A view from the 19th Century
It is quite plain that your government will never be able to restrain a distressed and discontented majority. For with you the majority is the government, and has the rich, who are always a minority, absolutely at its mercy. The day will come when in the State of New York a multitude of people, none of whom have had more than half a breakfast, or expect to have more than half a dinner, will chose a legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of legislature will be chosen? On one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalists and usurers, and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink champagne and to
ride in a carriage. Which of the two candidates is likely to be preferred by a working man?
I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity as I have described, do things which will prevent prosperity from returning; that you will act as a people would in a year of scarcity, devour all the seedcorn and thus make the next year, a year not of scarcity but of absolute famine. There will be, I fear, spoliation. The spoliation will increase the distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation. There is nothing to stay you. Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.
As I said before, when a society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand; or your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was by barbarians who came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your country by your own institutions.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay