In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: The Social Contract

Creators: Walt Whitman, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Date: After 1837

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00182

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the marginalia and annotations, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: Grier estimates that this was written in 1856 (Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1846).

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Trojniar, Nicole Gray, Ty Alyea, Matt Cohen, and Lauren Grewe

[begin surface 1] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

The Social Contract, Or; Principles of Right.

Foederis Aequas

Dicamus leges            Virgil, Æneid, 11, 324.

Preface, prefixed to the First Edition

This little Treatise is extracted from a more extensive work, undertaken without consulting my resources, and long since abandoned.—The following comprises the greater part of the different fragments which had been written, and which seemed to me best worthy; all else destroyed.— (1.) Montesquieu has only spoken of positive laws, leaving his splendid structure incomplete; but we must go to the very source of these laws, to trace the origin of this primitive implied or expressed Covenant which binds all societies together.—The Contrat Social has appeared; this forms the portico of the temple, and the first chapter of L'Esprit des lois.—We may say in truth of this author—"The Human Race had Lost its Title Deeds—Jean Jaques has found Them." (Note by Brissard.)

Rousseau has given the substance of his Contrat Social in the fifth book of Emile, where traveling is discussed; and another abstract is given in Lettres de la Montagne, (letter Sixth)

[begin surface 2] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

Book First.

I wish to inquire whether, taking men as they are, and laws as they may be made, some just rule of administration may not be established in the civil order.—In this research it will be my constant endeavor to ally that which the right perm[illegible]its, with that which policy prescribes, that justice and interest may not be divided.—

I begin without expatiating.—I may be asked Who I am—a prince? a lawgiver?—No, neither; and therefore it is I write.—Born a citizen of a free state, and member of its sovereignty,

Chapter First,—Subject

Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in fetters.—He who fancies himself the master of others is only more enslaved than they.— Whence this anomaly?—I know not its cause.— What can legalize it?—I think I can answer. Did I only consider force, and the results arising from it, I should say,: So long as a nation is constrained to obey, and does obey, it does acts well; So soon as ait is able to throw off the yoke, and does throw it off, it acts still better;—for, as it regains its liberty by the same right which deprived it of liberty. For all this, social order is a sacred right upon which all others are based.—This right, however, originates not in nature, but is founded on covenants.—Now to investigate those covenants.

[begin surface 3] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 4] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

Chapter 2d
The first Societies.

Family organization is the oldest society and the only natural one.—Yet children only remain subject to the father, while they need his care. Then Afterward both father and children resume their independence; each is free from the other.—If they still remain united it is because they voluntarily elect to do so.—This common liberty is a consequence of the nature of man.— His first law is that of watching over his own preservation.—Subsequently, the chief is the symbol of the father,—the people, of the children,—; and all being born free and equal, none can alienate their liberty except for their own interests.—The sole difference is, that in the family the love of the father for the children compensates him for the cares he bestows, (orig.? —Is it not also that the like care was aforetime bestowed upon him—and now he only pays?) —while, in the State the Ruler is compensated by the honor and profit of ruling?—.—

Grotius denies that all human rights? can be established in favor of the governed, citing slavery as an example.—His constant manner of reasoning is to establish the right by the deed.(1) A more logical method may be used—but less favorable to tyrants.—

—(1.) The ablest researches into public rights often simply consist of the history of past abuses, and we bewilder our-
selves to no purpose when we take the pains to study them deeply.—(Traite des Interests, France; Marquis Argenson.)—This is precisely what Grotius has done.—

[begin surface 5] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 6] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]


It is doubtful, according to Grotius, whether the human race belongs to a hundred men, or these hundred men belong to the human race; and but he seems inclined to the first opinion.— This is also the sentiment of Hobbes.—See the human species thus divided into herds of cattle, each having its chief, who guards but to devour it.—As a shepherd is by nature superior to his flock, so the human shepherds.—Thus reasoned the Emperor Caligula, according to Philon, proving plausibly enough that the kings were gods, or the people beasts.—

The philosophy of Caligula is revived in that of Hobbes and Grotius.—Aristotle had said, before them all, that men are not equal by nature, but that some were born for slavery, and some for dominion.—Aristotle was right, but he mistook the effect for the cause. Every man that is born in slavery is born for slavery; nothing is more certain.—Slaves lose everything in their fetters; even to the desire of quitting them; they love their servitude, as the companions of Ulysses loved their brutishness. If there are slaves by nature, it is because there have been slaves against nature.—Force made the first slavery; cowardice has per-
petuated it.

I have said nothing of King Adam, or the Emperor Noah, the father of the three great monarchs who divided the universe, like the children of Saturn, whom we seem to recognize in them.—

[begin surface 7] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 8] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

Chapter 3d
The Right of the Strongest

The strongest man can never be strong enough to be always master, unless he transforms force into right, and obedience into duty.—From this arises the right of the strongest, a right which is seemingly claimed in irony, but really laid down as a principle.—But will they not define this word for us?—Force is a physical power; I cannot see what morality can result from its effects.—To yield to force is an act of necessity, not will.—At the most it is an act of prudence.—In what sense can this be a duty?—

Let us assume this pretended right for a moment.—Nothing but inexplicable nonsense results from it; as the effect changes with the cause, and every force which surmounts the first one, succeeds in right.—So long as we can disobey successfully, we do so lawfully; and, if the strongest is in the right, the only point is to prove who may be the strongest. Of what avail is a right which perishes when force ceases?—If we must obey by force, of what need is duty?

"Submit yourselves to the higher powers." If this means, yield to force, the precept is a good one, but superfluous.—I answer that it will never be violated.—All power comes

[begin surface 9] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 10] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

from God, but all sickness comes from Him also.—Are we therefore to conclude that we are forbidden to call the physician?—When a robber surprises me in a forest, I must surrender my purse to force,—but when I can regain it, am I obliged by conscience to give it to him?

We admit ^then, that force does not constitute right and that we are only obliged to obey the legitimate powers.—My first question returns.

Chapter 4th.

Since no man possesses a natural authority over his fellows, and since force does not produce any right, covenants therefore remain as the basis of all legitimate authority among men.

"If a private citizen," says Grotius, "has a right to ^alienate and cede himself as a slave to a master, why have not a whole nation an equal right?" There are equivocal words here, but we will confine ourselves to alienate—that is to give, or sell.—


But if each individual could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children, and theirs, and theirs.—

(that's the strongest point.)


(This chapter is to prove that the right of Slavery, either through cession, victory, sparing life, or what not, is null.—)—He says "The words Slavery and right are contradictory, each excludes the other."

[begin surface 11] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 12] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

Chapter Fifth

We must always refer to a first Convention.— Should I grant all the positions which I have just refuted, the advocates of despotism would not be benefited thereby—there will ever be a wide difference between subduing a multitude, and governing a nation. Uncivilized men enslaved men and their masters, I do not regard as chief and nation—the interest of one being opposed to that of the other, there is no commonwealth.


Chapter Sixth
The Social Compact.

I will suppose that men have reached that crisis where the difficulties that threaten their preservation in a state of nature, exceed their resources in that state. They perish then unless they improve that state. Now men cannot create new forces, but they can unite and direct those which already exist—they can associate, under a representative head, or something like several heads.—

This union involves all,—yet how can each pledge his strength and liberty, without injuring his interests?


Given: To find a system of association which shall defend and protect with the whole common force the person and property of each associate, and by which every member, while uniting with all, shall be subject only to himself, thus remaining as free as before the union.—This is the organic problem, the solution of which is given by the Social Compact.—Contract.—

[begin surface 13] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 14] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]



These The articles of this Contract are so precisely worded that they cannot be modified.— When analyzsed, they reduce themselves into a single point, The entire alienation of each associate member, with all his rights, to the whole commu-



Chapter Sixth
The Sovereign power
Orig. W.W. (In short, the whole of this Contrat Social, goes to prove, (1760?—'70?) that go the true government, ^and of course the only one for men of sense, is ^that of a compact where laws are administered for justice, equal rights, and inherent liberty—as opposed to all the continental European, (Especialy French) ideas of Government—
Chap. 8th

—This transition from the state of nature to the civil state, produces a remarkable change in man by substituting in his conduct justice for instinct—orig. W.W. —What is it then, but instinct,?—cultivated instinct? and by giving morality to his actions—It is first at this point that, the voice of duty succeeding to physical impulse, and right to appetite, the man who until now had regarded no being but himself, is forced to brought to act upon other principles, and consult his reason before listening to his inclinations.

[begin surface 15] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 16] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]


Although in this state he yields some of his natural advantages, he gains others, more important—and his faculties exercise and develope themselves, his ideas become enlarged, his sentiments ennobled, and his whole being is elevated to such a degree, that although abuses of this new condition may often degrade him beneath the state which he has quitted, he should unceasingly bless the happy moment which rescued him from it,—and which, from a stupid and insignificant animal, created an intelligent being and a man!

Let us reduce this balance of advantages to terms easy of comparison:. Man's loss by the social contract is his natural liberty, and an unlimited right to all that he may have the power to wrest or acquire—His gain is civil liberty, and protection in the ownership of what he earns or possesses.—


We may also add, as gain, moral liberty which alone renders man truly master of himself—for obedience to lower appetites is slavery

[begin surface 17] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 18] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

Chapter Ninth
Real Estate.

orig W.W.

(—Where Rousseau is yet undeveloped is, in not realizing that the individual, man or woman is the head and ideal, and the State, City, Government, or what not, is a servant, subordinate, —with nothing sacred about it—nothing in a Judge or Court either—But all sacredness is in the individual, —and, the other at most, is but a reflection of the individual's.)


XX Every man has a natural right to all that is necessary to him

orig W.W.—Yes but he must go out, where no one has planted stakes before him.—Also, all wealth, however large is inviolable being the result of previous?? —and because society and individual interests are more benefitted by leaving it inviolable than by taking any from excessive welalth and giving it to —whom?—to the poor?
Singularly some of the most important provisions of the specific laws of the Public Lands of the United States, are taken word for word, and idea for idea, from Rousseau's "Contract."

[begin surface 19] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin surface 20] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]


I shall terminate this by book by a remark upon which every social system should be based—namely—That instead of destroying natural equality, the social compact, on the contrary, substitutingtes a civil and legitimate equality for the physical inequality that nature has caused among men,—and That, however unequal they may be in respect to strength or genius, all become equalized by strength, and by right.—

Note.—Under bad governments, this equality is but seeming and illusory, serving only to maintain the poor in their misery and the rich in their usurpations.—In this case the laws are always advantageous to the possessors, and injurious to non-possessors.—from which it follows that the social state can only be beneficial to men when all possess some, but none too much, property.—


—Or rather when all have opened to them an equal right to the avenues and means of posses reaching property.

[begin surface 21] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.