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1789 - Ambition: On Political Economy - Anonymous - June 6, 1789

Published in the City Gazette and Daily Advertiser, Charleston, SC, on June 6, 1789
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To none, except those who are ignorant of its nature, can it be matter of surprize, that the minds of men are frequently occupied with thoughts on ambition; a passion that vies in [NA] with any that is connected with the human mind; and though so often under discussion, it is still unexhausted; though it has long been chosen for a daring theme, though veterans in knowledge, and in virtue, have been lavish in its praise, it has still material that calls for the exertions and [NA], of our ablest writers.

Ambition, by many writers, has been condemned as a source of evil; nothing that is human is perfect; for this censure therefore they have undoubtedly had some grounds: but might not the heavy charges imputed to her influence, be set with much more justice, to the account of malice and revenge? For who is so despicable, as to feel ambitious of being mean? Who so proud as to wish to be despised? No! The man who runs great lengths in vice, and delights to persecute his fellow creatures, is not only a stranger to every feeling that genuine ambition would inspire, but is actuated by the meaner passions of envy, jealousy or revenge. That we may be able to form a right judgement of this passion, and get the full measure of its merit, let us revert to those ages in which its influence was hardly known; to those times of simplicity, when man for his subsistence depended on the fruits of the chase; whose only discipline, was from the rod of necessity and in that school of adversity, taught to postpone his hunger, until time or chance, shall supply him with food. His only care, like the brutal herd, was to satisfy his present and most pressing wants. Like the beasts did he range the fields for prey; like them did he fly to the woods for shelter; like them did he live; and like them would have remained, had not ambition awakened a sense of the indignity, and taught him, by her secret force that man was made for nobler ends.

Ambition then, "is the wings on which we have soared above the brute creation," by which we have been wafted from a barbarous, to an enlightened age; and without which, we should grovel through life, like the vile insect that crawls upon the ground. The human system is a machine; ambition the spring that puts it in motion. The whole world of mankind, either see and admire its operations; or feel themselves its quickening influence. The venturous horseman meets with proud assurance, the fiercest enemy; he handles the launce with active skill; makes regular, dextrous, and not unfrequently successful attacks; but if defeated, and beaten from the field, "leaves his arrows in the wind to meet his pursuers."

The needy husbandman, from an emulation of the enjoyments and possessions of his neighbors, quits the prospect of present ease, for an industrious and laborious life, instead of submitting to the impulse of passion, which would easily triumph over the unaspiring mind; and instead of submitting to the many invitations to pleasure and the allurements of the world, which would lead him a giddy dance, and expose him alike to poverty and disgrace, he seeks a more rational and profitable exercise; and persuades himself to be constantly and usefully employed for an increase of property and the support of a family. Are there not thousands amongst us, who for a disdain of being dependent on others have denied themselves the pleasures and even the comforts of life; and retired to uncultivated regions, where, shut out from society, and the enjoyments of improved life, they have contented themselves for a while to endure the pains of abstinence, and combat the stubborn globe.

A love of excellence spurs them on to industry, and by increasing their desires and uniting their efforts, leads them to improvement. The grateful earth yields to the hand of culture, and crowns their labor with success. When necessaries are found, convenience and ornament are fought for, until by their continued and united exertion, they make the "wilderness to blossom like a rose." The plains they behold speckled with their flock; their meadows waving with stores for the barn; and their field nodding with treasures of corn. "The hills rejoice, the vallies smile," and every thing looks glad! Thus by their industry, the offspring of ambition, they became the support of their families, and honor to themselves, and a blessing to their country.

What but the love of enterprise, and of applause, would induce the soldier to exchange the peaceful joys of a domestic life for the rougher scenes, the hardships and dangers of a camp? What but the grateful tribute of his country's thanks, could persuade him to leave security, and jeopardy his life in the field of battle? The thought of sharing the honors of the brave, and of rising to glory, gives courage to the hero, and adds strength to the warrior's arm. What is a man without ambition? Let us for a moment admit the painful thought that the men of interest and influence in this country, were lost to ambition! Those whom fortune has favoured and raised to wealth and dignity—Should we see them struggling for the liberty and happiness of the people? Should we find ourselves the happy objects of their care, patronage and protection? Should we not rather behold them regardless of their fellow creatures, carelessly basking in the sunshine of prosperity, and lolling on the bed of affluence? "Ignobly great, and impotently vain," their only excellence would be to be wretched in state; and all they could boast of, supremacy of misery!

After having learned from experience the worth of this virtue, may we encourage its influence, that we may enjoy more extensive and lasting blessings; instead of being contented with these short lived exertions, which are made only upon the spur of occasion, may we be constant in pursuit of those virtues and excellencies to which our ambition prompts us to aspire.

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To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.

Attributed to Calvin Coolidge, the White House, December 12, 1924. Unverified.


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A simpe democracy is one of the greatest of evils. A democracy is a mobocracy.

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Did You Know?

There was a proposal at the Constitutional Convention to limit the standing army for the country to 5,000 men. George Washington sarcastically agreed with this proposal as long as a stipulation was added that no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops!


A Government of Laws...

In the government of this Commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative or judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, A.D. 1780


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James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, Lynne Cheney (New York, NY: Viking, 2014)