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that may seem to have come over the prospects of Republican institutions. I believe they are the best that the wisdom of man has ever devised, and they will give human nature a fair trial, whether it be or be not able to arrive at and maintain a high degree of virtue and happiness.
Mankind can grow wise only by experience. Every act of legislation is an experiment. It is tested by the suffering or the prosperity of the people. Faithful history, the records of
and bring home the consequence to its cause. Every new experiment contributes to perfect the science of legislation, just as every successful voyage and every shipwreck alike contribute to make more complete the chart of the ocean, and render all future navigation more safe.
The importance of statistics, which is nothing more or less than the record of the good or ill effects of every law that goes into operation, is beginning to be appreciated. It is nothing but an accurate knowledge of things as they are, the physical, moral and religious condition of a people, the population, wealth, employments, productions, the habits, vices and crimes; the number who receive an intellectual and moral education. These things are the very basis of legislation, and without them laws are enacted at random, and no accurate knowledge can ever be obtained of their effects. Without this knowledge, I repeat it, legislators act in the dark. They may do good, but can never be sure of it; and the amount of mischief they may occasion will be for ever hid. It is the first duty of legislators' then, to ascertain from time to time. the true condition of the people, to provide the means of obtaining from year to year, a tabular statement of all that exists, and of all that is done. Such a course would soon substitute the figures of Arithmetic for the figures of Rhetoric in our public harangues, and curtail within some reasonable limits those tiresome speeches which have become the opprobrium of our deliberative assemblies.
It is experience alone which can ascertain the boundaries of the jurisdiction of positive law and public opinion. There are vices, nay, crimes which positive laws cannot correct, and the attempt to legislate upon them only makes the matter worse. Thus it is with the
crime of intemperance, and it is nothing less. No tongue has ever yet told all its horrors.
Thus in one of the States of the Union the temperance reformation, so long as its operations were carried on by the instrumentality of moral suasion and public opinion, went forward conquering and to conquer; but the moment it sought legislative aid, that moment it fell prostrate, and there followed a melancholy recoil. Laws may follow, but they cannot anticipate public opinion by a single step. Legislative interference would have been proper and salutary, if the whole people had entertained the same moral convictions with their rulers; but until the thing had been brought home to the consciences of all, external force only enlisted the sense of personal freedom and independence on the side of vice.
But in spite of these mistakes, and indeed by the means of them, in part, I believe that legislation is continually improving, and is destined to become every year more perfect and effectual to secure the happiness and advancement of mankind.
It is, however, after all, but a small part of men's moral convictions that can ever take the form of written law. Much must remain unwritten, and then it takes the form of public opinion. But it is not less operative on that account. Its influence is more universal, penetrating, and omnipresent. It is like the law of gravitation which unceasingly draws our bodies to the earth, or like the atmosphere we breathe, sustaining life while we are unconscious of its presence. To those who live in society it is inseparable from moral action. No action, even of the most trivial kind, can present itself to the mind without the accompanying reflection, what will be thought of it? Who then can estimate the moral power of public opinion, when it thus is made to pass its judgment beforehand on almost every moral act before it is determined to be done? How absolute
which it has not the support of the moral sentiments. It is shown in the despotism of fashion. Fashion is mere opinion, and there is a certain circle to whom is conceded the right of dictating that opinion. That is the constitution and laws of the fashionable world. These people have been placed in power by no formal election, they sit on no
thrones, they promulgate no formal decrees, yet their will, emanating from some secret recess, spreads like the circling wave over the whole earth, till it absolutely reaches the circumference of the globe.
This despotism of fashion is founded upon the strong desire we have for the respect and esteem of each other, and the fear, stronger than death, which we have of ridicule and contempt. And if opinion can be so powerful in matters of mere indifference, how much more so may it be when backed by the moral sense. If people can be made to shrink with so much horror from the false position of a riband, how much more sensitive may they become to the imputation of moral turpitude! Fashion is factitious, it has no standard of ultimate appeal. Of course there is no approximation by change towards perfection. But there is a standard of morality in the soul of man, and in the constitution of society, and every developement of the human mind brings out more clearly the moral laws which were originally stamped upon it. Every year's experience is demonstrating more and more clearly that course of action which conduces most to human happiness.