Thursday, September 15, 2016

Carlier's Early History of the American States

Review of:
Histoire du Peuple Américain (Etats-Unis) et de ses Rapports avec les Indiens depuis la Fondation des Colonies Anglaises jusqu’à la Révolution de 1776 by Auguste Carlier.

M Auguste Carlier has written a book which appears to be intended to show that the practice of appealing to facts against theories is not exclusively English. He has studied the United States both in books and on the spot, and has arrived at the conclusion that they have been much misunderstood by the eminent writer from whom Frenchmen take all their views on the subject—M. de Tocqueville; and that his disciple, M. Laboulaye, has not only misunderstood them, but is grossly ignorant of the subject on which he writes, and unacquainted with the commonest and most obvious sources of information respecting it. The errors both of M. de Tocqueville and of M. Laboulaye he ascribes to an imperfect acquaintance with the facts relating to the early history of the States which declared their independence in 1776; and in order to set them right, he undertakes the tedious task of writing an authentic history of each of the thirteen colonies down to the establishment of its independence. The undertaking is ambitious, and, if fully carried out, would be highly useful. Let us, therefore, see what are the authorities on which M. Carlier relies. He begins with Virginia, and describes its foundation and early history. He does not cite any authorities which can be called either original or novel. He refers constantly to Hildreth's and Bancroft's Histories of the United States, and also to Howison's History of Virginia, and there may be as many as ten or twelve references to one or the other of six other writers. From Virginia he passes to the New England colonies, for which his authorities are rather, though not much, more numerous—Hildreth and Bancroft, with the addition of Elliot's New England and Palfrey, being the most important. New England is followed by Maryland and New York, or the history of which State he quotes just three authorities— Dunlap's New York, Hildreth, and Bancroft. He then passes to the Jerseys, East and West, and then to Pennsylvania, where, besides the unfailing Hildreth, he quotes the Histories of Proud and Gordon. Notices of the Carolinas and Georgia, together with a short summary of the grievances which led to the War of Independence and some observations on the condition of the Indians, complete the work. It is impossible not to look somewhat closely at M. Carlier's references, because throughout his work he constantly indulges in the most contemptuous remarks on other writers, and especially on M. de Tocqueville and M. Laboulaye, whom he accuses on every occasion of theorizing without regard to facts, and of neglecting to quote authorities. It would require a special knowledge of American historical literature to which we make no claim to specify his own shortcomings; but a man who writes the history of a great nation without finding it necessary to quote more than six or seven books, the most important of which are not and do not profess to be original authorities, inspires his readers with very little confidence. If a history of the English Constitution referred to no other writers than Hume, Hallam, Blackstone, Lord Macaulay, Carte, and Reeves, it would afford to general readers the same sort of guarantees for the learning and industry of its author as M. Carlier gives for his history of the American people down to the Revolution. It is a history which incidentally mentions Washington, has hardly a word to say about Franklin, and sums up the events which led to the Declaration of Independence in a chapter of about eighty pages, in which there are three references to the most commonplace authorities, and the view taken of the subject by the greatest men of the age is described in the following words:– “Pitt and Burke, whose ideas were favourable to the cause of the Colonies, distinguished themselves by expounding true principles and by a very remarkable power of argument.”

Such being the general character of M. Carlier's work, it is hardly necessary to say that it contains little which can be of much interest to persons acquainted with the outline of American history. That Virginia was founded in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and that a considerable number of royalists migrated thither at the time of the civil wars; that it had an established Church and a system of entails down to the revolution of 1776; that the country was almost entirely destitute of towns, and that the reins of authority were at one time held tightly there, are sufficiently notorious facts. The outline of the history of New England is equally notorious. Almost everybody knows that Massachusetts was a Puritan colony founded by men who wished to avoid the tyranny of the Stuarts; that it was governed at first with the most fanatical austerity upon Puritanical principles; and that by slow degrees, and partly by the intervention of the Mother-country, the government was brought into a more liberal form; that the character of Connecticut was very similar; and that Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams as a refuge from religious persecution. The foundation of Maryland by Lord Baltimore, that of Pennsylvania by Penn, Locke's Constitution for the Carolinas, and General Oglethorpe's philanthropic views in connexion with Georgia, are all old stories, and M. Carlier's researches add singularly little to the received version of them. It may be that the story is less familiar to the French than it is to the English, and certainly strange errors must prevail there if M. Carlier is right in saying—“People generally attribute to the rigour of the Catholics the expatriation of most of the founders of English America, whereas English Protestantism ought to assume the greater part of the responsibility.” No doubt any one who held such an absurd opinion, as this might be surprised to learn that the first New Englanders were Puritans, and that the Puritans were intolerant, but it is hard to conjecture the source from which such notions could be derived. Whatever M. de Tocqueville's sins may have been, he never said anything so childish.

The only fact stated by M. Carlier which will probably be new to English readers is that the Indians, as well as the negroes, were enslaved. He repeatedly makes the statement in different parts of his work, and claims credit in his preface for being the first person to bring the fact under the notice of French readers. But he mentions it however with so few details, and in such a general and unsatisfactory way, that he does not enable us to form any sort of estimate either of the nature of the slavery inflicted on the red men or of the number of persons subjected to it. He has, however, written a book on the subject of slavery in relation to the American Union, to which he refers, and which may deal with the matter more fully. Without ample evidence upon the subject, we should be inclined to doubt whether the practice had ever been either general or, as far as numbers went, important. If the red men had answered the purpose, why import blacks? The original importation of negroes was caused by the extermination by the Spaniards of the aboriginal population of the West Indies and part of the main land.

Though M. Carlier's work is neither interesting nor valuable on its own account, it raises several questions of considerable interest. In the first place, its great object is to attack the fame of one of the most eminent of contemporary writers; and in the second place, it is meant as a criticism, from the Roman Catholic point of view, on the nation which has certainly carried out some of the principles of Protestantism on a greater scale and to a greater extent than any other country in the world. Thus the spirit in which it is written and the doctrines which it is meant to teach require more attention than the book itself would justify. Let us look, in the first place, at M. Carlier's criticisms on M. de Tocqueville. He accuses him of writing exclusively, or almost exclusively, on a priori grounds, and neglecting facts; and the principal facts which, as he asserts, M. de Tocqueville has left on one side in order to get his theory straight, are those which discredit the Puritans of New England. M. de Tocqueville had said—“There is not an opinion, not a habit, not a law, I might say not an event, which is not easily explained by the point of departure.” He added, of the founders of New England, that “all, without perhaps a single exception, had received a considerable degree of education, and several had made themselves known in Europe by their talents and science.” He went on to say— “Puritanism was not only a religious doctrine, it ran, upon several points” (se confondait en plusieurs points) “into the most absolute democratic and republican theories;” and further on in the same chapter he observed that “Puritanism was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine.” This state of things he contrasted with Virginia, which he said was first colonized by persons in search of gold, “people without resources or conduct, whose restless and turbulent spirit troubled the infancy of the colony.” Afterwards came artisans and cultivators, and later again a certain number of rich English proprietors. Slavery was introduced at an early period, and produced a train of bad effects, moral and economical. It is to this original difference in their character that M. de Tocqueville ascribes the different course taken by the New England States on the one side, and the Southern States, of which (on ne sait pourquoi, says M. Carlier) he takes Virginia as an example, on the other. He says of New England:—
‘Anglo-American civilization is the product (and this point of departure ought to be continually borne in mind) of two perfectly distinct elements, which indeed have often been at war, but which the Americans have contrived in a manner to incorporate with each other in a marvellous combination. I mean the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.’
He then contrasts the courage with which the Puritans innovated in politics with their religious timidity: —
‘In their hands, political principles, human laws and institutions, seem malleable things which may be turned and combined at will. When the limits of the political world are reached the mind stops of itself. It lays aside with trembling the use of its most formidable faculties; it abjures doubt, it renounces the need of innovation, it abstains even from raising the veil of the sanctuary; it bows respectfully before truths which it admits without discussion.’
As to the Southern States, he says, “the influence of slavery, combined with the English character, is enough to explain their character.”

In opposition to this, which he considers mere à priori speculation, M. Carlier observes that a considerable number of the original founders of the New England States, and a still larger proportion of those who followed them, were in a much lower position in life than the leaders of the enterprise; and he insists at real length on the fact that, for a considerable time after the foundation of the New England colonies, their government was anything but a democracy, according to the modern, notion of the word. It was, he says, a theocratic oligarchy in which all the power was in the hands of the clergy, and in which those who were not what was technically called Church members were excluded even from the suffrage. He is never tired of giving instances of the violent intolerance of the Puritans, of their harshness to each other and to all who differed from them, and of the iniquitous manner in which they treated the Indians; nor can he ever refrain for any considerable length of time from taunting them with what he alleges to be the inconsistency between the Protestant principle of free inquiry and the Protestant practice of persecution.

Considered merely as a critic of M. de Tocqueville, M. Carlier seems to us neither just nor capable. M. de Tocqueville did not undertake to write a history of the Colonies, and he was quite right to confine himself to a few broad and striking points in relation to them. Here and there he may, and no doubt does, use an exceptionable expression, but in the main what he says is perfectly true, and M. Carlier's own book proves it. The New England States were founded by Puritans, and their object was the assertion of civil and religious liberty—not of liberty in general, but of their own enfranchisement from what they looked upon as the civil and religious tyranny of James I. and Charles I. Virginia is the most striking illustration supplied by America of the foundation of a colony on a different principle, and the subsequent history of the North and the South has throughout been coloured by the motives and institutions of their respective founders. M. Carlier seems to think that the distinguished object of his criticisms wrote a eulogium on democracy. He presumes that M. de Tocqueville would except the present civil war from his remark that all the events of American history may be explained by the point of departure. This is a perfectly ludicrous misapprehension. The sadness with which M. de Tocqueville watched the growth–as he believed, the inevitable growth–of democracy is one of the most conspicuous features in his book, and he would say with justice that no events in the history of America more strongly illustrate his contrast between New England and Virginia than those which are passing before our eyes. Two classes of persons have fought desperately in the present war, and are the life and soul of the contest. These are the Abolitionists, whose resemblance to M. de Tocqueville's sketch will hardly be denied, and that part of the Southerners whom he called “a sort of aristocracy differing little from the mass of the people whose passions and interests it easily embraced.”

Though M. Carlier is a writer as unsatisfactory as he is eager, it must be admitted that, without refuting M. de Tocqueville, he brings forward facts which neither that great thinker nor M. Carlier himself appear to us to interpret rightly. M. de Tocqueville (though his critic appears to forget the fact) was not only perfectly aware of the fanaticism of the Puritans, but has given a full and striking account of it. He seems to us, however, to have misunderstood it. He says that “such slips are a reproach no doubt to the human mind; they attest the inferiority of our nature, which, being incapable of firmly seizing truth and justice, is frequently reduced to a choice between two excesses.” M. Carlier, on the other hand, exults over the intolerance of the Puritans as a proof of their mendacity and hypocrisy. The one appears to feel that he is recording the errors of men who, notwithstanding those errors, did service to mankind. The other writes as if he were unmasking pretenders who had accidentally obtained an undeserved reputation. It seems to us that he neither does justice to nor even understands the people of whom he writes. Probably no one could do so without English blood and English habits of thought and feeling. In addressing a French audience, whom it was his great object to influence in a liberal direction, M. de Tocqueville was no doubt much more anxious to put forward those parts of his case which furnished a striking precedent for France than to do full justice to the Puritan founders of New England. As most of the readers for whom he wrote were lukewarm Roman Catholics, he would naturally be inclined to represent the religious principles and practices of the Puritans as forming a completely distinct department from those which related to politics, so that a dislike of the one might be compatible with the adoption of the other. M. Carlier, on the contrary, uses what he supposes to be the inconsistency between the religious and the political side of their conduct as an argument to show that their political example is worth as little as their religious example, and that, as the French in general have rejected the latter, they can have little to learn from the former.

The truth appears to us to be that the religious and the political principles and practice of the Puritan founders of the New England States formed one homogeneous and consistent system, and that from that system sprang perhaps the most distinctive part of the character and institutions of their descendants. As we have shown on former occasions, it is altogether absurd to say that their persecution of other Protestant bodies, such as the Episcopalians and Quakers, was in the least degree inconsistent with their own case as against the Roman Catholics. The persecuted in the one case for exactly the same reasons which led them to provoke persecution in the other. Their case was that they were right, that every one else was wrong, and that it was the duty of those who were right to uphold the truth, both in matters of opinion and in matters of practice, by the strong hand. They further thought that in the Bible God had given to man a revelation meant to guide him in all the important affairs of life, civil and religious; indeed they saw little distinction between the two. According to the Puritan view, it was as much a duty to replenish the earth and subdue it, to punish criminals, and to enforce the obligations of contracts, as to pray, to celebrate the communion, or to worship Christ, and for the same reason—namely, that such was the will of God. The great reason why the Protestants in general, and the Puritans in particular, hated and repudiated monkery, was that its existence amounted to an admission that common every-day life was not sacred or holy, and that it might properly be governed by laws less good and wise than those which applied to monks and nuns. Thus the politics and the theology of the Puritans ran into each other, and, in fact, their politics formed only one department of their theology. M. de Tocqueville has described the result, but has not, we think, appreciated justly the steps by which it was reached. It is by no means true that the Puritanical mind “laid aside with trembling its most formidable attributes,” and refused to inquire, when it reached the limits of politics and the threshold of theology. On the contrary, its theology—narrow, and in many respects false, as it must appear to us—was the result of the most anxious and full inquiry. Calvin's Institutes may be taken as the type of their way of thinking, and a more consistent, systematic book was never written. The gist of it is—“For such and such reasons I believe the Bible to be a Divine Revelation, absolutely true and good throughout; and from comparing this, that, and the other passage of the Bible together I get this result, which I therefore affirm to be true, and will unflinchingly act upon in all the affairs of life.” This was the principle which the founders of New England tried to reduce into fact. That their reading of the will of God was closely allied with some parts of what we now call democracy is not only undeniably true, but is proved by M. Carlier himself; and that the democratic institutions established on these principles were adopted, fostered, expanded, and fortified by that other form of democracy which grew up at a later time, is equally notorious. It is altogether unfair to M. de Tocqueville to read his observations as asserting that no other influences ever acted on the history of the United States in general, or in particular on that of the New England States, than those which were introduced by the Puritans who founded them. His meaning, fairly interpreted, is perfectly true and highly important—namely, that without knowing the character of the founders, and the principles on which they proceeded, it is impossible to understand the peculiar character of the subsequent additions.

If M. de Tocqueville is justly chargeable with having misunderstood the manner in which politics and religion were connected in the minds of the Puritans, he at all events does justice to their political principles. M. Carlier will not admit that they knew or cared for freedom. He seems to think that political freedom is impossible unless there is a complete and final separation between Church and State, which he justly considers to be a modern theory altogether alien to Puritanical principles; and he goes so far as to imply that, when the separation is effected, the spiritual department ought to represent the principle of authority, and the temporal the spirit of liberty and free inquiry. His evidence in proof of this is that the Puritans had little liberty, and did many oppressive things. That the Puritan government of the New English colonies was wonderfully strict, that it interfered with the common affairs of life, that it was occasionally cruel and persecuting, is all unhappily quite true; and, if political freedom is understood to mean a state of things in which the power of any one person or set of persons over any other person or set of persons is reduced to a minimum in theory and in practice, there was very little freedom in Massachusetts and Connecticut in the seventeenth century. On the other hand, if freedom means the possession of power by a large proportion of the population, few communities were ever more free. M. Carlier's own book shows that in Massachusetts the original form of government was the purest democracy. The government was in the hands of a Governor and seven assistants, and an Assembly chosen by the freemen. For a considerable interval, the length of which is not stated with precision by M. Carlier, the freemen had to be Church members as well, and this he considers totally incompatible with democratic principles. No doubt it was, as far as it went. Governments fitting exactly into preconceived definitions are not to be found anywhere, but as between the Church members the Government was still democratic, and even this qualification of democracy was entirely given up before the end of the century. All experience shows that there is not only no inconsistency, but a strong affinity, between democracy and tyranny. The oppression of all by all is one of the commonest of spectacles. Thus the facts on which M. Carlier insists, and which he parades as if they were new and surprising discoveries, prove not that New England colonies were not democratic, but that there is a side of democracy unfavourable to liberty.

The praise to which the Puritans were really entitled is not that of having established some new general theory of government—a praise which they never claimed, and which no reasonable person would claim for them—but that of having successfully resisted particular forms of oppression, and of having established a government which, with all its faults, put political power into the hands of a large number of people, interested the bulk of the population in political affairs, gave full play to individual abilities, and produced a type of character, narrow no doubt, and harsh, but full to overflowing of all the harder qualities—energy, courage, industry, patriotism, and self-denial. Whatever else they may have been, the men reared by the Pilgrim Fathers and their successors were a sturdy and formidable people, self-reliant in the extreme, and full of vigorous ability. By producing such a population freedom is produced of necessity, for who is to control such a race? Political freedom means little more than the state of a society composed of men of strong passions and vigorous will, who know what they want, are determined to have it, and do in fact get it by helping themselves. The rigour of their laws and the fierceness of their persecutions prove conclusively that this state of things existed in the New England colonies. It shows, not the absence of freedom, but the character of the men who were free. They did as they liked, and this is the essence of freedom, though they liked what we should consider extremely unpleasant.

M. Carlier's notion that the only true guarantee of liberty is to be found in the absolute separation of spiritual and temporal affairs, and that the “principle of authority” is represented by the spiritual department of things, seems to be a favourite notion with those who in the present day try to reconcile Roman Catholicism with political liberty. We believe it to be utterly untenable. There is no distinction between things spiritual and things temporal. The two are so intimately connected by the Author of our nature that no human power can separate the one from the other. The subject of all government is man; but man is a spirit, and it is because he is a spirit that he is capable of government. A corpse cannot be governed, nor can it perform the most ordinary functions of life. There is a mental or spiritual element in sweeping a room or mending a pen. When we get to the higher functions of life, the distinction between spiritual and temporal becomes unmeaning. Take, for instance, the case of a war. War is always described as a temporal matter, the highest manifestation of the secular power; but surely there is nothing which makes greater demands upon all that is spiritual—upon courage, upon conscience, upon every moral faculty whatever. What, then, is the sense of the assertion that to go to battle is a secular act, and to go to prayers a spiritual act? Is there any subject in the world on which a man who really believed in prayer would pray with more intense earnestness than the question whether or not he should lend his influence to peace or to war? Is there any higher religious duty than that of manfully carrying on a just war and inflexibly opposing an unjust one? The only real ground for the distinction is the desire to protect particular religious bodies, especially the Roman Catholic Church, from inquiry. It is the bait which the priest holds out to the layman—“Let me alone, and I'll let you alone. You shall have all that you really care for-noise, excitement, wealth, and power; leave the soul to me.” An honest man or nation will refuse the offer with disgust. The use of wealth and power and hard work is to educate the soul, and if that is to be privately drugged with narcotics by a representative of the “principle of authority” the rest matters very little.

There are many subordinate points in M. Carlier's book which invite criticism, but the observations made above embrace the main points which he labours to prove.

Saturday Review, April 2, 1864.

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