THE TORCH OF DEMOCRACY
"Liberty has still a continent to live in."-- HORACE WALPOLE, 1779
THE MAN IN THE STREET is the proud citizen of a democratic republic, the first one in modern times to be established and perpetuated on a vast scale. This indeed may be regarded as our most significant contribution to Western civilization.
The patriotic American is perhaps shocked to learn that his form of government was once an uncertain experiment. When the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in 1776, there had already been modern republics of a sort. But they had all perished, except mountain-girt Switzerland, which still flourishes; and they had all started on a tiny scale. "Democracy," wrote Voltaire in 1764, "seems suitable only to a very little country."
The attempt of the Founding Fathers to set up a democracy on a continental basis seemed to Europeans a daring and indecent defiance of the laws of political gravitation. Experience and reason alike cried out that the monstrosity could not work; it must collapse. A consciousness that the eyes of a critical world were upon us warped the thinking of our people and leaders for many decades. Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the gravest crisis yet to confront the Union, referred to the Civil War as testing the principle whether "any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."
But European observers were more than curious and critical; they were downright hostile. The monarchs of Europe feared that a dangerous precedent was being established. If the American experiment in human liberty should succeed, then their oppressed subjects, straining at their chains and pointing to the blessings of republicanism, might demand the same thing for themselves. This is precisely what happened. For more than a century the guiding star of foreign constitutionalists and revolutionists was the United States of America. The great English Reform Bill of 1867, by which England became a political democracy, followed by two years the end of our Civil War, which proved, despite the century-old vilification of British Tories, that the American venture could "endure."* The battles for British democracy were fought hardly less on the bloody fields of Virginia than on the carpeted floors of Parliament.
For more than a century and a half, the United States of America, detesting despotism in any guise, has been the bane of monarchs and dictators. We began as the world's ugly duckling; we ended as the world's overshadow-____________________