failed utterly, as Lamartine and his friends failed, and much sooner too. Lamartine failed as a statesman,—he lacked that power to govern which far less able men than he have exhibited under circumstances even more trying than those into which he so unguardedly plunged,—and Louis Blanc would have been no more successful than the poet. The failure of the “Reds” would have been the more complete, if they had had an opportunity to attempt the realization of the Socialistic theories attributed to them, but which few of their number could ever have entertained. They sought political power for the usual purposes; but as they stood in the way of several other parties, those parties united to crush them, which was done in “the Days of June.” It is easy to give a fallen enemy a bad name, and the conquered party on that occasion were stigmatized as the enemies of everything that men hold dear, particular emphasis being laid on their enmity to property, which men hold dearer than all other things combined. The belief seems to have been all but universal throughout Europe, and to have been shared by many Americans, that the party which was conquered in the streets of Paris by Cavaignac was really an organization against property, which it meant to steal, and so afford a lively illustration of the doctrine attributed to it, that property is theft. To this belief, absurd as it was, must we look for the whole course of European history during the last ten years. The restoration of the Napoleonic dynasty in France, the restoration of the Papacy by French soldiers, the reëstablishment of Austrian ascendency over Italy, and the invasion of Hungary by the Russians,—these and other important events that have happened under our eyes, and which have enabled us to see history in the making on a large scale, all are directly traceable to the alarm which property experienced immediately after the class of propertyholders had allowed the Revolution of February to take place, and to sweep away that dynasty in which their principles stood incarnate. The French imperial throne is in an especial manner the result of that alarm. When General Cavaignac had succeeded in conquering the “Reds,” a military dictatorship followed his victory as a matter of course, and it remained with him to settle the future of France. The principles of his family led him to sympathize with the “oppressed nationalities” which were then struggling in so many places for freedom; and had he interfered decidedly in behalf of the Italians and Hungarians, he would have changed the fate of Europe. He would have become the hero of the great political movement which his country had inaugurated, and his sword would have outweighed the batons of Radetzky and Paskevitsch. Both principle and selfishness pointed to such intervention, and there can be no doubt that the Republican Dictator seriously thought of it. But the peculiarities of his position forbade his following the path that was pointed out to him. As the champion of property, as the chief of the coalesced parties which had triumphed over “the enemies of property” in the streets and lanes of “the capital of civilization,” he was required to concentrate his energies on domestic matters. Yet further: all men in other countries who were contending with governments were looked upon by the property party in France as the enemies of order, as Agrarians, who were seeking the destruction of society, and therefore were not worthy of either the assistance or the sympathy of France; so that the son of the old Conventionist of ’93 was forced, by the views of the men of whom he so strangely found himself the chief, to become in effect the ally of the Austrian Kaiser and the Russian Czar. The Italians, who were seeking only to get rid of "barbarian" rule, and the Hungarians, who were contending for the preservation of a polity as old as the English Constitution against the destructives of the imperial court, were held up to the world as men desirous in their zeal for revolution to overturn all existing institutions! Aristocrats with pedigrees that shamed those of the Bourbon and the Romanoff were spoken of in language that might possibly have been applicable to the lazzaroni of Naples, that lazzaroni being on the side of the “law and order” classes. As General Cavaignac did nothing to win the affections of the French people, as he was the mere agent of men rendered fierce by fear, it cannot be regarded as strange, that, when the Presidential election took place, he found himself nowhere in the race with Louis Napoleon. He was deserted even by a large portion of the men whose work he had done so well, but who saw in the new candidate for their favor one who could become a more powerful protector of property than the African general,—one who had a name of weight, not merely with the army, but with that multitudinous peasant class from which the French army is mainly conscribed, and which, containing numerous small property-holders, is fanatically attached to the name of Napoleon. Thus the cry of “Property in danger” ended, in 1851, in the restoration of open despotism, which every sensible observer of French affairs expected after Louis Napoleon was made President, his Presidency being looked upon only as a pinchbeck imitation of the Consulate of 1799– 1804. This is the ordinary course of events in old countries: revolution, fears of Agrarianism, and the rushing into the jaws of the lion in order to be saved from the devouring designs of a ghost.
Those who recollect the political literature of the years that passed between the Revolution of February and the commencement of those disputes which eventuated in the Russian War must blush for humanity. Writers of every class set themselves about the work of exterminating Agrarianism in France. Grave arguments, pathetic appeals, and lively ridicule were all made use of to drive off enemies of whose coming upon Europe there was no more danger than of a return of the Teutones and the Cimbri. Had the arguments and adjurations of the clever men who waged war on the Agrarians been addressed to the dust of the Teutones whom Marius exterminated in Provence, they could not have been more completely thrown away than they were. Some of these men, however, were less distinguished for cleverness than for malignity, and shrieked for blood and the display of brute force in terms that would have done dishonor even to a St. Bartholomew assassin or anti-Albigensian crusader. Monsieur Romieu held up Le Spectre Rouge to the eyes of a generation incapable, from fright, of distinguishing between a scarecrow and the Apollo. The Red Spectre haunted him, and the people for whom he wrote, as relentlessly as the Gray Spectre came upon the chiefs of Ivor. He saw in the working classes— those men who asked then, as in modern times they have only asked, "leave to toil"—millions of creatures “regimented by hatred,” and ready to throw themselves upon society. In the past he saw nothing so much to be admired as the Feudal System, it was so very summary and trenchant in its modes of dealing with masses of men so unreasonable as to grumble when they were starving. In the present, all that he could reverence was the cannonarchy of Russia, which he invoked to restore to France that golden age in which Crécy and Poictiers were fought, and when the Jacquerie illustrated the attachment of the serf to the seigneur. How this invoker of Cossacks and cannon from the Don and the Neva “to regulate the questions of our age” on the Seine and the Marne would have stared, could the curtain that hides the future have been drawn for a moment, to allow him to see a quarter of a million of French, English, and Italian soldiers on the shores of the Euxine, and eight hundred Western cannon raining that “hell-fire” upon the august city of Catherine under which it became a heap of ruins! Yet the man was undoubtedly sincere, as political fools almost invariably are. He had faith in nothing but armies and forts, but his faith in them was of the firmest. He despised the Bourbons and the bourgeoisie alike, and would be satisfied with nothing short of a national chief as irresponsible as Tamerlane; and if he should be as truculent as Tamerlane, it was not difficult to see that M. Romieu would like him all the better for it. Your true fanatic loves blood, and is provokingly ingenious in showing how necessary it is that you should submit calmly to have your throat cut for the good of society. M. Marat was a logician of this sort, and M. Romieu is, after all, only a pale imitator of the cracked horse-leech; but as he wrote in the interest of “order,” and for the preservation of property, we rarely hear of his thirst for blood. Had he been a disciple of Marat, his words would have been quoted annually in every abode of civilized men from Sacramento to Astrachan, as evidence of the desire of popular leaders to lap blood.
What has become of M. Romieu, and how he took Louis Napoleon's energetic measures for laying the Red Ghost in the blood of aristocrats as well as of democrats, we know not. He ought to have been charmed with the coup d'état; for the man who conceived and executed that measure for his own benefit professed to act only for the benefit of society, the maintenance of the rights of property being kept by him especially in view. He, too, charged his enemies, or those whom he thought endowed with the desire and the ability to resist him, with Agrarianism; and such Agrarians as Thiers and Cavaignac were seized in their beds, and imprisoned,— to prevent their running away with the Great Book of France, one is at liberty to suppose. There was something shockingly ludicrous in charging the hero and victor of the Days of June with designs against property; but the charge may have led Cavaignac to have doubts whether he had not himself been a little too ready to believe the charge of Agrarianism when preferred against a large number of the people of France, whom he had treated with grape-shot by way of teaching them respect for the rights of property. There is nothing like bringing injustice home to a man to open his eyes to its evil nature. Of all public men of our generation who have signally failed, Cavaignac must be held the most unfortunate; for his intentions were excellent, and he died just as circumstances were about to afford him an opportunity to retrieve his fame. His last days must have been the reverse of agreeable in their retrospect; for it must constantly have been forced upon his mind that he had been made the chief instrument in the work of fastening upon the country he loved the most odious of the many despotic governments it has known,—a government that confesses its inability to stand against the “paper shot” of journalists, and which has shackled the press after the fashion of Austrian and Russian dynasties; and all this had taken place, as he must have seen in his retirement, as the consequence of his having mistaken the voice of a party for the voice of France. The lesson is one that ought to go home to the hearts of all public men, and to those of American statesmen in particular, some of the ablest of whom are now engaged in doing the behests of an oligarchical faction in the name of the interests of property.
- We have taken for granted the soundness of the views of Niebuhr on the Roman Agrarian contests and laws, that eminent scholar having followed in the track of Heyne with distinguished success: but it must be allowed that in some respects his positions have been not unsuccessfully assailed. Those who would follow up the subject are recommended to study Ihne’s Researches into the History of the Roman Constitution, in which some of Niebuhr's views are energetically combated. The main points, however, that the Agrarian laws were not directed against private property, or aimed at placing all men on a social equality, may be considered as established. Yet it must in candor be admitted that the general subject is still involved in doubts, the German commentators having thrown as much fog about some portions of the Roman Constitution as they have thrown light upon other portions of it.↩