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A distinction must be made, when the aristocratic and the democratic principles mutually inveigh against each other, as tending to facilitate corruption. In aristocratic governments the individuals who are placed at the head of affairs are rich men, who are solely desirous of power. In democracies statesmen are poor, and they have their fortunes to make. The consequence is, that in aristocratic states the rulers are rarely accessible to corruption, and have very little craving for money; while the reverse is the case in democratic nations.

But in aristocracies, as those who are desirous of arriving at the head of affairs are possessed of considerable wealth, and as the number of persons by whose assistance they may rise is comparatively small, the government is, if I may use the expression, put up to a sort of auction. In democracies, on the contrary, those who are covetous of power are very seldom wealthy, and the number of citizens who confer that power is extremely great. Perhaps in democracies the number of men who might be bought is by no means smaller, but buyers are rarely to be met with; and, besides, it would be necessary to buy so many persons at once, that the attempt is rendered nugatory.

Many of the men who have been in the administration in France during the last forty years, have been accused of making their fortunes at the expense of the state or of its allies; a reproach which was rarely addressed to the public characters of the ancient monarchy. But in France the practice of bribing electors is almost unknown, while it is notoriously and publicly carried on in England. In the United States I never heard a man accused of spending his wealth in corrupting the populace; but I have often heard the probity of public officers questioned; still more frequently have I heard their success attributed to low intrigues and immoral practices.

If, then, the men who conduct the government of an aristocracy sometimes endeavor to corrupt the people, the heads of a democracy are themselves corrupt. In the former case the morality of the people is directly assailed; in the latter, an indirect influence is exercised upon the people, which is still more to be dreaded.

As the rulers of democratic nations are almost always exposed to the suspicion of dishonorable conduct, they in some measure lend the authority of the government to the base practices of which they are accused. They thus afford an example which must prove discouraging to the struggles of virtuous independence, and must foster the secret calculations of a vicious ambition. If it be asserted that evil passions are displayed in all ranks of society; that they ascend the throne by hereditary right; and that despicable characters are to be met with at the head of aristocratic nations as well as in the sphere of a democracy; this objection has but little weight in my estimation. The corruption of men who have casually risen to power has a coarse and vulgar infection in it, which renders it contagious to the multitude. On the contrary, there is a kind of aristocratic refinement, and an air of grandeur, in the depravity of the great, which frequently prevents it from spreading abroad.

The people can never penetrate the perplexing labyrinth of court intrigue, and it will always have difficulty in detecting the turpitude which lurks under elegant manners, refined tastes, and graceful language. But to pillage the public purse, and to vend the favors of the state, are arts which the meanest villain may comprehend, and hope to practise in his turn.

In reality it is far less prejudicial to be a witness to the immorality of the great, than to that immorality which leads to greatness. In a democracy, private citizens see a man of their own rank in life, who rises from that obscure position, and who becomes possessed of riches and of power in a few years: the spectacle excites their surprise and their envy: and they are led to inquire how the person who was yesterday their equal, is to-day their ruler. To attribute his rise to his talents or his virtues is unpleasant; for it is tacitly to acknowledge that they are themselves less virtuous and less talented than he was. They are therefore led (and not unfrequently their conjecture is a correct one) to impute his success mainly to some of his defects; and an odious mixture is thus formed of the ideas of turpitude and power, unworthiness and success, utility and dishonor.