Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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grossest abuses. The most determined free trader would be
forced to confess candidly that any project of reform that might
be proposed would probably involve temporary inconvenience
to somebody. If any one knows of any abuse that has ever
been reformed without hurting some vested interest, or of any
mistake or folly that has ever been corrected by man or nation
without pain and loss, or even of any improvement in machinery,
process, routine, or otherwise, without inconvenience to some
body, he has an opportunity to bring forward something hitherto
unknown. What then ? Are we never to reform an abuse or
correct an error ? There is, however, no reason to believe that
the complete abolition of the protective system would cost as
much loss and inconvenience as was endured, partly on account
of the tariff, in 1883. So long as the system lasts in its present
condition, as a device that has exhausted itself, it will produce
heats and chills of prosperity and disaster. Wage-receivers need
first of all regularity and steadiness of employment. Lower



298 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

wages with security are valued above higher wages and uncer
tainty by every intelligent wage-receiver. With the former it is
possible to accumulate capital far more rapidly than with the
latter. But protective taxes lower wages, and the abolition of
taxes would both raise wages in rate and give regularity and
security. Hence, the present system, producing sudden convul
sions, quarrels, strikes, and suspensions of industry, is a great
evil, with no prospect of cure, and it is forcing this generation
to waste its life within reach of plenty. Therefore, since the
evil will not cure itself, it is for the interest of all to make the
necessary effort to do away with it.

It is generally assumed that it will be wise to do away with
the system gradually and slowly. It is said that industries would
receive a shock or be destroyed by any sudden action. No
reason for these assumptions has ever been given, and they are
not based on any facts or sound reasoning. On the contrary,
delay in the process of reform would produce evils that would
be avoided if the change could all be made in a day. The period
of transition is the one of hardship, so far as there would be any
hardship. Therefore it is wise policy to shorten the period of
transition as much as possible. If Congress takes down one
part of the system and leaves another part, it will create new
relations between interests, which may be exceedingly disad
vantageous for some of them. If it cuts down the rates by a
horizontal reduction, the result will not be uniform for all inter
ests, but quite the contrary. If, then, this process is repeated
later, and so on from time to time, there will be a prolongation
of uncertainty, and at every stage harm may be produced to
different interests, which would not be produced at all by a sin
gle and complete change after reasonable notice. If, however,
it is necessary, as it probably is, to do what is less wise but more
in conformity with prejudice, the reform of the system should
begin with the abolition of taxes on primary products of the
soil, and advance by r,apid stages to reduce and abolish taxes on
the more advanced products. Not more than one period of pro
duction for different classes of products should intervene
between these stages. There should be an immediate and very
great increase of the free list by the transfer to it of those com
modities from which the revenue is small, and there should be
an immediate reduction of those taxes that are excessive, which
never had any justification at all, and which were put in by an



EVILS OF THE TARIFF SYSTEM. 299

abuse of political power to satisfy pure greed. There are a
great number of such items in the tariff, and they are a scandal
and a disgrace to democratic-republican self-government.

The present tariff system is a pure hindrance to the wealth
and prosperity of the country. So fast as it is reformed, there
will ensue, not harm for anybody, but a new spring of prosperity
for everybody. There are scores of profitable industries that
cannot now be carried on in this country on account of the
tariff, but would spring into existence as soon as it was removed.
New conditions for industry would be brought about by the
abolition of the taxes, and those who dread the change the most
would find themselves far better off. People believe that all
things else would remain as now, but prices would be greatly
reduced. This is a very childish error. The whole market
would be re-adjusted to new conditions, and before any man had
time to realize that he was going to be hurt, he would find that
things had so altered in his other relations that he was not hurt
at all. The guarantee for these anticipations is in a correct
understanding of the industrial organization of human society,
and in a correct understanding of the laws of production and
commerce.

W. GK SUMNER.



VOL. cxxxix. NO. 334. 22



NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

No. CCCXXXV.



OCTOBEE, 1884.



THE MORAL CHARACTER IN POLITICS.



To ONE who notes the signs of the times, it is clear that very
significant changes are taking place in the political affiliations
of the American people. Party ties have become weak, and
with multitudes have ceased to control. There are very many
voters, wise and upright men, who have not yet determined
for whom they shall vote at the coming election for President ;
and great numbers on both sides who have heretofore steadily
sided with the one party will now vote with the other. Rarely,
if ever before, have so many changes in party attachments or
so little interest in a party contest been manifested at this stage
of a Presidential canvass.

The reason for this is not that the American people have lost
their moral earnestness, but because they possess this to so
great a degree. The American people cannot be interested in
merely playing at politics $ they cannot become excited over
make-believes. They demand a real issue, which the Republican
and the Democratic parties no longer offer. The lines which
have separated these two great parties have become obliterated j
their two platforms are essentially the same. There is no
longer any great political principle which characteristically dis-
VOL. cxxxix. NO. 335. 301 23



302 THE NOETH AMERICAN REVIEW.

tinguishes either from the other, hence we notice that the
platform speakers in the present canvass, when they leave the
candidates and argue on party grounds for either side, draw
their arguments from what the party has been, rather than
from what it is.

There are and really can be but two political parties any
where, for there is but one political problem ; and to this only
two answers are possible, into which the real issues of all politi
cal parties, whatever their name or apparent number, must be
resolved. The great political problem the hinge of all social
movements in all time is, how to marry law and liberty
together j in other words, how shall man be governed and yet
be free ? Government and freedom liberty and law are
both necessary. If government be wanting, liberty becomes
license ; if freedom fail, law leads to despotism. But how
shall the claims of each be settled ? In the perfect state, to
which tend all the unformed and unconscious instincts of men,
perfect law and perfect liberty will have complete accord 5 and
in the imperfect state, so far as it has any living growth, there
will be a constant struggle toward this condition a feeling
after, if haply it might find it, though in the darkness. To the
question, how it can be found, there can be, as there have been,
only two replies. We can on the one hand set the liberty first,
and bring the law to meet its claims ; or, on the other, we can put
the law in the foreground, and let the liberty follow as the law
may lead. Between these two there is a living issue which can
rouse men, and which has actually given strength to all political
struggles the world over.

It is quite easy to see that this has been in former times the
exact issue between the Democratic and the Republican parties.
I do not mean that it has been definitely propounded or even
consciously formulated as such (the real motives in great
political actions often reach below the consciousness of the
actors, and are often most powerful when least perceived), but
as one studies the history of these two parties, it can be
clearly seen that this issue gives the characteristic marks to
both. The Democratic party has taken its ground upon liberty;
it has made freedom its primary care. Government with it has
had the secondary place, and the consent of the governed the
first. From the outset this party has held everything subserv
ient to its own independent will. It has sought only what it



THE MORAL CHARACTER IN POLITICO 303

chose, demanding a self-government, with a clear emphasis of
the self. The attempted secession of the Southern States, which
claimed their right to set up for themselves because they chose
to have it thus, was the consistent application of the Democratic
principle.

The position of the Republican party has been the exact
converse; its eye has been preeminently on the law. While
the Democratic party has sought for a liberty which should
determine their law, the Republican party has looked for a law
which should maintain their liberty. It has affirmed a law
which ought to be obeyed, and which could rightfully command
the choices of its subjects, whether originally conformable to
those choices or not. It is sound Democratic doctrine, that
whatever the people will is right, and may be enacted as law.
The counter principle, on which the Republican party first took
its stand, maintains that what is right the people ought to will,
and that nothing is lawful or should be chosen unless it has an
authority with which men's reason and choice have nothing
other to do than to discover and obey. The attitude of the
Republican party toward the Southern secession, compelling
obedience to lawful authority, though the choices of eight
millions of people refused to obey, exactly illustrates its original
spirit.

I do not need to exemplify at length this difference between
these two parties, though nothing would be easier; nor do I
wish now to consider at all which of these conflicting claims
has the better ground. The only point I now note is that here
is a real and living issue, worthy of the contests which have
raged around it, and deserving still to be contended for, only
that it is no longer set forth. The Republican party, not
formally, not openly, perhaps still unconscious of any change,
but obviously to any observing eye, has abandoned its early
ground. It makes no more any profession of contending for
what is right simply because it is right; it no longer affirms
any universal rights of man, nor any supreme law of God, nor
any claim which rests upon nations, and which all nations in
universal brotherhood should obey. In its late Chicago conven
tion, its platform was built with a single eye to what the choices
of the people are, without regard to what they should be. The
high ground of its early history, when it set up a standard which
the majority were sure to reject, but to which they were never-



304 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

theless uncompromisingly summoned, and which at length com
pelled the choices which were at first refused, has been entirely
relinquished. Hence the great issue between the two parties no
longer exists. They are contending for no principle. Their
only struggle is to obtain possession of the patronage and the
power of the government. This explains the lack of enthusiasm
in the contest, the shifting of so many from one side to the other
of hitherto dividing party lines, and the uncertainty of so many
at the present time as to how they shall vote. It explains also
the demand, more and more loudly expressed, for a party which
shall have some moral convictions, and the courage to express
them.

For, whatever may be said about the economic questions
entering into state policy, and however prominently, or even
exclusively, these may stand out in many minds, the moral
relations of the state are, nevertheless, paramount. Economic
questions are wisely determined only by ethical considerations.
Questions of the tariff, taxation, trade, currency, immigration,
the rights of labor and of capital, all root themselves in the
deeper question of man's organic relationship with his fellow-
man; and can only be wisely settled settled peacefully and
permanently on the great principle that men and nations are
all linked together, that we are all fellow-members, one of an
other, so that if one member suffer, all the members suffer with
it, and if one member be honored, all the members rejoice
together. The state, if not a moral person, represents the
Mghest moral will, and any policy of the state is advanta
geous in the line of what may be called material profit and loss,
only as it expresses this moral will ; in other words, only as it is
determined on the broadest principles of rectitude.

Hence, the first quality of statesmanship is moral. The
statesman needs first of all that he himself be upright. A good
will, clear and firm, is his best endowment. He needs, of course,
high gifts of intellect understanding of his times, like the men
of Issachar, that he may know what the people ought to do ;
and we may perhaps conceive of a man so well endowed with
intellect, so far-sighted, that he could see the wisdom for a
government of a moral attitude which he has never taken for
himself ; as G-oethe, great genius that he was, discerned and ac
curately described experiences of which he was never conscious 5
but such geniuses are very rare, and even when found we are



THE MOEAL CHAEACTEE IN POLITICS. 305

painfully conscious as when we compare Goethe with Shakes
peare of the imperfection of the broadest and the deepest
intellect uninstructed by the inspiration of an all-controlling
moral purpose. If there be a strong intellect, there is nothing
like a will centered on the right, to steady and clarify its
vision. Only he who is truly willing to do what is right can
truly know what is right.*

It is true that if a man has not committed himself in self-
abnegation to the right, he may see many things which the right
requires, and may do them on grounds of expediency alone.
Honesty is always the best policy, and a politic man, so far
as his deeds are concerned, may conform his ordinary conduct to
this principle. But when it comes to a pinch, when he reaches
an exigency where the right requires a sacrifice of himself, either
his insight or his heart will fail him. Sacrifices are not accom
plished simply because occasions demand them. The spirit of
self-sacrifice, the renuciation in the inner soul of every interest
of self, must be the abiding principle of life before any occasions
can call it forth. A man, therefore, who is only politic cannot
be trusted in an emergency. Hence, it is never safe to commit
great interests of state or, indeed, any other great interest
to such a man. The great opportunity is a great temptation
which is sure to blind him, and then to lead him astray. He
may be brilliant, versatile, widely acquainted with state pro
cedure, but unless he is capable of surrendering his own advant
age to the public good, capable of yielding himself entirely to
his duty, he will be a wiser counselor in private life than in
official station.

Neither is it safe to confer a great trust on an impure man.
Clean hands do not belong to an unclean heart. A man cannot
be unqualifiedly trusted with anything if his virtue cannot be
trusted. The whole moral life is so interlocked, all its manifes
tations are to a discerning eye so expressive, each of all and all
of each, that the scripture statement, he that offendeth in one
point is guilty of all,t finds its echo in the proverb which ex
presses the undoubted human consciousness, falsus in uno falsus
in omnibus. The quality of the source will appear in all its
streams. " Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet
water and bitter ? w It is indeed a blessed truth that human life
is capable of great renovations. However we may explain it,
* John vii., 17. t James ii., 10.



306 THE NORTH AMEEICAN REVIEW.

men are sometimes entirely transformed in character, the base
man becoming estimable, and the dark heart shining with light 5
but while a hopeful charity will have its eye always open to this
possibility, a wise judgment bids us look for evidence of such a
change before we fully trust a man long known to be untrust
worthy. A candidate for high office whose chief claim is the
brilliancy of his intellectual gifts or the strength of his execu
tive power, but who has shown himself lacking in integrity or
purity, will be wisely discarded by every voter who is wise, unless
he has shown, not by his words alone but by his deeds as well, the
evidence of his inner transformation. Moreover, unless this wit
ness of the light be just as prominent as that of the darkness has
been, it is a grave query whether the election of a man who has
not clearly cleaned himself from charges of unworthiness, might
not seem to the public eye such an indulgence for his offense as
would be a disastrous shock to public virtue. We need both
caution and courage as well as charity here.

But what if we have no other candidates ? What if we seem
shut up to a choice of evils? We are not; it can never be
necessary to vote for an unworthy man ; there can always be
found candidates who do not solicit the votes of any one, but
who are worthy the votes of all. The American people do not
lack here ; they have never been wanting in men fit to lead
them 5 they have found their leaders, sometimes after delays,
but in the end with unerring instinct.

It is not wise to take counsel of timid expediency here ; votes
are not thrown away which are cast for right measures and right
men. If they are scattered, lacking organization, as is some
times likely, and therefore seeming to fail of any immediate
result, they have not failed. A ballot which is only a protest
may have an all-controlling potency over the future, and this
may be far more important than any present end. The exhibi
tion on a great scale of a political force which will not be led by
any pretext of expediency against a calm and conscientious
judgment, will soon secure for itself an efficient organization.
A scattered vote in a single election may easily be the controlling
vote in the next. Such a vote, if indicative of a high purpose
a purpose which can neither be cajoled nor frightened, carries
with it a healthy instruction to political leaders, and a healthy
inspiration to the people.



THE MOEAL CHARACTER IN POLITICS. 307

To this a word of caution needs just here to be added. There
is great danger in seeking to reform abuses lest the reformer
himself may soon need reformation. A man conscious of a
higher plane than others occupy, and who feels himself looking
down on those around him, easily can come to contemn and
despise them, though they are men like himself, and as men,
notwithstanding their perversion, are worthy of his constant
reverence. In this he poisons the core of his own moral life.
No man can despise another without becoming himself despi
cable. The constant faultfinder is pretty certain himself to sink
into the very faults which he condemns. A cynical, carping
spirit which says, stand aside, for I am holier than thou, a
Pharisaic, self-righteous spirit, which thanks God that it is not
as others are, may often put itself in the front rank of reformers,
but it is not of such stuff that high and lasting reforms are
originated or consummated. The greatest of all reformers,
whose words and work are the most potent agency in the reno
vation and uplifting of society the world has ever known, gave
the key to all genuine reform in his wondrous words, alas !
that they should often seem so little heard, " I judge no man,"
"for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." *
He can be followed, and has been, though the way is strait.

That I have not indicated a course too lofty to be practical,
though nothing is so practical as the highest ideal, if men did
but know it, might be shown from the example of Mr. Lincoln,
Mr. Gladstone, and Prince Bismarck, the three men most con
spicuous for leadership, as every one would readily say, in the
great civil movements of the last twenty-five years. Mr. Lin
coln was conspicuous, first of all, for his honesty. u Honest Abe
Lincoln " was the name he early earned, and which, more than
any other characteristic, first commended him to the people.
That he should do his duty, it was only necessary that he
should know it ; and his unerring knowledge so spontaneously
wise that it almost seemed an instinct grew out of his unwav
ering loyalty to the right. He knew few books ; he had no large
acquaintance with men or history ; he was no scholar; he was
never called brilliant ; but he had a reverence for men of what
ever station, simply because they were men ; he looked up to the
slave and looked down upon no man ; and this gave him, better
than books or learning or brilliant gifts could have done, his
* John viil, 15, and xii., 47.



308 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.

rare political sagacity 5 and this, more than all else, taught the
people to commit their interests to his guidance, and to follow
him with a loving trust which they have never given any leader
before or since his time. His power lay most conspicuously in
his moral purpose. In his own words which are likely to live
longer and be quoted oftener than any words yet uttered in
America, unless it be the opening words of the Declaration of
Independence he had dedicated himself to the task, " that the
nation shall, under G-od, have a new birth of freedom, and that
the government of the people, by the people, and for the people
shall not perish from the earth. 77

Mr. Gladstone is trusted in Europe, and most of all in Eng
land, where he is known best, for his unswerving moral
purpose. He is indeed a man very different from Mr. Lincoln ;
he is learned in books j he is a scholar j he is familiar with
history j he has made a careful study of difficult questions of
finance ; but in none of these ways has he learned his states
manship. The most prominent quality of his statesmanship is
its high moral ground. He would control nations as individuals
should be controlled by the highest moral principle. His aims
in this respect sometimes seem too high to be attained, and he
has not unfrequently been called unpractical in his views ; but
he follows on unfalteringly, confronting questions more difficult
than any other statesman of the present hour is forced to meet,
but facing them calmly, answering them courageously, as his
lofty moral principle directs, believing that nothing is ever
settled till it is settled right, and that right and truth and love
can settle all things.

Prince Bismarck is a very different man from either of the
two named, but he is like them both in the commitment of him
self to a high claim outside himself, to which both he and his
aggrandizement have been steadily subjected. From the time
when he was Prussian Secretary at the Frankfort Diet as his
letters, lately published, show he has seen the need that there
should be in central Europe, for the peace of the world, a great
united German power, and has bent himself with iron will to
accomplish this. But he has not sought it for himself. He has
not been charged with seeking his own profit. His unswerving
purpose had its birth, and has had its constant food, in his
undoubting religious faith. " If I were no longer a Christian,"
is his utterance, which we need not doubt, since all his life



THE MOEAL CHARACTER IN POLITICS. 309

bears witness to its truth, " I would not remain an hour at my
post. If I did not believe in a divine order which has destined
this German nation for something good and great, I would at
once give up the business of a diplomatist, or I would not have
undertaken it. Orders and titles have no charm for me. I owe
the firmness which I have shown for ten years against all
possible absurdities only to my decided faith. Take from me
this faith, and you take from me my fatherland."*

These examples are sufficient to confirm the general position
of this article ; and they show, moreover, that men who illustrate
the moral quality in political leadership need not be wanting
among ourselves.

JULIUS H. SEELYE.

* Busch's " Bismarck in the Franco-Prussian War," Vol. II., p. 191.



Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 30 of 60)