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Let us then analyze public opinion, and discover if we can, in what manner it operates upon the public morals. Public opinion is the aggregate opinions of those in any society who observe, and think, and reason, and express their sentiments. In a community profoundly ignorant there is no such thing as observation, reflection, or expression, and of course nothing which can be dignified by the name of public opinion. Men have eyes, but they see not. Ears have they, but they hear not. Minds have they, but they do not understand the things which are daily going on around them. They suffer, but have not sufficient mental cultivation to trace the effect to its cause. They are prosperous, and are equally ignorant of the sources whence their happiness springs. They are of course insensible to the merits and the demerits of their fellow citizens. They cherish and honor their worst enemies, and persecute and punish their greatest benefactors. But in the midst of their guilt they receive our pity as well as our indignation, for they have the same excuse by which our Saviour extenuated the crime of his murderers, they know not what they do. At length there rises among them one who observes, and thinks, and reasons. He discovers truths, which before lay hid. He calls the attention of others to them, and makes them aware of their existence. He traces the sufferings of his fellow citizens to their cause, and becoming aware of the cause, they unite to remove it. He shows them the sources of their prosperity, and they unite to foster and extend them. For there is no stronger instinct in human nature than to follow the leadings of a superior mind. The homage, which men pay to such a mind, is not man worship, it is merely an acknowledgment of their allegiance to universal Reason. They defer to him because they perceive that he possesses much of what they all possess a little, that inspiration which giveth man understanding. They receive and adopt his opinions partly because they are wise, and they can see the reasons upon which they are founded; and partly because they are his opinions, and are supposed therefore to rest on solid grounds. Thus a great mind has the power of creating public opinion, and this is the foundation of the greatest dominion that is exercised on earth. It was this which made the orators of Greece the real sovereigns of the state. To this power Demosthenes owed all his greatness. His eloquence for the time controlled public opinion, his mind became the animating soul of the state. Do we not see the same thing in our own times? Do we not see whole States of this Union apparently under the influence of the mind of one man, and made to follow him in every vagary of opinion ?
In ancient times the living voice was almost the only means of affecting public opinion. Books were few, and the power to read them confined to a small number. The wise man must not only be a thinker, but an orator, to exert an extensive influence. As societies became more enlightened, more individuals became thinkers and reasoners, and thus formed opinions of their own, and by discourse or writing, influenced the opinions of others, and thus helped to form public opinion. At length the invention of printing threw open this power to all. The eloquence of the pen became more powerful than that of the tongue, and the deep thinker and powerful reasoner might sway the opinions of a nation without leaving the quiet of his study.
The invention of the art of printing may
be said to have made the masses thinking beings, whereas before they had only the capacities of thought. To thought two ditions are necessary, a mind to think, and ideas to employ it upon. But how narrow his circle of ideas must ever be, who cannot, or who does not read! His own short and circumscribed experience is all the material he possesses out of which to elaborate wisdom. Of the distant and the past he can know nothing, and about their transactions he can have no intelligent opinions. The art of printing has brought home to the meanest cottage, the materials of thought, has given the humblest the power of becoming acquainted with the distant and the past, and has thus given them the means of making up a judgment on the various subjects of human opinion.
While education, or the ability of thinking was confined to a few, they had power to form in a great measure, and consequently to mislead public opinion. But as more individuals became thinkers, they operated as a check upon each other, they corrected each other's mistakes, they detected cach other's fallacies, and thus mutually purified the fountains of public opinion. Not only so, the diffusion of education
tended to improve public opinion in another way. It requires knowledge not only to form and promulgate, but to judge of opinions. All communities have a public opinion, but in the enlightened and the unenlightened it is a totally different thing. In one it is based upon conviction. In the other upon authority. A man must be educated in order to judge of the truth or falsehood of any proposition. Without education he must take his opinions on trust. He cannot have any well grounded opinions of his own, and he becomes the mere echo of the demagogue who happens to have his ear.
I have now brought you to the point to which I wished to conduct you, the conclusion that literature and education are the essential means of enlightening and elevating public opinion; literature, the expression of those fundamental and salutary truths which are thought out by the wise and the eloquent, and education by which those truths are received, comprehended, and adopted by the mass of the people. Literature has a sacred mission. All wisdom comes from God in channels more or less direct. It is an emanation of that common inspiration by