Revolutions Always Harm

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Reformations always do good, Fitzhugh says, but revolutions always harm:

All old institutions in time become incrusted with error and abuse, and frequent reforms are required to keep them in good working order, and to adapt them to the gradually changing circumstances of mankind. This is equally true of religious institutions as of political ones, for there is much in the machinery and external manifestations of the former, that is of mere human origin and contrivance, — and everything human is liable to imperfection and decay.

Total changes, which revolutions propose, are never wise or practicable, because most of the institutions of every country are adapted to the manners, morals and sentiments of the people. Indeed, the people have been moulded in character by those institutions, and they cannot be torn asunder and others substituted, for none others will fit. Hence reforms result in permanent change and improvement. Revolutions, after a great waste of blood and treasure, leave things to return soon to the “status quo ante bellum.” English statesmen, fully alive to these great truths, have for centuries past anticipated and prevented revolutions, by granting timely reforms. Mr. Jefferson, when we separated from Great Britain, wished to effect a total revolution, “laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms, as,” &c. Fortunately for us, the practical men who framed our government saw the wisdom and necessity of adopting English institutions (to which we had been accustomed), with very slight modifications, to adapt them to our circumstances. Our separation from England was a great and salutary reform, not a revolution. Scotland is now attempting a reform less in degree, but the same in character — she is trying to get back her parliament and to establish a separate nationality. We have no doubt it would redound to the strength and the glory of Great Britain, if both Scotland and Ireland had separate parliaments.

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