Home/Daniel Larison/Fighting The Urban System And The Red Republicans

Fighting The Urban System And The Red Republicans

The grand error of the Federalists was not in seeking to restrain the democratic excesses, for that is what every party in favor of liberty should seek, but in seeking the necessary restraints in the business classes and moneyed interests of the country, instead of seeking them in a powerful and permanent class of landed proprietors; – not indeed because landholders are wiser or more honest than business men, but because they are more independent in their position, and their interests are less fluctuating, subject to fewer sudden changes, and more permanent. It was natural that the Federalists should fall into this error, for they were at the time, as we have said, the representatives of the business interests of the country, and were, moreover, perverted by the urban system of the English Whigs. But the error was none the less grave on that account. The government can never be stable and permanent, save when it reposes on the stable and permanent interests of land, and perhaps one of the greatest mistakes of American legislation has been in throwing land into the market as a mere article of merchandise.


But the Federalists, though they took in some respects a wrong direction, were not so exclusively wedded to the business interests of the country as are the present Whigs. The Whigs on purely constitutional questions are, as a federal party, at least as sound as the Democratic party, and we find in their platform as drawn up by their late Baltimore Convention very little to object to on this head. The grand objection to the Whigs is, that they seek to administer the government too exclusively in favor of the business interests of the country, to make it in some sense the slave of the money power, or rather of that huge credit system through which the Rothschilds, the Barings, and other great bankers, principally Jews, become the real sovereigns of the modern world, and bring the destinies of nations to be decided on ‘Change, – the meanest and the most ruinous system ever invented, – the most fatal to the independence of the nation and to the freedom of the subject, as well as to public and private morals. We do not object to the Whigs because they are in favor of a protective tariff’. The question of protection or free trade admits of no universal solution. It is a practical question, to be decided by each nation for itself, according to its particular interests and circumstances at the time. Whenever its circumstances permit, it is no doubt the duty of every nation to encourage and protect its own industry, so as to render its well-being as independent of foreign nations as possible. We are not in favor of co-partnerships with nations for copartners, and we look with as little affection on the commercial brotherhood of nations preached by Cobden, Bright, & Co., as on the Jacobinical brotherhood contended for by Messrs. Mazzini, Kossuth, & Co. Then, again, the Democratic party do not on the question of a protective tariff differ in principle from the Whigs. The protective system, or the American system, as it was called, originated with the Republican party, and was fastened on the country in opposition to the Federalists, especially of New England, who were, as their interests led them to be, freetraders. The Democratic party, when in power, with individual exceptions, have always supported a protective tariff. The present tariff, imposed by a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress, is a protective tariff, and the only difference on the subject between the two parties, at least in the Northern, Middle, and Western States, is merely a difference of more and less. The Whigs would be satisfied with the present tariff, if home valuation for foreign, and specific for ad valorem duties, were substituted, two changes which, we confess, we are not prepared to oppose. No; the real objection to the Whig party is that it is the business party, the party of the fundholders, bankers, brokers, traders, and manufacturers,-in a word, of the modern credit and industrial systems, against which we are bound to be on our guard.

But this same objection applies, at present, with nearly equal force to the Democratic party, unless it be in the slaveholding or planting States. The urban system, the system of the English Whigs under the reign of Queen Anne, so strenuously, but ineffectually, opposed by Swift and Bolingbroke [bold mine-DL], has been adopted by both parties, and in respect to this system the two parties are mere divisions of one and the same party. The main question at issue between them is, which shall get the lion’s share of the spoils. The country party, save in the planting States, has ceased to exist. The agricultural interest has no representative out of those States, and though it still counts for something in the election of President, it has little power to influence the general policy of the administration, or to determine the action of Congress. The policy of the government rests on the business interests of the country, and will, let which party may succeed in the election, be determined by Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. The present election, under this point of view, is of comparatively little importance, and it makes little difference which party succeeds. The reasons which should decide us to vote for the one party rather than the other must be sought elsewhere.

A respectable minority of the Whig party, as we have said, is conservative in the good sense of the term; but these are unable to decide the action of that party. The action of the Whig party will be determined by the majority, and that majority adopt as radical views of government as the Democratic party, and in some sections even more so. The Democratic party in their resolutions avow the purely democratic theory, without a single qualification. So here we are. Which party shall we support? Really, if we were not in some sense obliged to support one party or the other, or throw away our votes, we would support neither. Indeed, there is now no organized party in the country that a really intelligent and loyal citizen can support without great reluctance. The Democrats proclaim in their creed the whole Jacobinical theory of government without any reserve, and in principle declare illegal and tyrannical all the governments of the world not democratic, that is, all except our own, and, consequently, the right of the people, in every country except ours, to resist and overthrow the existing government, and of our own government and people to run, whenever we choose, to their assistance. They lay down the principle that authorizes the Jacobinical intervention preached by Kossuth, and as many fillibuster expeditions against Cuba, Mexico, or any other country, as the desperadoes among us, foreign and native, may find themselves able or disposed to fit out. They also adopt a resolution asserting the justice of the late Mexican war, so that whoever votes for the party candidates must subscribe to the assertion that that most unnecessary and iniquitous war was just. The Whig platform in these respects is less objectionable, and asserts no abstract doctrines, or general principles, that we cannot, without much difficulty, accept. Both parties profess adhesion to the Compromise Measures, which is well; but the fact is, that the professions of neither party, save in so far as they favor radicalism either at home or abroad, are deserving of much reliance. The Democrats will be radical from instinct, and the Whigs from policy, in order to outbid the Democrats and obtain the suffrages of the people for themselves. The principal dangers the country has to apprehend are such as result from democratic excess or the abuse of republicanism. They are, in regard to the Union, on the one hand, the danger of consolidation, and on the other, of dissolution; in regard to the States or government in general, they are the tendency to fanatical legislation, which, under pretence of checking vice and promoting virtue, strikes at the rights of persons and property, and establishes social despotism, and the clamor for law reform, which would change the essential elements of the Common Law, destroy its excellence as a system for the protection of private rights, whether of persons or of things, and with it the last conservative institution now remaining in the country, the independent judiciary. Here are the dangers we have to apprehend in regard to our domestic or internal relations. In our foreign relations, the dangers to be apprehended arise from the spirit of democratic or republican propagandism, manifesting itself in piratical expeditions like those against Cuba, and in popular and governmental intervention in the internal affairs of foreign nations, to aid the Red Republican revolutionists in overthrowing monarchical institutions and establishing – the Reign of Terror. The question to be decided by every loyal American citizen is, Which of the two parties will afford us the best protection against these several dangers? or which is likely to do the least to increase them. ~Orestes Brownson

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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