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his volume on _Justice_. Both editions of _Social Statics_ deny the
right of governments to support churches, public schools, boards of
health, poorhouses, lighthouses, or mints. Spencer would have titles
to land guaranteed by the State, and property-holders protected against
unjust lawsuits; but otherwise the government ought to confine itself,
he thinks, to managing the army, navy, and police.

This position is defended by an appeal to the fact that the citizen is
most energetic and intelligent where he is most free to act for himself.
No American is as helpless before pestilence or famine as a Russian
peasant, or as afraid to go to a burning house until summoned by the
police. A despotism may begin with a strong army; but it ends, like the
Roman Empire, in the weakness which it has brought on by crushing the
spirit of its soldiers. Strong governments make weak men. Never was
there a mightier army than was given by the French Republic to Napoleon.
Industrial prosperity depends even more closely than military glory
on the energy of men who have been at liberty to think and act freely.
People develop most vigorously where they are least meddled with. The
average man knows much more than his rulers do about his own private
business; and he is active to promote it in ways which secure the
general welfare.

Great stress is laid not only in _Social Statics_ but in Spencer's book
on _The Man versus the State_, and in several essays, on the many times
that the British Government has increased an evil by trying to cure it.
What is said about its extravagance will not surprise any American who
remembers what vast sums are squandered by Congress. The post-office is
often spoken of as proof that our Government could run our railroads;
but one of Boston's best postmasters said, "No private business could be
managed like this without going into bankruptcy." The British Government
has a monopoly of the telegraph; and introduction of the telephone was
very difficult in consequence. In Victoria, the Postmaster-General
has abused his privileges so much as to appoint a "sporting agent"
to telegraph the results of a horse-race; and this same highly
protectionist colony has had laws forbidding any shop to be open after
7 P.M., except on Saturday, and any woman to work more than forty-eight
hours a week in any factory. How governments interfered in former
centuries with people's right to feed, clothe, employ, and amuse
themselves, seems almost inconceivable at present.

Persecution was one among many forms of mischievous meddling. Locke, in
arguing for toleration in 1689, was obliged to take the ground that "The
whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only" to securing unto all
the people "life, liberty, health," and also "outward things such as
money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like." "Government," he said,
"hath no end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right
to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subject."
Clearer language was used by those French patriots who declared in the
Constitution of 1791 that liberty consists in ability to do everything
which brings no harm to others; and, two years afterwards, that the
liberty of each citizen should extend to where that of some other
citizen begins. Nearly fifty years later, a theory very like Spencer's
was published by Wilhelm von Humboldt, brother of the great naturalist.
Among the many writers who have held that government ought not to be
merely limited but repudiated totally was Thoreau. It was in 1854 that
this zealous abolitionist publicly renounced his allegiance to a great
anti-slavery commonwealth, and that he asserted, in _Walden_, the
necessity of preserving individual liberty by conforming as little as
possible to any social usages, even that of working regularly in order
to support one's self and family in comfort. That same year, Spencer
showed in his essay on _Manners and Fashion_ the difference between a
regulation by which public opinion tries to prevent rude people from
making themselves unnecessarily disagreeable to their neighbours, and
one which encourages dissipation by arbitrarily check-ing innocent
amusement. Even in the latter case, however, there is, as he says, but
little gain from any solitary nonconformity. Reform must be carried on
in co-operation.

That powerful assailant of Transcendentalism, John Stuart Mill, was
not an evolutionist; but it was largely due to his liberal aid that the
system of differentiation and integration was published. This generosity
was consistent with his own position, that all opinions ought to have
a hearing, and especially those which are novel and unpopular, for
they are peculiarly likely to contain some exposure of ancient error or
revelation of new truth. This fact was set forth with such ability in
his book, _On Liberty_, in 1859, that several long passages were
quoted in the public protest, delivered in Ohio five years later by
Vallandigham, against the war then carried on for bringing back the
seceded States. Mill holds that neither government nor public opinion
ought to interfere with any individual, except "to prevent doing harm
to others." He says, for instance, that there would be no tyranny in
forcing parents to let their children have education enough to become
safe members of society. Such a law could scarcely be justified by the
principle of giving all the liberty to each compatible with the like
liberty of all. Among the restrictions which Mill mentions as oppressive
are those in England and America against selling liquor, gambling, and
Sunday amusements. He admits the difficulty of deciding "how far liberty
may be legitimately invaded for the prevention of crime."

VII. It was in full conformity with the principles of Mill, Spencer, and
Locke that the Constitution of Louisiana, as revised in 1879, declared
that the only legitimate object of government "is to protect the citizen
in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. When it assumes other
functions, it is usurpation and oppression." Similar sentiments have
been occasionally expressed in political platforms. Such narrow limits
have not, so far as I know, ever been observed in the United States or
in any other civilised land. Few people love liberty so much as not to
be willing that the state should give them security against
conflagration and contagious disease. There is also a general demand for
such safety as is given by roads, streets, bridges, lighthouses, and
life-saving stations. The necessity of hospitals, asylums, and
poorhouses is manifest. If all this expense had to be met by
public-spirited individuals, it is probable that their wealth would prove
insufficient. It is further necessary for the public safety that there
should be compulsory vaccination during epidemics of smallpox,
confinement of dangerous lunatics and tramps, rescue of children from
vicious parents, and maintenance of what ought not to be called
compulsory but guaranteed education. Marriage has to be made binding for
the protection of mothers as well as children. The thirst for drink
needs at least as much restraint as is kept up in Scandinavia. And the
tendency of bad money to drive out good is strong enough to justify laws
against circulation of depreciated currency.

Public schools are particularly important in America, where presidential
and congressional elections are apt to turn on financial issues which
can scarcely be understood by men not thoroughly educated. Spencer's
objections apply more closely to the European system, that of
centralisation of management, than to the American. It is well to know
also that he was misled by a hasty reference, perhaps by some assistant,
to an English statistician named Fletcher. This high authority
did admit, in 1849, that he found "a superficial evidence against
instruction." He went on, however, to say much which is not mentioned in
_Social Statics_, and which proved the evidence to be only superficial.
By classifying crimes according to enormity, he showed that the worst
were most frequent in the least educated districts. He also discovered
that those counties in England where ability to sign the marriage
register was most common were most free from paupers, dangerous
criminals, and illegitimate children. "The conclusion is therefore
irresistible," says Fletcher, "that education is essential to the
security of modern society." Most of the other testimony brought forward
in _Social Statics_ is invalidated by Fletcher's method; and Spencer
added nothing in the second edition to the insufficient statements in
the first.

British education has improved greatly in both quality and quantity
since 1876; but the prisons of England and Wales had only two-thirds as
many inmates in 1890 as in 1878, and only one-half as large a part of
the population. The most dangerous prisoners were only one-third as
numerous in 1890 and 1891 as forty-five years earlier; and the
percentage of forgers only one-tenth as great as in 1857. We ought
further to remember the almost complete unanimity of opinion in favour
of free education wherever it is universal.

Public schools in America are all the more useful because they are
superintended by town and city officials, elected in great part by
men who know them personally. This is also the case with the boards of
health, and the managers of poorhouses, cemeteries, public libraries,
and parks. Among other subjects of local self-government are the
roads, bridges, streets, and sewers. Our large cities are notoriously
misgoverned, but it will be easier to raise the character of the
officials than to contract their powers. Much is to be hoped from civil
service reform, proportional representation, and nonpartisan elections.
Town affairs are usually so carefully looked after by people not in
office as to be managed for the public welfare. Both in towns and cities
the tendency is to enlarge rather than contract the functions of the
government. A proposal that any city should let tenements or sell coal
more cheaply than is done by individuals, would seem to be for the
advantage of everybody except a few payers of heavy taxes. The majority
of voters would care little about increase of taxation, in comparison
with the prospect of more demand for labour and greater activity in
business. It is easy to make extravagance popular where the majority
rules. Our State constitutions would probably make it impossible for
coal to be sold or tenements let by cities and towns; but these latter
often carry on gas-works, water-works, electric roads, and other highly
beneficial industries. This may be necessary to check the rapacity of
corporations; but otherwise there is too much danger of extravagance,
discouragement of individual enterprise, and delay in improving the
processes monopolised by the municipality. Some evils would be lessened
by a transfer of the control of lighthouses and life-saving stations
from the national Government to that of the nearest cities, or else of
single States.

Our people are much better able to judge of the success of State than
of Federal legislation and management. Of course the chief duties of the
State are to pass laws for the protection of life and property
against crime, and to manage such indispensable penal, charitable, and
educational institutions as are not provided by the municipalities. It
is still necessary for the States of our Union to keep up the militia;
but perhaps the best thing that could be done for the public safety
would be to have tramps kept from crime, and assisted to employment by
a State police. Ownership of real estate would be more secure, and sale
easier, if titles were guaranteed by the State; and it would also do
well, as Spencer suggests, to help people of moderate means resist
lawsuits brought to extort money. It seems, at all events, well that our
States keep up their boards of health, and their supervision of banks,
railroads, steamboats, and factories. There are a great many unnecessary
laws, as, for instance, was one in Massachusetts for selling coal below
market price. This was fortunately decided to be unconstitutional; but
whether this commonwealth ought to continue to supply free
text-books, especially in high schools, seems to me questionable. Many
individualists object to laws against gambling, selling liquor, and
other conduct which does no direct injury except to those who take part
voluntarily. There are vicious tendencies enough in human nature, I
think, to justify attempts to keep temptation out of sight.

No advantage of this kind can be claimed for the Sunday laws in our
Eastern and Southern States. It is certainly desirable to have one day
a week of rest from labour and business; but it is equally true that a
man's ploughing his field or weeding his garden does not infringe on
the liberty of his neighbours, diminish their security of person and
property, or encourage their vicious propensities, even on Sunday. It
is setting a bad example to break any law; but I do not think that
any citizen of Massachusetts was seriously corrupted by resisting the
Fugitive Slave Act; and I doubt if any Vermonter was morally the worse
for breaking the law in that State against Sunday "visits from house
to house, except from motives of humanity or charity, or for moral
and religious edification." It is better to have the laws obeyed
intelligently than blindly; and those really worthy of respect would
have more authority if every prohibition which is never enforced, except
out of malice, were repealed. Much aid is given to morality by such
religious observances as are voluntary and conscientious; but compulsory
observance breeds both slaves and rebels.

How far our Sunday laws are meant to encourage the peculiar usages
of the popular sects is seen in the fact that, since 1877, about 150
professed Christians, who had kept the Sabbath on the day set apart in
the Bible, were arrested on the charge of having profaned Sunday by such
actions as ploughing a retired field, weeding a garden, cutting wood
needed for immediate use, or making a dress. They refused to pay
any fine; most of them were imprisoned accordingly; in one case the
confinement lasted 129 days; two deaths were hastened by incarceration;
and in the summer of 1895 eight of these "Saturdarians," as they were
nicknamed, were working in a chain-gang on the roads in Tennessee. One
of the eight was a clergyman. Among the commonwealths which prosecuted
observers of the original Sabbath as Sabbath-breakers were Georgia,
Maryland, Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and
seven other States. Such prosecutions were too much like persecutions;
for people who kept neither Saturday nor Sunday were not so much
molested. If the Sunday laws were really meant for the public welfare,
every citizen would be allowed to choose his own Sabbath, and no one
who kept Saturday sacred would be required to rest on Sunday also. Such
liberal legislation has actually been passed by Rhode Island and many
other States.

How strict the law is against doing business on Sunday may be judged
from the fact that in 1896 a decrepit old woman was sent to jail in
New York City for selling a couple of bananas, and a boy of fifteen was
arrested for selling five cents' worth of coal in January. Three men
were fined for selling umbrellas in the street on a rainy Sunday in
1895, and others were arrested for selling five cents' worth of ice.
People who have no refrigerators suffer under the difficulty of buying
ice, fruit, and meat on a hot Sunday in our Eastern cities.

Sunday laws and customs differ so widely in our various States, that
they cannot all be wise and just. Rest from labour and business is
secured in Southern California, without State legislation, by the
action of public opinion; and were this to become too weak, it would
be reinforced by the trades-unions. Personal liberty is not necessarily
violated by laws prohibiting disturbance of public worship; but it would
be if anyone were compelled to testify in court, or sit on the jury, or
do any other business elsewhere, on any day set apart for rest by his
conscience and religion. There seems to be little necessity for other
legislation, except under peculiar local circumstances to which town
and city magistrates are better able than members of State and national
legislatures to do justice. The question, what places of business that
have no vicious tendencies ought to be allowed to open on Sunday, might
settle itself, as does the question how early they are to close on other
days of the week. There needs no law to prevent business being done at
night. Stores which could offer nothing that many people need to buy
on Sunday, would have so few customers that the proprietors could ill
afford to open their doors. Where the demand is as great and innocent
as it is for fresh meat and fruit in hot weather, the interest of the
proprietor is no more plain than is the duty of the legislator and
magistrate. People employed in hotels, stables, telegraph offices,
libraries, museums, and parks, can, of course, protect themselves from
overwork, as domestic servants do, by stipulating for holidays and
half-holidays.

Whatever may be the gain to public health from cessation of labour and
business on Sunday, there is no such advantage, but rather injury,
from the prohibition of healthy recreations and amusements, which are
acknowledged to be perfectly innocent on at least six days of the week.
Sunday is by no means so strictly observed, especially in this respect,
on the continent of Europe as in the United States. Sabbatarianism is
peculiarly an American and British institution; and this fact justifies
the position that it is by no means a necessary condition of the
security, or even the welfare, of civilised nations. If our Sunday
laws cannot be proved to be necessary, they must be admitted to be
oppressive. Over-taxation is but a slight grievance compared with the
tyranny of sending men and women to jail for inability or unwillingness
to pay the fines imposed in 1895 by the State of Tennessee for working
on their farms, or in Massachusetts soon after for playing cards in
their own rooms. Further consideration of the question, what amusements
should be permitted on Sunday, will be found in an appendix.

Such problems are peculiarly unfit for treatment by our central
Government. Its chief duty, of course, is protection of our people
against invasion and rebellion; and the authority of the President and
Congress ought not to be weakened by vain attempts to settle disputes
which would be dealt with much more satisfactorily by the cities and
towns. A Sunday law too lax for Pennsylvania might be too strict for
California. The system of post-offices is too well adapted for the
general welfare to be given up hastily; but the Government ought to
surrender the monopoly which now makes it almost impossible for citizens
to free themselves from dependence on disobliging or incompetent
postmasters. I have nothing to say against the Census, Education,
Health, and Patent Bureaus, nor against the Smithsonian Museum, except
that our citizens have a right to use their own property as freely on
Sunday as on any other day of the week. I do not see why our Government
should have more than that of other nations to do with the issue of
paper money; but I leave the bank question to abler pens.

The tariff is a much plainer issue. We are told in _Social Statics_ that
"A government trenches upon men's liberties of action" in obstructing
commercial intercourse; "and by so doing directly reverses its function.
To secure for each man the fullest freedom to exercise his faculties,
compatible with the like freedom of all others, we find to be the
state's duty. Now trade-prohibitions and trade-restrictions not only
do not secure this freedom, but they take it away, so that in enforcing
them the state is transformed from a maintainer of rights into a
violator of rights." The obstacles to importation deliberately set up by
American tariffs, indirectly check exportation; for unwillingness to
buy from any other nation diminishes not only its willingness but its
ability to buy our products in return. The United States are actually
exporting large amounts of cattle, wheat, and cotton, as well as
of boots and shoes, agricultural implements, steel rails, hardware,
watches, and cotton cloth. These commodities are produced by Americans
who can defy foreign competition. In some cases the tariff enables them
to raise their prices at home, to the loss of their fellow-citizens.
Prices abroad cannot be raised by our Government. What it can and does
do is to burden both farms and factories by duties on lumber, glass,
coal, wool, woollen goods, and many other imports. The rates are
arranged with a view to increase, not individual liberty or public
security, but the profits of managers of enterprises which would not pay
without such help. Men who are carrying on profitable industries have to
make up part of what is lost in unprofitable ones. In fact, the cost
of living is increased needlessly for all our citizens, except the
privileged few.

There would be less injustice in aiding new enterprises by bounties; but
the proper authorities to decide how much money should be voted for such
purposes are the cities and towns. Some of the makers of our national
Constitution wished to make tariff legislation in Congress impossible
except by a majority of two-thirds; and this might properly be required
for all measures not planned in behalf of individual liberty or the
public safety. Much of the business now done by the nation ought to be
transferred to the States. They took the lead between 1830 and 1870 in
improving rivers and harbours, building railroads, and digging canals.
The result of transferring such work to Congress was that in 1890 it
voted $25,000,000 to carry on 435 undertakings, more than one-fourth of
which had been judged unnecessary by engineers. Two years later, four
times as many new jobs were voted as had been recommended by the House
committee. Among these plans was one, in regard to the Hudson River,
which was the proper business of the State of New York. The extravagance
of our pension system is notorious. If the restriction proposed by
Spencer is applicable anywhere, it is to central rather than local
governments.

VIII. Great as are the evils of unnecessary laws, Spencer's remedy
is too sweeping to be universally supported by evolutionists. Huxley
protests against it as "administrative Nihilism," and declares that if
his next-door neighbour is allowed to bring up children "untaught and
untrained to earn their living, he is doing his best to restrict my
freedom, by increasing the burden of taxation for the support of gaols
and workhouses which I have to pay." His conclusion is that "No limit is
or can be theoretically set to state interference." The impossibility
of drawing "a hard and fast line" is admitted even by so extreme an
individualist as Wordsworth Donisthorpe, who complains that "Crimes go
unpunished in England," while the "Great National Pickpocket" is busy
"reading through all the comedies and burlesques brought out in the
theatres," "running after little boys who dare to play pitch-farthing,"
or "going on sledging expeditions to the North Pole."

Lecky agrees so far with Spencer and Mill as to say, in _Democracy and
Liberty_, that punishment should "be confined, as a general rule, to
acts which are directly injurious to others," and accordingly that
"With Sunday amusements in private life, the legislator should have
no concern." As a check to over-legislation, he recommends biennial
sessions, instead of annual; and he protests against the despotism of
trades-unions. His strongest point against Spencer is that sanitary
legislation has added several years to the average length of life in
England and Wales, prevented more than eighty thousand deaths there in a
single year, and actually reduced the death-rate of the army in India by
more than four-fifths.

IX. Spencer has succeeded in increasing the number of individualists so
much, that Donisthorpe says they can be counted by the thousand, though
there were scarcely enough in 1875 in England to fill an omnibus.
Transcendentalism had made individualism comparatively common long
before in America. The principle of not interfering with other people,
except to prevent their wronging us, is fully applicable, as Spencer
says, to the relation of husband with wife, and also to that of parent
and teacher with child. It could also be followed with great advantage
in the case of domestic servants. There can be no doubt of the


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Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 14 of 16)