My pen is not sufficient for the task, and these Notes are already too extended to undertake it now. But I shall allude to these agencies here, and in the future may return to the subject.
These agencies seem to be many, but there are really two, and from these all the others spring.
1. Demagogism, or thirst for office, including all the appliances for gratifying it.
2. Fanatacism, or the bigotry of extreme opinions, which has existed in all sections, and has been developed on various - even antagonisitic - subjects. Ignorance, credulity, and want of virtue among the people, have been the food for both agencies.
One of the most learned and profound judges of men and governments says: "In the birth of nations, the chief men make the institutions, but in the sequel the institutions make the chief men." This single sentence embraces all the philosophy of the rise and fall of free institutions in the United States.
The chief men of that day made the Constitutions - State and Federal. They were patriots, and were made great and prominent by leading their country to independence. Of course, as long as these men lasted they were the chosen administrators of the institutions they had formed. They could have no other desire or higher ambition than to make those institutions promote the good of the people. And, therefore, no result could follow but that which did follow : The American people rushed to prosperity with a rapidity and to an extent which was and must remain the marvel of human experience. But these fathers of the republic passed away, and so next did the generation which was born in their day, and taught by their immediate examples and influences. After this new rulers had to be chosen, and the necessity of choosing was frequent, according to our institutions. Every man was equally entitled to be chosen. The people were the choosers, and to please the people was the way to be chosen. Aspirants soon discovered that the majority of the people were more easily pleased by flattery than by reason, by promises than by admonitions. All men had passions and prejudices, but all men did not have enlightened consciences or informed judgments. Therefore, passion and prejudice formed the more inviting, because the more available, field for those who sought office. Then means were adopted to combine and make effective the efforts of these office-seekers. Parties were formed and caucuses invented. Subjects were proposed and issues presented which could excite the most passion and operate upon the largest amount of prejudice. Platforms were built, not to expound the Constitution, but to please the greatest number. As sectional prejudices were the most powerful, so subjects and issues that were most sectional were preferred. It was in this way that slavery was brought into politics, and it is, and always has been, my firm conviction that Southern pro-slavery political agitators were more efficient in the destruction of slavery than the Northern fanatics. The agitation was settled and unsettled, and again settled and unsettled, just as often as manipulating party leaders thought the question of settling or unsettling could be made available as a party issue in a Presidential contest.
By this process, honest men, who acted from convictions founded on principle, were gradually excluded from the public councils, and the public offices, State and Federal, were filled with mere party managers, prejudice-engenderers, and passion-panderers. We have many men who are notorious but not one in five who deserves to be known. Such men were never reliable. They could be bought to any party with the chance of an office. This is why most of our public men have belonged to all parties, have been bitter aspirants in all, and have made earnest harangues on all sides of almost all important questions. They went with the current because they desired to ride on the current. They could not afford to cleave to principles in minorities. These men brought the country to revolution, have kept it in revolution, and are unable to get it out of revolution.
But the chief agency of destruction - extreme opinions, all of which various kinds I include in the generic term fanaticism - has been, from the beginning, enmity to the Constitution. Mutual concession for the common good is the soul, the very being, of the Constitution. It is the breath which was breathed as life into it. By concession alone it was formed, and in that spirit alone can it ever be safely or peacefully administered. But extreme minds never concede. They hate concession and trample on compromise. Therefore these extreme minds at the North denounced the Constitution as "a covenant with hell and a league with the devil"; and extreme men at the South denounced the Union as the source of all evils to the South.
These men were much more numerous at the North than at the South, but, left to themselves, they would have remained powerless in both sections. But they adroitly watched every opportunity to get control of the great office-seeking parties of the country. And the managers of the parties corruptly pandered to the respective extreme opinions to get their help in securing the offices. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise furnished the long-desired occasion to segregate the sections. The extreme men of the South took charge of the Democratic party to bring about secession. The extreme men of the North organized and took charge of the Republican party to destroy or bring about a reformation of the Constitution; and the politicians - our so-called great men - were prefectly willing to be taken charge of, if thereby they could be placed in the offices, and did not care, on either side, one fig whether slavery was extended or not extended, destroyed or not destroyed, so they could keep the offices! The majority of the peoople of the South were made perfectly crazy with the idea of their great right to carry slaves to Kansas, and the majority of the Northern people were made equally crrazy with the alleged bad faith of the aggressive spirit of slavery. The minority in each section, who declared that this whole agitation was a "pandora box" opened upon the country, leaving scarcely hope behind, were laughed at as visionary. So fanatacism bought up deamgogism with the offices, and the two together rushed the country into civil war. These results? Instead of honor, prosperity, and independence, we have humiliation, pauperism, and disfranchisement; instead of a union of harmony and good-will, and the spirit of concession, we have a despotic, fragmentary conclave ruling with Cerberian hate. We have slain a million of whites and doomed four millions of heretofore happy, contented blacks to starvation, barbarism, and death; and to accomplish this work we have destroyed property and expended money more than sufficient to have bought the whole African race in America three times over, at open market value! And are they statesmen, and philanthropists, and patriots, who are known by such works? No, no; they are the double-shaped monsters which the demagogue and the fanatic have begot by seduction of the people, and by rape upon the Constitution.
Notes on the Situation, Number Fourteen, Benjamin H. Hill's Life and Speeches by B. H. Hill, Jr.
T. H. P. Bloodworth, Atlanta, 1893, pages 772-774.