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The Superiority of Moral over Political Power

What is moral power? The power which operates on the affections, passions, reason, and moral sentiment of mankind, and thereby controls them without physical force. It comprehends every description of influence, which, without applying or threatening to apply physical coercion, tends to determine the will, conduct, and character of human beings.

What is political power? The power of the State, body politic, or civil government, operating under the forms of law, and compelling, or threatening to compel subjection to its requirements by physical force. It comprehends every description of influence founded on the authority of the State, which either applies or threatens to apply physical coercion.

Taking these two powers, as they exist in this country, and as they are available to philanthropists and moral reformers, let us contrast them. We affirm that moral power is superior.

In respect to general objects, moral power is superior

It is the object of moral power to regenerate public sentiment — to superinduce a right public opinion and WILL in the great mass of the people. It is the object of political power to overawe and coerce, by penal laws, delinquent and refractory individuals. Moral power converts the majority to righteousness, in spite of ten thousand difficulties. Political power expresses the new public will in the forms of law, and by physical force, applied or threatened, overawes the minority, and coerces the unwilling few into apparent subjection.

Moral power does ninety-nine one hundredths of the work, and political power, in its official robes, with a half unsheathed sword at its side, follows after, claiming all the credit. Which is the superior?

In respect to the numbers who exercise power, moral power is superior

Moral power is exercised by every human being, in greater or less degree, and is reflected from every created thing. It is vested in the patriarch and the new born babe; in the prince and the beggar; in the philosopher and the idiot. It comes forth from beast, bird, fish, insect, trees, plants, flowers, fruits, winds, fires, floods, earth, sea and skies, with all their infinitude of startling, grand, pleasing and charming objects. All these address themselves to the affections, passions, reasons and moral sentiment of mankind. They all tend to determine his will, conduct and character. Deeds, words, signs, gestures, looks; tones, tears, sighs, animate and inanimate forms — yes, silence itself — more expressive sometimes than speech, concur in the result. The guilty fly at the movement of a leaf, and hear heart-searching admonitions in the moans of the passing wind. A falling apple suggested to great Newton the law of universal gravitation, and revolutionized astronomical philosophy throughout the world. Poets have gathered inspiration amid the vast wonders and inimitable beauties of nature; and God's chosen saints have been, rapt in deeper adoration by contemplating the grandeur, order, and loveliness of creation.

Moral power is everywhere, in all things. It is exercised by, or at least reflected from, the innumerable hosts of universal nature. But political power is exercised by only a handful of human beings. It is vested, nominally, in the voting citizens, and exercised by their chosen representatives in he several departments of government. And who are voting citizens? Exclude all females, all minors under twenty-one years of age, all paupers and persons under guardianship, all slaves, all un-naturalized foreigners, and many others for want of the requisite property qualification. The residue will be voting citizens, amounting to less than one fourth of the whole nation. Deduct from these, the sick, helpless, indifferent, and scrupulously conscientious against voting, and the, average proportion of actual voters to the mass will be one to six, or more likely one to ten. Of these, there must be a majority, or strong plurality to determine any important issue. The dominant party furnishes nearly all the offices of government, and is itself managed in all its principal doings by a subtle few behind the curtain. The whole political power in every country is virtually in the hands of a mere fraction of the people.

In respect to the prominent details of operation, moral power is superior

Moral power unites male and female in marriage, multiplies human beings, subdues the earth, increases wealth, forms neighborhoods, and builds cities. Political power takes the census, levies taxes, trains soldiers to do its fighting, and assumes the office of protecting the people.

Moral power educates the people, intellectually, religiously, morally, socially and, industrially. Political power tickles their ambition, uses up their faculties, consumes their substance, and punishes a few of their grosser crimes. Moral power is busy in the nursery, in the schoolhouse, academy and college, in the laboratory, the library, the study, the hall of science, the meetinghouse, the conference room, and the sick chamber. Political power is busy managing caucuses, overseeing elections, legislating, holding courts, guarding prisoners, hanging murderers, punishing criminals, and executing all manner of legal processes.

Moral power is instant in season and out of season, endeavoring to reform and bless society. Political power is watching jealously every movement among the people that threatens to lessen its consequence, reform its abuses, or cut off its revenue. It clings with a death-grasp to all its prerogatives, immunities, formalities, honors, and emoluments.

Moral power traverses the highways and byways in search of the fallen and lost to restore them. Political power cares little for these things. It knows how to punish but not how to restore. Moral power reforms thousands of drunkards, and thereby prevents ten thousand crimes. Political power honors respectable drunkards, and often protects the manufacture of the drunkard's ruin. Yet if one of them, in his madness, slays a man, or burns a house, it ostentatiously arrests, tries and hangs him.

Moral power is putting forth mighty energies to abolish slavery, and elevate four millions of degraded beings to the rank of manhood. It is exerting its multiform influence to regenerate a corrupt public sentiment, and to superinduce a will in the people of the United States to let the oppressed go free. Political power hinders and obstructs the progress of this reform by every possible means. It is wedded to slavery, and will uphold it till a new public opinion compels it to stand off.

Moral power is earnestly engaged in abolishing the horrid custom of war. Political power is doing all it can, by precept and practice, to preserve this custom.

Moral power is trying to bring about universal reformation, holiness and happiness on earth. Political power is chiefly concerned to keep things as they are.

In respect to instrumentalities, moral power is superior

Look at the number and efficiency of these influences which moral power is every where employing to enlighten and improve mankind. Though many of them are sadly perverted, and need to be rightly directed, yet from their peculiar nature, endless variety, and universal activity, they are capable of producing stupendous results. There is Religion, acting directly on the noblest and, for good or evil, mightiest faculty of human nature, with all its elevating hopes and awful fears, with its myriads of ministers, altars, congregations and Sunday schools; its prayers, sermons, magazines, newspapers and tracts innumerable; its Bible Societies, Missionary Societies, Tract Societies, Education Societies and Theological Seminaries; its sanctity, piety, learning, zeal and devotion. Is it not alone an overmatch for all the forces of political power? Political Power could not stand a month against the undivided influence of Religion. If the Religion of this land could be perfectly Christianized in its doctrines and duties, every evil now connected with political power would presently vanish away before it.

Next comes education; in the nursery, the infant school, the common school, the high school, the academy, the Lyceum, the lecture room, the college, the university. Count up all these, with their school books, apparatus and libraries, their teachers, preceptors, tutors and eminent professors. What have we in the province of political power corresponding to all this?

Literature follows and perfects education. Think of the authors, editors and publishers; of their works, from the alphabetical primer to the huge folio; textbooks, histories, biographies, scientific repositories, encyclopedias, fiction, romance and sentiment in every variety of prose and verse; all that a man knows, thinks, imagines or suspects, written and printed in countless volumes, annuals, quarterlies, monthlies, weeklies and dailies! If one of former times could say with truth, "Let me write the ballads of the nation, and I care not who writes it laws," what shall we think of the concurrent influence of education and literature, acting upon the people of this country, though all these appliances? What has political power to compare with it?

The higher arts and sciences are not to be forgotten. The painter and sculptor are copying nature on canvas and marble. All that is awful, sublime, sacred, pure, touching, exquisite, strange, facetious, laughable, fascinating — all that can move the soul, or ravish the imagination, is found among the productions of genius. The engraver follows after, and enables the press to scatter broadcast an endless variety of pictorial representations. And, as if all this were not enough, the Daguerreotype completes the work.

Music, with magic powers and resistless charms, as she chants the sweetest strains of the poet, asserts her importance among the instrumentalities of moral power. The miracles of Orpheus are almost equaled by modern masters. Who has ever listened to the simple, pathetic, soul-subduing, heart-purifying strains of our Hutchinsons without confessing the majesty of music — the potency of its sway over all the feelings of our nature? Could we bring every band, every choir, all the masters of this captivating art into the service of Temperance, Freedom and Peace, what would they not accomplish for our world?

Still more important, moral power claims as peculiarly its own, what political power disdains — the INFLUENCE OF WOMAN. And who can estimate this influence? It is one that commences mysteriously with the first pulsation of life, and, constantly operates till the unconsciousness of death. What does not the mother, sister, lover, wife, and friend, do for man? Alas, that the influence should ever be abused, as it sometimes is! But it need not be abused. It may all be consecrated to the redemption and perfection of the race. Much, very much of it is already consecrated to that end. Where is the great or good man, of ancient or modern times, or where is the great and noble enterprise, that ever wrought out blessings for humanity, unsanctioned and unaided by women? While heroes are riding their war-horses victoriously over the slain, or swimming in blood to a throne, the good mother is nursing and educating, in obscurity, benefactors for a degraded and suffering world. Unnoticed, unknown, unasked and unthanked, woman nourishes, refreshes, chastens, elevates and sustains human society. All that promises to reform and restore poor fallen humanity, true-hearted woman is among the first in faith, hope, charity and good works to promote. Her affection, gentleness, loveliness, taste, sympathy, delicate intellect, zeal, patience, devotion, perseverance, and tact, her counsels, prayers, tears, smiles, all together, exert an influence over mankind, to which political power with its mighty armies and navies must ever succumb. When women become what they ought to be, and do what they may do, Intemperance, Slavery, War, vindictive punishment, covetousness, cruelty and crime will pass away forever. Then will the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Last, we bring into this category the numerous family of voluntary associations: charitable, humane, philanthropic and moral reform societies of every description. All these are instrumentalities developed and employed by moral power. And who can estimate the good they have done, or the evil they have prevented? Witness their benevolence, self-sacrifice, truthfulness and zeal.

See they myriads of wretched drunkards lifted from the gutter to sobriety, respectability and comfort. See millions of men and women prevented from becoming the victims of intemperance. Hear with what faithfulness and moral courage the poor imbruted, helpless slaves are pleaded for by devoted men and women, in the presence of political power, wealth, and false religion. Voices are everywhere crying in the wilderness, and in the city, against the wickedness of the oppressor, and the heartlessness of the mighty. Every corner of the land is searched as with candles, and the nation is beginning to ferment from center to circumference as with leaven. The foolishness of preaching and publishing the truth is gradually working the overthrow of tyranny and cruelty. Meantime, War with is gory machinery is manfully assailed, and exposed in all its hatefulness, by the sons and daughters of Peace. Their weapons are not carnal, but yet mighty in this holy conflict.

Degraded and forsaken females are sought after, and taken by the hand, with tears of entreaty by the Sisters of Moral Reform, and many that were morally dead are brought to life. The guilty and endungeoned criminal, once unfit for sympathy or compassion, feels the blessings of Prisoner's Friend Societies; is visited in his dreary cell by brothers and sisters of charity, who dare to tell him he has a Father in heaven, an interceding Redeemer, and angels of mercy that seek his salvation. And when political power has done with him, if he escapes with his life, these brothers and sisters take him by the hand, find a home for him, and do all they can to restore him to society as a good and useful member. Others again are busy improving the condition of seamen, so long neglected; in rescuing the drowning, relieving the penniless sick, affording refuge to the abandoned, an asylum to the orphan, and to the unfortunate insane; befriending the destitute, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving eyes to the blind and soundness to the lame; enlightening the ignorant, reforming the vicious, preventing pauperism and crime; in fine, blessing the bodies and souls of mankind. Such are the instrumentalities of moral power. Such are its unostentatious but mighty and manifold works.

In the face of all this, let political power look up and present its vaunted resources. Behold its swords, its muskets, its cannon, its powder and ball, its forts, arsenals, dockyards and ships of war; its regulars, its militia, its banners, caps, feathers, tinsel epaulettes, parti-colored uniforms; its jails, prisons, gibbets, pillories, whipping-posts and stocks; its courts, processes, and technicalities; its congresses, general assemblies, town meetings, caucuses and vigilance committees; its wire-pullers, pipe-layers, venal newspapers, and brazen-faced demagogues, all crying like the daughters of the horse-leech: Give! Give office and salary! Mighty as political power is, in physical force and money; terrible as it sometimes is in vengeance, what is it compared with moral power? And what is all the good it does compared with the good done by moral power? Why then is it so dreaded, courted, lauded, and sought after, even by professed philanthropists and moral reformers?

In respect to priority and independence of action, moral power is superior

Moral power is natural, spontaneous and independent in its action. It originates ideas, feelings, and sentiments, and changes of human conduct. It operates not only without, but against political power, and obliges political power to conform to its dictates. As an illustration, look at the rise and triumph of the Christian religion. It had no political power. It was a babe in the manger. Political power slew fourteen thousand innocents to make sure of its death. But it survived and grew up to maturity. Herod and Pilate, Jewish power and Roman power, crucified, slew, burnt, tortured and persecuted. Yet it prevailed in spite of the whole. It was never mightier; never more rapid in its progress. So it has been on a small scale with the Temperance Reform. It commenced in the face of all the untoward laws of political power, as well as of all the habits, popular customs and prejudices of the age. Yet it grew in strength and numbers to the astonishment of the world. It never advanced more rapidly and triumphantly than when it relied wholly on the resources of moral power.

Not so with political power. What important change was ever brought about for the public good by political power alone? It originates no such changes. It never thinks of making any such changes, till moral power has suggested them, and prepared the public mind to acquiesce in them. Political power is artificial, mechanical, and incapable of doing anything good, without the creative preparative and sustaining influence of moral power.

In respect to freedom and elasticity, moral power is superior

Moral power is not restricted to times, places and set forms. It is not confined to certain classes of persons, within certain limits of latitude and longitude, not to particular classes of conduct and character. it is chained to no arbitrary processes. It is free and elastic as the mountain air. It is at home everywhere, among all human beings, at all times and places.

Not so political power. It is restricted on every side by Constitutions, laws, regulations, precedents, formalities and usages. It must not meddle with person or property, unless at a particular time, within particular geographical limits, with certain preliminaries, and according to certain technical forms of proceeding. Its every process, this side of war, is liable to be hindered, and even quashed, by reason of some constitutional, legal, or technical defect. A governor is elected by a single vote, or loses his election by the accidental omission of a letter in his name on half a dozen ballots. A whole estate is lost or gained by the inadvertent omission or insertion of a word in some document or record. Political power operates through a complex and cumbrous machine, with immense internal friction, and very awkwardly accomplishes a small amount of good at an enormous expense.

Other respects in which moral power is superior

Moral power operates through all its multiform processes, and accomplishes its magnificent results with little show, and at its own expense. Political power puts on its robes, sounds a trumpet, and parades its machinery before the public eye, at the expense of the public. It taxes them as heavily as they will bear, compels them to pay the assessment, and takes care to secure to itself an ample remuneration.

Many people continually magnify the benefits conferred on the people by governments, and the execution of the law. But whatever government may do for the governed in any way, it always takes care to see itself and its principal functionaries well paid. The fable of Justice Monkey, eating up the cheese for two litigant cats, is not malapropos. They who are fortunate enough to live above political power are fortunate indeed.

Moral power, being unostentatious and disinterested, exerts a purifying and ennobling influence on the character of its votaries. We are all made wiser and better by humble and unselfish acts to render others so. And every moral philanthropist feels that his own soul has grown in grace just in proportion to the fidelity and self-sacrifice with which he has labored to promote any great and good cause. This is not the least important part of his reward. But political power has the contrary tendency. It generally renders its devotees more selfish, corrupt, hollow-hearted, and tyrannical. Many a decently good man has gone into the labyrinth of politics and held office to his own moral ruin. And few ever came out more fit for the kingdom of heaven; unless driven by disgust from its sorceries. It requires no ordinary virtue to maintain one's moral integrity against the seductions of political power.

Finally, moral power has devised and accomplished nearly all the good that has been done among mankind since the foundation of the world. It has discovered, invented, and perfected all manner of improvements — mechanical, chemical, intellectual, social, moral and religious — which distinguish and adorn the most civilized, enlightened, and Christian portions of mankind. It has done most of these mighty words in poverty and solitude, with little or no countenance from political power or its worshipers; and not unfrequently in spite of their most deadly opposition.

On the other hand, political power seldom patronizes the benefactors of their race till they are quite able to take care of themselves. It generally starves, crucifies, or stones them, and afterwards erects monuments to their memories, or garnishes their sepulchers. It is busy with its own schemes, luxuries, pleasures and self-preservation. It has deluged the earth with blood, and persecuted many of the most righteous causes that were ever proposed to the consideration of man. Moral power has always been struggling to reform political power, and has with great difficulty succeeded in clothing it with its present respectability. All the good there is in it, has been wrought out with toil, tears and sufferings by moral power. And it never will become what it ought to be, till moral power shall have completely saturated it with Christian principle. Then will it cease from all craft, fraud, intrigue and violence, and wisely coerce the few that may need coercion at all, only by an uninjurious, beneficent physical force, which shall equally secure the individual and public welfare.

Moral power is therefore incomparably superior to political power, in respect to their general objects; to the numbers that exercise them; to the prominent details of their operation; to their instrumentalities; to priority and independence of action; to their freedom and elasticity; to their disinterestedness, their expense, their influence on their devotees, the service they have rendered mankind, and their very nature and tendency throughout.

Has not this superiority been sufficiently demonstrated? If not, let the panegyrists and dependents of political power show the contrary. Let them rail, ridicule, declaim or denounce. But with humility, sincerity, and manly honestly let them reason. If they can prove that political power is not per se necessarily evil (which no sound mind affirms), let them go farther and prove, (what we deny) that as it is now, and is available to moral reforms in this country, its exercise is directed by Christian principles, or likely to patronize any great moral enterprise of the age. Let them proceed a step further still, and show if they can that it is the mission, or any part of the mission, of our reformers, to descend from the use of moral instrumentalities, and rely on those of political Let those who are called to testify against the iniquities of the land, and to regenerate its corrupt public sentiment, adhere closely to their work, and be careful never to endorse politically the very errors, falsehoods and vices which they morally rebuke. And may the Infinite Father, the exhaustless source of moral power, pervade the wide world with its redeeming influence, till the majesty of its excellence shall subdue the nations, and the universal chorus salute the skies:

Glory to God in the highest! on earth peace, good will to men!

As heaven's vast orb transcends the sickly moon,
And pours through all the sky eternal noon;
So glows the Moral sun with rays divine,
Amid the wide spread firmament of mind,
And rules the opaque satellite of State
With all the scepters majesty of Fate.