The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson - by R.W. Emerson Institute, Jim Manley, Director -

A Lecture read before the Mercantile Library Association,
Boston, February
7, 1844


It is remarkable, that our people have their intellectual culture from one
country, and their duties from another.  This false state of things is newly in
a way to be corrected. America is beginning to assert itself to the senses and
to the imagination of her children, and Europe is receding in the same degree.
This their reaction on education gives a new importance to the internal
improvements and to the politics of the country. Who has not been stimulated to
reflection by the facilities now in progress of construction for travel and the
transportation of goods in the United States?

This rage for road building is beneficent for America, where vast distance is
so main a consideration in our domestic politics and trade, inasmuch as the
great political promise of the invention is to hold the Union staunch, whose
days seemed already numbered by the mere inconvenience of transporting
representatives, judges, and officers across such tedious distances of land and
water. Not only is distance annihilated, but when, as now, the locomotive and
the steamboat, like enormous shuttles, shoot every day across the thousand
various threads of national descent and employment, and bind them fast in one
web, an hourly assimilation goes forward, and there is no danger that local
peculiarities and hostilities should be preserved.

1. But I hasten to speak of the utility of these improvements in creating an
American sentiment. An unlooked for consequence of the railroad, is the
increased acquaintance it has given the American people with the boundless
resources of their own soil. If this invention has reduced England to a third of
its size, by bringing people so much nearer, in this country it has given a new
celerity to _time_, or anticipated by fifty years the planting of tracts of
land, the choice of water privileges, the working of mines, and other natural
advantages. Railroad iron is a magician's rod, in its power to evoke the
sleeping energies of land and water.

The railroad is but one arrow in our quiver, though it has great value as a
sort of yard-stick, and surveyor's line. The bountiful continent is ours, state
on state, and territory on territory, to the waves of the Pacific sea;

"Our garden is the immeasurable earth, The heaven's blue pillars are Medea's

The task of surveying, planting, and building upon this immense tract,
requires an education and a sentiment commensurate thereto. A consciousness of
this fact, is beginning to take the place of the purely trading spirit and
education which sprang up whilst all the population lived on the fringe of
sea-coast. And even on the coast, prudent men have begun to see that every
American should be educated with a view to the values of land. The arts of
engineering and of architecture are studied; scientific agriculture is an object
of growing attention; the mineral riches are explored; limestone, coal, slate,
and iron; and the value of timber-lands is enhanced.

Columbus alleged as a reason for seeking a continent in the West, that the
harmony of nature required a great tract of land in the western hemisphere, to
balance the known extent of land in the eastern; and it now appears that we must
estimate the native values of this broad region to redress the balance of our
own judgments, and appreciate the advantages opened to the human race in this
country, which is our fortunate home. The land is the appointed remedy for
whatever is false and fantastic in our culture. The continent we inhabit is to
be physic and food for our mind, as well as our body. The land, with its
tranquilizing, sanative influences, is to repair the errors of a scholastic and
traditional education, and bring us into just relations with men and things.

The habit of living in the presence of these invitations of natural wealth is
not inoperative; and this habit, combined with the moral sentiment which, in the
recent years, has interrogated every institution, usage, and law, has,
naturally, given a strong direction to the wishes and aims of active young men
to withdraw from cities, and cultivate the soil. This inclination has appeared
in the most unlooked for quarters, in men supposed to be absorbed in business,
and in those connected with the liberal professions. And, since the walks of
trade were crowded, whilst that of agriculture cannot easily be, inasmuch as the
farmer who is not wanted by others can yet grow his own bread, whilst the
manufacturer or the trader, who is not wanted, cannot, — this seemed a happy
tendency. For, beside all the moral benefit which we may expect from the
farmer's profession, when a man enters it considerately, this promised the
conquering of the soil, plenty, and beyond this, the adorning of the country
with every advantage and ornament which labor, ingenuity, and affection for a
man's home, could suggest.

Meantime, with cheap land, and the pacific disposition of the people, every
thing invites to the arts of agriculture, of gardening, and domestic
architecture. Public gardens, on the scale of such plantations in Europe and
Asia, are now unknown to us. There is no feature of the old countries that
strikes an American with more agreeable surprise than the beautiful gardens of
Europe; such as the Boboli in Florence, the Villa Borghese in Rome, the Villa
d'Este in Tivoli, the gardens at Munich, and at Frankfort on the Maine: works
easily imitated here, and which might well make the land dear to the citizen,
and inflame patriotism. It is the fine art which is left for us, now that
sculpture, painting, and religious and civil architecture have become effete,
and have passed into second childhood. We have twenty degrees of latitude
wherein to choose a seat, and the new modes of travelling enlarge the
opportunity of selection, by making it easy to cultivate very distant tracts,
and yet remain in strict intercourse with the centres of trade and population.
And the whole force of all the arts goes to facilitate the decoration of lands
and dwellings. A garden has this advantage, that it makes it indifferent where
you live. A well-laid garden makes the face of the country of no account; let
that be low or high, grand or mean, you have made a beautiful abode worthy of
man. If the landscape is pleasing, the garden shows it, — if tame, it excludes
it. A little grove, which any farmer can find, or cause to grow near his house,
will, in a few years, make cataracts and chains of mountains quite unnecessary
to his scenery; and he is so contented with his alleys, woodlands, orchards, and
river, that Niagara, and the Notch of the White Hills, and Nantasket Beach, are
superfluities. And yet the selection of a fit houselot has the same advantage
over an indifferent one, as the selection to a given employment of a man who has
a genius for that work. In the last case, the culture of years will never make
the most painstaking apprentice his equal: no more will gardening give the
advantage of a happy site to a house in a hole or on a pinnacle. In America, we
have hitherto little to boast in this kind. The cities drain the country of the
best part of its population: the flower of the youth, of both sexes, goes into
the towns, and the country is cultivated by a so much inferior class. The land,
— travel a whole day together, — looks poverty-stricken, and the buildings
plain and poor. In Europe, where society has an aristocratic structure, the land
is full of men of the best stock, and the best culture, whose interest and pride
it is to remain half the year on their estates, and to fill them with every
convenience and ornament. Of course, these make model farms, and model
architecture, and are a constant education to the eye of the surrounding
population. Whatever events in progress shall go to disgust men with cities, and
infuse into them the passion for country life, and country pleasures, will
render a service to the whole face of this continent, and will further the most
poetic of all the occupations of real life, the bringing out by art the native
but hidden graces of the landscape.

I look on such improvements, also, as directly tending to endear the land to
the inhabitant. Any relation to the land, the habit of tilling it, or mining it,
or even hunting on it, generates the feeling of patriotism. He who keeps shop on
it, or he who merely uses it as a support to his desk and ledger, or to his
manufactory, values it less. The vast majority of the people of this country
live by the land, and carry its quality in their manners and opinions. We in the
Atlantic states, by position, have been commercial, and have, as I said, imbibed
easily an European culture. Luckily for us, now that steam has narrowed the
Atlantic to a strait, the nervous, rocky West is intruding a new and continental
element into the national mind, and we shall yet have an American genius. How
much better when the whole land is a garden, and the people have grown up in the
bowers of a paradise. Without looking, then, to those extraordinary social
influences which are now acting in precisely this direction, but only at what is
inevitably doing around us, I think we must regard the _land_ as a commanding
and increasing power on the citizen, the sanative and Americanizing influence,
which promises to disclose new virtues for ages to come.

2. In the second place, the uprise and culmination of the new and anti-feudal
power of Commerce, is the political fact of most significance to the American at
this hour.

We cannot look on the freedom of this country, in connexion with its youth,
without a presentiment that here shall laws and institutions exist on some scale
of proportion to the majesty of nature. To men legislating for the area betwixt
the two oceans, betwixt the snows and the tropics, somewhat of the gravity of
nature will infuse itself into the code. A heterogeneous population crowding on
all ships from all corners of the world to the great gates of North America,
namely, Boston, New York, and New Orleans, and thence proceeding inward to the
prairie and the mountains, and quickly contributing their private thought to the
public opinion, their toll to the treasury, and their vote to the election, it
cannot be doubted that the legislation of this country should become more
catholic and cosmopolitan than that of any other. It seems so easy for America
to inspire and express the most expansive and humane spirit; new-born, free,
healthful, strong, the land of the laborer, of the democrat, of the
philanthropist, of the believer, of the saint, she should speak for the human
race. It is the country of the Future. From Washington, proverbially `the city
of magnificent distances,' through all its cities, states, and territories, it
is a country of beginnings, of projects, of designs, and expectations.
Gentlemen, there is a sublime and friendly Destiny by which the human race is
guided, — the race never dying, the individual never spared, — to results
affecting masses and ages. Men are narrow and selfish, but the Genius or Destiny
is not narrow, but beneficent. It is not discovered in their calculated and
voluntary activity, but in what befalls, with or without their design. Only what
is inevitable interests us, and it turns out that love and good are inevitable,
and in the course of things. That Genius has infused itself into nature. It
indicates itself by a small excess of good, a small balance in brute facts
always favorable to the side of reason. All the facts in any part of nature
shall be tabulated, and the results shall indicate the same security and
benefit; so slight as to be hardly observable, and yet it is there. The sphere
is flattened at the poles, and swelled at the equator; a form flowing
necessarily from the fluid state, yet _the_ form, the mathematician assures us,
required to prevent the protuberances of the continent, or even of lesser
mountains cast up at any time by earthquakes, from continually deranging the
axis of the earth. The census of the population is found to keep an invariable
equality in the sexes, with a trifling predominance in favor of the male, as if
to counterbalance the necessarily increased exposure of male life in war,
navigation, and other accidents. Remark the unceasing effort throughout nature
at somewhat better than the actual creatures: _amelioration in nature_, which
alone permits and authorizes amelioration in mankind. The population of the
world is a conditional population; these are not the best, but the best that
could live in the existing state of soils, gases, animals, and morals: the best
that could _yet_ live; there shall be a better, please God. This Genius, or
Destiny, is of the sternest administration, though rumors exist of its secret
tenderness. It may be styled a cruel kindness, serving the whole even to the
ruin of the member; a terrible communist, reserving all profits to the
community, without dividend to individuals. Its law is, you shall have
everything as a member, nothing to yourself. For Nature is the noblest engineer,
yet uses a grinding economy, working up all that is wasted to-day into
to-morrow's creation; — not a superfluous grain of sand, for all the
ostentation she makes of expense and public works. It is because Nature thus
saves and uses, laboring for the general, that we poor particulars are so
crushed and straitened, and find it so hard to live. She flung us out in her
plenty, but we cannot shed a hair, or a paring of a nail, but instantly she
snatches at the shred, and appropriates it to the general stock. Our condition
is like that of the poor wolves: if one of the flock wound himself, or so much
as limp, the rest eat him up incontinently.

That serene Power interposes the check upon the caprices and officiousness of
our wills. Its charity is not our charity. One of its agents is our will, but
that which expresses itself in our will, is stronger than our will. We are very
forward to help it, but it will not be accelerated. It resists our meddling,
eleemosynary contrivances. We devise sumptuary and relief laws, but the
principle of population is always reducing wages to the lowest pittance on which
human life can be sustained. We legislate against forestalling and monopoly; we
would have a common granary for the poor; but the selfishness which hoards the
corn for high prices, is the preventive of famine; and the law of
self-preservation is surer policy than any legislation can be. We concoct
eleemosynary systems, and it turns out that our charity increases pauperism. We
inflate our paper currency, we repair commerce with unlimited credit, and are
presently visited with unlimited bankruptcy.

It is easy to see that the existing generation are conspiring with a
beneficence, which, in its working for coming generations, sacrifices the
passing one, which infatuates the most selfish men to act against their private
interest for the public welfare. We build railroads, we know not for what or for
whom; but one thing is certain, that we who build will receive the very smallest
share of benefit. Benefit will accrue; they are essential to the country, but
that will be felt not until we are no longer countrymen. We do the like in all
matters: –"Man's heart the Almighty to the Future set By secret and inviolable

We plant trees, we build stone houses, we redeem the waste, we make
prospective laws, we found colleges and hospitals, for remote generations. We
should be mortified to learn that the little benefit we chanced in our own
persons to receive was the utmost they would yield.

The history of commerce, is the record of this beneficent tendency. The
patriarchal form of government readily becomes despotic, as each person may see
in his own family. Fathers wish to be the fathers of the minds of their
children, and behold with impatience a new character and way of thinking
presuming to show itself in their own son or daughter. This feeling, which all
their love and pride in the powers of their children cannot subdue, becomes
petulance and tyranny when the head of the clan, the emperor of an empire, deals
with the same difference of opinion in his subjects. Difference of opinion is
the one crime which kings never forgive. An empire is an immense egotism. "I am
the State," said the French Louis. When a French ambassador mentioned to Paul of
Russia, that a man of consequence in St. Petersburg was interesting himself in
some matter, the Czar interrupted him, — "There is no man of consequence in
this empire, but he with whom I am actually speaking; and so long only as I am
speaking to him, is he of any consequence." And Nicholas, the present emperor,
is reported to have said to his council, "The age is embarrassed with new
opinions; rely on me, gentlemen, I shall oppose an iron will to the progress of
liberal opinions."

It is easy to see that this patriarchal or family management gets to be
rather troublesome to all but the papa; the sceptre comes to be a crowbar. And
this unpleasant egotism, Feudalism opposes, and finally destroys. The king is
compelled to call in the aid of his brothers and cousins, and remote relations,
to help him keep his overgrown house in order; and this club of noblemen always
come at last to have a will of their own; they combine to brave the sovereign,
and call in the aid of the people. Each chief attaches as many followers as he
can, by kindness, maintenance, and gifts; and as long as war lasts, the nobles,
who must be soldiers, rule very well. But when peace comes, the nobles prove
very whimsical and uncomfortable masters; their frolics turn out to be insulting
and degrading to the commoner. Feudalism grew to be a bandit and brigand.

Meantime Trade had begun to appear: Trade, a plant which grows wherever there
is peace, as soon as there is peace, and as long as there is peace. The luxury
and necessity of the noble fostered it. And as quickly as men go to foreign
parts, in ships or caravans, a new order of things springs up; new command takes
place, new servants and new masters. Their information, their wealth, their
correspondence, have made them quite other men than left their native shore.
_They_ are nobles now, and by another patent than the king's. Feudalism had been
good, had broken the power of the kings, and had some good traits of its own;
but it had grown mischievous, it was time for it to die, and, as they say of
dying people, all its faults came out. Trade was the strong man that broke it
down, and raised a new and unknown power in its place. It is a new agent in the
world, and one of great function; it is a very intellectual force. This
displaces physical strength, and instals computation, combination, information,
science, in its room. It calls out all force of a certain kind that slumbered in
the former dynasties. It is now in the midst of its career. Feudalism is not
ended yet. Our governments still partake largely of that element. Trade goes to
make the governments insignificant, and to bring every kind of faculty of every
individual that can in any manner serve any person, _on sale_. Instead of a huge
Army and Navy, and Executive Departments, it converts Government into an
Intelligence-Office, where every man may find what he wishes to buy, and expose
what he has to sell, not only produce and manufactures, but art, skill, and
intellectual and moral values. This is the good and this the evil of trade, that
it would put everything into market, talent, beauty, virtue, and man himself.

By this means, however, it has done its work. It has its faults, and will
come to an end, as the others do. The philosopher and lover of man have much
harm to say of trade; but the historian will see that trade was the principle of
Liberty; that trade planted America and destroyed Feudalism; that it makes peace
and keeps peace, and it will abolish slavery. We complain of its oppression of
the poor, and of its building up a new aristocracy on the ruins of the
aristocracy it destroyed. But the aristocracy of trade has no permanence, is not
entailed, was the result of toil and talent, the result of merit of some kind,
and is continually falling, like the waves of the sea, before new claims of the
same sort. Trade is an instrument in the hands of that friendly Power which
works for us in our own despite. We design it thus and thus; it turns out
otherwise and far better. This beneficent tendency, omnipotent without violence,
exists and works. Every line of history inspires a confidence that we shall not
go far wrong; that things mend. That is the moral of all we learn, that it
warrants Hope, the prolific mother of reforms. Our part is plainly not to throw
ourselves across the track, to block improvement, and sit till we are stone, but
to watch the uprise of successive mornings, and to conspire with the new works
of new days. Government has been a fossil; it should be a plant. I conceive that
the office of statute law should be to express, and not to impede the mind of
mankind. New thoughts, new things. Trade was one instrument, but Trade is also
but for a time, and must give way to somewhat broader and better, whose signs
are already dawning in the sky.

3. I pass to speak of the signs of that which is the sequel of trade.

In consequence of the revolution in the state of society wrought by trade,
Government in our times is beginning to wear a clumsy and cumbrous appearance.
We have already seen our way to shorter methods. The time is full of good signs.
Some of them shall ripen to fruit. All this beneficent socialism is a friendly
omen, and the swelling cry of voices for the education of the people, indicates
that Government has other offices than those of banker and executioner. Witness
the new movements in the civilized world, the Communism of France, Germany, and
Switzerland; the Trades' Unions; the English League against the Corn Laws; and
the whole _Industrial Statistics_, so called. In Paris, the blouse, the badge of
the operative, has begun to make its appearance in the saloons. Witness, too,
the spectacle of three Communities which have within a very short time sprung up
within this Commonwealth, besides several others undertaken by citizens of
Massachusetts within the territory of other States. These proceeded from a
variety of motives, from an impatience of many usages in common life, from a
wish for greater freedom than the manners and opinions of society permitted, but
in great part from a feeling that the true offices of the State, the State had
let fall to the ground; that in the scramble of parties for the public purse,
the main duties of government were omitted, — the duty to instruct the
ignorant, to supply the poor with work and with good guidance. These communists
preferred the agricultural life as the most favorable condition for human
culture; but they thought that the farm, as we manage it, did not satisfy the
right ambition of man. The farmer after sacrificing pleasure, taste, freedom,
thought, love, to his work, turns out often a bankrupt, like the merchant. This
result might well seem astounding. All this drudgery, from cockcrowing to
starlight, for all these years, to end in mortgages and the auctioneer's flag,
and removing from bad to worse. It is time to have the thing looked into, and
with a sifting criticism ascertained who is the fool. It seemed a great deal
worse, because the farmer is living in the same town with men who pretend to
know exactly what he wants. On one side, is agricultural chemistry, coolly
exposing the nonsense of our spendthrift agriculture and ruinous expense of
manures, and offering, by means of a teaspoonful of artificial guano, to turn a
sandbank into corn; and, on the other, the farmer, not only eager for the
information, but with bad crops and in debt and bankruptcy, for want of it. Here
are Etzlers and mechanical projectors, who, with the Fourierists, undoubtingly
affirm that the smallest union would make every man rich; — and, on the other
side, a multitude of poor men and women seeking work, and who cannot find enough
to pay their board. The science is confident, and surely the poverty is real. If
any means could be found to bring these two together!

This was one design of the projectors of the Associations which are now
making their first feeble experiments. They were founded in love, and in labor.
They proposed, as you know, that all men should take a part in the manual toil,
and proposed to amend the condition of men, by substituting harmonious for
hostile industry. It was a noble thought of Fourier, which gives a favorable
idea of his system, to distinguish in his Phalanx a class as the Sacred Band, by
whom whatever duties were disagreeable, and likely to be omitted, were to be

At least, an economical success seemed certain for the enterprise, and that
agricultural association must, sooner or later, fix the price of bread, and
drive single farmers into association, in self-defence; as the great commercial
and manufacturing companies had already done. The Community is only the
continuation of the same movement which made the joint-stock companies for
manufactures, mining, insurance, banking, and so forth. It has turned out
cheaper to make calico by companies; and it is proposed to plant corn, and to
bake bread by companies.

Undoubtedly, abundant mistakes will be made by these first adventurers, which
will draw ridicule on their schemes. I think, for example, that they exaggerate
the importance of a favorite project of theirs, that of paying talent and labor
at one rate, paying all sorts of service at one rate, say ten cents the hour.
They have paid it so; but not an instant would a dime remain a dime. In one hand
it became an eagle as it fell, and in another hand a copper cent. For the whole
value of the dime is in knowing what to do with it. One man buys with it a
land-title of an Indian, and makes his posterity princes; or buys corn enough to
feed the world; or pen, ink, and paper, or a painter's brush, by which he can
communicate himself to the human race as if he were fire; and the other buys
barley candy. Money is of no value; it cannot spend itself. All depends on the
skill of the spender. Whether, too, the objection almost universally felt by
such women in the community as were mothers, to an associate life, to a common
table, and a common nursery, &c., setting a higher value on the private
family with poverty, than on an association with wealth, will not prove
insuperable, remains to be determined.

But the Communities aimed at a higher success in securing to all their
members an equal and thorough education. And on the whole, one may say, that
aims so generous, and so forced on them by the times, will not be relinquished,
even if these attempts fail, but will be prosecuted until they succeed.

This is the value of the Communities; not what they have done, but the
revolution which they indicate as on the way. Yes, Government must educate the
poor man. Look across the country from any hill-side around us, and the
landscape seems to crave Government. The actual differences of men must be
acknowledged, and met with love and wisdom. These rising grounds which command
the champaign below, seem to ask for lords, true lords, _land_-lords, who
understand the land and its uses, and the applicabilities of men, and whose
government would be what it should, namely, mediation between want and supply.
How gladly would each citizen pay a commission for the support and continuation
of good guidance. None should be a governor who has not a talent for governing.
Now many people have a native skill for carving out business for many hands; a
genius for the disposition of affairs; and are never happier than when difficult
practical questions, which embarrass other men, are to be solved. All lies in
light before them; they are in their element. Could any means be contrived to
appoint only these! There really seems a progress towards such a state of
things, in which this work shall be done by these natural workmen; and this, not
certainly through any increased discretion shown by the citizens at elections,
but by the gradual contempt into which official government falls, and the
increasing disposition of private adventurers to assume its fallen functions.
Thus the costly Post Office is likely to go into disuse before the private
transportation-shop of Harnden and his competitors. The currency threatens to
fall entirely into private hands. Justice is continually administered more and
more by private reference, and not by litigation. We have feudal governments in
a commercial age. It would be but an easy extension of our commercial system, to
pay a private emperor a fee for services, as we pay an architect, an engineer,
or a lawyer. If any man has a talent for righting wrong, for administering
difficult affairs, for counselling poor farmers how to turn their estates to
good husbandry, for combining a hundred private enterprises to a general
benefit, let him in the county-town, or in Court-street, put up his sign-board,
Mr. Smith, _Governor_, Mr. Johnson, _Working king_.

How can our young men complain of the poverty of things in New England, and
not feel that poverty as a demand on their charity to make New England rich?
Where is he who seeing a thousand men useless and unhappy, and making the whole
region forlorn by their inaction, and conscious himself of possessing the
faculty they want, does not hear his call to go and be their king?

We must have kings, and we must have nobles. Nature provides such in every
society, — only let us have the real instead of the titular. Let us have our
leading and our inspiration from the best. In every society some men are born to
rule, and some to advise. Let the powers be well directed, directed by love, and
they would everywhere be greeted with joy and honor. The chief is the chief all
the world over, only not his cap and his plume. It is only their dislike of the
pretender, which makes men sometimes unjust to the accomplished man. If society
were transparent, the noble would everywhere be gladly received and accredited,
and would not be asked for his day's work, but would be felt as benefit,
inasmuch as he was noble. That were his duty and stint, — to keep himself pure
and purifying, the leaven of his nation. I think I see place and duties for a
nobleman in every society; but it is not to drink wine and ride in a fine coach,
but to guide and adorn life for the multitude by forethought, by elegant
studies, by perseverance, self-devotion, and the remembrance of the humble old
friend, by making his life secretly beautiful.

I call upon you, young men, to obey your heart, and be the nobility of this
land. In every age of the world, there has been a leading nation, one of a more
generous sentiment, whose eminent citizens were willing to stand for the
interests of general justice and humanity, at the risk of being called, by the
men of the moment, chimerical and fantastic. Which should be that nation but
these States? Which should lead that movement, if not New England? Who should
lead the leaders, but the Young American? The people, and the world, is now
suffering from the want of religion and honor in its public mind. In America,
out of doors all seems a market; in doors, an air-tight stove of
conventionalism. Every body who comes into our houses savors of these habits;
the men, of the market; the women, of the custom. I find no expression in our
state papers or legislative debate, in our lyceums or churches, specially in our
newspapers, of a high national feeling, no lofty counsels that rightfully stir
the blood. I speak of those organs which can be presumed to speak a popular
sense. They recommend conventional virtues, whatever will earn and preserve
property; always the capitalist; the college, the church, the hospital, the
theatre, the hotel, the road, the ship, of the capitalist, — whatever goes to
secure, adorn, enlarge these, is good; what jeopardizes any of these, is
damnable. The `opposition' papers, so called, are on the same side. They attack
the great capitalist, but with the aim to make a capitalist of the poor man. The
opposition is against those who have money, from those who wish to have money.
But who announces to us in journal, or in pulpit, or in the street, the secret
of heroism,

"Man alone Can perform the impossible?"

I shall not need to go into an enumeration of our national defects and vices
which require this Order of Censors in the state. I might not set down our most
proclaimed offences as the worst. It is not often the worst trait that occasions
the loudest outcry. Men complain of their suffering, and not of the crime. I
fear little from the bad effect of Repudiation; I do not fear that it will
spread. Stealing is a suicidal business; you cannot repudiate but once. But the
bold face and tardy repentance permitted to this local mischief, reveal a public
mind so preoccupied with the love of gain, that the common sentiment of
indignation at fraud does not act with its natural force. The more need of a
withdrawal from the crowd, and a resort to the fountain of right, by the brave.
The timidity of our public opinion, is our disease, or, shall I say, the
publicness of opinion, the absence of private opinion. Good-nature is plentiful,
but we want justice, with heart of steel, to fight down the proud. The private
mind has the access to the totality of goodness and truth, that it may be a
balance to a corrupt society; and to stand for the private verdict against
popular clamor, is the office of the noble. If a humane measure is propounded in
behalf of the slave, or of the Irishman, or the Catholic, or for the succor of
the poor, that sentiment, that project, will have the homage of the hero. That
is his nobility, his oath of knighthood, to succor the helpless and oppressed;
always to throw himself on the side of weakness, of youth, of hope, on the
liberal, on the expansive side, never on the defensive, the conserving, the
timorous, the lock and bolt system. More than our good-will we may not be able
to give. We have our own affairs, our own genius, which chains us to our proper
work. We cannot give our life to the cause of the debtor, of the slave, or the
pauper, as another is doing; but to one thing we are bound, not to blaspheme the
sentiment and the work of that man, not to throw stumbling-blocks in the way of
the abolitionist, the philanthropist, as the organs of influence and opinion are
swift to do. It is for us to confide in the beneficent Supreme Power, and not to
rely on our money, and on the state because it is the guard of money. At this
moment, the terror of old people and of vicious people, is lest the Union of
these States be destroyed: as if the Union had any other real basis than the
good pleasure of a majority of the citizens to be united. But the wise and just
man will always feel that he stands on his own feet; that he imparts strength to
the state, not receives security from it; and that if all went down, he and such
as he would quite easily combine in a new and better constitution. Every great
and memorable community has consisted of formidable individuals, who, like the
Roman or the Spartan, lent his own spirit to the state and made it great. Yet
only by the supernatural is a man strong; nothing is so weak as an egotist.
Nothing is mightier than we, when we are vehicles of a truth before which the
state and the individual are alike ephemeral.

Gentlemen, the development of our American internal resources, the extension
to the utmost of the commercial system, and the appearance of new moral causes
which are to modify the state, are giving an aspect of greatness to the Future,
which the imagination fears to open. One thing is plain for all men of common
sense and common conscience, that here, here in America, is the home of man.
After all the deductions which are to be made for our pitiful politics, which
stake every gravest national question on the silly die, whether James or whether
Jonathan shall sit in the chair and hold the purse; after all the deduction is
made for our frivolities and insanities, there still remains an organic
simplicity and liberty, which, when it loses its balance, redresses itself
presently, which offers opportunity to the human mind not known in any other

It is true, the public mind wants self-respect. We are full of vanity, of
which the most signal proof is our sensitiveness to foreign and especially
English censure. One cause of this is our immense reading, and that reading
chiefly confined to the productions of the English press. It is also true, that,
to imaginative persons in this country, there is somewhat bare and bald in our
short history, and unsettled wilderness. They ask, who would live in a new
country, that can live in an old? and it is not strange that our youths and
maidens should burn to see the picturesque extremes of an antiquated country.
But it is one thing to visit the pyramids, and another to wish to live there.
Would they like tithes to the clergy, and sevenths to the government, and
horse-guards, and licensed press, and grief when a child is born, and
threatening, starved weavers, and a pauperism now constituting one-thirteenth of
the population? Instead of the open future expanding here before the eye of
every boy to vastness, would they like the closing in of the future to a narrow
slit of sky, and that fast contracting to be no future? One thing, for instance,
the beauties of aristocracy, we commend to the study of the travelling American.
The English, the most conservative people this side of India, are not sensible
of the restraint, but an American would seriously resent it. The aristocracy,
incorporated by law and education, degrades life for the unprivileged classes.
It is a questionable compensation to the embittered feeling of a proud commoner,
the reflection that a fop, who, by the magic of title, paralyzes his arm, and
plucks from him half the graces and rights of a man, is himself also an aspirant
excluded with the same ruthlessness from higher circles, since there is no end
to the wheels within wheels of this spiral heaven. Something may be pardoned to
the spirit of loyalty when it becomes fantastic; and something to the
imagination, for the baldest life is symbolic. Philip II. of Spain rated his
ambassador for neglecting serious affairs in Italy, whilst he debated some point
of honor with the French ambassador; "You have left a business of importance for
a ceremony." The ambassador replied, "Your majesty's self is but a ceremony." In
the East, where the religious sentiment comes in to the support of the
aristocracy, and in the Romish church also, there is a grain of sweetness in the
tyranny; but in England, the fact seems to me intolerable, what is commonly
affirmed, that such is the transcendent honor accorded to wealth and birth, that
no man of letters, be his eminence what it may, is received into the best
society, except as a lion and a show. The English have many virtues, many
advantages, and the proudest history of the world; but they need all, and more
than all the resources of the past to indemnify a heroic gentleman in that
country for the mortifications prepared for him by the system of society, and
which seem to impose the alternative to resist or to avoid it. That there are
mitigations and practical alleviations to this rigor, is not an excuse for the
rule. Commanding worth, and personal power, must sit crowned in all companies,
nor will extraordinary persons be slighted or affronted in any company of
civilized men. But the system is an invasion of the sentiment of justice and the
native rights of men, which, however decorated, must lessen the value of English
citizenship. It is for Englishmen to consider, not for us; we only say, let us
live in America, too thankful for our want of feudal institutions. Our houses
and towns are like mosses and lichens, so slight and new; but youth is a fault
of which we shall daily mend. This land, too, is as old as the Flood, and wants
no ornament or privilege which nature could bestow. Here stars, here woods, here
hills, here animals, here men abound, and the vast tendencies concur of a new
order. If only the men are employed in conspiring with the designs of the Spirit
who led us hither, and is leading us still, we shall quickly enough advance out
of all hearing of other's censures, out of all regrets of our own, into a new
and more excellent social state than history has recorded.

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson