The following is a short article written by Walt Whitman in the Brooklyn Eagle, April 4, 1846, wherein he quotes an editorial viewpoint from the N.Y. Globe and then proceeds to explain his differences with the Globe’s stated opinion.
For ease of reading, I have broken the article into two parts.
August Glen-James, editor
Indeed, sensible men have long seen that “the best government is that which governs least.” And we are surprised that the spirit of this maxim is not oftener and closer to the hearts of our domestic leaders.
Part 1: Editorial viewpoint of N.Y. Globe:
The end of all government is the happiness of the whole community; and whenever it does not secure that, it is a bad government, and it is time it was altered. –N.Y. Globe, March 28.
Part 2: Walt Whitman’s evaluation of and differences with the N.Y. Globe’s opinion:
We snip out this little paragraph from our New York contemporary because it affords us a chance of nailing a very wide though very foolish error. It is only the novice in political economy who thinks it the duty of government to make its citizens happy. Government has no such office. To protect the weak and the minority from the impositions of the strong and the majority, to prevent anyone from positively working to render the people unhappy (if we may so express it), to do the labor not of an officious intermeddler in the affairs of men but of a prudent watchman who prevents outrage—these are rather the proper duties of a government.
Under the specious pretext of effecting “the happiness of the whole community,” nearly all the wrongs and intrusions of government have been carried through. The legislature may, and should, when such things fall in its way, lend its potential weight to the cause of virtue and happiness, but to legislate in direct behalf of those objects is never available and rarely effects any even temporary benefit. Indeed, sensible men have long seen that “the best government is that which governs least.” And we are surprised that the spirit of this maxim is not oftener and closer to the hearts of our domestic leaders.