Quote of the Day: October 15, 2011: Republican Virtue
"Liberals" for Their Day, Definitely Not for Ours...

Lord Acton on America in 1866: Is This "Whig" Really a Liberal?

Lord Acton:

American Federalism and the Civil War: [C]omplete equality is the ruin of liberty…. That was, until a generation ago, the verdict of history; whose decision the Americans have undertaken to reverse….

[Europe's] institutions have grown old, and their old age is vigorous, because we are confident that they will stand the tests of expediency and right, because they are either necessary or conducive to the general advantage. But if America should destroy the validity of that defense, then the only inducement by which the masses of mankind will be made to tolerate the evils and injustice incident to our system of society, will be the short-lived argument of force….

The time has come for all men to perceive that these judgments were premature. Five years have wrought so vast a change…. [America's] debt now imposes a heavier charge than that which England contracted… it has been incurred… to slaughter fellow citizens, and carry fire and sword over the cornfields and the homesteads of a country which is their own…. Their prisons have been peopled with disaffected citizens. Part of their territory has become desolate… the armies laid it waste. The Union… has been restored by force, and the Constitution… is obeyed by millions of humbled and indignant men, whose families it has decimated, whose property it has ravaged, and whose prospects it has ruined forever….

The unity of monarchy gravitates towards,,, despotism of a single will. Aristocracy… inclines to restrict that minority into an oligarchy. In pure democracies… the dominion of majority asserts itself more and more extensively and irresistibly… this illiberal and tyrannical principle….

In a great speech at the beginning of the movement, Mr. Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, spoke these words:

The corner stone of our new government rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. Our new government is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Here, then, was a society adopting inequality, not as the natural product of property, descent and merit, but as its very foundation — a society, therefore, more aristocratically constituted than those of feudal times. The Southern slave owner… denied the absolute essential equality of all men in civil rights; and he denied the justice of the doctrine that the minority possesses nothing which is exempt from the control of the majority…. [T]he very defect of their social system preserved them from those political errors which were transforming the original characters of the Northern republics. The decomposition of democracy was arrested in the South by the indirect influence of slavery….

[I]n the United States… the work of emancipation… has been an act of war, not of statesmanship or humanity. They have treated the slave owner as an enemy, and have used the slave as an instrument for his destruction. They have not protected the white man from the vengeance of barbarians, nor the black from the pitiless cruelty of a selfish civilization.

If, then, slavery is to be the criterion which shall determine the significance of the civil war, our verdict ought, I think, to be, that by one part of the nation it was wickedly defended, and by the other as wickedly removed…. When the Confederacy was established on the right of secession, the recognition of that right… [was] a distinct repudiation of the doctrine that the minority can enforce no rights…. It is like passing from the dominion of an able despot into a constitutional kingdom….

These were the political ideas of the Confederacy, and they justify me, I think, in saying that history can show no instance of so great an effort made by republicans to remedy the faults of that form of government….

The spurious liberty of the United States is twice cursed…. By exhibiting the spectacle of a people claiming to be free, but whose love of freedom means hatred of inequality, jealousy of limitations to power, and reliance on the state as an instrument to mould as well as to control society, it calls on its admirers to hate aristocracy and teaches its adversaries to fear the people. The North has used the doctrines of democracy to destroy self-government. The South applied the principle of conditional federation to cure the evils and to correct the errors of a false interpretation of democracy…