Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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employes should be regulated by precise laws, and that these
laws should be carried out into the smallest details. Even an
intelligent officer can do little to improve the service. He has
no freedom of action.

The following statement, whether true or not. taken quite
at random from a newspaper, illustrates the necessary business
impotence of a Government office :

" The additional cost to the Government which resulted from putting on
a special Sunday train to carry the Philadelphia newspapers to Harrisburg
will amount to $750,000. This arises from the fact that an agreement was
made to reweigh the mails on the Pennsylvania Eoad if the train would be
furnished. That made it necessary to reweigh the mails on all the trunk
lines going out of Philadelphia, although this would not have been necessary
otherwise for three years."

We have exhibited the business methods of the Post-office at
Such length, because the impression prevails that it is well


managed. Rowland Hill found that a similar impression was
general in England when he began to agitate his celebrated
reforms. Although our Post-office is not in so bad a state as
that of England forty years ago, it is certainly not desirable to
add to its burdens until it is reformed. To place the telegraph
in charge of the Government can be justified only upon the
ground that it will be likely to manage it better than it does the
post, or else that the general interest imperatively requires the
change to be made. We shall briefly state some reasons for
supposing that the Government will be very much less success
ful with the telegraph than with the post, and for holding that
public interest will be prejudiced by the change.

It was long ago observed by Adam Smith that companies
may succeed in business " when the operations are capable of
being reduced to a routine, or such a uniformity of method as
admits of no variation." The truth of this remark is borne out
by the preceding examination. The routine business of the
Post-office, the collecting, assorting, and distributing of the mails,
is and always has been well done, while the raising and expend
iture of revenue is evidently ill-done. Whenever the operations
of Government require the expenditure of capital in permanent
works, there is always a terrible waste. The Post-office requires
very little expenditure of this kind; but with the telegraph the
case is far otherwise. It is not easy to tell what amount of
capital has been really invested in the business, but it can
hardly be less than $50,000,000, and it may be double that sum.
A very large part of this is invested, and must continue to be
invested, in patents, a class of property which it would be par
ticularly undesirable to have the officers of Government con
cerned in. The art of telegraphy is highly progressive, and to
introduce the routine which is the only safety of Government,
would be fatal to its further progress. It is not easy to see how
the Government could begin its operations without either con
fiscating or purchasing the patents under which the business is
now carried on. To confiscate them would be an odious act of
injustice to private persons; but to purchase them would
infallibly occasion a frightful expense to the public. The mere
transmission and delivery of messages could be performed as
well, although not as cheaply, by the Government, as by private
persons ; but the remainder of the business could be done only
at far greater expense.


In another respect there is a material difference between the
post and the telegraph. The expense of transmitting the mails
does not increase in nearly the same ratio as their volume, and
it is principally owing to this fact that the Post-office can make
so good a showing as it does. But in the transmission of de
spatches, the volume of business and the expense of doing it
increase together. To send one hundred letters from one place
to another costs the Post-office very little more than to send one
letter. But to send a hundred despatches takes an operator
nearly a hundred times as long as to send a single despatch. Every
despatch must be written out, and many must be retransmitted.
The fixed charges are not correspondingly increased, but the
expense for operators is much the most important of all charges.
At the small offices the operators are usually engaged in other
employments, and if the number of despatches increases, they must
relinquish these employments and the pay derived from them.
At the large offices the operators are constantly occupied, and if
there are more despatches, there must be more operators. The
number of lines must also be increased in nearly the same ratio
as the business.

A fundamental condition of success in telegraph manage
ment is the expeditious delivery of despatches. The present
method of delivery by letter-carriers sent out at regular inter
vals would be totally impracticable. No one would consent to
wait several hours after a message had arrived before he received
it. Hence, a carrier can deliver but one or two messages on a
trip while he can deliver a hundred times as many letters. The
carriers employed by Government get between $800 and $900 a
year, while those employed by the telegraph companies get $200
or $300. If the Post-office is to employ carriers at as economical
rates as the companies, it must hire and discipline a corps of
small boys certainty one of the most interesting exhibitions of
paternal government that the world will yet have seen. It is
never wise to prophesy, but if any prophecy could be safe, it
would be that the United States will fail in the contest with the
small boy of his country, and be compelled to employ adult
messengers, or at least to pay the wages earned by people of

We should be glad, if space allowed, to state some of the re
sults of governmental management in England, but it is impossi
ble to do more than mention a few suggestive facts. The English


Post-office produces a net revenue of nearly fifty per cent., or
almost $17,000,000 per annum. The telegraph, however, is oper
ated really at a loss. The apparent surplus is not a real one. If
the Government proposes to buy out the American companies,
it is to be borne in mind that the capital of the English compa
nies was about $12,000,000, or $13,000,000, and that it cost the
Government over $40,000,000 to buy them out. The Govern
ment estimated the cost of the required extensions at about half
a million dollars. It proved to be twenty-five times that amount.
It was expected that the expense of management, salary account,
etc., would be less, when the Government had the entire control,
than when it was scattered among a number of companies. The
expense has proved to be greater. The Government announced,
at the outset, that it did not desire a monopoly of the business.
It had hardly begun operations before it prohibited all com

This last circumstance suggests some practical considera
tions which are of fundamental importance. If the Government
of the United States is to go into the telegraph business, three
questions will meet it upon the threshold. Will it extend its
lines all over the country, or will it confine them to a few
favored regions ? Will it have a monopoly, or allow competi
tion ? Will it hire or buy the existing lines, or erect its own ?
And back of these is a still more formidable one will it man
age the business upon business principles, charging equal rates
for equal services, and making the charges pay the expenses, or
will it delude the people by low rates, making up the deficiency
by other taxation? The first of these questions can be answered
in but one way. The only justification for the interference of
Government is that the interests of the whole people demand it.
It must be maintained that it is as much the duty of the Gov
ernment to enable all its citizens to communicate with one
another by the telegraph as by the post, and as non-paying post-
routes are supported on this ground, so must non-paying tele
graph routes be supported. The answer to the first question
takes with it the answer to the second. If the Government
allows competition it must lose money. The private companies
will abandon to it the non-paying routes and confine themselves
to the paying routes. But the only possible way in which the
system can be made self-supporting is by applying the profits
made upon the paying lines to the support of the others. When


these profits are destroyed by private competition, the deficiency
must be made up by taxation. A private company can discon
tinue a station that does not pay, and meet competition on the
paying lines by lower rates. The Government could do nothing
of the kind. It would be obliged to do the losing business, and
competition would rob it of the profitable business. It may
begin, like the English Government, with disclaiming all designs
of monopoly, but it will end either by abandoning the enter
prise or excluding competition. If the answers to these two
questions are correct, that to the third ceases to be doubtful.
The Government must buy out the existing companies. Con
siderations of justice forbid that it should prohibit them from
prosecuting their business, and business considerations forbid
that it should allow them to do so.

It is impossible to contemplate this prospect without grave
apprehension. The probable expense is so vast, and the diffi
culty of the business so great, that the extravagance and im
potence of the department of the navy would cease to be
remarkable. There are emergencies when the public interests
demand Government interference at whatever cost. In this case
it is impossible to show that the public would not be prejudiced
by such interference. It is probable that on an average every
person in the country receives fifty pieces of matter a year
through the mail, while he receives but one telegram. The
mail is, of course, principally used by the well-to-do classes,
but it is a blessing to the poor as well. The telegraph, how
ever, is used exclusively by wealthy persons. Probably the
majority of the inhabitants of this country have never received
a despatch. Their simple affairs require no such expedition,
and will bear no such expense. But if the Government is to
assume the business, it is highly probable that the burdens of
the poor will be increased, in order that the rich may enjoy a
luxury without paying for it. The deficiency that will certainly
result must be met by taxation, which, owing to the method in
which our revenue is raised, must be paid in great part by
those who are not benefited by its expenditure.

No measure that involves the increase of the civil service of
the United States ought to be adopted, except under the spur of
necessity. Some of the more sanguine of the civil service
reformers seem to think that reform has been already secured.
We are of opinion that they will be disappointed j but however
VOL. cxxxix. NO. 332. 5


that may be, they have certainly omitted a vital element from
their measures in not depriving Government officers of the right
of voting. To establish permanency of tenure without this
restriction, is to put the administration in possession of a stand
ing army. It would be the height of folly for officers of Gov
ernment to vote against the party in power. Their position is
secure while things remain as they are; it may be endangered by
a change, and discipline as well as interest will make them con
servative. There is an unfortunate itching for foreign institu-
tutions among a certain class of our citizens. They desire to
see the General Government of this country endowed with the
attributes of the Governments of Prussia or Great Britain,
regardless of the peculiarities of our constitution. These coun
tries have a highly centralized administration. "We have not, and
we do not want one. The arguments for Governmental control
of the railroads are quite as strong, to say the least, as those for
the control of the telegraph. All such schemes are socialistic.
They tend to bring upon us those dismal days of the future,
when Government shall attempt to support vast hordes of em
ployes in ruinous business ventures, making up its losses by
taxing that unfortunate remnant of its citizens who are able to
conduct their own affairs at a profit. We are not praising the
present management of the telegraph, but the little finger of a
Government bureau is thicker than the loins of any private cor
poration. The Western Union Company has chastised this peo
ple with whips; but the Government will chastise them with



THE phrase "wild justice," frequently used in discussing
what is called lynch law, is Lord Bacon's, and occurs in his essay
"On Revenge." "Revenge/ 7 he says, "is a kind of wild just
ice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law
to weed it out." It is curious that Bacon should have hit
speculatively upon an idea which many of our modern verdicts
have rendered practical. " The most tolerable sort of revenge,"
he adds, " is for those wrongs which there is no law to remedy ;
but, then, let a man take heed the revenge be such as there is
no law to punish, else a man's enemy is still beforehand,
and it is two for one." This suggestion of "wrongs which
there is no law to remedy," is a familiar one in men's mouths
and in the newspapers at the present time. It is employed
oftenest, perhaps, and most effectively in cases affecting the
domestic relations, when affront has been offered to conjugal
honor, when the virtue of a daughter has been betrayed, or the
good reputation of a sister destroyed. When such has been the
provocation, the majority seems ready to forget every other con
sideration, and to forgive the plainest violations of statutes upon
the observance of which the peace of society and the safety of
life are presumed to depend. This feeling may arise from a
lack of confidence in judicial tribunals, as well as from a sense
of the necessary incapacity of the law adequately to punish
offenses against personal feelings, and especially against per
sonal honor. Usually, however, it is a result of sudden anger,
of unbridled indignation, and of impatience of the processes of
the law, which, even if they were sure, must inevitably be slow
and formal. When it affects considerable bodies of men, they
keep each other in countenance. When, as in the case of the
Vigilance Committee of San Francisco, it urges all but a mere
handful of the inhabitants, there is an abrogation absolute,


however temporary, of all civil government, and the body politic
comes near to a resolution into its original elements ; though
even anarchy pays to legal tribunals the involuntary compli
ment of preserving their forms.

We have the same violence repeated, under the same forms,
in our very court-houses, when jurors, governed by emotion
rather than law, render verdicts against all the evidence, which
the judges either will not or can not set aside. When a man
plainly guilty of murder is, under one pretense or another,
acquitted, lynch law, in a respectable and quiet guise, is morally
as rampant as when in some frontier town of the far West all
the citizens turn out to hang a gambler or to shoot a horse-
thief. Indeed, the latter is the more defensible proceeding,
because it comes more nearly within the category of self-preser
vation. When no courts exist, or when the servants of the law
are in league with its violators, honest and peaceable men will
not be much blamed if they take care of themselves as well as
they can. In civilized and well-settled communities there is
little danger of such defiance ; and nothing is more remark
able than the patience with which for centuries mankind,
even in the most enlightened lands, have usually submitted
to the delays, the pedantries, the extortions, and the uncertain
ties of the law. Occasionally, but not often, they have been
driven to seek redress in private and unauthorized ways ; and
it has not seldom occurred that discontented populations have
retained a lingering allegiance to the bench long after even a
shadow of respect for the throne had disappeared. Respect for
and confidence in the judiciary is an Anglo-Saxon instinct. It
is therefore of evil import when the right of private vengeance
is either theoretically or practically asserted.

Lord Bacon's caution, that the revenge " be such as there is
no law to punish,' 7 intimates with sufficient clearness that in his
time the modern defense of temporary insanity and the modern
plea of intolerable provocation were unknown. Men did not
then so readily, and by no means with such impunity, take upon
themselves the triple office of accuser, judge, and executioner.
Assassinations, as the State Trials abundantly show, were not
then unknown in England, while the cowardly resource of
poisoning, brought there from Italy and France, was occasion
ally resorted to. But the people of England, always open and
frank in seeking restitution or revenge, even by violence, were


still religious enough not to question the prerogative of the
Deity, and the words, " Vengeance is mine," had yet a restrain
ing power and were yet reverenced in the courts of justice.
While we do not propose to discuss the subject from a religious
point of view, it should be considered that he who refuses to put
his trust in a divine retribution, sure and sufficient, even when
human laws are wanting, or have proved insufficient, substan
tially accuses G-od of procrastination, and thus, by arraigning
his wisdom, really denies his existence. We have here one of
the strongest evidences of the atheism of modern times and
of the waning influence of Christianity. Who now, though he
be a member of the church, thinks of forgiving his enemy?
What now has become of that great doctrine of love, which we
are told should be superior to despiteful usance ?

A second consideration, rather moral than religious, is that
revenge is usually inconsistent with justice, which should be
calm and dispassionate, whereas revenge may proceed upon
mere conjecture, and be stimulated to violence by furious and
uncontrollable wrath. Collins, in the Ode on the Passions, sings
of revenge with " each strained ball of sight bursting from his
head." One exposed to such mania, who has been taught by
long observation that courts will be lenient and that juries will
condone, will for that very cause make little or no effort to
restrain himself, and will not without reason expect an impunity,
whatever he may do, to which he may be little entitled. He has
numerous bad examples before him. In many a conversation
he has declared what deed of death he would do under such and
such circumstances. He has been trained to exaggerate the
gravity of certain wrongs, and to think that the world demands
of him some extraordinary manifestation ; and he feels that
should he not give reins to his rage he will be thought but a mean-
spirited creature. He must commit murder or he must lose caste.
He must kill or be sent to Coventry. Such is the morality which
bad rulings from the bench, sophistical arguments at the bar,
absurd verdicts from the jury-box, inconsiderate pardons from
the executive chamber, and hasty generalizations in the news
papers, have taught him. He will be no common felon. He
wears a good coat; he is of a respectable family; he is well
educated ; he is wealthy ; he has troops of friends ; and, above
all, he has been really wronged, or he thinks he has been. He
feels that there is a higher law which authorizes him to break


the lower, and he breaks it, while society, not venturing in set
terms to applaud the deed, regards him not unkindly, and says :
" Poor man ! He had great provocation, and we must not be
hard upon him ! "

Now, we do not mean to say that all this passes seriatim
through the mind of a man who, having been, as he thinks, dis
honored, proposes to mend the matter by committing murder.
On the contrary, he may rush to violence without any reflection
of this sort whatsoever. What we do mean to say is that his
whole moral nature has been affected disastrously by the general
tone of the society in which he has lived, and by the lame and
impotent results of many criminal trials the details of which
he has read with avidity. Verdicts of "Not Guilty/ 7 which
should be verdicts of " Guilty," and which the whole world,
seriously reflecting, knows to be contrary to the law and the
evidence, cannot be frequently rendered, especially in cases that
strongly attract public attention, without blunting the general
conscience and filling the general mind with loose notions of
justice. It is the duty of the law not merely to punish crime,
but to promote self-restraint, and if it fails to do the last, it
will inevitably find the volume of criminal offenses increasing.
Unquestionably the inefficient way in which law has been admin
istered in some parts of this country has, with other causes,
greatly impaired the power of self-control. It is not so common
as it was to find men governing their passions with absolute
sway. The temper of our forefathers may have been as hot as
ours, but they knew better how to control it. They had passed,
through the influences of civilization and religion, beyond that
rude idea of retribution which confounds justice and revenge.
They had brought within its due limits the natural impulse to
reprisal which marks the savage, who has no doubt of the
perfect legality of his vengeance, and who sometimes consum
mates it by eating of the body of his dead enemy, as the Corsi-
cans sometimes ate the heart of the victim of the vendetta.
From a similar feeling arose the custom among barbarians of
torturing prisoners of war.

For considerably over two centuries, society in this country,
or at least in the northern part of it, seemed to have out
grown that characteristic of human childhood which strikes
instinctively when it is angry. Duelling, which was bad, hav
ing disappeared in all parts of the country, assassination,


which is infinitely worse, has to a certain extent taken its
place, while those whose lack of refinement would forbid them
to think of the duel, with all its artificial punctilio, follow
the example of their superiors, and resort to murder upon com
paratively slight provocation. Morally the crime of either is
the same, saving always those extenuations to which a man
lacking opportunity in life may possibly be entitled. The
gentleman who in a frenzy shoots the destroyer of his domestic
happiness, as well as the carter who brains a rival blocking his
way, may each be hanged or not hanged j but in either case the
mischief is the same and proceeds from the same cause, an
unbridled temper. "We see this exhibited in a minor way in the
quarrels of the Stock Exchange, where bankers sometimes scuffle
and pound each other like the veriest blackguards of the slums.
We find this exotic ferocity exhibited even by children j and if
we go on as we have been going during the last generation, we
may, to our sorrow, find it as thoroughly established in the next
as it is among the lazzaroni of Naples, or the lascars of the East,
or as it was in the Highlands of Scotland in the days of Rob
Roy. National character is but an aggregate of personal pecu
liarities : the last may act upon the first, and the first react upon
the last, until that becomes the rule which was the exception,
and what was of merely private interest assumes a public im
portance. We are undoubtedly approaching a period in which
the control of the personal passions can alone save us from
something very like anarchy. This, however, is a political
view of the affair, upon which at present we do not intend to
enlarge. There are terrible problems to be solved ; Heaven
grant that their solution may not be in blood.

In considering the question of private vengeance, as we have
already intimated, we have first to take into view those injuries
for which the law provides no redress, or none which the world
has agreed to consider adequate. At the first glance it is evident
that these are necessarily few in number, because the tendency
of law-making is to protect the material rights of the individual,
and to redress his grievances, whenever it is possible, in a mate
rial way. The theory, for instance, is, that the loss of a wife,

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 7 of 60)