Sep 13, 1787
Anarchiad, a New England Poem: Part 5
Federalists didn’t respect Democrats; Democrats hated Federalists. Libertarians know neither can be trusted with power.
The final “American Antiquity” from “The Anarchiad” was published four days before the Philadelphia Convention concluded its nasty business. Let’s be frank about what it was—as frank as the Hartford Wits were: This was a coup d’etat, carried out by the select few of the former colonies in secret, without any sort of legal or popular mandate. While the Wits may disagree about the Convention’s legal status, they would certainly scoff at the very idea of a popular mandate. After all, the gruesome Anarch rules over the unthinking masses. For the Wits, men like those sweating out the Philadelphia Summer together were busy saving their country from “The People.” The People would unleash war across the entire frontier zone; they would impoverish the nation and the world with their financial foolhardiness and parochial interests; they would tear down men of honor and talent like Washington to put a demagogue or a king in his place. No, for the Wits—and perhaps for us libertarians, too—The People cannot be trusted. They cannot be trusted to use their own liberties for positive purposes, and they absolutely cannot be trusted to protect the liberties of others. Yet, the Wits would have us believe that the “Founders” were simply better people. They had the proper civic-republican virtue, the vision and intellect required of great statesmen, and they existed on a plane above the rabble that blindly follows selfish interests.
Well, meaning no offense to the Wits—who do make plenty of valid points against democracy—but we know better. Historians from the Progressive Era (like Charles Beard) to our own (like Sheldon Richman) have noted the extent to which the personal interests of the framers are given special protection under the new government. Slaveholder’s interests were protected by the new military, the fugitive slave clause, and a twenty-year buffer period to continue the slave trade (the next two decades, then, were the heaviest in the history of Atlantic slavery). Commercial, manufacturing, and landed interests were all served by the ability to force a single, centrally-regulated currency on the entire country, the ability to lay tariffs, and establish a national bank to promote speculations in land and slaves. Of course, because only white men of (some) property were the ones who already held political power from the colonial era, they were the only people who actually elected representatives and Convention delegates. White men, then, were this new federal republic’s only proper citizens. Their wives and daughters were legal dependents; African-Americans were their property or (begrudgingly) their neighbors in a few northern cities. The Hartford Wits and their Federalist allies temporarily won the day—they built the new government, successfully convinced enough elites in state government to ratify the Constitution, and they ran the new state for twelve years straight.
But they always knew Anarch was still out there. They saw him in the faces of sailors, servants, slaves, working people of all sorts, even middle class operators with a lusty desire to move up in the world. The Wits, too, knew better than to think the Great Men of Philadelphia would solve everything all by themselves. The Federalists’ great failing was in trusting politicians and businessmen more than regular people. The democrat, meanwhile, believes the delusion that “the voice of the people is the voice of God,” so The People are above reproach. The truth is, though, that states and constitutions won’t fix our world; that depends wholly on the character of the people in the course of daily lived experience.
Anarchiad : a New England poem, 1786-1787
By David Humphreys, Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, Lemuel Hopkins
AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.—No. XII.
EXTRACT FROM The ANARCHIAD, BOOK XVII.
[From “The New Haven Gazette and Connecticut Magazine” of September 13th, 1787.]
THE REGION OF PREEXISTENT SPIRITS.
THE flattering attention of the public has engaged the society of critics and antiquarians to give some further extracts from the same Book which concludes with the description of “The Land of Annihilation.” In his progress through the shades, the Bard is attended by an ancient seer, the MERLIN of the West, who explains to him the nature of the country, and the character of its inhabitants. The history of their travels is very entertaining. The account of the various regions and circles into which the Subterranean World is divided, has in many parts been copied by the famous ltalian poet, Dante, in his “Inferno.” The American bard seems to have been the first who entered the REGION OF PREEXISTENT SPIRITS, which has since been explored by the celebrated voyager, Ænas, whose observations may be found in the Sixth Book of Virgil; and notwithstanding our author made his visit at a much earlier period, his relation appears to be equally curious and authentic. That part of the Book which we shall now transcribe, contains the description of many illustrious personages who were to make their appearance on earth, both in Europe and America, in the eighteenth century from the Christian era. From the same amor patriæ which has animated poets in all ages, the seer and the bard have dwelt with peculiar pleasure on those great writers who were destined to spend their lives and lucubrations, and to invent so many curious theories, both in philosophy and history, for demonstrating the debility and diminution of nature in the western hemisphere, and for belittling the great objects on which they were to treat, to the level of European comprehension. He beholds, with admiration, the souls of those learned sages to whom we are since indebted for the discovery that in this part of the globe the animal and vegetable creation are far inferior to the productions of the eastern continent; that man has wonderfully degenerated in courage, activity, and other marks of virility; and that “America has never produced one good Poet, one able Mathematician, or one man of Genius in one single Art, or one single Science,” as the sagacious Abbe Raynal has wisely observed. These he finds grouped in the same circle with those inventive historians and essayists who have lately indulged that ungovernable propensity to the marvelous, with which they seem to have been inspired from all eternity. He describes his entrance into the circle, in the following sublime and awful manner:
DARKLING they plied o’er many a burning heath,
Down the low shores of Erebus and Death—
When, through th’ obscure they saw the glim’ring glades
‘Twixt Orcus central, and th’ Elysian shades:
As hov’ring dreams the slumb’ring eye assail,
Unnumber’d phantoms flit among the vale;
And sounds as vague and hollow meet the ear,
As startled fancy hears, or seems to hear,
What time the mourner, through the midnight gloom,
Sees shadowy spectres issuing from the tomb:
The unreal forms the bard, astonish’d, eyed,
And ask’d the wonder from the friendly guide.
Behold, the seer replies, on those dark coasts
The vagrant hordes of preexistent ghosts—
Elect for earth, and destined to be born
When time’s slow course shall wake the natal morn:
Approach and view, in this, their embryo home,
Wits, poets, chiefs, and sages yet to come.
See yonder group, that scorn the vulgar crowd,
Absorb’d in thought, of conscious learning proud,
Who, rapt with foretaste of their glorious day,
Now seiz’d the pen, impatient of delay:
These shades shall late in Europe’s clime arise,
And scan new worlds with philosophic eyes:
Immured at home, in rambling fancy brave,
Explore all lands beyond th’ Atlantic wave;
Of laws for unknown realms invent new codes,
Write natural histories for their antipodes;
Tell how th’ enfeebled powers of life decay,
Where filling suns defraud the western day;
Paint the dank, steril globe, accurst by fate,
Created, lost, or stolen from ocean late;
See vegetation, man, and bird, and beast,
Just by the distance squares in size decreased;
See mountain pines to dwarfish reeds descend,
Aspiring oaks in pigmy shrub oaks end ;—
The heaven-topp’d Andes sink a humble hill—
Sea-like Potomac run a tinkling rill;—
Huge mammoth dwindle to a mouse’s size—
Columbian turkeys turn European flies;—
Exotic birds, and foreign beasts, grow small,
And man, the lordliest, shrink to least of all:
While each vain whim their loaded skulls conceive
Whole realms shall reverence, and all fools believe.
In passing farther, the seer points out the father of this system, in the soul of the famous Abbe du Pau, who was then busied in prying into futurity, by the aid of a philosophic telescope, calculated to diminish all objects, according to the squares of the distances, as has been hinted. And thus continues the prediction:
There, with sure ken, th’ inverted optics show
All nature lessening to the sage De Pau;
E’en now his head the cleric tonsures grace,
And all the abbe blossoms in his face;
His peerless pen shall raise, with magic lore,
The long-lost pigmies on th’ Atlantic shore;
Make niggard nature’s noblest gifts decline
Th’ indicial marks of bodies masculine;
Nor seek the proof of those who best can tell
The well-taught duchess, and Parisian belle.
He then points out the Compte de Buffon, the Abbe Raynal, Dr. Robertson, and the whole train of imitators, attendant on their master, imbibing learning and wisdom from his lips, and preparing, in the future world, even, to excel their instructor. He appears to have exactly foreseen Dr. Robertson’s “History of America,” and his observation that the soil of America is prolific in nothing but reptiles and insects. The allusion to Moses, in the following lines, seems to confirm the opinion of some learned writers, that the natives of this country were descended from the Jews, or the Jews from them:
See Scotland’s livy in historic pride,
Rush, with blind fury, o’er th’ Atlantic tide;
He lifts, in wrath, his plague-compelling wand,
And deadly murrain blasts the fated land:
His parent call awakes the insect train—
Gnats cloud the skies, and ants devour the plain;
Thick swarming frogs attend his magic voice—
Rods change to serpents, and the dust to lice.
Here the seer took occasion to inform the bard how remarkable some of his own countrymen would become, for being the humble copyists and echoes of these transatlantic imitators; and particularly, that n great [MORRIS] should arise in process of time, who, never having enjoyed, the superior advantage of perusing that astonishing work of genius, THE ANARCHIAD, or any other American poem, should dogmatically decide, in his capacity of Senator, that America never had produced a good poet. He designates him by the subsequent characteristics:
That plodding shade, who, ere he starts from hence,
By mammon taught, in shillings, pounds, and pence
In Philadelphia’s happy soil, shall claim
Gold for His GOD, and [MORRIS] for his name;
With purse-proud wit, and Senatorial rank,
His critic talents glowing from the bank;
From famed Raynal’s wise labors, shall declare,
That not one poet breathes Columbian air!
Yet not all wits who there to fame advance,
Shall take their cue from dictatorial France;
But, like sincere allies, each needy friend
Shall sometimes borrow lies, and sometimes lend.
Scared at the shape of CINCINNATUS’ name,
The envious Burke denied that road to fame;
Stars, ribbands, mantles, crowding on his brain,
”Blows the loud trump!” and calls the jealous train;
Fills gaping herds with visionary fears
Of landless nobles, and of penceless peers;
From social rites, and charity, debars
The unpaid veterans of successful wars—
Proscribes all worth, by ostracising doom,
To death or exile, as in Greece or Rome;
While safe himself, he boasts a strong defense,
Clear from the crime of merit or of sense.
From him shall Gallic scribblers learn their lore,
And write, like him, as man ne’er wrote before;
Grave Demeunier, with borrowed tales, and weak,
Th’ encyclopedias’ endless tomes shall eke—
Assert with falsehood, and with froth disclaim,
Forebode the issues, and foresee the aim;
Through time’s dark vale, the plans of fate explore,
By ign’rance aided in prophetic power;
As old Tiresias, favor’d of the skies,
Gain’d gifts oracular by the loss of eyes.
From these worthies he makes an easy transition to the shade of the redoubtable Comte Mirabeau, who, having lately emerged from the Bastile, has employed his tremendous pen on “the Cincinnati,” “the Navigation of the Scheldt,” “the Waterworks of Paris,” “the projected Bank of St. Charles, in Spain” and innumerable other knotty points; in some of which he has been seconded, and in others, opposed, by his brother in scribbling and the Bastile, the perjured Linguet. It appears that the family of the Mirabeaus were predestined to be infamous for unnatural vices. The father of the present comte was distinguished, in Paris, by the title of ami des hommes, (the lover of mankind.) The seer points out these characters, and relates the result of a council concerning their future destiny, in the following manner:
When souls select, near Jordan rose to dwell,
And people Sodom with the dregs of hell,
Great was the doubt, and great the learn’d debates,
Through the grand conclave of th’ infernal States,
With that vile crew, if these should rise to earth,
Or future Europe better claim’d their birth;
The latter vote prevail’d; on this dark stage
Each incubus awaits the destined age;
Then shall their souls to human forms advance,
And spring to light the Mirabeaus of France.
Yet not alone to carnal views confined;
The younger shades, for mental toils designed,
Profuse of lies, and obstinate in ill,
On every theme shall try his gall-dipt quill:
In Burke’s proud steps shall equal honors claim,
A learn’d associate of Demeunier’s fame.
The next group of souls who pass in review, consists of those wise civilians who have generously wasted such fountains of ink in endeavoring to instruct poor America in her own history and politics. The Abby Mably is mentioned with particular respect. Nor is a just tribute of praise denied to the modest Target, who, supposing that no laws existed in the United States, and that the people were incapable of devising any system, humanely proposed to Congress to supply that deficiency, and furnish a code for the use of the empire. The seer, on beholding his shade, thus apostrophizes:
Inflated pride! all-feeling ignorance!
Ye grand inspirers of the wits of France!
On blest Target exhaust your utmost power;
Shower all your gifts, and lavish all your store!
I see him, tow’ring ‘mid th’ applauding throng,
Pomp in his air, and bluster on his tongue;
Wave-dangling far, his wig-official curl’d—
A sign of sapience, to the western world.
Throned ‘mid the forty wise, by partial fates,
A self-made Solon for the rising States.
In the next department appear the souls of those European historians and biographers who have amused their readers with many fairy tales, the scenes of which they have had the complaisance to lay in America. We are sorry the length of this number prevents our enlarging upon this part of the Book. The seer enters into a detail of their falsehoods, with great accuracy and minuteness; and even condescends to notice the history of Connecticut, invented by Parson Peters, the fag-end man of M’Fingal. But he pays particular attention to the great genius of D’Auberteul, who has so ably displayed his creative talents in embellishing the late American revolution; describing the manner of cutting up the crown into thirteen pieces, and sending it to the several States; and giving the interesting novel of the amours of General WASHINGTON; with a great variety of particulars, equally true and instructive. He concludes with the following sublime address to his shade, which has been closely copied by Pope, in one of his smaller poems:
Swift fly the years, and rise the expected morn!
Oh spring to light! auspicious sage, be born!
The new-found world shall all your cares engage;
The promised lyre of the future age.
No more shall glory gild the hero’s name,
Nor envy sicken at the deeds of fame;
Virtue no more the generous breast shall fire,
Nor radiant truth the historic page inspire;
But lost, dissolved in thy superior shade,
One tide of falsehood o’er the world be spread;
In wit’s light robe shall gaudy fiction shine,
And all be lies, as in a work of thine.