3. Rachel Cooke, 2011.
Numero Uno—“‘To seize a character, even that of one man, in its life and secret mechanism, requires a philosopher; to delineate it with truth and impressiveness is work for a poet. How then shall one or two sleek clerical tutors, with here and there a tedium-stricken esquire, or speculative half-pay captain, give us views on such a subject? How shall a man, to whom all characters of individual men are like sealed books, of which he sees only the title and the covers, decipher from his four-wheeled vehicle, and depict to us, the character of a nation? He courageously depicts his own optical delusions; notes this to be incomprehensible, that other to be insignificant; much to be good, much to be bad, and most of all indifferent; and so, with a few flowing strokes, completes a picture, which, though it may not resemble any possible object, his countrymen are to take for a national portrait. Nor is the fraud so readily detected: for the character of a people has such a complexity of aspect, that even the honest observer knows not always, not perhaps after long inspection, what to determine regarding it. From his, only accidental, point of view, the figure stands before him like the tracings on veined marble,—a mass of mere random lines, and tints, and entangled strokes, out of which a lively fancy may shape almost any image. But the image he brings with him is always the readiest; this is tried; it answers as well as another; and a second voucher now testifies its correctness. Thus each, in confident tones, though it be with a secret misgiving, repeats his precursor; the hundred-times-repeated comes in the end to be believed; the foreign nation is now once for all understood, decided on, and registered accordingly; and dunce the thousandth writes of it like dunce the first.”—Edinburgh Review, No. xlvi. p. 309.
This passage cannot but strike upon the heart of any traveller who meditates giving to the world an account of the foreign country he has visited. It is the mirror held up before his face; and he inevitably feels himself, for the moment, ‘dunce the thousandth.’ For my own part, I felt the truth contained in this picture so strongly, before I was acquainted with the passage itself, that I had again and again put away the idea of saying one word in print on the condition of society in the United States. Whenever I encountered half-a-dozen irreconcilable, but respectable opinions on a single point of political doctrine; whenever half-a-dozen fair-seeming versions of a single fact were offered to me; whenever the glow of pleasure at obtaining, by some trivial accident, a piece of important knowledge passed into a throb of pain at the thought of how much must remain concealed where a casual glimpse disclosed so much; whenever I felt how I, with my pittance of knowledge and amidst my glimmerings of conviction, was at the mercy of unmanageable circumstances, wafted now here and now there, by the currents of opinion, like one surveying a continent from a balloon, with only starlight above him,—I was tempted to decline the task of generalising at all from what I saw and heard. In the intervals, however, I felt that this would be wrong. Men will never arrive at a knowledge of each other, if those who have the opportunity of foreign observation refuse to relate what they think they have learned; or even to lay before others the materials from which they themselves hesitate to construct a theory, or draw large conclusions.
In seeking for methods by which I might communicate what I have observed in my travels, without offering any pretension to teach the [Pg iv]English, or judge the Americans, two expedients occurred to me; both of which I have adopted. One is, to compare the existing state of society in America with the principles on which it is professedly founded; thus testing Institutions, Morals, and Manners by an indisputable, instead of an arbitrary standard, and securing to myself the same point of view with my readers of both nations.
In working according to this method, my principal dangers are two. I am in danger of not fully apprehending the principles on which society in the United States is founded; and of erring in the application to these of the facts which came under my notice. In the last respect, I am utterly hopeless of my own accuracy. It is in the highest degree improbable that my scanty gleanings in the wide field of American society should present a precisely fair sample of the whole. I can only explain that I have spared no pains to discover the truth, in both divisions of my task; and invite correction, in all errors of fact. This I earnestly do; holding myself, of course, an equal judge with others on matters of opinion.
My readers, on their part, will bear in mind that, in showing discrepancies between an actual condition and a pure and noble theory of[Pg v] society, I am not finding fault with the Americans, as for falling behind the English, or the French, or any other nation. I decline the office of censor altogether. I dare not undertake it. Nor will my readers, I trust, regard the subject otherwise than as a compound of philosophy and fact. If we can all, for once, allay our personal feelings, dismiss our too great regard to mutual opinion, and put praise and blame as nearly as possible out of the question, more that is advantageous to us may perhaps be learned than by any invidious comparisons and proud judgments that were ever instituted and pronounced.
The other method by which I propose to lessen my own responsibility, is to enable my readers to judge for themselves, better than I can for them, what my testimony is worth. For this purpose, I offer a brief account of my travels, with dates in full; and a report of the principal means I enjoyed of obtaining a knowledge of the country.
At the close of a long work which I completed in 1834, it was thought desirable that I should travel for two years. I determined to go to the United States, chiefly because I felt a strong curiosity to witness the actual working of republican institutions; and partly because the circumstance[Pg vi] of the language being the same as my own is very important to one who, like myself, is too deaf to enjoy anything like an average opportunity of obtaining correct knowledge, where intercourse is carried on in a foreign language. I went with a mind, I believe, as nearly as possible unprejudiced about America, with a strong disposition to admire democratic institutions, but an entire ignorance how far the people of the United States lived up to, or fell below, their own theory. I had read whatever I could lay hold of that had been written about them; but was unable to satisfy myself that, after all, I understood anything whatever of their condition. As to knowledge of them, my mind was nearly a blank: as to opinion of their state, I did not carry the germ of one.
I landed at New York on the 19th of September, 1834: paid a short visit the next week to Paterson, in New Jersey, to see the cotton factories there, and the falls of the Passaic; and passed through New York again on my way to stay with some friends on the banks of the Hudson, and at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. On the 6th of October, I joined some companions at Albany, with whom I travelled through the State of New York, seeing Trenton Falls, Auburn, and Buffalo, to the Falls[Pg vii] of Niagara. Here I remained nearly a week; then, after spending a few days at Buffalo, I embarked on Lake Erie, landing in the back of Pennsylvania, and travelling down through Meadville to Pittsburgh, spending a few days at each place. Then, over the Alleghanies to Northumberland, on the fork of the Susquehanna, the abode of Priestley after his exile, and his burial place. I arrived at Northumberland on the 11th of October, and left it, after visiting some villages in the neighbourhood, on the 17th, for Philadelphia, where I remained nearly six weeks, having very extensive intercourses with its various society. My stay at Baltimore was three weeks, and at Washington five. Congress was at that time in session, and I enjoyed peculiar opportunities of witnessing the proceedings of the Supreme Court and both houses of Congress. I was acquainted with almost every eminent senator and representative, both on the administration and opposition sides; and was on friendly and intimate terms with some of the judges of the Supreme Court. I enjoyed the hospitality of the President, and of several of the heads of departments: and was, like everybody else, in society from morning till night of every day; as the custom is at Washington. One[Pg viii] day was devoted to a visit to Mount Vernon, the abode and burial-place of Washington.
On the 18th of February I arrived at Montpelier, the seat of Mr. and Mrs. Madison, with whom I spent two days, which were wholly occupied with rapid conversation; Mr. Madison’s share of which, various and beautiful to a remarkable degree, will never be forgotten by me. His clear reports of the principles and history of the Constitution of the United States, his insight into the condition, his speculations on the prospects of nations, his wise playfulness, his placid contemplation of present affairs, his abundant household anecdotes of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, were incalculably valuable and exceedingly delightful to me.
The intercourse which I had with Chief Justice Marshall was of the same character, though not nearly so copious. Nothing in either delighted me more than their hearty admiration of each other, notwithstanding some wide differences in their political views. They are both gone; and I now deeply feel what a privilege it is to have known them.
From Mr. Madison’s I proceeded to Charlottesville, and passed two days amidst the hospitalities of the Professors of Jefferson’s University, and their[Pg ix] families. I was astonished to learn that this institution had never before been visited by a British traveller. I can only be sorry for British travellers who have missed the pleasure. A few days more were given to Richmond, where the Virginia legislature was in session; and then ensued a long wintry journey though North and South Carolina to Charleston, occupying from the 2nd to the 11th of March. The hospitalities of Charleston are renowned; and I enjoyed them in their perfection for a fortnight; and then a renewal of the same kind of pleasures at Columbia, South Carolina, for ten days. I traversed the southern States, staying three days at Augusta, Georgia, and nearly a fortnight in and near Montgomery, Alabama; descending next the Alabama river to Mobile. After a short stay there, and a residence of ten days at New Orleans, I went up the Mississippi and Ohio to the mouth of the Cumberland river, which I ascended to Nashville, Tennessee. I visited the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and spent three weeks at Lexington. I descended the Ohio to Cincinnati; and after staying there ten days, ascended the river again, landing in Virginia, visiting the Hawk’s Nest, Sulphur Springs, Natural Bridge, and Weyer’s Cave, arriving at New[Pg x] York again on the 14th of July, 1835. The autumn was spent among the villages and smaller towns of Massachusetts, in a visit to Dr. Channing in Rhode Island, and in an excursion to the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont. The winter was passed in Boston, with the exception of a trip to Plymouth, for “Forefather’s Day.” In the Spring I spent seven weeks in New York; and a month in a farmhouse at Stockbridge, Massachusetts; making an excursion, meanwhile, to Saratoga and Lake George. My last journey was with a party of friends, far into the west, visiting Niagara again, proceeding by Lake Erie to Detroit, and across the territory of Michigan. We swept round the southern extremity of Lake Michigan to Chicago: went a long day’s journey down into the prairies, back to Chicago, and by the Lakes Michigan, Huron, and St. Clair to Detroit, visiting Mackinaw by the way. We landed from Lake Erie at Cleveland, Ohio, on the 13th of July; and travelled through the interior of Ohio till we joined the river at Beaver. We visited Rapp’s Settlement at Economy, on the Ohio, and returned to New York from Pittsburgh, by the canal route through Pennsylvania, and the rail-road over the Alleghanies. I sailed from New York for England on the 1st of August, 1836, having then been absent just two years.
In the course of this tour, I visited almost every kind of institution. The prisons of Auburn, Philadelphia, and Nashville: the insane and other hospitals of almost every considerable place: the literary and scientific institutions; the factories of the north; the plantations of the south; the farms of the west. I lived in houses which might be called palaces, in log-houses, and in a farm-house. I travelled much in wagons, as well as stages; also on horseback, and in some of the best and worst of steam-boats. I saw weddings, and christenings; the gatherings of the richer at watering places, and of the humbler at country festivals. I was present at orations, at land sales, and in the slave market. I was in frequent attendance on the Supreme Court and the Senate; and witnessed some of the proceedings of state legislatures. Above all, I was received into the bosom of many families, not as a stranger, but as a daughter or a sister. I am qualified, if any one is, to testify to the virtues and the peace of the homes of the United States; and let it not be thought a breach of confidence, if I should be found occasionally to have spoken of these out of the fulness of my heart.
It would be nearly impossible to relate whom I knew, during my travels. Nearly every eminent[Pg xii] man in politics, science and literature, and almost every distinguished woman, would grace my list. I have respected and beloved friends of each political party; and of nearly every religious denomination; among slave-holders, colonizationists, and abolitionists; among farmers, lawyers, merchants, professors, and clergy. I travelled among several tribes of Indians; and spent months in the southern States, with negroes ever at my heels.
Such were my means of information. With regard to my power of making use of them, I have but a few words to say.
It has been frequently mentioned to me that my being a woman was one disadvantage; and my being previously heard of, another. In this I do not agree.
I am sure, I have seen much more of domestic life than could possibly have been exhibited to any gentleman travelling through the country. The nursery, the boudoir, the kitchen, are all excellent schools in which to learn the morals and manners of a people: and, as for public and professional affairs,—those may always gain full information upon such matters, who really feel an interest in them,—be they men or women. No people in the world can be more frank, confiding and [Pg xiii]affectionate, or more skilful and liberal in communicating information, than I have ever found the Americans to be. I never asked in vain; and I seldom had to ask at all; so carefully were my inquiries anticipated, and my aims so completely understood. I doubt whether a single fact that I wished to learn, or any doctrine that I desired to comprehend, was ever kept from me because I was a woman.
As for the other objection, I can only state my belief, that my friends and I found personal acquaintance so much pleasanter than any previous knowledge by hearsay, that we always forgot that we had heard of each other before. It would be preposterous to suppose that, received as I was into intimate confidence, any false appearances could be kept up on account of any preconceptions that could have been entertained of me.
I laboured under only one peculiar disadvantage, that I am aware of; but that one is incalculable. I mean my deafness. This does not endanger the accuracy of my information, I believe, as far as it goes; because I carry a trumpet of remarkable fidelity; an instrument, moreover, which seems to exert some winning power, by which I gain more in tête-à-têtes than is given to people who hear [Pg xiv]general conversation. Probably its charm consists in the new feeling which it imparts of ease and privacy in conversing with a deaf person. However this may be, I can hardly imagine fuller revelations to be made in household intercourse than my trumpet brought to me. But I am aware that there is no estimating the loss, in a foreign country, from not hearing the casual conversation of all kinds of people, in the streets, stages, hotels, &c. I am aware that the lights which are thus gathered up by the traveller for himself are often far more valuable than the most elaborate accounts of things offered to him with an express design. This was my peculiar disadvantage. It could not be helped; and it cannot be explained away. I mention it, that the value of my testimony may be lowered according to the supposed worth of this circumstance.
Much is often said about the delicacy to be observed, in the act of revealing the history of one’s travels, towards the hosts and other friends of the traveller who have reposed confidence in him. The rule seems to me a very plain one, which reconciles truth, honour and utility. My rule is to speak of the public acts of public persons, precisely as if I had known them only in their public character. This may be sometimes difficult, and sometimes painful, to the writer; but it leaves no just cause of complaint to any one else. Moreover, I hold it allowable and necessary to make use of opinions and facts offered in fire-side confidence, as long as no clue is offered by which they may be traced back to any particular fire-side. If any of my American friends should find in this book traces of old conversations and incidents, let them keep their own counsel, and be assured that the conversation and facts remain private between them and me. Thus far, all is safe; and further than this, no honourable person would wish to go.
This is not the place in which to speak of my obligations or of my friendships. Those who know best what I have in my heart to say meet me here under a new relation. In these pages, we meet as writer and readers. I would only entreat them to bear this distinction in mind, and not to measure my attachment to themselves by anything this book may contain about their country and their nation. The bond which unites us bears no relation to clime, birth-place, or institutions. In as far as our friendship is faithful, we are fellow-citizens of another and a better country than theirs or mine. …
The first gentleman who greeted me on my arrival in the United States, a few minutes after I had landed, informed me without delay, that I had arrived at an unhappy crisis; that the institutions of the country would be in ruins before my return to England; that the levelling spirit was desolating society; and that the United States were on the verge of a military despotism. This was so very like what I had been accustomed to hear at home, from time to time, since my childhood, that I was not quite so much alarmed as I might have been without such prior experience. It was amusing too to find America so veritably the daughter of England.
I looked around me carefully, in all my travels, till I reached Washington, but could see no signs of despotism; even less of military. Except the officers and cadets at West Point, and some militia on a training day at Saugerties, higher up on the Hudson, I saw nothing that could be called military; and officers, cadets, and militia, appeared all perfectly innocent of any design to seize upon the government. At Washington, I ventured to ask an explanation from one of the most honoured statesmen now living; who told me, with a smile, that the country had been in ‘a crisis’ for fifty years past; and would be for fifty years to come.
This information was my comfort, from day to day, till I became sufficiently acquainted with the country to need such support no longer. Mournful predictions, like that I have quoted, were made so often, that it was easy to learn how they originated.
In the United States, as elsewhere, there are, and have always been, two parties in politics, whom it is difficult to distinguish on paper, by a statement of their principles, but whose course of action may, in any given case, be pretty confidently anticipated. It is remarkable how nearly their positive statements of political doctrine agree, while they differ in almost every possible application of their common principles. Close and continued observation of their agreements and differences is necessary before the British traveller can fully comprehend their mutual relation. In England, the differences of parties are so broad,—between those who would have the people governed for the convenience of their rulers; those who would have the many governed, for their good, by the will of the few; and those who would have the people govern themselves;—that it is, for some time, difficult to comprehend how there should be party differences as wide in a country where the first principle of government is that the people are to govern themselves. The case, however, becomes clear in time: and, amidst a half century of “crises,” the same order and sequence become discernible which run through the whole course of human affairs.
As long as men continue as differently organized as they now are, there will be two parties under every government. Even if their outward fortunes could be absolutely equalised, there would be, from individual constitution alone, an aristocracy and a democracy in every land. The fearful by nature would compose an aristocracy, the hopeful by nature a democracy, were all other causes of divergence done away. When to these constitutional differences are added all those outward circumstances which go to increase the fear and the hope, the mutual misunderstandings of parties are no longer to be wondered at. Men who have gained wealth, whose hope is fulfilled, and who fear loss by change, are naturally of the aristocratic class. So are men of learning, who, unconsciously identifying learning and wisdom, fear the elevation of the ignorant to a station like their own. So are men of talent, who, having gained the power which is the fit recompense of achievement, dread the having to yield it to numbers instead of desert. So are many more who feel the almost universal fear of having to part with educational prejudices, with doctrines with which honoured teachers nourished the pride of youth, and prepossessions inwoven with all that has been to them most pure, lofty, and graceful. Out of these a large aristocratic class must everywhere be formed.
Out of the hopeful,—the rising, not the risen,—the aspiring, not the satisfied,—must a still larger class be everywhere formed. It will include all who have most to gain and least to lose; and most of those who, in the present state of education, have gained their knowledge from actual life, rather than, or as well as, from books. It will include the adventurers of society, and also the philanthropists. It will include, moreover,—an accession small in number, but inestimable in power,[Pg 11]—the men of genius. It is characteristic of genius to be hopeful and aspiring. It is characteristic of genius to break up the artificial arrangements of conventionalism, and to view mankind in true perspective, in their gradations of inherent rather than of adventitious worth. Genius is therefore essentially democratic, and has always been so, whatever titles its gifted ones may have worn, or on whatever subjects they may have exercised their gifts. To whatever extent men of genius have been aristocratic, they have been so in spite of their genius, not in consistency with it. The instances are so few, and their deviations from the democratic principle so small, that men of genius must be considered as included in the democratic class.
Genius being rare, and its claims but tardily allowed by those who have attained greatness by other means, it seems as if the weight of influence possessed by the aristocratic party,—by that party which, generally speaking, includes the wealth, learning, and talents of the country,—must overpower all opposition. If this is found not to be the case, if it be found that the democratic party has achieved everything that has been achieved since the United States’ constitution began to work, it is no wonder that there is panic in many hearts, and that I heard from so many tongues of the desolations of the “levelling spirit,” and the approaching ruin of political institutions.
These classes may be distinguished in another way. The description which Jefferson gave of the federal and republican parties of 1799 applies to the federal and democratic parties of this day, and to the aristocratic and democratic parties of every time and country. “One,” says Jefferson, “fears most the ignorance of the people; the[Pg 12] other, the selfishness of rulers independent of them.”
There is much reason in both these fears. The unreasonableness of party lies in entertaining the one fear, and not the other. No argument is needed to prove that rulers are prone to selfishness and narrowness of views: and no one can have witnessed the injuries that the poor suffer in old countries,—the education of hardship and insult that furnishes them with their only knowledge of the highest classes, without being convinced that their ignorance is to be feared;—their ignorance, not so much of books as of liberty and law. In old countries, the question remains open whether the many should, on account of their ignorance, be kept still in a state of political servitude, as some declare; or whether they should be gradually prepared for political freedom, as others think, by an amelioration of their condition, and by being educated in schools; or whether, as yet others maintain, the exercise of political rights and duties be not the only possible political education. In the New World, no such question remains to be debated. It has no large, degraded, injured, dangerous (white) class who can afford the slightest pretence for a panic-cry about agrarianism. Throughout the prodigious expanse of that country, I saw no poor men, except a few intemperate ones. I saw some very poor women; but God and man know that the time has not come for women to make their injuries even heard of. I saw no beggars but two professional ones, who are making their fortunes in the streets of Washington. I saw no table spread, in the lowest order of houses, that had not meat and bread on it. Every factory child carries its umbrella; and pig-drivers wear spectacles. With the exception of[Pg 13] the foreign paupers on the seaboard, and those who are steeped in sensual vice, neither of which classes can be politically dangerous, there are none who have not the same interest in the security of property as the richest merchant of Salem, or planter of Louisiana. Whether the less wealthy class will not be the first to draw out from reason and experience the true philosophy of property, is another question. All we have to do with now is their equal interest with their richer neighbours in the security of property, in the present state of society. Law and order are as important to the man who holds land for the subsistence of his family, or who earns wages that he may have land of his own to die upon, as to any member of the president’s cabinet.
Nor is there much more to fear from the ignorance of the bulk of the people in the United States, than from their poverty. It is too true that there is much ignorance; so much as to be an ever-present peril. Though, as a whole, the nation is, probably, better informed than any other entire nation, it cannot be denied that their knowledge is far inferior to what their safety and their virtue require. But whose ignorance is it? And ignorance of what? If the professors of colleges have book-knowledge, which the owner of a log-house has not; the owner of a log-house has very often, as I can testify, a knowledge of natural law, political rights, and economical fact, which the college-professor has not. I often longed to confront some of each class, to see whether there was any common ground on which they could meet. If not, the one might bring the charge of ignorance as justly as the other. If a common ground could be discovered, it would have been in their equal relation to the government under which they live: in which case, the natural conclusion would be, that each understood his own interests best, and neither could[Pg 14] assume superiority over the other. The particular ignorance of the countryman may expose him to be flattered and cheated by an oratorical office-seeker, or a dishonest newspaper. But, on the other hand, the professor’s want of knowledge of the actual affairs of the many, and his educational biases, are just as likely to cause him to vote contrary to the public interest. No one who has observed society in America will question the existence or the evil of ignorance there: but neither will he question that such real knowledge as they have is pretty fairly shared among them.
I travelled by wagon, with a party of friends, in the interior of Ohio. Our driver must be a man of great and various knowledge, if he questions all strangers as he did us, and obtains as copious answers. He told us where and how he lived, of his nine children, of his literary daughters, and the pains he was at to get books for them; and of his hopes from his girl of fourteen, who writes poetry, which he keeps a secret, lest she should be spoiled. He told us that he seldom lets his fingers touch a novel, because the consequence always is that his business stands still till the novel is finished; “and that doesn’t suit.” He recited to us, Pope’s “Happy the man whose wish and care,” &c. saying that it suited his idea exactly. He asked both the ladies present whether they had written a book. Both had; and he carried away the titles, that he might buy the books for his daughters. This man is fully informed of the value of the Union, as we had reason to perceive; and it is difficult to see why he is not as fit as any other man to choose the representatives of his interests. Yet, here is a specimen of his conversation with one of the ladies of the party.
“Was the book that you wrote on natural philosophy, madam?”
“No; I know nothing about natural philosophy.”
“Hum! Because one lady has done that pretty well:—hit it!—Miss Porter, you know.”
“What Miss Porter?”
“She that wrote ‘Thaddeus of Warsaw,’ you know. She did it pretty well there.”
As an antagonist case, take the wailings of a gentleman of very distinguished station in a highly aristocratic section of society;—wailings over the extent of the suffrage.
“What an enormity it is that such a man as Judge ——, there, should stand on no higher level in politics than the man that grooms his horse!”
“Why should he? I suppose they have both got all they want,—full representation: and they thus bear precisely the same relation to the government.”
“No; the judge seldom votes, because of his office: while his groom can, perhaps, carry nineteen men to vote as he pleases. It is monstrous!”
“It seems monstrous that the judge should omit his political duty for the sake of his office; and also that nineteen men should be led by one. But limiting the suffrage would not mend the matter. Would it not do better to teach all the parties their duty?”
Let who will choose between the wagon-driver and the scholar. Each will vote according to his own views; and the event,—the ultimate majority,—will prove which is so far the wiser.
The vagueness of the antagonism between the two parties is for some time perplexing to the traveller in America; and he does not know whether to be most amazed or amused at the apparent triviality of the circumstances which arouse the strongest party emotions. After a while, a body comes out of the mystery, and he grasps a substantial cause of dissension. From the day when the first[Pg 16] constitution was formed, there have been alarmists, who talk of a “crisis:” and from the day when the second began its operations, the alarm has, very naturally, taken its subject matter from the failure of the first. The first general government came to a stand through weakness. The entire nation kept itself in order till a new one was formed and set to work. As soon as the danger was over, and the nation proved, by the last possible test, duly convinced of the advantages of public order, the timid party took fright lest the general government should still not be strong enough; and this tendency, of course, set the hopeful party to watch lest it should be made too strong. The panic and antagonism were at their height in 1799. A fearful collision of parties took place, which ended in the establishment of the hopeful policy, which has continued, with few interruptions, since. The executive patronage was retrenched, taxes were taken off, the people were re-assured, and all is, as yet, safe. While the leaders of the old federal party retired to their Essex junto, and elsewhere, to sigh for monarchy, and yearn towards England, the greater[Pg 17] number threw off their fears, and joined the republican party. There are now very few left to profess the politics of the old federalists. I met with only two who openly avowed their desire for a monarchy; and not many more who prophesied one. But there still is a federal party, and there ever will be. It is as inevitable that there will be always some who will fear the too great strength of the state governments, as that there will be many who will have the same fear about the general government. Instead of seeing in this any cause for dismay, or even regret, the impartial observer will recognise in this mutual watchfulness the best security that the case admits of for the general and state governments preserving their due relation to one another. No government ever yet worked both well and indisputably. A pure despotism works (apparently) indisputably; but the bulk of its subjects will not allow that it works well, while it wrings their heads from their shoulders, or their earnings from their hands. The government of the United States is disputed at every step of its workings: but the bulk of the people declare that it works well, while every man is his own security for his life and property.
The extreme panic of the old federal party is accounted for, and almost justified, when we remember, not only that the commerce of England had penetrated every part of the country, and that great pecuniary interests were therefore everywhere supposed to be at stake; but that republicanism, like that which now exists in America, was a thing unheard of—an idea only half-developed in the minds of those who were to live under it. Wisdom may spring, full-formed and accomplished, from the head of a god, but not from the brains of men. The Americans of the Revolution looked round[Pg 18] upon the republics of the world, tested them by the principles of human nature, found them republican in nothing but the name, and produced something, more democratic than any of them; but not democratic enough for the circumstances which were in the course of arising. They saw that in Holland the people had nothing to do with the erection of the supreme power; that in Poland (which was called a republic in their day) the people were oppressed by an incubus of monarchy and aristocracy, at once, in their most aggravated forms; and that in Venice a small body of hereditary nobles exercised a stern sway. They planned something far transcending in democracy any republic yet heard of; and they are not to be wondered at, or blamed, if, when their work was done, they feared they had gone too far. They had done much in preparing the way for the second birth of their republic in 1789, and for a third in 1801, when the republicans came into power; and from which date, free government in the United States may be said to have started on its course.
A remarkable sign of those times remains on record, which shows how different the state of feeling and opinion was then from any that could now prevail among a large and honourable body in the republic. The society of the Cincinnati, an association of officers of the revolutionary army, and other honourable persons, ordered their proceedings in a manner totally inconsistent with the first principles of republicanism; having secret correspondences, decking themselves with an order, which was to be hereditary, drawing a line of distinction between military and other citizens, and uniting in a secret bond the chiefs of the first families of the respective States. Such an association, formed on the model of some which might be more or less[Pg 19] necessary or convenient in the monarchies of the old world, could not be allowed to exist in its feudal form in the young republic; and, accordingly, the hereditary principle, and the power of adopting honorary members, were relinquished; and the society is heard of no more. It has had its use in showing how the minds of the earlier republicans were imbued with monarchical prepossessions, and how large is the reasonable allowance which must be made for the apprehensions of men, who, having gone further in democracy than any who had preceded them, were destined to see others outstrip themselves. Adams, Hamilton, Washington! what names are these! Yet Adams in those days believed the English constitution would be perfect, if some defects and abuses were remedied. Hamilton believed it would be impracticable, if such alterations were made; and that, in its then existing state, it was the very best government that had ever been devised. Washington was absolutely republican in his principles, but did not enjoy the strong faith, the entire trust in the people, which is the attendant privilege of those principles. Such men, pressed out from among the multitude by the strong force of emergency, proved themselves worthy of their mission of national redemption; but, though we may now be unable to single out any who, in these comparatively quiet times, can be measured against them, we are not thence to conclude that society, as a whole, has not advanced; and that a policy which would have appeared dangerous to them, may not be, at present, safe and reasonable.
Advantageous, therefore, as it may be, that the present federal party should be perpetually on the watch against the encroachments of the state governments,—useful as their incessant recurrence to[Pg 20] the first practices, as well as principles, of the constitution may be,—it would be for their comfort to remember, that the elasticity of their institutions is a perpetual safeguard; and, also, that the silent influence of the federal head of their republics has a sedative effect which its framers themselves did not anticipate. If they compare the fickleness and turbulence of very small republics,—Rhode Island, for instance,—with the tranquillity of the largest, or of the confederated number, it is obvious that the existence of a federal head keeps down more quarrels than ever appear.
When the views of the present apprehensive federal party are closely looked into, they appear to be inconsistent with one or more of the primary principles of the constitution which we have stated. “The majority are right.” Any fears of the majority are inconsistent with this maxim, and were always felt by me to be so, from the time I entered the country till I left it.
One sunny October morning I was taking a drive, with my party, along the shores of the pretty Owasco Lake, in New York state, and conversing on the condition of the country with a gentleman who thought the political prospect less bright than the landscape. I had been less than three weeks in the country, and was in a state of something like awe at the prevalence of, not only external competence, but intellectual ability. The striking effect upon a stranger of witnessing, for the first time, the absence of poverty, of gross ignorance, of all servility, of all insolence of manner, cannot be exaggerated in description. I had seen every man in the towns an independent citizen; every man in the country a land-owner. I had seen that the villages had their newspapers, the factory girls their libraries. I had witnessed the controversies between candidates for office on some difficult [Pg 21]subjects, of which the people were to be the judges. With all these things in my mind, and with every evidence of prosperity about me in the comfortable homesteads which every turn in the road, and every reach of the lake, brought into view, I was thrown into a painful amazement by being told that the grand question of the time was “whether the people should be encouraged to govern themselves, or whether the wise should save them from themselves.” The confusion of inconsistencies was here so great as to defy argument: the patronage among equals that was implied; the assumption as to who were the wise; and the conclusion that all the rest must be foolish. This one sentence seemed to be the most extraordinary combination that could proceed from the lips of a republican.
The expressions of fear vary according to the pursuits, or habits of mind of those who entertain them: but all are inconsistent with the theory that the majority are right. One fears the influence in the national councils of the “Tartar population” of the west, observing that men retrograde in civilisation when thinly settled in a fruitful country. But the representatives from these regions will be few while they are thinly settled, and will be in the minority when in the wrong. When these representatives become numerous, from the thick settlement of those regions, their character will have ceased to become Tartar-like and formidable: even supposing that a Tartar-like character could co-exist with the commerce of the Mississippi. Another tells me that the State has been, again and again, “on a lee shore, and a flaw has blown it off, and postponed the danger; but this cannot go on for ever.” The fact here is true; and it would seem to lead to a directly contrary inference. “The flaw” is the will of the majority, which might be better indicated by a figure of something more [Pg 22]stable. “The majority is right.” It has thus far preserved the safety of the state; and this is the best ground for supposing that it will continue to be a safeguard.
One of the most painful apprehensions seems to be that the poorer will heavily tax the richer members of society; the rich being always a small class. If it be true, as all parties appear to suppose, that rulers in general are prone to use their power for selfish purposes, there remains the alternative, whether the poor shall over-tax the rich, or whether the rich shall over-tax the poor: and, if one of these evils were necessary, few would doubt which would be the least. But the danger appears much diminished on the consideration that, in the country under our notice, there are not, nor are likely to be, the wide differences in property which exist in old countries. There is no class of hereditary rich or poor. Few are very wealthy; few are poor; and every man has a fair chance of being rich. No such unequal taxation has yet been ordained by the sovereign people; nor does there appear to be any danger of it, while the total amount of taxation is so very small as in the United States, and the interest that every one has in the protection of property is so great. A friend in the South, while eulogizing to me the state of society there, spoke with compassion of his northern fellow citizens, who were exposed to the risks of “a perpetual struggle between pauperism and property.” To which a northern friend replied, that it is true that there is a perpetual struggle everywhere between pauperism and property. The question is, which succeeds. In the United States, the prospect is that each will succeed. Paupers may obtain what they want, and proprietors will keep that which they have. As a mere matter of convenience, it is shorter and easier to obtain property by enterprise[Pg 23] and labour in the United States, than by pulling down the wealthy. Even the most desponding do not consider the case as very urgent, at present. I asked one of my wealthy friends, who was predicting that in thirty years his children would be living under a despotism, why he did not remove. “Where,” said he, with a countenance of perplexity, “could I be better off?”—which appeared to me a truly reasonable question.
In a country, the fundamental principle of whose politics is, that its “rulers derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” it is clear that there can be no narrowing of the suffrage. However earnestly some may desire this, no one hopes it. But it does not follow that the apprehensive minority has nothing left but discontent. The enlightenment of society remains not only matter for hope, but for achievement. The prudent speak of the benefits of education as a matter of policy, while the philanthropic promote it as a matter of justice. Security of person and property follows naturally upon a knowledge of rights. However the aristocracy of wealth, learning, and talent may differ among themselves, as to what is the most valuable kind of knowledge, all will agree that every kind will strengthen the bonds of society. In this direction must the aristocracy work for their own security. If they sufficiently provide the means of knowledge to the community, they may dismiss their fears, and rest assured that the great theory of their government will bear any test; and that “the majority will be in the right.”
If the fears of the aristocracy are inconsistent with the theory of the government under which they live, so is much of the practice of the democracy. Their hopefulness is reasonable; their reliance on the majority is reasonable. But there are evils attendant on their practice of their true[Pg 24] theories which may account for the propounding of worse theories by their opponents.
Learning by experience is slow work. However sure it may be, it is slow; and great is the faith and patience required by men who are in advance of a nation on a point which they feel that they could carry, if they had not to wait the pleasure of the majority. Though the majority be right in respect of the whole of politics, there is scarcely a sensible man who may not be more in the right than the majority with regard to some one point; and no allowance can be too great for the perpetual discouragement hence arising. The majority eventually wills the best; but, in the present imperfection of knowledge, the will is long in exhibiting itself; and the ultimate demonstration often crowns a series of mistakes and failures. From this fact arises the complaint of many federalists that the democratic party is apt to adopt their measures, after railing both at those measures, and at the men who framed them. This is often true: and it is true that, if the people had only had the requisite knowledge, they would have done wisely to have accepted good measures from the beginning, without any railing at all. But the knowledge was wanting. The next best thing that can happen is, that which does happen: that the people learn, and act upon their learning. If they are not wise enough to adopt a good measure at first, it would be no improvement of the case that they should be too obstinate to accept it at last. The case proves only that out of ignorance come knowledge, conviction, and action; and the majority is ultimately in the right. Whenever there is less of ignorance to begin with, there will be less of the railing, which is childish enough, whether as a mere imputation, or as a reality.
The great theory presumes that the majority[Pg 25] not only will the best measures, but choose the best men. This is far from being true in practice. In no respect, perhaps, are the people more behind their theory than in this. The noble set of public servants with which the people were blessed in their revolutionary period seems to have inspired them at first with a somewhat romantic faith in men who profess strong attachment to whatever has been erected into a glory of the nation; and, from that time to this, the federal party has, from causes which will be hereafter explained, furnished a far superior set of men to the public service than the democratic party. I found this fact almost universally admitted by the wisest adherents of democracy; and out of it has arisen the mournful question, whether an honest man with false political principles be not more dangerous as a ruler than an unscrupulous man with true political principles. I have heard the case put thus: “There is not yet a sufficiency of real friends of the people willing to be their servants. They must take either a somewhat better set of men whose politics they disapprove, or a somewhat worse set of men to make tools of. They take the tools, use them, and throw them away.”
This is true; and a melancholy truth it is; since it is certain that whenever the people shall pertinaciously require honest servants, and take due pains to ascertain their honesty, true men will be forthcoming. Under God’s providence, the work never waits for the workman.
This fact, however, has one side as bright as the other is dark. It is certain that many corrupt public servants are supported under the belief that they are good and great men. No one can have attended assiduously on the course of public affairs at Washington, and afterwards listened to conversation in the stages, without being convinced of[Pg 26] this. As soon as the mistake is discovered, it is rectified. Retribution often comes sooner than it could have been looked for. Though it be long delayed, the remedy is ultimately secure. Every corrupt faction breaks up, sooner or later, and character is revealed: the people let down their favourite, to hide his head, or continue to show his face, as may best suit his convenience; and forthwith choose a better man; or one believed to be better. In such cases, the evil lies in ignorance—a temporary evil; while the principle of rectification may work, for aught we can see, eternally.
Two considerations,—one of fact, another of inference,—may reassure those who are discouraged by these discrepancies between the theories of the United States’ government, and the practice of the democratic party, with regard to both measures and men. The Americans are practically acquainted with the old proverb, “What is every body’s business is nobody’s business.” No man stirs first against an abuse which is no more his than other people’s. The abuse goes on till it begins to overbear law and liberty. Then the multitude arises, in the strength of the law, and crushes the abuse. Sufficient confirmation of this will occur to any one who has known the State histories of the Union for the last twenty years, and will not be wholly contradicted by the condition of certain affairs there which now present a bad aspect. Past experience sanctions the hope that when these bad affairs have grown a little worse, they will be suddenly and completely redressed. Illustrations in abundance are at hand.
Lotteries were formerly a great inducement to gaming in Massachusetts. Prudent fathers warned their sons against lotteries; employers warned their servants; clergymen warned their flocks. Tracts, denouncing lotteries, were circulated;[Pg 27] much eloquence was expended,—not in vain, though all sober people were already convinced, and weak people were still unable to resist the seduction. At length, a young man drowned himself. A disappointment in a lottery was found to be the cause. A thrill of horror ran through the community. Every man helped to carry his horror of lotteries into the legislature; and their abolition followed in a trice.
Freemasonry was once popular in the United States; and no one seemed to think any harm of it, though, when examined, it clearly appears an institution incompatible with true republicanism. The account given of it by some friends of mine, formerly masons, is, that it is utterly puerile in itself; that it may be dignified, under a despotism, by an application to foreign objects, but that it is purely mischievous in a republic. Its object, of course, is power. It can have no other; and ought not to have this, where the making of the laws is the office of the people. Its interior obligations are also violations of the democratic principle. All this was as true of masonry twelve years ago as it is now; but masonry was allowed to spread far and wide. One Morgan, a freemason, living in the western part of the state of New York, did a remarkable deed, for which various motives are assigned. He wrote a book in exposure of masonry, its facts and tendencies. When the first part was printed and secured, some masons broke into the printing-office where it was deposited, and destroyed as much of the work as they could lay hold of. Being partly foiled, they bethought themselves of stopping the work by carrying off the author. He was arrested for a trifling debt, (probably fictitious,) conveyed hastily to a magistrate, some miles off, who committed him for want of bail. The ostensible creditor arrived at[Pg 28] the jail, in the middle of the night, and let him out; four or five men put him into a carriage, which made for the Canada frontier. On landing him on British ground, the masons there refused to have any concern in a matter which had gone so far, and Morgan was shut up in the fort at Niagara village, where the Niagara river flows into Lake Ontario. There he was fed and guarded for two days. Thus far, the testimony is express; and concerning the succeeding circumstances there is no reasonable doubt. He was put into a boat, carried out into the middle of the river, and thrown in, with a stone tied to his neck. For four years, there were attempts to bring the conspirators to justice; but little was done. The lodges subscribed funds to carry the actual murderers out of the country. Sheriffs, jurymen, constables, all omitted their duty with regard to the rest. The people were roused to action by finding the law thus overawed. Anti-masonic societies were formed. Massachusetts and other States passed laws against extra-judicial oaths. In such States, the lodges can make no new members, and are becoming deserted by the old. The anti-masonic party flourishes, having a great principle as its basis. It has the control in a few States, and powerful influence in others. Morgan’s disclosures have been carried on by other hands. A bad institution is overthrown. The people have learned an important lesson; and they have gone through an honourable piece of discipline in making a stand for the law, which is the life of their body politic.
Thus end, and thus, we may trust, will end the mistakes of the people, whose professed interest is in a wise self-government. Some worse institutions even than masonry remain to be cast out. The law has been again overawed; not once, but many times; and the eyes of the world are on the[Pg 29] people of the United States, to see what they will do. The world is watching to discover whether they are still sensible of the sacred value of unviolated law; whether they are examining who it is that threatens and overbears the law, and why; and whether they are proceeding towards the re-establishment of the peace and security of their whole community, by resolutely rooting out from among their institutions every one which will not bear the test of the first principles of the whole.
The other ground of hope of which I spoke as being inferential, arises out of the imaginative political character of the Americans. They have not yet grown old in the ways of the world. Their immediate fathers have done such a deed as the world never saw; and the children have not yet passed out the intoxication of success. With far less of vanity and presumption than might have been looked for from their youth among the nations, with an extraordinary amount of shrewdness and practical talent shared among individuals, the American people are as imaginative as any nation I happen to have heard or read of. They reminded me every day of the Irish. The frank, confiding character of their private intercourses, the generous nature of their mutual services, the quickness and dexterity of their doings, their fertility of resource, their proneness to be run away with by a notion, into any extreme of absurdity—in all this, and in everything but their deficiency of moral independence, (for which a difference of circumstances will fully account,) they resemble the Irish. I regard the American people as a great embryo poet: now moody, now wild, but bringing out results of absolute good sense: restless and wayward in action, but with deep peace at his heart: exulting that he has caught the true aspect of things past, and at the depth of futurity which[Pg 30] lies before him, wherein to create something so magnificent as the world has scarcely begun to dream of. There is the strongest hope of a nation that is capable of being possessed with an idea; and this kind of possession has been the peculiarity of the Americans from their first day of national existence till now. Their first idea was loftier than some which have succeeded; but they have never lost sight of the first. It remains to be, at intervals, apprehended anew; and whenever the time shall arrive, which cannot but arrive, when the nation shall be so fully possessed of the complete idea as by a moral necessity to act it out, they will be as far superior to nations which act upon the experience and expediency of their time as the great poet is superior to common men.
This time is yet very far distant; and the American people have not only much to learn, and a painful discipline to endure, but some disgraceful faults to repent of and amend. They must give a perpetual and earnest heed to one point; to cherish their high democratic hope, their faith in man. The older they grow, the more must they ‘reverence the dreams of their youth.’ They must eschew the folly and profaneness so prevalent in the old world, of exalting man, abstractedly and individually, as a piece of God’s creation, and despising men in the mass. The statesman in a London theatre feels his heart in a tumult, while a deep amen echoes through its chambers at Hamlet’s adoration of humanity; but not the less, when he goes home, does he speak slightingly, compassionately, or protectingly of the masses, the population, the canaille. He is awestruck with the grandeur of an individual spirit; but feels nothing of the grandeur of a congregated million of like spirits, because they happen to be far off. This proves nothing but the short-sightedness of such a man. Such shortness of sight afflicts some of the wisest and best men in the new world. I know of one who regards with a humble and religious reverence the three or four spirits which have their habitation under his roof, and close at hand; who begins to doubt and question, in the face of far stronger outward evidence of good, persons who are a hundred miles off; and has scarcely any faith left for those who happen to be over the sea. The true democratic hope cannot coexist with such distrust. Its basis is the unmeasured scope of humanity; and its rationale the truth, applicable alike to individuals and nations, that men are what they are taken for granted to be. ‘Countrymen,’ cries Brutus, dying,
The philosophy of this fact is clear; it followed of course from Brutus always supposing that men were true. Whenever the Americans, or any other people, shall make integrity their rule, their criterion, their invariable supposition, the first principles of political philosophy will be fairly acted out, and the high democratic hope will be its own justification. …
In England the idea of an American citizen is of one who is always talking politics, canvassing, bustling about to make proselytes abroad, buried in newspapers at home, and hurrying to vote on election days.
There is another side to the object. A learned professor of a western college told me abundance of English news, but declared himself ignorant of everything that had passed in the home portion of the political world. He never took any interest in politics. What would be the use of his disturbing himself? How far does one man’s vote go? He does more good by showing himself above such affairs.
It was communicated to me that there are more modes of political action than one: and that, though this professor does not vote, he uses his utmost influence with the students of his college, in favour of his own political opinions; and with entire success. If this be true, the gentleman falls short of his duty in one respect, and exceeds it in another.
A clergyman in the north was anxious to assure me that elections are merely personal matters, and do not affect the happiness of the people. It matters not to him, for instance, who is in office, and what party in politics is uppermost: life goes on the same to him. This gentleman had probably never heard of the old lady who said that she did[Pg 116] not care what revolutions happened, as long as she had her roast chicken, and her little game at cards. But that old lady did not live in a republic, or perhaps even she might have perceived that there would have been no security for roast chickens and cards, if all were to neglect political action but those who want political power and profit. In a democracy, every man is supposed to be his own security for life and property: and, if a man devolves his political charge upon others, he must lay his accounts for not being so well taken care of as he might be. So much for the selfish aspect of the case;—the view which might have been presented, with illustrations, to the old lady, if she had happened to live in a republic.
The clergyman ought to see further. He ought to see, in virtue of his office, how public morals must suffer under the neglect of public duty by respectable men. If such men were to perform the duties of citizens as conscientiously as they do those of husbands, fathers, and pastors, and leave it to the knaves to neglect the duties of citizenship, the republic might go on as well as a republic with knaves in it can go on. But if the case is reversed,—if the knaves are eager to use their political rights for selfish purposes, and the conscientious in other respects are remiss in the duties of citizenship, the pastors may almost as well leave off preaching. All good pastoral influence will be borne down by the spread of corruption. The clergy may preach themselves hoarse to little purpose, if they live, and encourage others to live, in the avowed neglect of the first duty of any one relation; and the exercise of the suffrage is the first duty of republican citizenship.
A naval officer, a man of an otherwise sound head and heart, told me, very coolly, that he had never voted more than twice in his life. His [Pg 117]defence, in answer to my remonstrance, was, that he had served his country in other ways. In as far as this might be meant to convey that he could not vote at New York when in India, the excuse must be admitted as valid: but, if it was meant to apply to elections going on before his eyes, it was much the same as if he had said, “there is no occasion for me to be a good father, because I have been a good son.”
A member of Congress gave me instances of what would have been the modifications of certain public affairs, but for the apathy of the minority about the use of their suffrage. If citizens regulate their exertions by the probabilities of immediate success, instead of by their faith in their own convictions, it is indeed no wonder if the minority leave everything to their adversaries; but this is not the way for men to show themselves worthy of the possession of political rights. This is not the way that society has advanced. This is not the way that security for life and property has been obtained for those idle citizens who are now leaving that security to the mercy of those whom they believe to be the enemies of society.
A public man told me that it would be a great point gained, if every citizen could be induced to vote, at least once a year. So far is it from being true that all Americans are the bustling politicians the English have been apt to suppose. If such political bustle should be absurd, the actual apathy is something worse. If it were only borne in mind that rulers derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, surely all conscientious men would see the guilt of any man acquiescing in the rule of governors whom he disapproves, by not having recorded his dissent. Or, if he should be in the majority, the case is no better. He has omitted to bear his testimony to what he [Pg 118]esteems the true principles of government. He has not appointed his rulers; and, in as far as he accepts their protection, he takes without having given, he reaps without having sown; he deprives his just rulers of a portion of the authority which is their due—of a portion of the consent of the governed.
There is another cause for the reluctance to vote which is complained of by the best friends of the people; but it is almost too humbling and painful to be discussed. Some are afraid to vote!
This happens not in the country, nor among the strength of the population in the towns: but among the feeble aristocracy. There is not, in the United States, as with us, a system of intimidation exercised by the rich over the poor. In the country, there are no landlords and tenants at will. In the towns, the tradesmen do not stand in need of the patronage of the rich. Though they vote by ballot, and any man who chooses it may vote secretly, (and many do upon occasion,) there is rarely any need of such protection. But there is no reason why the gentry, who may be afraid of hurting one another’s feelings, should not use their power of secret voting, rather than neglect the duty of giving their suffrage. If the educated and principled men of the community, as they are esteemed, fall back into idleness and silence, when the time comes for a struggle for principles, and there is a danger of disappointing expectations, and hurting feelings, their country has little to thank them for. They are the men from whom the open discharge of duty is looked for; they are the men who should show that political obligation is above private regards. If they have not the virtue to do this, and take the consequences, let them avail themselves of the secrecy of the ballot-box, which in England is desired for the [Pg 119]protection of those whom bad arrangements have made dependent for bread on the rich and powerful. At all events, let them vote, or be ashamed to accept the privileges of citizenship without having discharged the duties.
The fear of opinion sometimes takes the form of an almost insane dread of responsibility. There are occasions when public men, unable to judge for themselves of particular classes of circumstances, are obliged to ask advice of their friends and supporters. Happy he who obtains a full and true answer from any one! The chances against this are in proportion to the importance of the case. I knew of one such instance, the result of which more than one is, I trust, now grieving over in his inmost heart. An eminent statesman was hesitating whether to offer himself as a candidate for a very high office. He requested the opinion and advice of a number of gentlemen in public life, his supporters. All were of the same opinion; that he should not stand. No one of them chose to take the responsibility of telling him so. Some of them wrote ambiguous answers, hoping that he would infer that they thought ill of his chance. Others rather encouraged the enterprise. The illustrative details which might be given,—showing the general uniformity, with particular diversity, of the conduct of the advisers,—would be amusing if they were not too sad. Suffice it that no one, as far as I could learn, could get over his fear of responsibility so as to be faithful. They allowed their idol to make a fool of himself. If he should henceforth be sunk in political scepticism, perhaps these gentlemen may find that in shunning one kind of responsibility, they have incurred another, far heavier.
It is felt, and understood, in the United States, that their near future in politics is indiscernible. Odd, unexpected circumstances, determining the present, are perpetually turning up. Almost every man has his convictions as to what the state of affairs will be, in the gross, a century hence. Scarcely any man will venture a conjecture as to what will have happened next spring. This is the very condition, if the people could but see it, for the exercise of faith in principles. With a dark and shifting near future, and a bright and fixed ultimate destiny, what is the true, the only wisdom? Not to pry into the fogs and thickets round about, or to stand still for fear of what may next occur in the path; but to look from Eden gate behind to heaven gate before, and press on to the certain future. In his political as in his moral life, man should, in the depth of his ignorance and the fallibility of his judgment, throw himself, in a full sense of security, upon principles; and then he is safe from being depressed by opposition, or scared by uncertainty, or depraved by responsibility. …
Before I entered New England, while I was ascending the Mississippi, I was told by a Boston gentleman that the people of colour in the New England States were perfectly well-treated; that the children were educated in schools provided for them; and that their fathers freely exercised the franchise. This gentleman certainly believed he was telling me the truth. That he, a busy citizen of Boston, should know no better, is now as striking an exemplification of the state of the case to me as a correct representation of the facts would have been. There are two causes for his mistake. He was not aware that the schools for the coloured children in New England are, unless they escape by their insignificance, shut up, or pulled down, or the school-house wheeled away upon rollers over the frontier of a pious State, which will not endure that its coloured citizens should be educated. He was not aware of a gentleman of colour, and his family, being locked out of their own hired pew in a church, because their white brethren will not Worship by their side. But I will not proceed with an enumeration of injuries, too familiar to Americans to excite any feeling but that of weariness; and too disgusting to all others to be endured. The other cause of this gentleman’s mistake was, that he did not, from long custom, feel some things to be injuries, which he would call anything but good treatment, if he had to bear them himself. Would he think it good treatment to be forbidden to eat with fellow-citizens; to be assigned to a particular gallery in his church; to be excluded from college, from municipal office, from professions, from scientific and literary associations? If he felt himself excluded from every department of society, but its humiliations and its drudgery, would he declare him self to be ‘perfectly well-treated in Boston?’ Not a word more of statement is needed.
A Connecticut judge lately declared on the bench that he believed people of colour were not considered citizens in the laws. He was proved to be wrong. He was actually ignorant of the wording of the acts by which people of colour are termed citizens. Of course, no judge could have forgotten this who had seen them treated as citizens: nor could one of the most eminent statesmen and lawyers in the country have told me that it is still a doubt, in the minds of some high authorities, whether people of colour are citizens. He is as mistaken as the judge. There has been no such doubt since the Connecticut judge was corrected and enlightened. The error of the statesman arose from the same cause; he had never seen the coloured people treated as citizens. “In fact,” said he, “these people hold an anomalous situation. They are protected as citizens when the public service requires their security; but not otherwise treated as such,” Any comment would weaken this intrepid statement.
The common argument, about the inferiority of the coloured race, bears no relation whatever to this question. They are citizens. They stand, as such, in the law, and in the acknowledgment of every one who knows the law. They are citizens, yet their houses and schools are pulled down, and they can obtain no remedy at law. They are thrust out of offices, and excluded from the most honourable employments, and stripped of all the best benefits of society by fellow-citizens who, once a year, [Pg 146]solemnly lay their hands on their hearts, and declare that all men are born free and equal, and that rulers derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
This system of injury is not wearing out. Lafayette, on his last visit to the United States, expressed his astonishment at the increase of the prejudice against colour. He remembered, he said, how the black soldiers used to mess with the whites in the revolutionary war. The leaders of that war are gone where principles are all,—where prejudices are nothing. If their ghosts could arise, in majestic array, before the American nation, on their great anniversary, and hold up before them the mirror of their constitution, in the light of its first principles, where would the people hide themselves from the blasting radiance? They would call upon their holy soil to swallow them up, as unworthy to tread upon it. But not all. It should ever be remembered that America is the country of the best friends the coloured race has ever had. The more truth there is in the assertions of the oppressors of the blacks, the more heroism there is in their friends. The greater the excuse for the pharisees of the community, the more divine is the equity of the redeemers of the coloured race. If it be granted that the coloured race are naturally inferior, naturally depraved, disgusting, cursed,—it must be granted that it is a heavenly charity which descends among them to give such solace as it can to their incomprehensible existence. As long as the excuses of the one party go to enhance the merit of the other, the society is not to be despaired of, even with this poisonous anomaly at its heart.
Happily, however, the coloured race is not cursed by God, as it is by some factions of his children. The less clear-sighted of them are pardonable for so believing. Circumstances, for which no living man is answerable, have generated an erroneous conviction in the feeble mind of man, which sees not beyond the actual and immediate. No remedy could ever have been applied, unless stronger minds than ordinary had been brought into the case. But it so happens, wherever there is an anomaly, giant minds rise up to overthrow it: minds gigantic, not in understanding, but in faith. Wherever they arise, they are the salt of their earth, and its corruption is retrieved. So it is now in America. While the mass of common men and women are despising, and disliking, and fearing, and keeping down the coloured race, blinking the fact that they are citizens, the few of Nature’s aristocracy are putting forth a strong hand to lift up this degraded race out of oppression, and their country from the reproach of it. If they were but one or two, trembling and toiling in solitary energy, the world afar would be confident of their success. But they number hundreds and thousands; and if ever they feel a passing doubt of their progress, it is only because they are pressed upon by the meaner multitude. Over the sea, no one doubts of their victory. It is as certain as that the risen sun will reach the meridian. Already are there overflowing colleges, where no distinction of colour is allowed;—overflowing, because no distinction of colour is allowed. Already have people of colour crossed the thresholds of many whites, as guests, not as drudges or beggars. Already are they admitted to worship, and to exercise charity, among the whites.
The world has heard and seen enough of the reproach incurred by America, on account of her coloured population. It is now time to look for the fairer side. The crescent streak is brightening towards the full, to wane no more. Already is theworld beyond the sea beginning to think of America, less as the country of the double-faced pretender to the name of Liberty, than as the home of the single-hearted, clear-eyed Presence which, under the name of Abolitionism, is majestically passing through the land which is soon to be her throne. …
One of the fundamental principles announced in the Declaration of Independence is, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. How can the political condition of women be reconciled with this?
Governments in the United States have power to tax women who hold property; to divorce them from their husbands; to fine, imprison, and execute them for certain offences. Whence do these governments derive their powers? They are not “just,” as they are not derived from the consent of the women thus governed.
Governments in the United States have power to enslave certain women; and also to punish other women for inhuman treatment of such slaves. Neither of these powers are “just;” not being derived from the consent of the governed.
Governments decree to women in some States half their husbands’ property; in others one-third. In some, a woman, on her marriage, is made to yield all her property to her husband; in others, to retain a portion, or the whole, in her own hands. Whence do governments derive the unjust power[Pg 149] of thus disposing of property without the consent of the governed?
The democratic principle condemns all this as wrong; and requires the equal political representation of all rational beings. Children, idiots, and criminals, during the season of sequestration, are the only fair exceptions.
The case is so plain that I might close it here; but it is interesting to inquire how so obvious a decision has been so evaded as to leave to women no political rights whatever. The question has been asked, from time to time, in more countries than one, how obedience to the laws can be required of women, when no woman has, either actually or virtually, given any assent to any law. No plausible answer has, as far as I can discover, been offered; for the good reason, that no plausible answer can be devised. The most principled democratic writers on government have on this subject sunk into fallacies, as disgraceful as any advocate of despotism has adduced. In fact, they have thus sunk from being, for the moment, advocates of despotism. Jefferson in America, and James Mill at home, subside, for the occasion, to the level of the author of the Emperor of Russia’s Catechism for the young Poles.
Jefferson says, “Were our State a pure democracy, in which all the inhabitants should meet together to transact all their business, there would yet be excluded from their deliberations,
“1. Infants, until arrived at years of discretion;
“2. Women, who, to prevent depravation of morals, and ambiguity of issue, could not mix promiscuously in the public meetings of men;
“3. Slaves, from whom the unfortunate state of things with us takes away the rights of will and of property.”
If the slave disqualification, here assigned, were shifted up under the head of Women, their case would be nearer the truth than as it now stands. Woman’s lack of will and of property, is more like the true cause of her exclusion from the representation, than that which is actually set down against her. As if there could be no means of conducting public affairs but by promiscuous meetings! As if there would be more danger in promiscuous meetings for political business than in such meetings for worship, for oratory, for music, for dramatic entertainments,—for any of the thousand transactions of civilized life! The plea is not worth another word.
Mill says, with regard to representation, in his Essay on Government, “One thing is pretty clear; that all those individuals, whose interests are involved in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience…. In this light, women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved, either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands.”
The true democratic principle is, that no person’s interests can be, or can be ascertained to be, identical with those of any other person. This allows the exclusion of none but incapables.
The word “almost,” in Mr. Mill’s second sentence, rescues women from the exclusion he proposes. As long as there are women who have neither husbands nor fathers, his proposition remains an absurdity.
The interests of women who have fathers and husbands can never be identical with theirs, while there is a necessity for laws to protect women against their husbands and fathers. This statement is not worth another word.
Some who desire that there should be an equality of property between men and women, oppose[Pg 151] representation, on the ground that political duties would be incompatible with the other duties which women have to discharge. The reply to this is, that women are the best judges here. God has given time and power for the discharge of all duties; and, if he had not, it would be for women to decide which they would take, and which they would leave. But their guardians follow the ancient fashion of deciding what is best for their wards. The Emperor of Russia discovers when a coat of arms and title do not agree with a subject prince. The King of France early perceives that the air of Paris does not agree with a free-thinking foreigner. The English Tories feel the hardship that it would be to impose the franchise on every artizan, busy as he is in getting his bread. The Georgian planter perceives the hardship that freedom would be to his slaves. And the best friends of half the human race peremptorily decide for them as to their rights, their duties, their feelings, their powers. In all these cases, the persons thus cared for feel that the abstract decision rests with themselves; that, though they may be compelled to submit, they need not acquiesce.
It is pleaded that half of the human race does acquiesce in the decision of the other half, as to their rights and duties. And some instances, not only of submission, but of acquiescence, there are. Forty years ago, the women of New Jersey went to the poll, and voted, at state elections. The general term, “inhabitants,” stood unqualified;—as it will again, when the true democratic principle comes to be fully understood. A motion was made to correct the inadvertence; and it was done, as a matter of course; without any appeal, as far as I could learn, from the persons about to be injured. Such acquiescence proves nothing but the degradation of the injured party. It inspires the same[Pg 152] emotions of pity as the supplication of the freed slave who kneels to his master to restore him to slavery, that he may have his animal wants supplied, without being troubled with human rights and duties. Acquiescence like this is an argument which cuts the wrong way for those who use it.
But this acquiescence is only partial; and, to give any semblance of strength to the plea, the acquiescence must be complete. I, for one, do not acquiesce. I declare that whatever obedience I yield to the laws of the society in which I live is a matter between, not the community and myself, but my judgment and my will. Any punishment inflicted on me for the breach of the laws, I should regard as so much gratuitous injury: for to those laws I have never, actually or virtually, assented. I know that there are women in England who agree with me in this—I know that there are women in America who agree with me in this. The plea of acquiescence is invalidated by us.
It is pleaded that, by enjoying the protection of some laws, women give their assent to all. This needs but a brief answer. Any protection thus conferred is, under woman’s circumstances, a boon bestowed at the pleasure of those in whose power she is. A boon of any sort is no compensation for the privation of something else; nor can the enjoyment of it bind to the performance of anything to which it bears no relation. Because I, by favour, may procure the imprisonment of the thief who robs my house, am I, unrepresented, therefore bound not to smuggle French ribbons? The obligation not to smuggle has a widely different derivation.
I cannot enter upon the commonest order of pleas of all;—those which relate to the virtual influence of woman; her swaying the judgment and will of man through the heart; and so forth. One[Pg 153] might as well try to dissect the morning mist. I knew a gentleman in America who told me how much rather he had be a woman than the man he is;—a professional man, a father, a citizen. He would give up all this for a woman’s influence. I thought he was mated too soon. He should have married a lady, also of my acquaintance, who would not at all object to being a slave, if ever the blacks should have the upper hand; “it is so right that the one race should be subservient to the other!” Or rather,—I thought it a pity that the one could not be a woman, and the other a slave; so that an injured individual of each class might be exalted into their places, to fulfil and enjoy the duties and privileges which they despise, and, in despising, disgrace.
The truth is, that while there is much said about ‘the sphere of woman,’ two widely different notions are entertained of what is meant by the phrase. The narrow, and, to the ruling party, the more convenient notion is that sphere appointed by men, and bounded by their ideas of propriety;—a notion from which any and every woman may fairly dissent. The broad and true conception is of the sphere appointed by God, and bounded by the powers which he has bestowed. This commands the assent of man and woman; and only the question of powers remains to be proved.
That woman has power to represent her own interests, no one can deny till she has been tried. The modes need not be discussed here: they must vary with circumstances. The fearful and absurd images which are perpetually called up to perplex the question,—images of women on wool-sacks in England, and under canopies in America, have nothing to do with the matter. The principle being once established, the methods will follow, easily, naturally, and under a remarkabletransmutation of the ludicrous into the sublime. The kings of Europe would have laughed mightily, two centuries ago, at the idea of a commoner, without robes, crown, or sceptre, stepping into the throne of a strong nation. Yet who dared to laugh when Washington’s super-royal voice greeted the New World from the presidential chair, and the old world stood still to catch the echo?
The principle of the equal rights of both halves of the human race is all we have to do with here. It is the true democratic principle which can never be seriously controverted, and only for a short time evaded. Governments can derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed.” Harriet Martineau, Society in America; Volume One, Introduction, “Parties,” “Apathy in Citizenship,” “Citizenship of People of Colour,” “Political Non-Existence of Women,” 1837
Numero Dos—“This case presents a constitutional question never addressed by this Court: whether a statutory scheme adopted by the State of Virginia to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. [Footnote 1] For reasons which seem to us to reflect the central meaning of those constitutional commands, we conclude that these statutes cannot stand consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment.
In June, 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, a Negro woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia pursuant to its laws. Shortly after their marriage, the Lovings returned to Virginia and established their marital abode in Caroline County. At the October Term, 1958, of the Circuit Court of Caroline County, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings with violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge, and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an opinion that:’Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.’
After their convictions, the Lovings took up residence in the District of Columbia. On November 6, 1963, they filed a motion in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statutes which they had violated were repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. The motion not having been decided by October 28, 1964, the Lovings instituted a class action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requesting that a three-judge court be convened to declare the Virginia anti-miscegenation statutes unconstitutional and to enjoin state officials from enforcing their convictions. On January 22, 1965, the state trial judge denied the motion to vacate the sentences, and the Lovings perfected an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. On February 11, 1965, the three-judge District Court continued the case to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the highest state court.
The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the convictions. [Footnote 2] The Lovings appealed this decision, and we noted probable jurisdiction on December 12, 1966, 385 U.S. 986.
The two statutes under which appellants were convicted and sentenced are part of a comprehensive statutory scheme aimed at prohibiting and punishing interracial marriages. The Lovings were convicted of violating § 258 of the Virginia Code:
‘Leaving State to evade law. — If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be married out of it, and afterwards return to and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in § 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State. The fact of their cohabitation here as man and wife shall be evidence of their marriage.’
Section 259, which defines the penalty for miscegenation, provides:
“Punishment for marriage. — If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.”
Other central provisions in the Virginia statutory scheme are § 20-57, which automatically voids all marriages between “a white person and a colored person” without any judicial proceeding, [Footnote 3] and §§ 20-54 and 1-14 which,
respectively, define “white persons” and “colored persons and Indians” for purposes of the statutory prohibitions. [Footnote 4] The Lovings have never disputed in the course of this litigation that Mrs. Loving is a “colored person” or that Mr. Loving is a “white person” within the meanings given those terms by the Virginia statutes.
Virginia is now one of 16 States which prohibit and punish marriages on the basis of racial classifications. [Footnote 5] Penalties for miscegenation arose as an incident to slavery, and have been common in Virginia since the colonial period. [Footnote 6] The present statutory scheme dates from the adoption of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, passed during the period of extreme nativism which followed the end of the First World War. The central features of this Act, and current Virginia law, are the absolute prohibition of a “white person” marrying other than another “white person,” [Footnote 7] a prohibition against issuing marriage licenses until the issuing official is satisfied that
the applicants’ statements as to their race are correct, [Footnote 8] certificates of “racial composition” to be kept by both local and state registrars, [Footnote 9] and the carrying forward of earlier prohibitions against racial intermarriage. [Footnote 10]
In upholding the constitutionality of these provisions in the decision below, the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia referred to its 1965 decision in Naim v. Naim, 197 Va. 80, 87 S.E.2d 749, as stating the reasons supporting the validity of these laws. In Naim, the state court concluded that the State’s legitimate purposes were “to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,” and to prevent “the corruption of blood,” “a mongrel breed of citizens,” and “the obliteration of racial pride,” obviously an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy. Id. at 90, 87 S.E.2d at 756. The court also reasoned that marriage has traditionally been subject to state regulation without federal intervention, and, consequently, the regulation of marriage should be left to exclusive state control by the Tenth Amendment.
While the state court is no doubt correct in asserting that marriage is a social relation subject to the State’s police power, Maynard v. Hill, 125 U. S. 190 (1888), the State does not contend in its argument before this Court that its powers to regulate marriage are unlimited notwithstanding the commands of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nor could it do so in light of Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390 (1923), and Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U. S. 535 (1942). Instead, the State argues that the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause, as illuminated by the statements of the Framers, is only that state penal laws containing an interracial element
as part of the definition of the offense must apply equally to whites and Negroes in the sense that members of each race are punished to the same degree. Thus, the State contends that, because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, despite their reliance on racial classifications, do not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race. The second argument advanced by the State assumes the validity of its equal application theory. The argument is that, if the Equal Protection Clause does not outlaw miscegenation statutes because of their reliance on racial classifications, the question of constitutionality would thus become whether there was any rational basis for a State to treat interracial marriages differently from other marriages. On this question, the State argues, the scientific evidence is substantially in doubt and, consequently, this Court should defer to the wisdom of the state legislature in adopting its policy of discouraging interracial marriages.
Because we reject the notion that the mere “equal application” of a statute containing racial classifications is enough to remove the classifications from the Fourteenth Amendment’s proscription of all invidious racial discriminations, we do not accept the State’s contention that these statutes should be upheld if there is any possible basis for concluding that they serve a rational purpose. The mere fact of equal application does not mean that our analysis of these statutes should follow the approach we have taken in cases involving no racial discrimination where the Equal Protection Clause has been arrayed against a statute discriminating between the kinds of advertising which may be displayed on trucks in New York City, Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York, 336 U. S. 106 (1949), or an exemption in Ohio’s ad valorem tax for merchandise owned by a nonresident in a storage warehouse, Allied Stores of Ohio,
Inc. v. Bowers, 358 U. S. 522 (1959). In these cases, involving distinctions not drawn according to race, the Court has merely asked whether there is any rational foundation for the discriminations, and has deferred to the wisdom of the state legislatures. In the case at bar, however, we deal with statutes containing racial classifications, and the fact of equal application does not immunize the statute from the very heavy burden of justification which the Fourteenth Amendment has traditionally required of state statutes drawn according to race.
The State argues that statements in the Thirty-ninth Congress about the time of the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment indicate that the Framers did not intend the Amendment to make unconstitutional state miscegenation laws. Many of the statements alluded to by the State concern the debates over the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, which President Johnson vetoed, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27, enacted over his veto. While these statements have some relevance to the intention of Congress in submitting the Fourteenth Amendment, it must be understood that they pertained to the passage of specific statutes, and not to the broader, organic purpose of a constitutional amendment. As for the various statements directly concerning the Fourteenth Amendment, we have said in connection with a related problem that, although these historical sources “cast some light” they are not sufficient to resolve the problem;
“[a]t best, they are inconclusive. The most avid proponents of the post-War Amendments undoubtedly intended them to remove all legal distinctions among ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States.’ Their opponents, just as certainly, were antagonistic to both the letter and the spirit of the Amendments, and wished them to have the most limited effect.”
v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303, 100 U. S. 310 (1880). We have rejected the proposition that the debates in the Thirty-ninth Congress or in the state legislatures which ratified the Fourteenth Amendment supported the theory advanced by the State, that the requirement of equal protection of the laws is satisfied by penal laws defining offenses based on racial classifications so long as white and Negro participants in the offense were similarly punished. McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U. S. 184 (1964).
The State finds support for its “equal application” theory in the decision of the Court in Pace v. Alabama, 106 U. S. 583 (1883). In that case, the Court upheld a conviction under an Alabama statute forbidding adultery or fornication between a white person and a Negro which imposed a greater penalty than that of a statute proscribing similar conduct by members of the same race. The Court reasoned that the statute could not be said to discriminate against Negroes because the punishment for each participant in the offense was the same. However, as recently as the 1964 Term, in rejecting the reasoning of that case, we stated “Pace represents a limited view of the Equal Protection Clause which has not withstood analysis in the subsequent decisions of this Court.” McLaughlin v. Florida, supra, at 379 U. S. 188. As we there demonstrated, the Equal Protection Clause requires the consideration of whether the classifications drawn by any statute constitute an arbitrary and invidious discrimination. The clear and central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate all official state sources of invidious racial discrimination in the States. Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 83 U. S. 71 (1873); Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303, 100 U. S. 307-308 (1880); Ex parte Virginia, 100 U. S. 339, 100 U. S. 334-335 (1880); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U. S. 1 (1948); Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U. S. 715 (1961).
There can be no question but that Virginia’s miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race. The statutes proscribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races. Over the years, this Court has consistently repudiated “[d]istinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry” as being “odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.” Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U. S. 81, 320 U. S. 100 (1943). At the very least, the Equal Protection Clause demands that racial classifications, especially suspect in criminal statutes, be subjected to the “most rigid scrutiny,” Korematsu v. United States, 323 U. S. 214, 323 U. S. 216 (1944), and, if they are ever to be upheld, they must be shown to be necessary to the accomplishment of some permissible state objective, independent of the racial discrimination which it was the object of the Fourteenth Amendment to eliminate. Indeed, two members of this Court have already stated that they
“cannot conceive of a valid legislative purpose . . . which makes the color of a person’s skin the test of whether his conduct is a criminal offense.”
McLaughlin v. Florida, supra, at 379 U. S. 198 (STEWART, J., joined by DOUGLAS, J., concurring).
There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. [Footnote 11] We have consistently denied
the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.
These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U. S. 535, 316 U. S. 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U. S. 190 (1888). To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.
These convictions must be reversed.
It is so ordered.Footnote 1]
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”[Footnote 2]
206 Va. 924, 147 S.E.2d 78 (1966).[Footnote 3]
Section 257 of the Virginia Code provides:
“Marriages void without decree. — All marriages between a white person and a colored person shall be absolutely void without any decree of divorce or other legal process.”
Va.Code Ann. § 20-57 (1960 Repl. Vol.).[Footnote 4]
Section 20-54 of the Virginia Code provides:
“Intermarriage prohibited; meaning of term ‘white persons.’ — It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white and American Indian. For the purpose of this chapter, the term ‘white person’ shall apply only to such person as has no trace whatever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons. All laws heretofore passed and now in effect regarding the intermarriage of white and colored persons shall apply to marriages prohibited by this chapter.”
Va.Code Ann. § 20-54 (1960 Repl. Vol.).
The exception for persons with less than one-sixteenth “of the blood of the American Indian” is apparently accounted for, in the words of a tract issued by the Registrar of the State Bureau of Vital Statistics, by “the desire of all to recognize as an integral and honored part of the white race the descendants of John Rolfe and Pocathontas. . . .” Plecker, The New Family and Race Improvement, 17 Va.Health Bull., Extra No. 12, at 25-26 (New Family Series No. 5, 1925), cited in Wadlington, The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective, 52 Va.L.Rev. 1189, 1202, n. 93 (1966).
Section 1-14 of the Virginia Code provides:
‘Colored persons and Indians defined. — Every person in whom there is ascertainable any Negro blood shall be deemed and taken to be a colored person, and every person not a colored person having one fourth or more of American Indian blood shall be deemed an American Indian; except that members of Indian tribes existing in this Commonwealth having one fourth or more of Indian blood and less than one sixteenth of Negro blood shall be deemed tribal Indians.'” United States Supreme Court, Loving v. Virginia; 1967
The novel in question is The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, which is now enjoying a new life beyond the secondhand book stores thanks to the cult TV show Mad Men. In season one, the show’s main character, the advertising genius Don Draper, was seen reading The Best of Everything in bed – the better to learn about young American women and their hearts’ desires – with the result that, soon after, in the US, Penguin republished the book. Now Penguin UK is following suit, complete with a jacket quote by Julie Burchill: “It harks back to a saner time, when choosing progress and modernity was as straightforward as ordering dinner – ‘Two scotches with water on the side, and two steaks’.”
Actually, this is not quite the case (though I’ll give Burchill this: its characters eat as much steak as they can possibly afford, and drink as much scotch as they are physically able). The women in The Best of Everything, who work at a New York publishing house, struggle to choose a new way of living. Caroline, a graduate who is determined to escape the typing pool and become an editor, cannot forget the man to whom she was once engaged, with painful consequences; April, who has moved to the city from the midwest, sleeps with her boyfriend only to find that she is now considered “easy”; Gregg, an aspiring actress, turns into what we would call a stalker when she is dumped by a man whose past is too “modern” even for her; and Barbara, a divorced single mother, spends her days wondering if there is anyone alive who will take on another man’s child. These are women who fear progress and modernity even as a part of them longs for it; the pressure to conform is simply too entrenched, the spectre of spinsterdom, at a time when such a status could be achieved before one had even turned 25, too shaming. In the 50s, remember, a failure to marry was seen as a quasi-perversion.
The emotional lives of these women are beautifully drawn, and Jaffe makes piercing use of the contrast between the surface allure of New York (the girls’ office is at the Rockefeller Centre, then considered the epicentre of glamour) and the drab rooms they share; studio couches against the wall, nothing but a pint of milk and some cheap booze in the refrigerator. For my own part, I wonder now if Matthew Weiner, Mad Men‘s creator, didn’t read Jaffe’s novel before he set to work. Like his scripts, the novel is replete with five o’clock Martinis in sepulchral bars, but you feel, too, the steady thrum of its characters’ most private anxieties: about money, about contraception, about promotion. Some of Jaffe’s twists were considered shocking in 1958 (a backstreet abortion, a character who is secretly gay). But others feel strikingly timeless. How to deal with the sexist dolt who is your boss? When he puts his hand drunkenly on your thigh, do you knee him the groin, or smile beatifically and pray for a raise?
In its first incarnation, The Best of Everything was published by Simon & Schuster, where it was edited by the legendary Robert Gottlieb. (Gottlieb went on to publish, among many other books, Catch-22; he also edited the New Yorker.) But it began its life thanks to Rona Jaffe’s college pal, Phyllis Levy, who worked as a secretary at S&S, and who mentioned to Jerry Wald, a visiting movie producer who had come in scouting for properties to option, that Jaffe was writing a novel. “Well, I’m looking for a modern-day Kitty Foyle,” he told Levy. “A book about working girls in New York.” (Kitty Foyle is a 1939 novel by Christopher Morley, later made into a film starring Ginger Rogers.) Jaffe, who was then working as an editor at Fawcett Publications – a company not unlike the Fabian Publications of her book – duly read Kitty Foyle. “I thought it was dumb,” she wrote shortly before her death in 2005. “I said to myself: he doesn’t know anything about women. I know about women.” Just to be sure, though, she interviewed 50, quizzing them over “all the things nobody spoke about in polite company”. It seemed she was right: her own experiences were not unique. “I thought that if I could help one young woman sitting in her tiny apartment thinking she was all alone and a bad girl, then the book would be worthwhile.” Gottlieb told her to “look back in horror and write” – and she was off.
‘Everyone decided this was a big commercial possibility,’ Gottlieb tells me, on the telephone from New York. ‘There was a history there, because The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit [a 1955 novel by Sloan Wilson about the frustrations of executive life, later made into a film starring Gregory Peck] had already been a success. So we threw ourselves into it. We were reading it as she was writing it.’ Jaffe began to think that she might have a hit on her hands when the girls in the S&S typing pool began calling her, begging to know what was going to happen next. ‘Rona wasn’t struggling, like her characters,’ says Gottlieb. ‘She was from a rich family. But she was very observant, in a rather cruel way, and she was smart. It isn’t a literary book. It’s more in the tradition of Peyton Place. But you’re right: it captures what it’s like for young women, getting out of home, coming to a city, being on your own. The surfaces might have changed, but there are women going through this same thing right now.’Jaffe went on to write more than a dozen novels, a collection of stories called Mr Right is Dead, and to establish a foundation in support of women writers; meanwhile, The Best of Everything duly became a movie. I can recommend this film for its costumes, and for Joan Crawford’s performance as Miss Farrow, the girls’ boss, who leaves the firm, only to return a few months later, having discovered that marriage and a quiet life on the west coast are not for her. But it is Jaffe’s novel to which I send you now. It is, I think, the perfect summer read: juicy, involving, and classy. Even as you smile at the thought that smoking was once considered a skill, and white cotton gloves a wardrobe basic, it will also make you feel nostalgic for your own past, for those feverish days when fear and elation were pretty much the same thing.” Rachel Cooke, The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe: the Original Sex and the City; Guardian, 2011