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The American Sycophant
by [?]

The Harrison “progress” left its heritage of shame, whereof each abaser would gladly have washed the hands of him in his neighbor’s basin. All this was in due order of Nature, and was to have been expected. It was a phenomenon of the same character as, in the loves of the low, the squabbling consequent upon satiety and shame. We could not slink out of sight; we could deny our sycophancy, albeit we might give it another name; but we could somewhat medicine our damaged self-esteem by dealing damnation ’round on one another. The blush of shame turned easily to the glow of indignation, and many a hot hatred was kindled at the rosy flame of self-contempt. Persons conscious of having dishonored themselves are doubly sensitive to any indignity put upon them by others. The vices and follies of human nature are interdependent; they do not move alone, nor are they singly aroused to activity. In my judgment, this entire incident of the President’s “tour” was infinitely discreditable to President and people. I do not go into the question of his motive in making it. Be that what it may, the manner of it seems to me an outrage upon all the principles and sentiments underlying republican institutions. In all but the name it was a “royal progress”–the same costly ostentation, the same civic and military pomp, the same solemn and senseless adulation, the same abasement of spirit of the Many before the One. And according to republican traditions, ten thousand times a year affirmed, in every way in which affirmation is possible, we fondly persuade ourselves, as a true faith in the hearts of our hearts, that the One is the inferior of the Many! And it is no mere political catch-phrase: he is their servant; he is their creature; all that in him to which they grovel (dignifying and justifying their instinctive and inherited servility by names as false as anything in ceremonial imposture) they themselves have made, as truly as the heathen has made the wooden god before which he performs his unmanly rite. It is precisely this thing–the superiority of the people to their servants–that constitutes, and was by our fathers understood to constitute, the essential, fundamental difference between the monarchial system which they uprooted and the democratic one which they planted in its stead. Deluded men! how little they guessed the length and strength and vitality of the roots left in the soil of the centuries when their noxious harvestage of mischievous institutions had been cast as rubbish to the void!

I am no contestant for forms of government–no believer in either the practical value or the permanence of any that has yet been devised. That all men are created equal, in the best and highest sense of the phrase, I hold; not as I observe it held by others, but as a living faith. That an officeholder is a servant of the people; that I am his political superior, owing him no deference, and entitled to such deference from him as may be serviceable to keep him in mind of his subordination–these are propositions which command my assent, which I feel to be true and which determine the character of my personal relations with those whom they concern. That I should give my hand, or bend my neck, or uncover my head to any man in homage to or recognition of his office, great or small, is to me simply inconceivable. These tricks of servility with the softened names are the vestiges of an involuntary allegiance to power extraneous to the performer. They represent in our American life obedience and propitiation in their most primitive and odious forms. The man who speaks of them as manifestations of a proper respect for “the President’s great office” is either a rogue, a dupe or a journalist They come to us out of a fascinating but terrible past as survivals of servitude. They speak a various language of oppression, and the superstition of man-worship; they cany forward the traditions of the sceptre and the lash. Through the plaudits of the people may be heard always the faint, far cry of the beaten slave.