CHAPTER XIV. NEW YORK.
But of all differences between an Englishman and an American, that in politics is the strongest and the most essential. I cannot here, in one paragraph, define that difference with sufficient clearness to make my definition satisfactory; but I trust that some idea of that difference may be conveyed by the general tenor of my book. The American and the Englishman are both republicans. The governments of the States and of England are probably the two purest republican governments in the world. I do not, of course, here mean to say that the governments are more pure than others, but that the systems are more absolutely republican. And yet no men can be much farther asunder in politics than the Englishman and the American. The American of the present day puts a ballot-box into the hands of every citizen, and takes his stand upon that and that only. It is the duty of an American citizen to vote; and when he has voted, he need trouble himself no further till the time for voting shall come round again. The candidate for whom he has voted represents his will, if he have voted with the majority; and in that case he has no right to look for further influence. If he have voted with the minority, he has no right to look for any influence at all. In either case he has done his political work, and may go about his business till the next year, or the next two or four years, shall have come round. The Englishman, on the other hand, will have no ballot-box, and is by no means inclined to depend exclusively upon voters or upon voting. As far as voting can show it, he desires to get the sense of the country; but he does not think that that sense will be shown by universal suffrage. He thinks that property amounting to a thousand pounds will show more of that sense than property amounting to a hundred; but he will not, on that account, go to work and apportion votes to wealth. He thinks that the educated can show more of that sense than the uneducated; but he does not therefore lay down any rule about reading, writing, and arithmetic, or apportion votes to learning. He prefers that all these opinions of his shall bring themselves out and operate by their own intrinsic weight. Nor does he at all confine himself to voting, in his anxiety to get the sense of the country. He takes it in any way that it will show itself, uses it for what it is worth, or perhaps far more than it is worth, and welds it into that gigantic lever by which the political action of the country is moved. Every man in Great Britain, whether he possesses any actual vote or no, can do that which is tantamount to voting every day of his life by the mere expression of his opinion. Public opinion in America has hitherto been nothing, unless it has managed to express itself by a majority of ballot-boxes. Public opinion in England is everything, let votes go as they may. Let the people want a measure, and there is no doubt of their obtaining it. Only the people must want it - as they did want Catholic emancipation, reform, and corn-law repeal, and as they would want war if it were brought home to them that their country was insulted.
In attempting to describe this difference in the political action of the two countries, I am very far from taking all praise for England or throwing any reproach on the States. The political action of the States is undoubtedly the more logical and the clearer. That, indeed, of England is so illogical and so little clear that it would be quite impossible for any other nation to assume it, merely by resolving to do so. Whereas the political action of the States might be assumed by any nation to-morrow, and all its strength might be carried across the water in a few written rules as are the prescriptions of a physician or the regulations of an infirmary. With us the thing has grown of habit, has been fostered by tradition, has crept up uncared for, and in some parts unnoticed. It can be written in no book, can be described in no words, can be copied by no statesmen, and I almost believe can be understood by no people but that to whose peculiar uses it has been adapted.