Imágenes de página

to admit of that change which its irrepressible expansion required, it was then that the excess of this growth sought for and found in the newly discovered western world, an ample theatre for its enlargement.

A world newly discovered! and how? Why, by the progressive improvement of the art of navigation, aided by the then recent discovery or application of the virtues of the magnet; an art which had taken its birth at the first stage of the progressive humanity, and which had proceeded, pari passu, with other arts, under a common law of progress, and which consequently had its corresponding discovery at this very juncture of affairs. Under the government of Divine Providence, all is order and law; and notwithstanding the occasional outbreaks of human passion, and the perversity of the human will, that government compels its own puny creatures, whatever may be their motives, or however widely they may err, to shape their actions, at last, to its own grand train of events, and to carry out and fufil its own great designs.

All three of those wonderful inventions, gunpowder, printing, and the compass, were necessary to the successful establishment of the Anglo-Saxon colonies on these shores. A number of tempest-driven Northmen doubtless discovered and colonized them in the beginning of the eleventh century; but their discovery was premature. It came not in the logical order of progress. The colonists necessarily failed to effect a permanent establishment. Their intercourse with the mother country was fraught with every peril of uncertainty ; for, over fog-wrapt surge, or beneath cloud-invested sky, they wandered without compass or guide.

The shores themselves were occupied by ferocious savages, and fire-arms were wanting to subdue them. And then, what availed it to add the forest and barbarism of the new world to the forest and semi-barbarism of the old ? The invention of printing was yet wanting to reform the general mind of Europe, and to generate that spirit which in after times was to go forth to establish its emancipation on these shores, under the auspices of institutions to be formed from all that was select and glorious in the past. The establishment and development of the institutions under which we live, are due to no arbitrary enactments, suggested by abstract speculations, but are the necessary results of the operations of these discoveries and inventions, on the free growth of the Anglo-Saxon idea of liberty and law.

Thus the state of the arts and sciences, in the beginning of the eleventh century, was not such as to enable the progressive humanity to discover these shores, and to establish permanent dominion on this side the Atlantic. Their accidental discovery, at that time, yielded no useful results. But the progress of the arts and sciences in the fifteenth century had been such as to furnish all the necessary means for the purpose; and the discovery and colonization of this continent followed as a necessary consequence in the consecutive order of events. Its discovery then took its place, as a logical result of the grand series of discoveries and inventions that had preceded it, and thus became a new premise, or broader basis for the progressive action of the race.

I might here dwell on the consequences of the discovery of America, and its settlement by civilized communities. I might show how those consequences reacted on the arts and sciences themselves, on the relations of nations, on their internal polities, their domestic habits, and social enjoyments; shaping their institutions and controlling their legislation. But I deem further historical illustrations unnecessary. The great truth that human progress is the result of an ever active law, manifesting itself chiefly in scientific discovery and invention, and thereby controlling legislation, and giving enduring improvement to all social and political institutions, cannot be a subject of historical question or doubt. It is a law as palpable in the history of the social mind, as the law of gravitation in the movement of matter. Indeed, I should feel that I owed a serious apology to my hearers for having detained them so long on this point, were it not for certain extravagant ideas which seem to be rife in the land. The advocates of those ideas would teach us that there is an absolute, undefinable popular sovereignty, which can, in a manner its own, and at any moment, carry a certain supposed natural equality into social and political life, and thereby elevate poor human nature, however rude and degraded its condition, at once, as by a sort of magic, into a state of supreme and absolute perfection. When this sovereignty does not itself act to this end, it invokes the legislature, which is supposed to be competent to do nearly as much. No doubt government can do much ; it can suppress insurrection, it can repel invasion, it can enforce contracts, preserve the peace, concentrate and protect the existing arts; but all this is to organize, and sustain organization, and not to establish the natural equality. Yet this is all that government can do to promote human improvement; but in doing this, it does but act in obedience to that law, by which God governs in the progress of the race.

The idea that legislation necessarily acts an inferior part in human progress, that this progress is governed by a law that overrules and controls political sovereignty, may be humbling indeed to the demagogue, who would make everything bend to the popular will. But

there this law is, an undoubted and incontrovertible reality, which will bear with no paltering, but demands the obedience of all, on the penalty of degradation or ruin. The true statesman, the real promoter of human progress, at once recognizes, and feels proud to obey it. He feels that in so doing, he is performing the most elevated and dignified of duties. For though by legislation he cannot advance the entire humanity a single step, yet he may, by legislation, materially advance the nation for which he legislates. You may be able to add nothing to the light of the sun, yet you may concentrate his rays in a focus, and thus make a particular point, as bright as the source from which they emanate. The statesman can concentrate the scattered arts; he may carry out each discovery and invention to all its available uses, and thus elevate the nation which he serves, to the head of the progressive humanity. Yet if he would do this, he must not wait to be driven to the task, like a galley slave, by the rival and threatening policy of foreign governments. For the very fact that they coerce him, shows that they are already in his advance.

Supposing that a people has already adopted the common arts and sciences, as far as they are available, there will still remain certain discoveries and inventions of more recent date, which are not fully applied, or carried to their necessary consequences. Among these, in modern times, there has always been some one susceptible of such universality of application, as would seem to merit the particular consideration of statesmen. Take, for instance, at the present time, the steam engine. What is susceptible of more universal application ? What, bringing out all its powers, can add greater energy and vigor to the arm of government ? What has, or can perform greater wonders? Not gunpowder, not the compass, nay, not even the press. It

may be made to toil in the field, and supplant the labor of the slave. It already works at the spindle, and the loom, and the forge, and the mine. It is even now, whilst I am speaking, moving over earth with the speed of wings, walking up the downward torrent, and triumphantly striding over the roaring billows of the Atlantic. Already, where in use, has it reduced the distance one half between man and

man, nation and nation, of extreme islands and continents of the habitable globe. It has brought civilization into immediate contact with barbarism, and christianity with heathenism.

Unless all history be false, and the eternal laws of matter and mind nothing but a dream, there can be little danger in predicting too much for the progress of this invention. Indeed, the danger is, that the most extravagant predictions will fall short of the reality. No matter what government first applies this invention to all its practical naval and military uses, other governments must follow, however reluctantly, or cease to exist. Nay, should an unwonted apathy seize on all civilized governments, society would, at length, do the work to a great extent at their hands. The progress of this invention is ever onward, and will not cease until it has filled the world with its consequences.

Already has it coasted the shores of India, penetrated its interior by river or road, invaded the empire of China, and roused the Chinese mind by its appalling apparition, from the long slumber of centuries past. Ere long it shall bind subject Asia to Europe by bands of iron, and the Cossack and the Tartar, whilst feeding their herds on the banks of the Don and the steppes of southern Russia, shall start with amazement at the shrill whistle of the locomotive, and the thunder of the rail-road car, as it sweeps on toward the confines of China. Can the monarchies of Europe slumber in security, whilst the immense Russian Empire is thus centralizing and condensing its vast military resources and population at their backs? Never; their very existence must depend upon their resort to like means of defence or annoyance. And, from the heart of every monarchy of Europe, must diverge rail-roads to every assailable extreme; that when danger comes, and come it must, the whole war force of the nation may move, at a moment's warning, with the speed of wings, to the extreme point of peril.

The governments of Europe must become stronger internally and externally; more secure within and more formidable without, maugre the democratic tendencies by which they are threatened. Democracy is strong, but here is a power still stronger, that will have its course. It is a power with which governments will and must organize themselves, at their peril, whatever may be their form. And when thus organized, their endurance must be as that of adamant. Organized on like basis, our representative democracy itself may be secure; but if not thus organized, it can only wait, with as much quietude as it may, to be gradually absorbed, and finally swallowed up by the strong organizations that may be brought to bear upon it. Think ye that the military progress of this invention in the old world is to produce no effect on the new; that the breadth of the Atlantic is to set bounds to its effects? The breadth of the Atlantic! Why, it has become a narrow frith, over which armies may be ferried in twelve or fifteen days, to land in slave or non-slaveholding States, at option; and that power, “whose home is on the deep," already transports over her watery empire, on the wings of this invention, her victorious cannon. Other governments are little behind her in the application of this power. Thus menaced, have we strength to do our duty with dignity? Can we much longer be governed by factions ?

I am not suggesting a course of policy; I am simply carrying our premises to their necessary consequences; and to that end I ask : If we continue a free and independent people, must we not organize ourselves on the basis which this invention affords? Can we avoid it? Have we any choice but to radiate our country with communications for its defence, that the whole war force of the nation may be thrown with railroad speed on any point of danger? This system of defence may not be adopted till the shock of some foreign invasion, or some terrible internal convulsion, forces upon the government the necessity of adopting it; and then, if it be the will of God that we continue one people, it will, and must be adopted. When it is done, this union will be complete; its duration will depend on no written scroll of parchment; on no variable popular breath ; its strength on no constitutional constructions changing to suit the temper of the times, but the constitution itself, resolved by the law of progress, shall take form, over the whole face of the land, in bands of iron.

Such must be the political progress of this invention. Government, in this country, has as yet done nothing, but society has done much. True to itself and its highest interests, it has been prompt in obedience to the law of progress. It has already extended, and still continues to extend the application of this sovereign invention. It has contracted, as it were, this country within half its former space. It has made a sparse population dense, and if a dense population has its evils, as in large cities it certainly has, the same invention offers an antidote. It can, without disadvantage, render those populations sparse. It can combine the morality and the occupation of a rural with the intellectual activity of an urban population. It will and must proceed on its mission, by force of the very law which gave it existence, till the civilization of christendom, on the basis which it affords, has been fully accomplished, and then, by force of the same law, will it bear that civilization into the bosom of barbarism, christianize the nations, and establish the dominion of the arts over the broad face of earth and ocean.

Such is the nature of the law of progress. Ever adding to the triumphs of intellect, ever expanding the sphere of civilization, ever enlarging the domain of liberty and law, it began its political and social manifestations, as from a central point, in the sacerdotal caste of Egypt. It continued them in Greece, and there, with the fine arts

« AnteriorContinuar »