AMERICAN POLITICAL IDEAS
VIEWED FROM THE STANDPOINT OF UNIVERSAL HISTORY
DELIVERED AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTION OF GREAT BRITAIN IN MAY 1880
BY JOHN FISKE
Voici un fait entierement nouveau dans le monde, et dont l'imagination elle-meme ne saurait saisir la portee.
EDWARD LIVINGSTON YOUMANS
NOBLEST OF MEN AND DEAREST OF FRIENDS
WHOSE UNSELFISH AND UNTIRING WORK IN EDUCATING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE IN THE PRINCIPLES OF SOUND PHILOSOPHY DESERVES THE GRATITUDE OF ALL MEN
I dedicate this Book
In the spring of 1879 I gave at the Old South Meeting-house in Boston a course of lectures on the discovery and colonization of America, and presently, through the kindness of my friend Professor Huxley, the course was repeated at University College in London. The lectures there were attended by very large audiences, and awakened such an interest in American history that I was invited to return to England in the following year and treat of some of the philosophical aspects of my subject in a course of lectures at the Royal Institution.
In the three lectures which were written in response to this invitation, and which are now published in this little volume, I have endeavoured to illustrate some of the fundamental ideas of American politics by setting forth their relations to the general history of mankind. It is impossible thoroughly to grasp the meaning of any group of facts, in any department of study, until we have duly compared them with allied groups of facts; and the political history of the American people can be rightly understood only when it is studied in connection with that general process of political evolution which has been going on from the earliest times, and of which it is itself one of the most important and remarkable phases. The government of the United States is not the result of special creation, but of evolution. As the town-meetings of New England are lineally descended from the village assemblies of the early Aryans; as our huge federal union was long ago foreshadowed in the little leagues of Greek cities and Swiss cantons; so the great political problem which we are (thus far successfully) solving is the very same problem upon which all civilized peoples have been working ever since civilization began. How to insure peaceful concerted action throughout the Whole, without infringing upon local and individual freedom in the Parts,—this has ever been the chief aim of civilization, viewed on its political side; and we rate the failure or success of nations politically according to their failure or success in attaining this supreme end. When thus considered in the light of the comparative method, our American history acquires added dignity and interest, and a broad and rational basis is secured for the detailed treatment of political questions.
When viewed in this light, moreover, not only does American history become especially interesting to Englishmen, but English history is clothed with fresh interest for Americans. Mr. Freeman has done well in insisting upon the fact that the history of the English people does not begin with the Norman Conquest. In the deepest and widest sense, our American history does not begin with the Declaration of Independence, or even with the settlements of Jamestown and Plymouth; but it descends in unbroken continuity from the days when stout Arminius in the forests of northern Germany successfully defied the might of imperial Rome. In a more restricted sense, the statesmanship of Washington and Lincoln appears in the noblest light when regarded as the fruition of the various work of De Montfort and Cromwell and Chatham. The good fight begun at Lewes and continued at Naseby and Quebec was fitly crowned at Yorktown and at Appomattox. When we duly realize this, and further come to see how the two great branches of the English race have the common mission of establishing throughout the larger part of the earth a higher civilization and more permanent political order than any that has gone before, we shall the better understand the true significance of the history which English-speaking men have so magnificently wrought out upon American soil.
In dealing concisely with a subject so vast, only brief hints and suggestions can be expected; and I have not thought it worth while, for the present at least, to change or amplify the manner of treatment. The lectures are printed exactly as they were delivered at the Royal Institution, more than four years ago. On one point of detail some change will very likely by and by be called for. In the lecture on the Town-meeting I have adopted the views of Sir Henry Maine as to the common holding of the arable land in the ancient German mark, and as to the primitive character of the periodical redistribution of land in the Russian village community. It now seems highly probable that these views will have to undergo serious modification in consequence of the valuable evidence lately brought forward by my friend Mr. Denman Ross, in his learned and masterly treatise on "The Early History of Landholding among the Germans;" but as I am not yet quite clear as to how far this modification will go, and as it can in nowise affect the general drift of my argument, I have made no change in my incidental remarks on this difficult and disputed question.
In describing some of the characteristic features of country life in New England, I had especially in mind the beautiful mountain village in which this preface is written, and in which for nearly a quarter of a century I have felt myself more at home than in any other spot in the world.
In writing these lectures, designed as they were for a special occasion, no attempt was made to meet the ordinary requirements of popular audiences; yet they have been received in many places with unlooked-for favour. The lecture on "Manifest Destiny" was three times repeated in London, and once in Edinburgh; seven times in Boston; four times in New York; twice in Brooklyn, N.Y., Plainfield, N.J., and Madison, Wis.; once in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Milwaukee; in Appleton and Waukesha, Wis.; Portland, Lewiston, and Brunswick, Me.; Lowell, Concord, Newburyport, Peabody, Stoneham, Maiden, Newton Highlands, and Martha's Vineyard, Mass.; Middletown and Stamford, Conn.; Newburg and Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Orange, N.J.; and at Cornell University and Haverford College. In several of these places the course was given.
PETERSHAM, September 13, 1884.
Differences in outward aspect between a village in England and a village in Massachusetts. Life in a typical New England mountain village. Tenure of land, domestic service, absence of poverty and crime, universality of labour and of culture, freedom of thought, complete democracy. This state of things is to some extent passing away. Remarkable characteristics of the Puritan settlers of New England, and extent to which their characters and aims have influenced American history. Town governments in New England. Different meanings of the word "city" in England and America. Importance of local self-government in the political life of the United States. Origin of the town-meeting. Mr. Freeman on the cantonal assemblies of Switzerland. The old Teutonic "mark," or dwelling-place of a clan. Political union originally based, not on territorial contiguity, but on blood-relationship. Divisions of the mark. Origin of the village Common. The mark-mote. Village communities in Russia and Hindustan. Difference between the despotism of Russia and that of France under the Old Regime. Elements of sound political life fostered by the Russian village. Traces of the mark in England. Feudalization of Europe, and partial metamorphosis of the mark or township into the manor. Parallel transformation of the township, in some of its features, into the parish. The court leet and the vestry-meeting. The New England town-meeting a revival of the ancient mark-mote.
Vicissitudes of local self-government in the various portions of the Aryan world illustrated in the contrasted cases of France and England. Significant contrast between the aristocracy of England and that of the Continent. Difference between the Teutonic conquests of Gaul and of Britain. Growth of centralization in France. Why the English have always been more successful than the French in founding colonies. Struggle between France and England for the possession of North America, and prodigious significance of the victory of England.
THE FEDERAL UNION.
Wonderful greatness of ancient Athens. Causes of the political failure of Greek civilization. Early stages of political aggregation,—the hundred, the [Greek: phratria], the curia; the shire, the deme, and the pagus. Aggregation of clans into tribes. Differences in the mode of aggregation in Greece and Rome on the one hand, and in Teutonic countries on the other. The Ancient City. Origin of cities in Hindustan, Germany, England, and the United States. Religious character of the ancient city. Burghership not granted to strangers. Consequences of the political difference between the Graeco-Roman city and the Teutonic shire. The folk-mote, or primary assembly, and the witenagemote, or assembly of notables. Origin of representative government in the Teutonic shire. Representation unknown to the Greeks and Romans. The ancient city as a school for political training. Intensity of the jealousies and rivalries between adjacent self-governing groups of men. Smallness of simple social aggregates and universality of warfare in primitive times. For the formation of larger and more complex social aggregates, only two methods are practicable,—conquest or federation. Greek attempts at employing the higher method, that of federation. The Athenian hegemony and its overthrow. The Achaian and Aetolian leagues. In a low stage of political development the Roman method of conquest with incorporation was the only one practicable. Peculiarities of the Roman conquest of Italy. Causes of the universal dominion of Rome. Advantages and disadvantages of this dominion:—on the one hand the pax romana, and the breaking down of primitive local superstitions and prejudices; on the other hand the partial extinction of local self-government. Despotism inevitable in the absence of representation. Causes of the political failure of the Roman system. Partial reversion of Europe, between the fifth and eleventh centuries, towards a more primitive type of social structure. Power of Rome still wielded through the Church and the imperial jurisprudence. Preservation of local self-government in England, and at the two ends of the Rhine. The Dutch and Swiss federations. The lesson to be learned from Switzerland. Federation on a great scale could only be attempted successfully by men of English political training, when working without let or hindrance in a vast country not preoccupied by an old civilization. Without local self-government a great Federal Union is impossible. Illustrations from American history. Difficulty of the problem, and failure of the early attempts at federation in New England. Effects of the war for independence. The "Articles of Confederation" and the "Constitution." Pacific implications of American federalism.
The Americans boast of the bigness of their country. How to "bound" the United States. "Manifest Destiny" of the "Anglo-Saxon Race." The term "Anglo-Saxon" slovenly and misleading. Statements relating to the "English Race" have a common interest for Americans and for Englishmen. Work of the English race in the world. The prime feature of civilization is the diminution of warfare, which becomes possible only through the formation of great political aggregates in which the parts retain their local and individual freedom. In the earlier stages of civilization, the possibility of peace can be guaranteed only through war, but the preponderant military strength is gradually concentrated in the hands of the most pacific communities, and by the continuance of this process the permanent peace of the world will ultimately be secured. Illustrations from the early struggles of European civilization with outer barbarism, and with aggressive civilizations of lower type. Greece and Persia. Keltic and Teutonic enemies of Rome. The defensible frontier of European civilization carried northward and eastward to the Rhine by Caesar; to the Oder by Charles the Great; to the Vistula by the Teutonic Knights; to the Volga and the Oxus by the Russians. Danger in the Dark Ages from Huns and Mongols on the one hand, from Mussulmans on the other. Immense increase of the area and physical strength of European civilization, which can never again be in danger from outer barbarism. Effect of all this secular turmoil upon the political institutions of Europe. It hindered the formation of closely coherent nations, and was at the same time an obstacle to the preservation of popular liberties. Tendency towards the Asiaticization of European life. Opposing influences of the Church, and of the Germanic tribal organizations. Military type of society on the Continent. Old Aryan self-government happily preserved in England. Strategic position of England favourable to the early elimination of warfare from her soil. Hence the exceptionally normal and plastic political development of the English race. Significant coincidence of the discovery of America with the beginnings of the Protestant revolt against the asiaticizing tendency. Significance of the struggle between Spain, France, and England for the possession of an enormous area of virgin soil which should insure to the conqueror an unprecedented opportunity for future development. The race which gained control of North America must become the dominant race of the world, and its political ideas must prevail in the struggle for life. Moral significance of the rapid increase of the English race in America. Fallacy of the notion that centralized governments are needed for very large nations. It is only through federalism, combined with local self-government, that the stability of so huge an aggregate as the United States can be permanently maintained. What the American government really fought for in the late Civil War. Magnitude of the results achieved. Unprecedented military strength shown by this most pacific and industrial of peoples. Improbability of any future attempt to break up the Federal Union. Stupendous future of the English race,—in Africa, in Australia, and in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Future of the English language. Probable further adoption of federalism. Probable effects upon Europe of industrial competition with the United States: impossibility of keeping up the present military armaments. The States of Europe will be forced, by pressure of circumstances, into some kind of federal union. A similar process will go on until the whole of mankind shall constitute a single political body, and warfare shall disappear forever from the face of the earth.
AMERICAN POLITICAL IDEAS.
The traveller from the Old World, who has a few weeks at his disposal for a visit to the United States, usually passes straight from one to another of our principal cities, such as Boston, New York, Washington, or Chicago, stopping for a day or two perhaps at Niagara Falls,—or, perhaps, after traversing a distance like that which separates England from Mesopotamia, reaches the vast table-lands of the Far West and inspects their interesting fauna of antelopes and buffaloes, red Indians and Mormons. In a journey of this sort one gets a very superficial view of the peculiarities, physical and social, which characterize the different portions of our country; and in this there is nothing to complain of, since the knowledge gained in a vacation-journey cannot well be expected to be thorough or profound. The traveller, however, who should visit the United States in a more leisurely way, with the purpose of increasing his knowledge of history and politics, would find it well to proceed somewhat differently. He would find himself richly repaid for a sojourn in some insignificant place the very name of which is unknown beyond sea,—just as Mr. Mackenzie Wallace—whose book on Russia is a model of what such books should be—got so much invaluable experience from his months of voluntary exile at Ivanofka in the province of Novgorod. Out of the innumerable places which one might visit in America, there are none which would better reward such careful observation, or which are more full of interest for the comparative historian, than the rural towns and mountain villages of New England; that part of English America which is oldest in civilization (though not in actual date of settlement), and which, while most completely English in blood and in traditions, is at the same time most completely American in so far as it has most distinctly illustrated and most successfully represented those political ideas which have given to American history its chief significance in the general work of civilization.
The United States are not unfrequently spoken of as a "new country," in terms which would be appropriate if applied to Australia or New Zealand, and which are not inappropriate as applied to the vast region west of the Mississippi River, where the white man had hardly set foot before the beginning of the present century. New England, however, has a history which carries us back to the times of James I.; and while its cities are full of such bustling modern life as one sees in Liverpool or Manchester or Glasgow, its rural towns show us much that is old-fashioned in aspect,—much that one can approach in an antiquarian spirit. We are there introduced to a phase of social life which is highly interesting on its own account and which has played an important part in the world, yet which, if not actually passing away, is at least becoming so rapidly modified as to afford a theme for grave reflections to those who have learned how to appreciate its value. As any far-reaching change in the condition of landed property in England, due to agricultural causes, might seriously affect the position of one of the noblest and most useful aristocracies that has ever existed; so, on the other hand, as we consider the possible action of similar causes upon the personnel and upon the occupations of rural New England, we are unwillingly forced to contemplate the possibility of a deterioration in the character of the most perfect democracy the world has ever seen.
In the outward aspect of a village in Massachusetts or Connecticut, the feature which would be most likely first to impress itself upon the mind of a visitor from England is the manner in which the village is laid out and built. Neither in England nor anywhere else in western Europe have I ever met with a village of the New England type. In English villages one finds small houses closely crowded together, sometimes in blocks of ten or a dozen, and inhabited by people belonging to the lower orders of society; while the fine houses of gentlemen stand quite apart in the country, perhaps out of sight of one another, and surrounded by very extensive grounds. The origin of the village, in a mere aggregation of tenants of the lord of the manor, is thus vividly suggested. In France one is still more impressed, I think, with this closely packed structure of the village. In the New England village, on the other hand, the finer and the poorer houses stand side by side along the road. There are wide straight streets overarched with spreading elms and maples, and on either side stand the houses, with little green lawns in front, called in rustic parlance "door-yards." The finer houses may stand a thousand feet apart from their neighbours on either side, while between the poorer ones there may be intervals of from twenty to one hundred feet, but they are never found crowded together in blocks. Built in this capacious fashion, a village of a thousand inhabitants may have a main street more than a mile in length, with half a dozen crossing streets losing themselves gradually in long stretches of country road. The finest houses are not ducal palaces, but may be compared with the ordinary country-houses of gentlemen in England. The poorest houses are never hovels, such as one sees in the Scotch Highlands. The picturesque and cosy cottage at Shottery, where Shakespeare used to do his courting, will serve very well as a sample of the humblest sort of old-fashioned New England farm-house. But most of the dwellings in the village come between these extremes. They are plain neat wooden houses, in capaciousness more like villas than cottages. A New England village street, laid out in this way, is usually very picturesque and beautiful, and it is highly characteristic. In comparing it with things in Europe, where one rarely finds anything at all like it, one must go to something very different from a village. As you stand in the Court of Heroes at Versailles and look down the broad and noble avenue that leads to Paris, the effect of the vista is much like that of a New England village street. As American villages grow into cities, the increase in the value of land usually tends to crowd the houses together into blocks as in a European city. But in some of our western cities founded and settled by people from New England, this spacious fashion of building has been retained for streets occupied by dwelling-houses. In Cleveland—a city on the southern shore of Lake Erie, with a population about equal to that of Edinburgh—there is a street some five or six miles in length and five hundred feet in width, bordered on each side with a double row of arching trees, and with handsome stone houses, of sufficient variety and freedom in architectural design, standing at intervals of from one to two hundred feet along the entire length of the street. The effect, it is needless to add, is very noble indeed. The vistas remind one of the nave and aisles of a huge cathedral.
Now this generous way in which a New England village is built is very closely associated with the historical origin of the village and with the peculiar kind of political and social life by which it is characterized. First of all, it implies abundance of land. As a rule the head of each family owns the house in which he lives and the ground on which it is built. The relation of landlord and tenant, though not unknown, is not commonly met with. No sort of social distinction or political privilege is associated with the ownership of land; and the legal differences between real and personal property, especially as regards ease of transfer, have been reduced to the smallest minimum that practical convenience will allow. Each householder, therefore, though an absolute proprietor, cannot be called a miniature lord of the manor, because there exists no permanent dependent class such as is implied in the use of such a phrase. Each larger proprietor attends in person to the cultivation of his own land, assisted perhaps by his own sons or by neighbours working for hire in the leisure left over from the care of their own smaller estates. So in the interior of the house there is usually no domestic service that is not performed by the mother of the family and the daughters. Yet in spite of this universality of manual labour, the people are as far as possible from presenting the appearance of peasants. Poor or shabbily-dressed people are rarely seen, and there is no one in the village whom it would be proper to address in a patronizing tone, or who would not consider it a gross insult to be offered a shilling. As with poverty, so with dram-drinking and with crime; all alike are conspicuous by their absence. In a village of one thousand inhabitants there will be a poor-house where five or six decrepit old people are supported at the common charge; and there will be one tavern where it is not easy to find anything stronger to drink than light beer or cider. The danger from thieves is so slight that it is not always thought necessary to fasten the outer doors of the house at night. The universality of literary culture is as remarkable as the freedom with which all persons engage in manual labour. The village of a thousand inhabitants will be very likely to have a public circulating library, in which you may find Professor Huxley's "Lay Sermons" or Sir Henry Maine's "Ancient Law": it will surely have a high-school and half a dozen schools for small children. A person unable to read and write is as great a rarity as an albino or a person with six fingers. The farmer who threshes his own corn and cuts his own firewood has very likely a piano in his family sitting-room, with the Atlantic Monthly on the table and Milton and Tennyson, Gibbon and Macaulay on his shelves, while his daughter, who has baked bread in the morning, is perhaps ready to paint on china in the afternoon. In former times theological questions largely occupied the attention of the people; and there is probably no part of the world where the Bible has been more attentively read, or where the mysteries of Christian doctrine have to so great an extent been made the subject of earnest discussion in every household. Hence we find in the New England of to-day a deep religious sense combined with singular flexibility of mind and freedom of thought.
A state of society so completely democratic as that here described has not often been found in connection with a very high and complex civilization. In contemplating these old mountain villages of New England, one descries slow modifications in the structure of society which threaten somewhat to lessen its dignity. The immense productiveness of the soil in our western states, combined with cheapness of transportation, tends to affect seriously the agricultural interests of New England as well as those of our mother-country. There is a visible tendency for farms to pass into the hands of proprietors of an inferior type to that of the former owners,—men who are content with a lower standard of comfort and culture; while the sons of the old farmers go off to the universities to prepare for a professional career, and the daughters marry merchants or lawyers in the cities. The mountain-streams of New England, too, afford so much water-power as to bring in ugly factories to disfigure the beautiful ravines, and to introduce into the community a class of people very different from the landholding descendants of the Puritans. When once a factory is established near a village, one no longer feels free to sleep with doors unbolted.
It will be long, however, I trust, before the simple, earnest and independent type of character that has been nurtured on the Blue Hills of Massachusetts and the White Hills of New Hampshire shall cease to operate like a powerful leaven upon the whole of American society. Much has been said and sung in praise of the spirit of chivalry, which, after all, as a great historian reminds us, "implies the arbitrary choice of one or two virtues, to be practised in such an exaggerated degree as to become vices, while the ordinary laws of right and wrong are forgotten."  Quite enough has been said, too, in discredit of Puritanism,—its narrowness of aim, its ascetic proclivities, its quaint affectations of Hebraism. Yet these things were but the symptoms of the intensity of its reverence for that grand spirit of Hebraism, of which Mr. Matthew Arnold speaks, to which we owe the Bible and Christianity. No loftier ideal has ever been conceived than that of the Puritan who would fain have made of the world a City of God. If we could sum up all that England owes to Puritanism, the story would be a great one indeed. As regards the United States, we may safely say that what is noblest in our history to-day, and of happiest augury for our social and political future, is the impress left upon the character of our people by the heroic men who came to New England early in the seventeenth century.
The settlement of New England by the Puritans occupies a peculiar position in the annals of colonization, and without understanding this we cannot properly appreciate the character of the purely democratic society which I have sought to describe. As a general rule colonies have been founded, either by governments or by private enterprise, for political or commercial reasons. The aim has been—on the part of governments—to annoy some rival power, or to get rid of criminals, or to open some new avenue of trade, or—on the part of the people—to escape from straitened circumstances at home, or to find a refuge from religious persecution. In the settlement of New England none of these motives were operative except the last, and that only to a slight extent. The Puritans who fled from Nottinghamshire to Holland in 1608, and twelve years afterwards crossed the ocean in the Mayflower, may be said to have been driven from England by persecution. But this was not the case with the Puritans who between 1630 and 1650 went from Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, and from Dorset and Devonshire, and founded the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut. These men left their homes at a time when Puritanism was waxing powerful and could not be assailed with impunity. They belonged to the upper and middle classes of the society of that day, outside of the peerage. Mr. Freeman has pointed out the importance of the change by which, after the Norman Conquest, the Old-English nobility or thegnhood was pushed down into "a secondary place in the political and social scale." Of the far-reaching effects of this change upon the whole subsequent history of the English race I shall hereafter have occasion to speak. The proximate effect was that "the ancient lords of the soil, thus thrust down into the second rank, formed that great body of freeholders, the stout gentry and yeomanry of England, who were for so many ages the strength of the land."  It was from this ancient thegnhood that the Puritan settlers of New England were mainly descended. It is no unusual thing for a Massachusetts family to trace its pedigree to a lord of the manor in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. The leaders of the New England emigration were country gentlemen of good fortune, similar in position to such men as Hampden and Cromwell; a large proportion of them had taken degrees at Cambridge. The rank and file were mostly intelligent and prosperous yeomen. The lowest ranks of society were not represented in the emigration; and all idle, shiftless, or disorderly people were rigorously refused admission into the new communities, the early history of which was therefore singularly free from anything like riot or mutiny. To an extent unparalleled, therefore, in the annals of colonization, the settlers of New England were a body of picked men. Their Puritanism was the natural outcome of their free-thinking, combined with an earnestness of character which could constrain them to any sacrifices needful for realizing their high ideal of life. They gave up pleasant homes in England, and they left them with no feeling of rancour towards their native land, in order that, by dint of whatever hardship, they might establish in the American wilderness what should approve itself to their judgment as a god-fearing community. It matters little that their conceptions were in some respects narrow. In the unflinching adherence to duty which prompted their enterprise, and in the sober intelligence with which it was carried out, we have, as I said before, the key to what is best in the history of the American people.
Out of such a colonization as that here described nothing but a democratic society could very well come, save perhaps in case of a scarcity of arable land. Between the country gentleman and the yeoman who has become a landed proprietor, the difference is not great enough to allow the establishment of permanent distinctions, social or political. Immediately on their arrival in New England, the settlers proceeded to form for themselves a government as purely democratic as any that has ever been seen in the world. Instead of scattering about over the country, the requirements of education and of public worship, as well as of defence against Indian attacks, obliged them to form small village communities. As these villages multiplied, the surface of the country came to be laid out in small districts (usually from six to ten miles in length and breadth) called townships. Each township contained its village together with the woodlands surrounding it. In later days two or more villages have often grown up within the limits of the same township, and the road from one village to another is sometimes bordered with homesteads and cultivated fields throughout nearly its whole length. In the neighbourhood of Boston villages and small towns crowd closely together for twenty miles in every direction; and all these will no doubt by and by grow together into a vast and complicated city, in somewhat the same way that London has grown.
From the outset the government of the township was vested in the TOWN-MEETING,—an institution which in its present form is said to be peculiar to New England, but which, as we shall see, has close analogies with local self-governing bodies in other ages and countries. Once in each year—usually in the month of March—a meeting is held, at which every adult male residing within the limits of the township is expected to be present, and is at liberty to address the meeting or to vote upon any question that may come up.
In the first years of the colonies it seems to have been attempted to hold town-meetings every month, and to discuss all the affairs of the community in these assemblies; but this was soon found to be a cumbrous way of transacting public business, and as early as 1635 we find selectmen chosen to administer the affairs of the township during the intervals between the assemblies. As the system has perfected itself, at each annual town-meeting there are chosen not less than three or more than nine selectmen, according to the size of the township. Besides these, there are chosen a town-clerk, a town-treasurer, a school-committee, assessors of taxes, overseers of the poor, constables, surveyors of highways, fence-viewers, and other officers. In very small townships the selectmen themselves may act as assessors of taxes or overseers of the poor. The selectmen may appoint police-officers if such are required; they may act as a Board of Health; in addition to sundry specific duties too numerous to mention here, they have the general superintendence of all public business save such as is expressly assigned to the other officers; and whenever circumstances may seem to require it they are authorized to call a town-meeting. The selectmen are thus the principal town-magistrates; and through the annual election their responsibility to the town is maintained at the maximum. Yet in many New England towns re-election of the same persons year after year has very commonly prevailed. I know of an instance where the office of town-clerk was filled by three members of one family during one hundred and fourteen consecutive years.
Besides choosing executive officers, the town-meeting has the power of enacting by-laws, of making appropriations of money for town-purposes, and of providing for miscellaneous emergencies by what might be termed special legislation. Besides the annual meeting held in the spring for transacting all this local business, the selectmen are required to call a meeting in the autumn of each year for the election of state and county officers, each second year for the election of representatives to the federal Congress, and each fourth year for the election of the President of the United States.
It only remains to add that, as an assembly of the whole people becomes impracticable in a large community, so when the population of a township has grown to ten or twelve thousand, the town-meeting is discontinued, the town is incorporated as a city, and its affairs are managed by a mayor, a board of aldermen, and a common council, according to the system adopted in London in the reign of Edward I. In America, therefore, the distinction between cities and towns has nothing to do with the presence or absence of a cathedral, but refers solely to differences in the communal or municipal government. In the city the common council, as a representative body, replaces (in a certain sense) the town-meeting; a representative government is substituted for a pure democracy. But the city officers, like the selectmen of towns, are elected annually; and in no case (I believe) has municipal government fallen into the hands of a self-perpetuating body, as it has done in so many instances in England owing to the unwise policy pursued by the Tudors and Stuarts in their grants of charters.
It is only in New England that the township system is to be found in its completeness. In several southern and western states the administrative unit is the county, and local affairs are managed by county commissioners elected by the people. Elsewhere we find a mixture of the county and township systems. In some of the western states settled by New England people, town-meetings are held, though their powers are somewhat less extensive than in New England. In the settlement of Virginia it was attempted to copy directly the parishes and vestries, boroughs and guilds of England. But in the southern states generally the great size of the plantations and the wide dispersion of the population hindered the growth of towns, so that it was impossible to have an administrative unit smaller than the county. As Tocqueville said fifty years ago, "the farther south we go the less active does the business of the township or parish become; the population exercises a less immediate influence on affairs; the power of the elected magistrate is augmented and that of the election diminished, while the public spirit of the local communities is less quickly awakened and less influential." This is almost equally true to-day; yet with all these differences in local organization, there is no part of our country in which the spirit of local self-government can be called weak or uncertain. I have described the Town-meeting as it exists in the states where it first grew up and has since chiefly flourished. But something very like the "town-meeting principle" lies at the bottom of all the political life of the United States. To maintain vitality in the centre without sacrificing it in the parts; to preserve tranquillity in the mutual relations of forty powerful states, while keeping the people everywhere as far as possible in direct contact with the government; such is the political problem which the American Union exists for the purpose of solving; and of this great truth every American citizen is supposed to have some glimmering, however crude.
It has been said that the town-governments of New England were established without any conscious reference to precedent; but, however this may be, they are certainly not without precedents and analogies, to enumerate which will carry us very far back in the history of the Aryan world. At the beginning of his essay on the "Growth of the English Constitution," Mr. Freeman gives an eloquent account of the May assemblies of Uri and Appenzell, when the whole people elect their magistrates for the year and vote upon amendments to the old laws or upon the adoption of new ones. Such a sight Mr. Freeman seems to think can be seen nowhere but in Switzerland, and he reckons it among the highest privileges of his life to have looked upon it. But I am unable to see in what respect the town-meeting in Massachusetts differs from the Landesgemeinde or cantonal assembly in Switzerland, save that it is held in a town-hall and not in the open air, that it is conducted with somewhat less of pageantry, and that the freemen who attend do not carry arms even by way of ceremony. In the Swiss assembly, as Mr. Freeman truly observes, we see exemplified the most democratic phase of the old Teutonic constitution as described in the "Germania" of Tacitus, "the earliest picture which history can give us of the political and social being of our own forefathers." The same remark, in precisely the same terms, would be true of the town-meetings of New England. Political institutions, on the White Mountains and on the Alps, not only closely resemble each other, but are connected by strict bonds of descent from a common original.
The most primitive self-governing body of which we have any knowledge is the village-community of the ancient Teutons, of which such strict counterparts are found in other parts of the Aryan world as to make it apparent that in its essential features it must be an inheritance from prehistoric Aryan antiquity. In its Teutonic form the primitive village-community (or rather, the spot inhabited by it) is known as the Mark,—that is, a place defined by a boundary-line. One characteristic of the mark-community is that all its free members are in theory supposed to be related to each other through descent from a common progenitor; and in this respect the mark-community agrees with the gens, [Greek: ginos], or clan. The earliest form of political union in the world is one which rests, not upon territorial contiguity, but upon I blood-relationship, either real or assumed through the legal fiction of adoption. In the lowest savagery blood-relationship is the only admissible or conceivable ground for sustained common action among groups of men. Among peoples which wander about, supporting themselves either by hunting, or at a somewhat more advanced stage of development by the rearing of flocks and herds, a group of men, thus permanently associated through ties of blood-relationship, is what we call a clan. When by the development of agricultural pursuits the nomadic mode of life is brought to an end, when the clan remains stationary upon some piece of territory surrounded by a strip of forest-land, or other boundaries natural or artificial, then the clan becomes a mark-community. The profound linguistic researches of Pictet, Fick, and others have made it probable that at the time when the Old-Aryan language was broken up into the dialects from which the existing languages of Europe are descended, the Aryan tribes were passing from a purely pastoral stage of barbarism into an incipient agricultural stage, somewhat like that which characterized the Iroquois tribes in America in the seventeenth century. The comparative study of institutions leads to results in harmony with this view, showing us the mark-community of our Teutonic ancestors with the clear traces of its origin in the more primitive clan; though, with Mr. Kemble, I do not doubt that by the time of Tacitus the German tribes had long since reached the agricultural stage.
Territorially the old Teutonic mark consisted of three divisions. There was the village mark, where the people lived in houses crowded closely together, no doubt for defensive purposes; there was the arable mark, divided into as many lots as there were householders; and there was the common mark, or border-strip of untilled land, wherein all the inhabitants of the village had common rights of pasturage and of cutting firewood. All this land originally was the property not of any one family or individual, but of the community. The study of the mark carries us back to a time when there may have been private property in weapons, utensils, or trinkets, but not in real estate. Of the three kinds of land the common mark, save where curtailed or usurped by lords in the days of feudalism, has generally remained public property to this day. The pleasant green commons or squares which occur in the midst of towns and cities in England and the United States most probably originated from the coalescence of adjacent mark-communities, whereby the border-land used in common by all was brought into the centre of the new aggregate. In towns of modern date this origin of the common is of course forgotten, and in accordance with the general law by which the useful thing after discharging its functions survives for purposes of ornament, it is introduced as a pleasure-ground. In old towns of New England, however, the little park where boys play ball or children and nurses "take the air" was once the common pasture of the town. Even Boston Common did not entirely cease to be a grazing-field until 1830. It was in the village-mark, or assemblage of homesteads, that private property in real estate naturally began. In the Russian villages to-day the homesteads are private property, while the cultivated land is owned in common. This was the case with the arable mark of our ancestors. The arable mark belonged to the community, and was temporarily divided into as many fields as there were households, though the division was probably not into equal parts: more likely, as in Russia to-day, the number of labourers in each household was taken into the account; and at irregular intervals, as fluctuations in population seemed to require it, a thorough-going redivision was effected. In carrying out such divisions and redivisions, as well as in all matters relating to village, ploughed field, or pasture, the mark-community was a law unto itself. Though individual freedom was by no means considerable, the legal existence of the individual being almost entirely merged in that of his clan, the mark-community was a completely self-governing body. The assembly of the mark-men, or members of the community, allotted land for tillage, determined the law or declared the custom as to methods of tillage, fixed the dates for sowing and reaping, voted upon the admission of new families into the village, and in general transacted what was then regarded as the public business of the community. In all essential respects this village assembly or mark-mote would seem to have resembled the town-meetings of New England.
Such was the mark-community of the ancient Teutons, as we gather partly from hints afforded by Tacitus and partly from the comparative study of English, German, and Scandinavian institutions. In Russia and in Hindustan we find the same primitive form of social organization existing with very little change at the present day. Alike in Hindu and in Russian village-communities we find the group of habitations, each despotically ruled by a pater-familias; we find the pasture-land owned and enjoyed in common; and we find the arable land divided into separate lots, which are cultivated according to minute regulations established by the community. But in India the occasional redistribution of lots survives only in a few localities, and as a mere tradition in others; the arable mark has become private property, as well as the homesteads. In Russia, on the other hand, re-allotments occur at irregular intervals averaging something like fifteen years. In India the local government is carried on in some places by a Council of Village Elders, and in other places by a Headman whose office is sometimes described as hereditary, but is more probably elective, the choice being confined, as in the case of the old Teutonic kingship, to the members of a particular family. In the Russian village, on the other hand, the government is conducted by an assembly at which every head of a household is expected to be present and vote on all matters of public concern. This assembly elects the Village Elder, or chief executive officer, the tax-collector, the watchman, and the communal herd-boy; it directs the allotment of the arable land; and in general matters of local legislation its power is as great as that of the New England town-meeting,—in some respects perhaps even greater, since the precise extent of its powers has never been determined by legislation, and (according to Mr. Wallace) "there is no means of appealing against its decisions." To those who are in the habit of regarding Russia simply as a despotically-governed country, such a statement may seem surprising. To those who, because the Russian government is called a bureaucracy, have been led to think of it as analogous to the government of France under the Old Regime, it may seem incredible that the decisions of a village-assembly should not admit of appeal to a higher authority. But in point of fact, no two despotic governments could be less alike than that of modern Russia and that of France under the Old Regime. The Russian government is autocratic inasmuch as over the larger part of the country it has simply succeeded to the position of the Mongolian khans who from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century held the Russian people in subjection. This Mongolian government was—to use a happy distinction suggested by Sir Henry Maine—a tax-taking despotism, not a legislative despotism. The conquerors exacted tribute, but did not interfere with the laws and customs of the subject people. When the Russians drove out the Mongols they exchanged a despotism which they hated for one in which they felt a national pride, but in one curious respect the position of the people with reference to their rulers has remained the same. The imperial government exacts from each village-community a tax in gross, for which the community as a whole is responsible, and which may or may not be oppressive in amount; but the government has never interfered with local legislation or with local customs. Thus in the mir, or village-community, the Russians still retain an element of sound political life, the importance of which appears when we consider that five-sixths of the population of European Russia is comprised in these communities. The tax assessed upon them by the imperial government is, however, a feature which—even more than their imperfect system of property and their low grade of mental culture—separates them by a world-wide interval from the New England township, to the primeval embryonic stage of which they correspond.
From these illustrations we see that the mark, or self-governing village-community, is an institution which must be referred back to early Aryan times. Whether the mark ever existed in England, in anything like the primitive form in which it is seen in the Russian mir, is doubtful. Professor Stubbs (one of the greatest living authorities on such a subject) is inclined to think that the Teutonic settlers of Britain had passed beyond this stage before they migrated from Germany. Nevertheless the traces of the mark, as all admit, are plentiful enough in England; and some of its features have survived down to modern times. In the great number of town-names that are formed from patronymics, such as Walsingham "the home of the Walsings," Harlington "the town of the Harlings," etc., we have unimpeachable evidence of a time when the town was regarded as the dwelling-place of a clan. Indeed, the comparative rarity of the word mark in English laws, charters, and local names (to which Professor Stubbs alludes) may be due to the fact that the word town has precisely the same meaning. Mark means originally the belt of waste land encircling the village, and secondarily the village with its periphery. Town means originally a hedge or enclosure, and secondarily the spot that is enclosed: the modern German zaun, a "hedge," preserves the original meaning. But traces of the mark in England are not found in etymology alone. I have already alluded to the origin of the "common" in English towns. What is still more important is that in some parts of England cultivation in common has continued until quite recently. The local legislation of the mark appears in the tunscipesmot,—a word which is simply Old-English for "town-meeting." In the shires where the Danes acquired a firm foothold, the township was often called a "by"; and it had the power of enacting its own "by-laws" or town-laws, as New England townships have to-day. But above all, the assembly of the markmen has left vestiges of itself in the constitution of the parish and the manor. The mark or township, transformed by the process of feudalization, becomes the manor. The process of feudalization, throughout western Europe in general, was no doubt begun by the institution of Benefices, or "grants of Roman provincial land by the chieftains of the" Teutonic "tribes which overran the Roman Empire; such grants being conferred on their associates upon certain conditions, of which the commonest was military service."  The feudal regime naturally reached its most complete development in France, which affords the most perfect example of a Roman territory overrun and permanently held in possession by Teutonic conquerors. Other causes assisted the process, the most potent perhaps being the chaotic condition of European society during the break-up of the Carolingian Empire and the Scandinavian and Hungarian invasions. Land was better protected when held of a powerful chieftain than when held in one's own right; and hence the practice of commendation, by which free allodial proprietors were transformed into the tenants of a lord, became fashionable and was gradually extended to all kinds of estates. In England the effects of feudalization were different from what they were in France, but the process was still carried very far, especially under the Norman kings. The theory grew up that all the public land in the kingdom was the king's waste, and that all landholders were the king's tenants. Similarly in every township the common land was the lord's waste and the landholders were the lord's tenants. Thus the township became transformed into the manor. Yet even by such a change as this the townsmen or tenants of the manor did not in England lose their self-government. "The encroachments of the lord," as Sir Henry Maine observes, "were in proportion to the want of certainty in the rights of the community." The lord's proprietorship gave him no authority to disturb customary rights. The old township-assembly partially survived in the Court Baron, Court Leet, and Customary Court of the Manor; and in these courts the arrangements for the common husbandry were determined.
This metamorphosis of the township into the manor, however, was but partial: along with it went the partial metamorphosis of the township into the parish, or district assigned to a priest. Professor Stubbs has pointed out that "the boundaries of the parish and the township or townships with which it coincides are generally the same: in small parishes the idea and even the name of township is frequently, at the present day, sunk in that of the parish; and all the business that is not manorial is despatched in vestry-meetings, which are however primarily meetings of the township for church purposes."  The parish officers, including overseers of the poor, assessors, and way-wardens, are still elected in vestry-meeting by the freemen of the township. And while the jurisdiction of the manorial courts has been defined by charter, or by the customary law existing at the time of the manorial grant, "all matters arising outside that jurisdiction come under the management of the vestry."
In England, therefore, the free village-community, though perhaps nowhere found in its primitive integrity, has nevertheless survived in partially transfigured forms which have played no unimportant part in the history of the English people. In one shape or another the assembly of freemen for purposes of local legislation has always existed. The Puritans who colonized New England, therefore, did not invent the town-meeting. They were familiar already with the proceedings of the vestry-meeting and the manorial courts, but they were severed now from church and from aristocracy. So they had but to discard the ecclesiastical and lordly terminology, with such limitations as they involved, and to reintegrate the separate jurisdictions into one,—and forthwith the old assembly of the township, founded in immemorial tradition, but revivified by new thoughts and purposes gained through ages of political training, emerged into fresh life and entered upon a more glorious career.
It is not to an audience which speaks the English language that I need to argue the point that the preservation of local self-government is of the highest importance for the maintenance of a rich and powerful national life. As we contemplate the vicissitudes of local self-government in the various portions of the Aryan world, we see the contrasted fortunes of France and England illustrating for us most forcibly the significance of this truth. For the preservation of local self-government in England various causes may be assigned; but of these there are two which may be cited as especially prominent. In the first place, owing to the peculiar circumstances of the Teutonic settlement of Britain, the civilization of England previous to the Norman Conquest was but little affected by Roman ideas or institutions. In the second place the thrusting down of the old thegnhood by the Norman Conquest (to which I have already alluded) checked the growth of a noblesse or adel of the continental type,—a nobility raised above the common people like a separate caste. For the old thegnhood, which might have grown into such a caste, was pushed down into a secondary position, and the peerage which arose after the Conquest was something different from a noblesse. It was primarily a nobility of office rather than of rank or privilege. The peers were those men who retained the right of summons to the Great Council, or Witenagemote, which has survived as the House of Lords. The peer was therefore the holder of a legislative and judicial office, which only one of his children could inherit, from the very nature of the case, and which none of his children could share with him. Hence the brothers and younger children of a peer were always commoners, and their interests were not remotely separated from those of other commoners. Hence after the establishment of a House of Commons, their best chance for a political career lay in representing the interests of the people in the lower house. Hence between the upper and lower strata of English society there has always been kept up a circulation or interchange of ideas and interests, and the effect of this upon English history has been prodigious. While on the continent a sovereign like Charles the Bold could use his nobility to extinguish the liberties of the merchant towns of Flanders, nothing of the sort was ever possible in England. Throughout the Middle Ages, in every contest between the people and the crown, the weight of the peerage was thrown into the scale in favour of popular liberties. But for this peculiar position of the peerage we might have had no Earl Simon; it is largely through it that representative government and local liberties have been preserved to the English race.
In France the course of events has brought about very different results. I shall defer to my next lecture the consideration of the vicissitudes of local self-government under the Roman Empire, because that point is really incident upon the study of the formation of vast national aggregates. Suffice it now to say that when the Teutons overcame Gaul, they became rulers over a population which had been subjected for five centuries to that slow but mighty process of trituration which the Empire everywhere brought to bear upon local self-government. While the Teutons in Britain, moreover, enslaved their slightly romanized subjects and gave little heed to their language, religion, or customs; the Teutons in Gaul, on the other hand, quickly adopted the language and religion of their intensely romanized subjects and acquired to some extent their way of looking at things. Hence in the early history of France there was no such stubborn mass of old Aryan liberties to be dealt with as in the early history of England. Nor was there any powerful middle class distributed through the country to defend such liberties as existed. Beneath the turbulent throng of Teutonic nobles, among whom the king was only the most exalted and not always the strongest, there lay the Gallo-Roman population which had so long been accustomed to be ruled without representation by a distant government exercising its authority through innumerable prefects. Such Teutonic rank and file as there was became absorbed into this population; and except in sundry chartered towns there was nothing like a social stratum interposed between the nobles and the common people.
The slow conversion of the feudal monarchy of the early Capetians into the absolute despotism of Louis XIV. was accomplished by the king gradually conquering his vassals one after another, and adding their domains to his own. As one vassal territory after another was added to the royal domain, the king sent prefects, responsible only to himself, to administer its local affairs, sedulously crushing out, so far as possible, the last vestiges of self-government. The nobles, deprived of their provincial rule, in great part flocked to Paris to become idle courtiers. The means for carrying on the gigantic machinery of centralized administration, and for supporting the court in its follies, were wrung from the groaning peasantry with a cynical indifference like that with which tribute is extorted by barbaric chieftains from a conquered enemy. And thus came about that abominable state of things which a century since was abruptly ended by one of the fiercest convulsions of modern times. The prodigious superiority—in respect to national vitality—of a freely governed country over one that is governed by a centralized despotism, is nowhere more brilliantly illustrated than in the contrasted fortunes of France and England as colonizing nations. When we consider the declared rivalry between France and England in their plans for colonizing the barbarous regions of the earth, when we consider that the military power of the two countries has been not far from equal, and that France has at times shown herself a maritime power by no means to be despised, it seems to me that her overwhelming and irretrievable defeat by England in the struggle for colonial empire is one of the most striking and one of the most instructive facts in all modern history. In my lectures of last year (at University College) I showed that, in the struggle for the possession of North America, where the victory of England was so decisive as to settle the question for all coming time, the causes of the French failure are very plainly to be seen. The French colony in Canada was one of the most complete examples of a despotic government that the world has ever seen. All the autocratic and bureaucratic ideas of Louis XIV. were here carried out without let or hindrance. It would be incredible, were it not attested by such abundant evidence, that the affairs of any people could be subjected to such minute and sleepless supervision as were the affairs of the French colonists in Canada. A man could not even build his own house, or rear his own cattle, or sow his own seed, or reap his own grain, save under the supervision of prefects acting under instructions from the home government. No one was allowed to enter or leave the colony without permission, not from the colonists but from the king. No farmer could visit Montreal or Quebec without permission. No Huguenot could set his foot on Canadian soil. No public meetings of any kind were tolerated, nor were there any means of giving expression to one's opinions on any subject. The details of all this, which may be read in Mr. Parkman's admirable work on "The Old Regime in Canada," make a wonderful chapter of history. Never was a colony, moreover, so loaded with bounties, so fostered, petted, and protected. The result was absolute paralysis, political and social. When after a century of irritation and skirmishing the French in Canada came to a life-and-death struggle with the self-governing colonists of New England, New York, and Virginia, the result for the French power in America was instant and irretrievable annihilation. The town-meeting pitted against the bureaucracy was like a Titan overthrowing a cripple. The historic lesson owes its value to the fact that this ruin of the French scheme of colonial empire was due to no accidental circumstances, but was involved in the very nature of the French political system. Obviously it is impossible for a people to plant beyond sea a colony which shall be self-supporting, unless it has retained intact the power of self-government at home. It is to the self-government of England, and to no lesser cause, that we are to look for the secret of that boundless vitality which has given to men of English speech the uttermost parts of the earth for an inheritance. The conquest of Canada first demonstrated this truth, and when—in the two following lectures—we shall have made some approach towards comprehending its full import, we shall all, I think, be ready to admit that the triumph of Wolfe marks the greatest turning-point as yet discernible in modern history.
THE FEDERAL UNION.
The great history of Thukydides, 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 [Greek: ktaema es aei],—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 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 Attika, 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 circumstances 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 farther, 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 saw, in the preceding lecture, 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 [Greek: phratria] 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. M. Geffroy, in his interesting essay on the Germania of Tacitus, suggests that the term canton may have a similar origin. 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 thepagus, in Attika 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 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. 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 ages 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 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.—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 Attika. 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 neighbourhood of a great city were mere [Greek: perioikoi], 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 [Greek: metoikoi], 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 eupatrids 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 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 persons 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. 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 modern 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 Amphiktyonic 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 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 favour 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 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, 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.