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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

America and England

By John Henry Hobart (1775–1830)

[Born in Philadelphia, Penn., 1775. Died at Auburn, N. Y., 1830. From a Discourse delivered in Trinity Church, New York, October, 1825.]

IT is in our civil and religious institutions that we may, without the imputation of vain-glory, boast the pre-eminence. Actual observation will compel every traveller through those nations of the continent that now submissively yield to the yoke of despotic power, mild and benevolent as in some instances is its administration, to feel, however reluctant, the full force of the remark, which he may have thought evil discontent alone had raised, “that the labor and independence and freedom and happiness of the many are sacrificed to the ambition and power and luxury of the few.”

Let us never withhold the acknowledgment, that from the first of European nations, drawing our origin, we have also derived our admirable principles of civil freedom. Rejecting indeed the feudal characteristics of her polity, the monarchical and aristocratic features of her constitution, we broadly and fearlessly recognize the great truth, that though, in its general powers and in its sanctions government is “ordained of God,” in the particular form of its administration, “it is the ordinance of man;” and that, in this sense, the people only are the source of that political power which, when exercised according to the legitimate forms of the constitution which they have established, cannot be resisted but under the penalty of resisting the “ordinance of God.” Still, though in these respects our governments differ from that of England, let us gratefully remember, that from her we have derived not only many of her unrivalled maxims of jurisprudence—those which protect the freedom of the subject and secure the trial by jury—but those great principles which constitute the superiority of the modern republics above the ancient democracies. These are, the principle of representation; the division of the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments; the check on the exercise of the power of legislation, by its distribution among three branches; the independence of the judiciary on all influence, except that of the constitution and the laws; and its accountability, and that of the executive, to the people in the persons of their representatives; and thus what constitutes the characteristic blessing of a free people, a government of laws securing to all the enjoyment of life, of liberty, and of property.

But even in this, next to our own the freest of nations, it is impossible not to form a melancholy contrast between the power, the splendor, and the wealth of those to whom the structure of society and the aristocratic nature of the government assign peculiar privileges of rank and of political consequence, and the dependent and often abject condition of the lower orders, without drawing the conclusion that the one is the unavoidable result of the other.

Advantages confessedly there may be in privileged orders, as constituting an hereditary and permanent source of political knowledge and talent, and of refinement and elevation of character, of feeling, and of manners. In this view no men can be more imposing or more interesting than the high-minded noblemen and gentlemen of England. But in this imperfect world, we cannot enjoy at the same time all possible advantages. And those which result from the hereditary elevation of one small class of society, must produce in all the noble qualities which distinguish independent freemen, a corresponding depression of the great mass of the community. Can we for a moment hesitate which state of society to prefer? No. It is the glorious characteristic of our admirable polity, that the power, the property, and the happiness which in the old nations of the world are confined to the few, are distributed among the many; that the liveliness and content which pervade the humblest classes among us, are not the mere result of that buoyancy of animal spirits which nature seems to have kindly infused into our frame, and which man shares with the beast that sports in the field or courses over the plain—but a sober sentiment of independence, nurtured by the consciousness that in natural rights and original political power all are equal.