Copyright
Edward Everett Hale.

We, the people : a series of papers on topics of to-day online

. (page 3 of 15)
Online LibraryEdward Everett HaleWe, the people : a series of papers on topics of to-day → online text (page 3 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


The place to begin is the duty on Canadian wood
and the duty on imported coal.

LOCAL OPTION.

U T OCAL OPTION" has been and is
spoken of as if the two words meant
-1 -^ of course something about drink-
ing. In one place an Optionist is
a man who wants an eleven o'clock or an eye-
opener. In another place, he is a man who
wants his water straight and filtered. There is
much danger that a great principle of govern-
ment may be neglected by such careless talk.

Local Option gives to the people of a town, or
even of a county, a sort of responsibility in the
management of their own affairs, which can be
gained in no other way. What makes the dif-
ference between a neat, clean village in Switzer-
land and the God-forsaken dirt and abomina-
tions of other parts of Europe which could easily
be named, but Local Option? If it is my vil-
lage, my street, my public square, my Town Hall,
I am ashamed when it is neglected or defiled.
If it is the baron's, or the squire's, or the knight
of the shire's, why the knight of the shire, or

[37]



, THE PEOPLE"



the squire, or the baron, may take care of it.
If he takes my money, why he may see to the
pavements.

You cannot make the rulers in Europe under-
stand what self-government means. They real-
ly think that when you have said that once in
two or three years the men of a community go
and vote for Mr. A. or Dr. Z. to be a public
officer, these people govern themselves. And
then Mr. A. or Dr. Z. may send down to my
town an officer from the capital of the country
to tell me where to build my bridge, or how to
grade my road, or whether the schoolmaster
shall spell honor with two n's or not, according
as they like at headquarters.

Now, the truth is, that when you have real
self-government, John and Tom and Dick and
Harry and I, and a lot more of the neighbors,
get together. "Together" is the word. We
talk this thing over. We say we will have the
schoolhouse here, and we will buy our spelling-
books there. The road shall turn off the ledge
by the Widow Slocum's, and it shall go on the
level by John Hill's. We say that we will turn
out and mend the road on such a week in May.
And what is more, we do it. I carry my spade,
and the boys carry the shovels and drive the
oxen, and we build the new road together.

[38]



AMERICA



You cannot do that sort of thing everywhere.
But it is a mighty good thing when we can do it.
And self-government is the government of peo-
ple who carry that thing as far as they can.
Local Option means thatyou are trying to do this.
It does not refer to liquor merely. It may refer
to schools, to roads, to the choice of public ser-
vants, to half the affairs of administration.

No county in New York would like it much
if a "prefect" were sent down from Albany to
run it. Nor would any school in Connecticut
like it much if the people were told they must
buy the school chairs at No. 999 North Main
Street in Hartford.

Yet that is what would happen if we had not
now a certain measure of "Local Option."



[39]



Co-operation and Coal



OUR WEALTH IN COMMON.

IN a letter which I wrote to be read at a pub-
lic meeting about the coal strike, I said
that the Pennsylvania strike led the way
directly for the only logical solution, the
ownership of the coal properties by the State
of Pennsylvania, or eventually by the nation. It
is really pathetic to see on how many sensible
people this idea falls as if it had never been
broached before. I may say, of course, that the
great majority of thinking men have studied the
importance of such a solution; but a good many
people whom you would class among thinking
men have spoken to me of the suggestion as if
it were an absolute novelty.

To New Englanders in particular the sugges-
tion is not a novelty, and you are happy to find
that it is generally peoplewhohave been educated
under absolute governments or under feudalism
who think of it as a novelty. Not always, but
generally. The truth is that so soon as the men

[40]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

trained to English views of freedom landed here
and could kick off the superstitions of feudalism,
as Winthrop and Winslow and the people of
both colonies did at once, they went into the gov-
ernment ownership of the essentials. The gov-
ernment owned the roads from the beginning
and almost to the end of the eighteenth century.
For a little while turnpikes owned by incorpora-
ted companies were the fashion; but their failure
was so apparent that most of the turnpikes
of the country are now a part of the pub-
lic property. Originally, all churches were the
property of the public, all schoolhouses were,
as schoolhouses are to this hour. Indeed, in
practice every church edifice is now so far a part
of the public property that no tax is imposed
upon it more than would a tax be imposed
upon the State house or court house.

It is interesting to see that the light-houses in
New England, as now in all the United States,
are a part of the property of the public. It is only
under the artificial system of the English courts
that the light-houses in England are held to this
hour by private boards.

Naturally, in such a system, when they came
round to whale fisheries and mackerel fisheries on
any considerable scale, the fishing was carried on
by partnership as large as the business required.



, THE PEOPLE"



The State did not send fishing boats to sea, but
the men who took the boats to sea clubbed to-
gether to do it. No one was paid special wages ;
but they shared, each man according to a lot de-
termined upon, in the profits or in the charges of
the voyage.

Just as soon as it became evident that towns
and cities must be provided with water by aque-
ducts or reservoirs, under the natural genius of
republican life the cities and towns undertook
this work; and they now own the reservoirs and
the water. We have advanced so far in this
natural system that the cities and towns now own
large libraries which provide everybody with
reading. They own large hospitals, where every-
body may be cured, as the State, from a very
early period in the last century, has owned its
own hospitals, and has refused to send its wards
to what they call private institutions.

In this way we have become familiarized with
the ownership of wealth in common. Mr. Ernst
tells us that Winthrop first used the word "Com-
monwealth" for a political organization, the use
of it previous to that time having been its use to
represent the property owned by all, as commons
for the feeding of cattle or the privilege of fuel
in the public forests. To take other instances,
the State preserved the beaches as landing-places



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

for all sorts and conditions of men or women,
and the shores between high water and low
water are to this moment held in common. So
the great ponds, as they are called in distinction
from ponds which can be enclosed by private
ownership, are used for the common right of all
the people in the towns in which they are. When
the time for the Erie Canal came, and the Cham-
plain Canal; the State of New York built them;
and it now owns them, to its great profit. To
the profit of this reader, also, and of this writer;
for the bread on our tables to-day is materially
cheaper because the State owns these great water-
ways.

The rule is perhaps nowhere put down as mat-
ter of statute or constitutional right, but the
principle seems to be simple. It is well for the
State to keep its direct control of those properties
or rights in which every person is directly inter-
ested. Such are the rights of water to drink,
the rights of health and air. The State exercises
absolute control. The State, so to speak, owns
the air; and no individual may poison it, because
fresh air is one of the necessities. The State
controls the use of light, and places the limits
by which my neighbor is restricted from cutting
off the light from my home.

In the case of fuel the practical question which

[43]



"WE, THE PEOPLE'



arises is whether the fuel considered is or is not
a matter of prime necessity for all the people of
the State. In 1825, when a man was laughed at
who bought a ton of anthracite coal, it would
have seemed preposterous to compare the supply
of that coal with the supply of water. And peo-
ple have got into the habit, therefore, of think-
ing that the profit on anthracite coal is a sort of
God-given privilege to what is, after all, a hand-
ful of people only a few hundred thousand at
the most living between the Susquehanna and
the Delaware rivers. But this is a mere acci-
dent; and, if the supply of anthracite coal be-
comes necessary as an important part of the fuel
supply of the nation, why, the State, which of
course has the power, seems to have the duty of
asserting again the control which it had in the
beginning over these properties. Only one is
coolly told now that the rights of property must
be respected. Of course they must, precisely as
the rights of the people of West Boylston were
respected when the State of Massachusetts found
that it needed most of that town for the metro-
politan water supply. And the people of West
Boylston knew perfectly well that, as citizens of
Massachusetts, they must stand out of the way;
and they gave up their beautiful town to be made
into a beautiful lake. They had to. The peo-

[44]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

pie between the Susquehanna and the Delaware
rivers must be taught the same lesson. When
they took their lands, they were citizens of the
State of Pennsylvania; and they have held their
lands subject to the conditions that, when the
people needed the land, the people, which is the
sovereign, would take them back and would use
them.

It seems to me rather curious that in a com-
munity like ours people of the average intelli-
gence choose to forget how much of all our
property is now our wealth in common. This
is certain : that for taking care of it and manag-
ing it we people in Eastern Massachusetts prac-
tically pay more than a quarter of our income.
The truth is that more than a quarter of our
property is in our wealth in common. I find
that at present those of my friends who have any
property are very glad if they can get 5 per cent
interest upon it. I observe at the same time that
for supplying them with the prime necessities of
justice, health, education, easy intercourse be-
tween house and house and between town and
town, for providing them with books and open
churches, and hospitals and public parks, the
State of Massachusetts and the city of Boston re-
quire them to pay a third part of this 5 per cent
into the public treasury.

[45]



, THE PEOPLE"



The more cynical among them growl because
of this requisition. But I observe that the same
people send their children to public schools, walk
on the sidewalk when they go to make afternoon
visits or to cut off their coupons, that they send
to the public library if they want to read their
Adam Smith, and come to church if they want to
hear Mr. Edward Cummings. Why the grum-
blers of this sort are disinclined to any simple
measure which will save us from coal panics or
famines, I can understand they will always
grumble. But why people who are used to own-
ing Boston Common and the Boston Public Li-
brary and Washington Street and Tremont
Street in common, who know that the school-
houses, the city hospitals, and the Franklin Park
are owned in common, why they should think it
would be a very exceptional thing to own coal
mines in common I do not see.

CO-OPERATION.
THE TOM, DICK, AND HARRY SOCIETY.

LAST May, on one of those pleasant after-
noons in the first half of the month,
Richard Roe and Thomas Hazeldon
found themselves sitting side by side,
smoking on one of the seats in Madison Square.

[46]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

This had happened several times lately. They
bought the afternoon Journal in the car, got out
as it passed the Square, and as long as the cigars
lasted they sat in a shady place they had found.

That fruit man, the same who is with those
Cuban people Smith his name is, Harry T.
Smith, joined them. They both knew him, but
they do not generally sit on the same seat to
smoke.

But this time when Smith joined them he said
at once, "I say, fellows, how much coal do you
lay in for a winter? I have been talking with
one of the Philadelphia men. I met him at
Cienfuegos last year. He wants to bring me
three hundred tons of hard coal and deliver it
where I say before the first of June. I don't
want five tons myself. But a lot of my neigh-
bors up at Yonkers have chipped in and some
men in the cars this morning chipped in and I
asked every man I met at lunch if he did not
want some. We are going to share and share,
and pay them on the first of June just what the
coal cost over at Hoboken when it gets there."

Well, Hazeldon took eight tons for himself
and his sister, and Roe took three tons for his
house and three for his office.

This was the beginning of the "Tom, Dick,
and Harry Combination" which has been talked

[47]



, THE PEOPLE"



of so much by all the people who have heard of
it, in which all those men who chipped in in May
are so comfortable just now, while all the rest of
us are cursing and swearing.

If co-operation sometimes succeeds as well as
this, why does it not succeed so always? If I
spoke to five sensible men this morning about
co-operation, they would notably all say that co-
operation had always failed.

The truth is that co-operation in manufacture
has won its best successes in France. Co-opera-
tion in insurance and buying and building of
houses has won its success in the United States.
Co-operation in such affairs as this of the "Tom,
Dick, and Harry" coal purchase has succeeded
marvellously in England, in the great Rochdale
co-operative system. But that has not succeeded
in America. Co-operative house-building has
hardly been attempted in France, and though
there are a few co-operative factories in England
and America, they make no part of our system.

The difficulty in America which first appears
in introducing the Rochdale system here is the
willingness, even eagerness, of our workmen to
move from place to place. Every man of us has
emigrant blood, not many generations back. We
all "thirst for the horizon." While in Rochdale,
or I might say any other manufacturing town

[48]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

in England, almost every serious man wants to
stay there until he dies; in America, every intel-
ligent workman wants to be foot-free, to start at
a fortnight's notice with his family for Seattle,
for Denver, or for Manila.

Just as your nice and neat Rochdale co-opera-
tive store No. i gets established in New Shef-
field, Nahum Stringfellow comes in, one of the
best men on its board, and he says to Mr. Many-
penny, the treasurer, "Manypenny, I am going
to take my family to Luzon, and I shall want to
take out all my stock here next Saturday." Now,
the shops on the Rochdale system cannot stand
this long, and we must contrive in America a
system of our own, by which the co-operative
plan can be fitted in with our habits. This we
can do, for if America has some disadvantages
it has many advantages. A country in which a
thousand men can club together to buy and build
their homes can certainly make arrangements by
which a thousand men can buy their coal, their
flour, their butter, their coffee and their tea.



[49]



<WE, THE PEOPLE*



CO-OPERATION AGAIN.

THE coal famine and the success of such
arrangements as the' 'Tom, Dick, and
Harry Combination" have set thou-
sands of persons, between here and
Seattle, to devising similar plans by which they
may buy, not only coal, but other things cheaper.
It is well known that a third of the people in
England, almost all the workingmen, buy what
they need by a co-operative system. Why not
Nahum Rhoades in West New Padua, South Da-
kota, as well as Mr. George Holyoake in Roch-
dale ? Some people are talking sense about this
and many talk nonsense. Some know what
they are talking about, and some do not. The
American people will work out its own salvation
in the matter. No fear of that I But we need
not make blundering experiments. There is a
need of advice and a need of caution. And as
the wise Turk said, "Let those who know tell
those who do not know."

George Holyoake, the great authority, always
says squarely that the combiners must have more
than money profit in mind, indeed, they must
have something larger and better than money
in mind, first of all. Send for one of his books
about the Rochdale plan. An Odd Fellows

[50]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

lodge is a good co-operative club. Any church
with a good democratic organization and a
working bureau for mutual help is good. For
the men and women in the plan must not be
asking for dividends all the time. They are do-
ing this thing because they do not want to cut
each other's throats.

Again, the co-operative store in West New
Padua had better deal in what everybody wants
and not try for filigree or feathers. Thus,
everybody wants pitchers and basins. Every-
body wants stockings and shoes. Everybody
wants matches and burning fluid; everybody
wants nails and tacks and screw-drivers and ham-
mers. Everybody wants fuel. And for those
things which there is a steady demand for, the
store may take care. But everybody does not
want a chromo copy of the Dulwich Madonna,
nor Story's Commentary on the Constitution.

The store must have capital. The merit of
the Rochdale system is that every person who
buys a paper of pins becomes, sooner or later,
an owner in the common stock, which has to be
kept in the store. But, as I said once before
here, no business can be maintained, if one of the
partners in the firm can come in of a sudden
and say, "Fellows, I am going off to Manila,
and I must have all my capital in money next



'WE, THE PEOPLE'



Monday." Whoever goes into co-operation
goes in for the voyage, as we say down East,
and he had better go in for many voyages.

Now, all the mistakes here hinted at have been
tried and tried again. There is no reason under
the heavens why North Padua or South Leyden
should try them again. If the first lodge, or
circle, or grange that wants to try the experiment
means success, they will study carefully the Eng-
lish Rochdale rules. Then they will study the
rules of the co-operative building societies of
New York. Rochdale has succeeded in England.
The building societies have succeeded here. The
sensible "combine" will begin by combining
these two systems. And the sensible combine
will be wise, if, in the words of our fine national
proverb, it do not bite off more than it can chew.

CO-OPERATION AGAIN.

SOMETIMES the system of our social
order receives a sudden shock from
some runaway trolley car, and people
wake up enough to wonder whether it
cannot be improved.

"Perhaps that fellow who said last Sunday
that we are all each other's keepers and that we
must bear each other's burdens knew what he

[5*]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

was talking about." Such is the ejaculation of
some worthy old gentleman who has just come
back from the safe deposit where he has been
cutting off his coupons, and has stopped at the
coal office to be told he can only have one ton
of coal. He looks for his Adam Smith, and can-
not find out what is the matter. He curses
Adam Smith, for which he has more reason than
for most of his profane ejaculations. And, as
he selects his cigar and settles down to his Na-
tion, his little granddaughter, wishing to assuage
his anger, asks if people have tried the Golden
Rule.

Then the old grumbler rouses up enough to
say that he believes they tried "co-operation,"
and that he thinks it failed.

I mean by all this that "co-operation" is talked
about and inquired about just when people feel
the pinch and screw. But I observe that the
grumblers did not choose or care to help co-op-
eration forward until their own fingers were
pinched in the door. Happily, it is never too
late to learn; and one is glad to know that the
friends of co-operation seize the opportunity to
expound their simple gospel to all who have ears
to hear.

At almost any time in the last twelve months
hard wood for fuel could be bought at the wharf

[53]



'WE, THE PEOPLE"



in Boston for six dollars and fifty cents a
cord.

If I had been one of fifty persons who met
last April in Boston, and each laid down thirteen
dollars, I should on this first of October have
two cords of hard wood awaiting my order. I
was not one. So, when I go to the wood wharf
to-day, I am told that by paying fourteen dollars
I can have one cord, but only one. This little
fact arrests my attention, and I begin muttering
about "co-operation." I begin even to wonder
whether it would not have been better if I had
heard Prof. Peabody's lectures on "Co-opera-
tion," or bought Mr. Lloyd's book or Mr.
Cooke's or even Dr. Hale's. Perhaps, if I had,
I should have two cords of wood instead of one.

For readers in this semi-penitential vein of
thought, about their own omissions, the follow-
ing words are written.

It is quite true, as the grumbler says, that
while co-operation has been signally successful
in some countries and in some undertakings, ex-
periments tried in this business have often utterly
failed. The writers on the subject are apt to
say that co-operation in manufacture has had its
best success in France. It seems that the Ger-
man system of "co-operation" in banking has
been more successful than any such system in

[54]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

other countries. In America "co-operation"
has taken the control of insurance, so that almost
all insurance on lives here is made on the co-
operative principle. Very remarkable success
has been achieved by the co-operative building
societies, and I like to say here that I think Mr.
Josiah Quincy's advice and experience and ad-
venture gave a start in that business which it has
never lost. In England great success has been
gained in co-operative trade. In Mr. Lloyd's
very valuable book, published three or four years
ago, he gives the figures which show the success
of the great movement there. In one table in
his Appendix, as a result of thirty-four years'
progress of the English Co-operative Wholesale
Society, he shows that its business in 1897 was
the purchase and distribution of articles needed
in the co-operative stores amounting to fifty-nine
million dollars' worth in that year. I believe
that the purchase and sale of tea by the central
organization was larger than that of any other
importing corporation with one exception.

The genius of America has always run in this
direction. The establishment of free schools in
the beginning here was a piece of co-operation
for education. The whale fisheries of Nantucket,
the mackerel fisheries of other ports, were always
to a very recent period conducted on the prin-

[55]



'WE, THE PEOPLE"



ciple of co-operation ; that is to say, each person
concerned in the ship or the schooner which tried
the adventure received a proportional part of the
profit and paid his proportional part of the ex-
penses, according to a statement agreed upon in
advance. By this plan every man and every boy
had his "lay" in the voyage. So soon as the neces-
sity of supplying towns with water appeared,
the American cities adopted the co-operative
system. And in almost every instance I know
myself of no exception the water supply is reg-
ulated on the principle of all for each and each
for all.

The Rochdale system in England, which has
had such extraordinary success, is not a system
for manufacture nor insurance nor banking. It
is a system in which those who unite buy what
they want at wholesale, to divide among the
members, with no charge but the expense of the
operation. In 1 844 a few workmen in the man-
ufacturing town of Rochdale met and agreed to
buy together some supplies which they would
need for their families. This enterprise has
gone so far that it has extended into the great
system of co-operative shops and stores which
now covers England. But the Rochdale sys-
tem has never succeeded in America for more
than a limited period of time. For this failure

[56]



CO-OPERATION AND COAL

there are many reasons; and when one tells such
a story as I have told above, of the imaginary
fifty people who bought their wood last April
and are now, if they exist, laughing in their
sleeves at us who did not, one has to take these
failures into account.

My friend Mr. George Littlefield is one of


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryEdward Everett HaleWe, the people : a series of papers on topics of to-day → online text (page 3 of 15)