In his “History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire,” Edward Gibbon wrote: “All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.” More to the point of American history, the Irish philosopher, George Berkley (in 1752) paraphrased John Quincy Adams’ note: “Westward the course of empire takes its way,” thus: “The first four acts already past, a fifth shall close the drama with the day: time’s noblest offspring is the last.”
Of those who thought they could but totally misunderstood the American mystique, George Berkley was perhaps the most inaccurate, establishing a college in the Bermudas, in 1728, to convert the Indians, who he planned to settle in Rhode Island as American proselytes with all pertaining rights of citizenship, none of which ever came to pass.
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) almost had it right, or so he thought, when he observed: “Just experience tells, in every soil; those that think must govern those that toil.” He was much closer to the truth, when he followed this with the view that: “Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law.”
Edmond Burke, the British Whig politician who supported American independence, had a more accurate understanding of the American ethos than most. “A great empire and little minds,” he said, “go ill together.” Such thinking is needed more today, than ever before in our history. Goldsmith’s ultimate view, that the wealthy rule the law is a prevalent condition, with which Americans must promptly come to grips, if we still hope to salvage the hopes our founders had for this rare experiment in people’s governance, to succeed.
If ever there was truly “an American dream,” of a government in which ‘The People’ had the power of redress, not only in registering their opinions with those in government but also, by having unfettered access to the ‘ballot franchise,’ for the express purpose of certifying their will, with respect to how and by what manner of governance they desire, this so-called ‘Dream’ needs to become a reality now, and without delay. Otherwise, Goldsmith’s view of ‘governance by the wealthy’ will have become a reality.
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