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Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America


Part  B


The genius of Puritan theology in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century produced a conception of representation which was, when taken with the whole Puritan viewpoint, perhaps the most original contribution of colonial thought to the generations of America that followed.[31] The ideas of representation which evolved from the Government of Massachusetts and to a lesser extent from the governments of the other New England colonies were a product of three historical strains of philosophy: the theory of the social compact, the idea of the state as an organism, and the highly personal theory of the constant struggle of man against the evil within him.

Working together and against one another under the fusing influence of religious fire, they molded a viewpoint which resisted the forces of the doctrines of direct democracy and the representation of property interests until the eighteenth century and, in fact, were never reduced to the state where they were not capable of revivals which invigorated the stream of American idealistic political philosophy.

The personal, individual element in the Puritan philosophy was often to result in Congregationalism, and Congregationalism was often to transfer itself over to the state from the church. Coming as it did, when England already had a variety of representative procedures, Puritanism could not help impelling those practices in the direction of direct democracy. The neighborliness of wilderness life in the colonies also helped to make direct democracy a feature of political life, as indicated in the section immediately preceding.

Nevertheless, the mass of the Puritan doctrine, if it had not been deflected, would have traced a course directly to those organic state theories which characterized English and German idealistic philosophy in the nineteenth century. Elements in American thought that are commonly called idealistic owe to the Massachusetts colony a great share of their inspiration. Remarkably enough, the organic theory of the Puritans was accomplished without the employment of historical substantiation - a method that has usually accompanied those theories, as, for example, in Burke, Carlyle, and Hegel.[33]

We cannot reach the core of the Puritan concept of representation, therefore by discovering to what extent the Puritans accepted the practices of direct democracy. For procedures to the idealists are but grist to the mill of the soul. Rather, we must examine three propositions which the Puritans offered as alternatives to the propositions of the direct democrats: the doctrine of magistracy; the idea of organic society; and the theory of "compulsory voluntarism," to use a term recently employed by discredited political systems whose connections with Puritanism are otherwise remote.

The idea of magistracy is at once a belief in bureaucracy and a conviction that the administration of government must be for the good of the people. It is the outer manifestation of the powerful, inner Puritan conscience, so well-described by Perry Miller, both in its origins and in its development. When the introspective, troubled soul turns out to the world, it brings with it and applies its same methods of thought. The sphere of society is a personal, closed subjectivism. Its morality and operations are a single, shining shaft of light, not a complex of counting-house transactions. The New England Puritans were therefore intent on reducing the laws of their community to a constitution and proceeding from there to mere rulings on the laws. They were eager constitutionalists. Connecticut was proud of having drafted the first constitution in its "Fundamental Orders" of 1639. John Cotton essayed a code of fundamental law for the commonwealth which he called "Model of Moses His Judicials." The government was to be a spiritual corporation; conscience, rather than money, was legal tender for shares.

The function of the magistrate proceeds from the organic law. He must treat the laws of the community as his religious duty bids him treat the laws of the Bible: on the basis of the general text, he must supply the particular problem with a solution inside the framework of the text.[34] Again we quote Miller's fine analysis:

"They were striving to push as far into the background as possible the order of things that exists by inevitable equilibrium, that is fulfilled by unconscious and aimless motions, that is determined by inertia and inexorable law, and in its place to set up an order founded upon voluntary choice, upon the deliberate assumption of obligation, upon unconstrained pacts, upon the sovereign determinations of free wills." [35] This latter sphere, large and rational, would be the sphere of decisions and power of the magistrates.

Winthrop objected strenuously to the assembly's idea that "magistracy must be no other, in effect, than a ministerial office, and all authority, both legislative, consultative, and judicial, must be exercised by the people in their body representative."[36] It is doubtful whether he would have conceded to the assembly powers greater than advisory or functions greater than aids. Popular power hardly extends further than the first social compact. Miller describes the theocratic impulse towards power in the following words:

"In order that the theory of its contractual origins might not turn Massachusetts into a democracy - which Cotton declared God did never "ordeyne as a fitt government eyther for church or commonwealth" - Winthrop and the leaders took unto themselves the tremendous prestige which a Puritan laity accorded to learning, scholarship, and academic training. Winthrop traded upon his prestige in order to convince common men that after they had become parties to the compact, they were to be content with general regulations and to entrust administration to men wiser than they, to men capable, as they were not, of deducing logical conclusions from the general to the particular." [37]

Nothing could have been more antithetic to the beliefs of the Levellers or, for that matter, even of the fifth of the male inhabitants of Massachusetts who then voted. For the procedures which they considered would lead to the perpetuation of their wills in the very body of the government were rendered meaningless by the simple tool of magisterial presumption of the will of God. Karl Mannheim has written: "The fundamental tendency of all bureaucratic thought is to turn all problems of politics into problems of administration."[38] This was the reasoning of Winthrop, too, when he justified the restraints imposed by the magistrate on the actions of those who were demanding a more active role in the governing process. Time after time, Winthrop and Cotton insisted that the stewardship did not allow of license but had as its chief purpose the prevention of the natural disorders of men. The magistrate is the custodian of the public interest. Only he can prevent factionalism from growing rife in the society and protect the public interest so that it will "oversway all private interests."[39] Winthrop insisted on the veto power over acts of the elected representatives of the people. He claimed, in refutation of the opposition, that the veto protected liberty; "I cannot liken it better to anything than the brake of a windmill: w'ch hath no power to move the runninge worke: but it is of speciall use, to stoppe any violent motion, w'ch in some extraordinary tempest might endanger the wholl fabricke." Petitions were things of disorder:

"When the people have chosen men to be their rulers, now to combine a public petition to have an order repealed... savors of resisting an ordinance of God. For the people, having deputed others, have no right to make or alter laws, themselves, but are to be subject."

Cotton even inclined towards the perpetuation of a governing class for its lifetime at least. "A magistrate," he declared," ought not to be turned into the condition of a private man without just cause, and to be publicly convict, no more than the magistrates may turn a private man out of his freehold, etc., without like public trial, etc."

The bureaucratic and patriarchal notions which the Puritan leaders possessed were a part, too, of the sense of organic unity belonging to the compact New England communities, even though the greater part of the American colonies were more and more developing the liberal and individualistic tendencies of the social contract. The heavy hand of the theories of Divine Right and the mercantilist state lay hard upon them. They were only a few years away from Elizabeth and from Hooker, who, in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, had written: "We mean by the Commonwealth that society with relation unto all public affairs thereof, only the matter of true religion eccepted [sic]; by the Church the same society, with only reference unto the matter of true religion, without any other affairs besides."40 The principles of mercantilism were accepted and applied by the Puritans in Massachusetts. Business and commerce, as well as society in general were subject to regulation.[41]

In a significant passage, Miller writes:

"The magistrates were not in Withrop's view potential tyrants to be prevented from doing mischief, but an integral part of a unified community, the guardians of its ideals and purposes....Hence the magistrates spoke for the inner will of the community; they were not lackeys appointed to stand in one place and perform only menial service."

If we are to accept Gierke's statement that the true concept of representation is the organic one, that a mature idea of representation gives the representative a specialized function in the community, we must point out that American political theory was mature almost before it began.

The idea of magistracy which evolved from the legalistic aspects of puritanism and the patriarchal, organic inception of the Church State society were supplemented by the theory of compulsory voluntarism. The Puritan emphasis on the free will and the necessity for organizing that free will into a paternal government are the material causes of the theory. The Puritans had used the social compact with good effect in their struggle against the Stuarts, and the idea of the social compact had become fixed in the minds of the colonists. Any theory of politics had to conform substantially to the compact, which had a tendency, in a time of growing individualism, to be considered popularly as a current arrangement, based on the conformance of rulers to the current desires of the ruled, and evidenced at the time of every election by a new contract drawn up under such new conditions as the electorate thought fit to impose.

The point of departure for the theory of compulsory voluntarism is the double covenant. Subjects not only contract with their rulers to be governed by their consent and in accordance with their own good, but they and the rulers together, that is to say, all men, covenant with their God to obey his laws. From God, men receive Grace. To God, they tender conformance to His ordinances. Therefore," the Lord requires that you should walk in new obedience before him, and answerable to that grace bestowed...and this is the covenant...which the Lord reveals, requires, and exacts of all that have given their names unto him."[42]

Action within the earthly covenant cannot conflict with action within the heavenly covenant. The rulers are responsible to God for their political actions just as much as and more than they are responsible to the people. Therefore, they cannot tolerate in the people the reign of natural liberty, which is that liberty to sin which men acquired upon the fall of Adam, but rather must insist on the reign of civil liberty, which consists of actions in conformance with the Covenant with God. Government is the result of placing civil liberty in a supervisory capacity over natural liberty. Not to use this quality of restraint essential to government is a dereliction of moral responsibility on the part of the magistrates, a breaking of their covenant with the Lord. Liberty is "to walk in the Faith, Worship, Doctrine, and Discipline of the Gospel"; it is not "liberty to sin, but to be holy."

Compulsory voluntarism is that undefined but real constitution which prevents the radical and definite manipulation of the representatives by their constituents. It is none other than the introduction of the Divinity as the first Principal of the state. The election by the people is in conformance with His Will in so far as they are behaving civilly and not sinfully; elections, therefore, are in a sense deluding, for they incline the electors to believe in a structure rather than to realize what lays behind the structure. "God, by the Peoples suffrages, makes such an one Governour, or Magistrate, and not another."

To say that those representative devices make the people sovereign is incorrect and, in fact, subversive of the covenant with the Lord. The real Principal of the agents or magistrates is God. Whatever the demands of the popular voice, whatever the practices and procedures of a political system (which was, after all, largely an inheritance from a blasphemous society), the magistrate must first represent God as his will is manifested through His holy teachings and revelations to the leaders of the Church. The desires of the people can be no other, if they are at all lawful, than the desires of the Lord. They are truly represented in their virtuous desires but not in their sinful ones, and in their own minds they can perceive that this is the object of representation.

The great contribution of the Puritan theorists to the theory of representation is a spiritual one. Like all men of grave conscience, they were concerned with finding a method of inserting into the representative relationship some conception which would modify the mechanical, leaderless, and irresponsible implications of the idea of representation as a mere agency. In an age which knew no sacred written constitution and an age rarely matched in the fervor of religious idealism, they found their answer in the bulwark of a fortified conscience. For the most part, American ideas of representation were headed in different directions, toward the idea of direct democracy or toward the idea of representation of prevailing interests. However, from time to time, significant new versions of the Puritan ideal recurred, and one need not go beyond today to find its modified tradition a living thing.

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