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An Off Year by E. C. B.


It is a great luxury to find ourselves and the country in the midst of what Marshal MacMahon might style a quadrennate, and to be at the neutral and central point from which a much-vexed people can look both ways for a Presidential election. The contest of two years ago is over, and that of two years hence not near enough to beget mentionable worry. This equator of partisanship, lying midway between the two polls, is a happy medium of repose. The trade-winds of party passion blow from both sides fiercely toward it, but fail to break its calm. The average American—even the average professional American politician—possesses his soul in patience. He looks forward to no revolution, and, when he thinks of the matter at all, is entirely certain that the night of the first Tuesday in November, 1880, will bring nothing more tremendous than the usual hubbub among the telegraph-operators, the reporters and the haunters of the clubs and leagues. He doubts the due abnormal succession of the Presidents as little as he does that of the British kings, and a great deal less than he does that of some of the continental monarchs, to say nothing of the French ruler, whose septennate happens also to be within about two years of its close.

So pleasant it is to be at leisure to bestow attention on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, without thought of the usually engrossing machinery so painfully and minutely contrived for facilitating our advance to those ends! To forget the means and for once look at the object; to ignore the strife for free government, and be placidly and contentedly free; to shut our eyes on eternal vigilance, and realize that we have paid that price and have the receipt in our pockets; to intermit our nursing of the tree and enjoy the fruit; to feel that life in a republic is not necessarily and always "the fever called living,"—such is, for the present interval, our lot. Self-government is such very hard work that those engaged in it are entitled to occasional holidays. Nature demands it. Whether their stated Sabbath come once in four years or once in seven, it must come. No wonder that it is apt to prove too welcome and seductive, and that healthy relaxation should grow into harmful lethargy, Sunday into "Blue Monday." Examples of that result are abundant enough to warn us when we need warning. They have chromoed in brilliantly illuminated text, in all the languages and alphabets, the maxim about eternal vigilance, and hung it up over our council-fires and our domestic hearths. We can only venture, perhaps, to half close our eyes and view it sleepily as through cigar-smoke, or turn our backs upon it for a little while and go out into a world of other cares which takes no note of elections, constitutions, statutes or office-holding. The shorter the interval the less should our enjoyment of it be marred. Investigations into past elections serve only to interfere with it, or to assist the newspapers in interfering with it; and newspapers are our daily food or a part of it. Three-fourths of the reading-matter in the five or six thousand of them published in the Union are filled with politics, although the conductors of them, like the rest of us, are aware that politics are temporarily in eclipse. They can teach us nothing on that subject, and we want to learn nothing. Their occupation as trade-journals devoted to the art and science of government is gone. Other periodicals devoted to a specialty, whether iron, coal, calico or the Thirty-nine Articles, show judgment and compassion on their readers when a "slack" time comes by turning miscellaneous and slipping in choice literary tidbits among their regular "shop" items. The five thousand should do likewise. If they will not wholly exclude politics, they might at least sweep political news and disquisitions into a separate corner of the sheet—say among the jokes, base-ball accidents and last year's advertisements.

Could our legislators and their chroniclers only convince themselves that they are de trop, that the best they can do just now is to assist us in cultivating a transitory oblivion of them and their deeds, and that, instead, they are depriving us of the refreshment of our forty winks, they would show a correct understanding of the situation. If they cannot be altogether silent, they might at least give their noise another pitch, and direct it into some humdrum monotone that would not jar upon our slumbers. Do their worst, however, they cannot take from us the delicious consciousness that it will be two years before another Presidential campaign. Panoplied in that reflection, we can stand a good deal.

We sometimes think it must have been a vast relief to the Poles when partition came and the three powers for good and all put an end to their perpetually recurring agony of electing a king. To the masses of the people, who were serfs, and had no more the right of suffrage or any other attribute of liberty than their cattle, we have no doubt it was so. Only by the small minority of privileged and fussy nobles, who went armed to the hall of election, ready to silence effectually any troublesome minority-man who should undertake to defeat their choice with his veto, could the loss of the wonted excitement have been seriously felt. That it was a relief to the neighboring nations, whose peace was constantly compromised by the recurrence of Poland's stormy call for a new king, is certain enough. The change threw a few very worthy men out of business—the Kosciuskos, Pulaskis, Czartoriskis, etc.—but it did away with a much larger number who were standing nuisances, and it left the surplus energy of many more to seek more legitimate and profitable paths. Of course the fate of the Poles, prosperous though their country is beyond anything dreamed of in the days of its nominal independence, is not enviable to us. It were to be wished that they had been cured of the regular—or irregular—spasms of selecting a chief without losing their national autonomy. What we remark is, that the strain of that convulsion was greater than they or their neighbors could bear, and that all concerned, with the trifling exceptions named, must have breathed freer and deeper when it was put an end to.