i am in a sea of ambivalence, wavering between respect and admonition for this State, our current state.
Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Is compromise on moral issues a necessary part of living with other people?
i believe the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. it is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. i was not born to be forced, i will breathe after my own fashion. Yet I am obliged to obey a higher law than I. i am to become like themselves. i do not know how i feel about the democractic system of government, yet i do know i am inclined to invoke some ultimate supremacy of individual will and ‘human nature’.
government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. the objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. the standing army is only an arm of the standing government. the government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.
this American government—what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? it has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will… it is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. it does not keep the country free. it does not settle the West. and it does not educate. the character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way — for government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it.
to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. let everyone make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.
after all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest … but a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?—in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? …………. why has every man a conscience, then? ……… i think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. i conclude that it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. the only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. it is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.
Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.
….he who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist. how does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? i answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. i truly cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.
really… when the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished. but even suppose blood should flow… is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. i feel as if i see this blood flowing now.