Page images
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]




JANUARY, 1841.

Art. I. — Conversations with a Radical. By a Con


My attention was arrested one day, during a short residence in a Western city, by a crowd collected before the principal hotel. Wedging my way into the crowd, I soon discovered that the object of attention was a coarsely clad fellow, holding forth to the multitude from the very top of his lungs. He appeared to be speaking under strong excitement. He gesticulated rapidly and with violence. His tones were harsh and bitter; his looks were wild and haggard ; and his whole figure and manner indicated a madman, or a person uttering himself on a subject, which absorbed the whole energy of his soul.

“Ye make us beasts of burden; were the first words I could make out. “ Ye call yourselves the higher orders, because ye can task the labors of the poor

and wretched. Ye are the higher orders, are ye, because ye wear fine clothes, have long purses, live in spendid palaces, and recline on soft couches; because ye have large estates, well cultivated fields, rich harvests, groaning granaries, and crowded store-houses ? By whose labor are ye what ye call yourselves ? By your own ? 'Tis false. Tis by the labor of those ?

' 1


ye call the lower class, on whose rights, feelings, and interests ye trample every moment, and for whom ye care less than ye care for your oxen or your horses. Ye strut and swell with a boasted superiority, do ye? Know ye not that ye purchase it by the tears of the widow, the wrongs of the orphan, and the blood of those ye should have loved as ye love yourselves ?

“The higher orders, are ye? Ay, for ye make men carry you on their shoulders; ay, for ye ride on the backs of those of your fellow beings who have too much honesty, or too much simplicity, to be riders themselves. And now, forsooth, ye raise a terrible hue and cry because we, whom ye have ridden for ages, show ourselves a little restive and unwilling to stand ready bitted and saddled, for you to vault upon our backs, and plunge your rowels deep into our flanks. Order is in danger, is it, because the horse learns his strength and turns upon his rider? Society is to be dissolved, is it, because your oppression is to end ? Vain are your threats; vain are your pictures of mobocracy and anarchy; ye shall be unhorsed. We have sworn it in the depths of our souls, on the altars of our country, in the presence of our God.

We will carry you no longer. Use your own limbs. Ye may as well go on foot as we. Go build your own houses, cultivate your own fields, make your own tools, man your own ships, work your own engines. Ye may as well do it for yourselves, as that we should be poor and ignorant in order to do it for you. No longer will we toil, and sweat, and suffer, that ye may enjoy, or be corrupted by wealth and luxury. The higher orders, are ye? puling babes, miserable victims of your own avarice or extravagance, worshippers of fashion, men forsworn, who study only to profit by the labors of others! The higher orders, are ye? Go then and form a nation of higher orders, a nation apart by yourselves, and see how long ye will maintain your elevation.”

As he uttered these last words in a tone, which one must have heard, in order to form any conception of

[ocr errors]

its provokingness, a stone, sent from no unskilful hand, struck him on the side of the head, and knocked him senseless to the ground. “Good!” shouted the mul

. “” titude, and dispersed to their several places of business. Though provoked by the fellow's radical nonsense, and uncalled-for declamation, I ran to ascertain the effects of the blow, and to see whether any assistance was possible or needed. I found him stunned, but not seriously injured. It is no easy matter to kill an enthusiast. His body is so completely under the control of the spirit, and so saturated with it, that it becomes itself all but spiritual and impassible. I had him conducted to my lodgings, where all needed assistance was rendered him. In a few hours he was perfectly recovered, except a slight contusion on his head, from which, however, he assured me he suffered no pain.

I have not a spice of radicalism in my nature. It is true, I was a poor boy, and that for some years I had a hard struggle; but now, all my habits, my interests, and, I may add, my convictions, are with the Conservatives. I do not feel it my duty to set up for a Reformer, to be wiser than all who went before me, than most of my contemporaries. I am not yet capable of so much arrogance.

I am content to follow on in - the path my forefathers trod." I have aimed to check whatever tendencies I may possibly have had towards enthusiasm, and I am in general as cold and as immovable as the granite hills of my own New-England. Yet this ranting street orator affected me, and made me wish to examine him at my leisure. He struck me as a riddle, but also as a riddle worth the reading. Perhaps there is something in lofty enthusiasm, in the power of self-sacrifice, in a disposition, that goes straight to its object, regardless of difficulties, or dangers, or death, however mistimed or misplaced, which cannot be witnessed with indifference; something perhaps to warm the coldest hearts, and agitate minds the best disciplined. No philosopher seems able to offer a more convincing argument for his system than to die for it. Samson destroyed more of his enemies by his death, than by his life ; and the early Christians conquered the world by dying for it.

There was another reason why I wished to examine this fellow, who was the incarnation of Radicalism. Radicalism was rife in my native city. It was threatening everything with destruction. Insubordination was becoming universal. Strikes, and combinations, and trades' unions were paving the way for a return to the savage state. Property was becoming insecure, and there was no foreseeing what the sovereign mob might not, one day, take it into its head to do. Perhaps it would even go so far as to propose a division of property, and to distribute among the idle and vicious the fruits of the labors of the industrious and the virtuous. I wished to make myself thoroughly acquainted with the character, designs, resources, and expectations of Radicalism. This fellow, whom chance had thrown in my way, might instruct me. I therefore urged him to spend a few days with me, which he readily consented to do, as he was one of those who go about doing good, when they have not where to lay their heads. During his stay with me, we ran over a great variety of topics, some of which we discussed with a little closeness and depth, and others we merely touched upon.

The principal results of our intercourse and discussions are contained in the following Conversations, which were written down immediately after, and as nearly as they occurred, as possible. If I have not in all cases refuted his mischievous notions, it must be borne in mind, that my chief object was not to show my own argumentative powers, which those who know me will admit to be not contemptible, nor to vindicate my own doctrines; but to draw out the Radical, and make myself, if possible, acquainted with his inmost soul. My friends, I am sure, will agree with me, that his notions in general need no refutation.

I soon perceived that his conversion to rationality was hopeless, and I ceased to attempt it. Whatever I said was intended to give him an opportunity to express his opinions.

« PreviousContinue »