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THE following work might have been entitled the History of Rome, etc., with a View to describe the Liberty of that and other Ancient Nations; which I mention, not in order to dilate upon any uncertainties of my own, but simply to guard against misapprehension of the subject I propose to treat. Not believing that liberty is anywhere to be understood or judged according, merely, to the government over any people, but rather, and chief. ly, according to the capacity and the cultivation of the people themselves under their government, I have entered upon various narratives and investigations, which would appear misplaced to the reader, if he looked for accounts of institutions or antiquities alone, much more so, if he expected nothing but generalizations or metaphysical inquiries. If it had been the Liberty of America, for
instance, instead of the Liberty of Rome, of which WOL. I. b
I had undertaken to write the history, it would have seemed to me contrary to all propriety to confine myself, on the one hand, to a description of the Constitution or the Congress of this country, or, on the other, to general reasoning upon the various points in law, or politics, or morals, which would naturally present themselves. Any such generalizations or constitutional details would properly be but the introduction or the illustration of the history, which would itself relate what the American people had done or suffered under their laws and with their principles, – in other words, what use or abuse they had made of their liberties. The first chapter of the introductory portion of these volumes will more methodically define the positions upon which it has appeared to me that the history of ancient, as of modern, liberty is to be based; and the chapter concluding the same part of the work will sufficiently explain the quantity and the quality, so to speak, of the liberty which I suppose to have belonged to antiquity. It may also be prudent to account for the extended Introduction in the first volume. The remark, that Roman history is the conclusion of ancient history, is old enough to warrant the attempt to relate the achievements of the earlier races in direct connection with the race by which they were overcome. I have, however, ventured not only to do this, but to wander beyond the limits of the Roman conquests, and to describe, as far as I could, the various stages in the progress of the ancient world; so that the place of the Commonwealth of Rome in universal history might, perhaps, be made more obvious. The eighth chapter of the Introduction will complete the explanation I can here but promise beforehand. My work lays no claim to any great or small discoveries, although the general ideas upon which it is composed may have some merit of freshness, as well as of truth. Neither does it confess to being nothing but a copy or a repetition of histories already written, without which, however, it could never itself have been composed. For while availing myself of the instruction I could gain from the great authors of ancient and modern times, owing to some a companionship, and to others, as to Niebuhr, a guidance, in return for which gratitude cannot be too candid, I have continually labored to fulfil my own undertaking according to common courage and justice. “Every one,” indeed, as Niebuhr himself remarks, “every one must see that our own personal views and opinions can be of little avail in history, if they are not in accordance with things and relations which really existed.” But it has always seemed to me that the way to reconcile our ideas to the truth of history, or rather, to form our ideas according to the truth of history, is found only in learning with our own faculties, not, indeed, as if no knowledge had been gained by others before us, but as if ours were to be peculiarly our own, – the fruit which would never ripen, unless we, too, sought the sunshine and withstood the storm. If we were waiting an introduction to men or women we had never seen, we might inquire of one who knew them well, concerning their characteristics, as concerning their lives; but though we would not undertake to change the facts respecting their places of birth, their fortunes or their misfortunes, we might yet, after meeting and becoming familiar with them, obtain an insight we should not otherwise have had, not only into their characters, but, particularly, into the circumstances by which they had been surrounded and affected. It is so in reading history. Its dates and its names are the same to us as to our forefathers; but we may be placed, as individuals or as a generation, in such
positions, formed under such influences, and lifted to such hopes, as to see, or to think we see, the past more clearly than they who wrote or read concerning it at another period or in another land. The narrative portions of the work will be found principally in the second and third books upon Rome; one of these being devoted to the growth, the other to the decline of liberty. But in these, also, as in the remaining parts of the history, there will be investigations and statements to which the indulgence of the reader, if he be very hostile to what is sneeringly called disquisition, will need to be entreated. The only other peculiarity of these volumes is, that the account of wars and conflicts is always abridged and sometimes omitted: to the distaste, I fear, of those who love to follow the adventurous march, or hear the whizzing spear, or count the trophies of the slain. On the other hand, the tumults and insurrections within the walls of Rome will crowd in, with unceasing jar, upon ears which listen in vain for peace. It is bad enough that wrath and bloodshed should be numbered amongst the sins of man, without their being made the attractions of his history. There are many considerations to render it desirable that certain chapters in history, and especially in ancient history, should be rewritten. Of these, the principal, perhaps, is suggested by the
* Niebuhr's Lectures on Roman History, Lect. XI. Introd.