Home  »  Prose Works  »  8. Democracy in the New World

Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

III. Notes Left Over

8. Democracy in the New World

estimated and summ’d-up to-day, having thoroughly justified itself the past hundred years, (as far as growth, vitality and power are concern’d,) by severest and most varied trials of peace and war, and having establish’d itself for good, with all its necessities and benefits, for time to come, is now to be seriously consider’d also in its pronounc’d and already developt dangers. While the battle was raging, and the result suspended, all defections and criticisms were to be hush’d, and everything bent with vehemence unmitigated toward the urge of victory. But that victory settled, new responsibilities advance. I can conceive of no better service in the United States, henceforth, by democrats of thorough and heart-felt faith, than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy. By the unprecedented opening-up of humanity en-masse in the United States, the last hundred years, under our institutions, not only the good qualities of the race, but just as much the bad ones, are prominently brought forward. Man is about the same, in the main, whether with despotism, or whether with freedom.

“The ideal form of human society,” Canon Kingsley declares, “is democracy. A nation—and were it even possible, a whole world—of free men, lifting free foreheads to God and Nature; calling no man master, for One is their master, even God; knowing and doing their duties toward the Maker of the universe, and therefore to each other; not from fear, nor calculation of profit or loss, but because they have seen the beauty of righteousness, and trust, and peace; because the law of God is in their hearts. Such a nation—such a society—what nobler conception of moral existence can we form? Would not that, indeed, be the kingdom of God come on earth?”

To this faith, founded in the ideal, let us hold—and never abandon or lose it. Then what a spectacle is practically exhibited by our American democracy to-day!