Franklin Henry Giddings.

Democracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations online

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that deals with men who are in no sense offenders. Even the
punitive action of government must be of such a nature that
the wrong-doer himself, if not an idiot or devoid of con-
science, in his inmost soul and reason must allow that the
action of government toward him is right.

Thus it would appear that the ethical and practical con-
struction of the maxim that governments derive their just
powers from the consent of the governed is, that govern-
ments must be so constituted, must be so hedged about hy
limitations, and in the performance of all their functions
must be so regardful of fundamental moral truths that all
their acts shall receive the full assent of the reason and con-
science of all subjects. This, of course, is an ideal that never


yet has been realized in human history. My contention is
merely that the maxim in question expresses this ideal; or
that, if it does not, the maxim itself is worthless.

If, however, we accept this as the true content of our his-
toric maxim, a conclusion emerges which seems not to have
been apprehended by everybody. At any rate it has been
missed by those who have protested against coercive acts
that have seemed to be necessary in the interest of the gen-
eral welfare, in the interest of national cohesion, or in the
interest of mankind. Over and over again, in our own his-
tory, the powers of state and national governments have been
coercively applied to compel the submission of men who be-
lieved that they had as good a right to rebel against the
existing governmental authority — because they had never
given, or were unwilling to continue, their consent to it — aa
had the men of the thirteen colonies who threw off the Brit-
ish yoke. At the outset we compelled the submission of
Indian tribes who were the rightful owners of land that we
desired to possess. Rhode Island was vigorously threatened
with compulsion if she did not throw in her fortunes with
the other commonwealths under the Federal Constitution.
It was thought no injustice that only a few of the four mill-
ion persons who constituted the American population when
the Constitution was adopted, were allowed to vote for repre-
sentatives. The Southern states, which maintained that the
Union was nothing but a federation that could be dissolved
at the will of its component members, were compelled to
accept the alternative interpretation of the commonwealths
of the North. And now, as a result of the war with Spain,
we are engaged in the attempt to compel a population of ten
million souls to yield to our national authority, although they
express their dissent in armed resistance.

It is a significant fact, that among those who insist that
the maxim of the consent of the governed should bear a
wide ethical interpretation, there is much diversity of opinion
about the rightfulness of coercion in the instances that have
just been named. There is little dissent from the view that,
on one or another ground, the conquest of the Indian tribes


was admissible. There is fundamental disagreement about
the ethical rightfulness of the coercion of the South, and
almost equal diversity of opinion about the moral rightful-
ness of the coercion of the Filipinos.

The obvious explanation of this difference is that, while
some men consistently hold the doctrine that governments
should rest upon consent, others inconsistently are disposed
to regard it as of limited application ; or, with more show of
reason, to admit that it is less fundamental than the maxim
•of the general welfare; since, after all, self-preservation is
the first law of nature, and any more ideal ethical principle
can be put in practice only when self-preservation and oppor-
tunity for the fittest in the struggle for existence have been
made secure.

What, then, I desire here to point out is the true ethical
import of the maxim of consent. In reality we do not need
to appeal from the maxim of consent to any other principle,

— like that of self-preservation, or the survival of the fittest,

— in justification of a policy which strengthens or broadens
civilization, or which in any part of the world displaces a
lower by a higher social order. This is equivalent to saying
that those who denounce the expropriation of the Indian
tribes, or the coercion of Rhode Island, or the coercion of the
South, or of the Philippine Islanders, are really failing to
give to their maxim of consent that complete ethical inter-
pretation which they believe they have found in it ; and that
those who would justify these acts by subordinating the
maxim of consent to one that they regard as more funda-
mental, have in like manner failed to see what the maxim

Accordingly, let us now raise the final and crucial ques-
tion. If we seek in our maxim a deep ethical meaning, can
we say that governments derive their just powers from the
consent of the governed at the moment when they submit to its
authority ? If we patiently and conscientiously reflect upon
this question, we shall undoubtedly be obliged to answer it
in the negative. If I am a wrong-doer and, in the course of
my evil career, am brought to bay by governmental authority,


it is highly improbable that, at the moment of my arrest and
conviction, I shall freely yield the assent of my mind and
will to the act of coercion which has deprived me of my
liberty. And yet, when I have had time to reflect, or when,
to use the theological phrase, I have undergone the convic-
tion of sin, and have begun to realize that I have in reality
been a wrong-doer, that the fault has been mine, that I my-
self have been the aggressor — then, however much I may
dislike and regret my punishment, I shall in my reason and
conscience consent thereto. I shall admit that the authority
against which I have rebelled has, after all, been just. Or,
to take a slightly different illustration: As a child, I may
have rebelled against the authority of my father and my
teachers, and have denounced their rules and their punish-
ments as iniquitous ; yet if, when I am grown and have at-
tained the full measure of ethical consciousness, I look back
upon my childhood years and, reflecting upon all their inci-
dents, in the exercise of my own judgment decide that, after
all, the government to which I was then subjected was rea-
sonable, that it fitted me for manhood and its responsibilities,
— then, obviously, I must pronounce that government just,
and yield to it my rational approval. Thus it appears that,
in simple cases of this sort at least, the ethical justice of gov-
ernment has its source, not in the consent of subjects who at
the moment are unfit to understand or to appreciate it ; but
only in that approval which may be given or withheld after
full experience of the nature, objects, and excellence of gov-
ernment, and after the attainment of full maturity of reason
to understand and to interpret it. In like manner, if a bar-
barian people is compelled to accept the authority of a state
more advanced in civilization, the test of the rightfulness or
wrongfulness of this imposition of authority is to be found
not at all in any assent or resistance at the moment when the
government begins, but only in the degree of probability that,
after full experience of what the government can do to raise
the subject population to a higher plane of life, a free and
rational consent will be given by those who have come to un-
derstand all that has been done. So, too, of the coercion of a


rebellious state : on grounds of ethical theory only, leaving
aside all questions of expediency and survival of the fit, the
test is found in the ultimate approval of those who have at
first, against their will, been compelled to perpetuate rela-
tions which they would have dissolved. If, in later years,
they see and admit that the perpetuation of the disputed rela-
tions was for their highest interest, it may reasonably be held
that authority has been imposed with the consent of the

This, then, is the only rational meaning that can be found
in our venerable maxim. Remembering that consent is an
approval by conscience and reason, and not a mere submis-
sion, it is obvious that consent can be given only when reason
and conscience are brought face to face with the results of
experience. Therefore, whenever the consent of the gov-
erned and the law of self-preservation, or the law by which
higher civilizations supplant the lower, are brought face to
face in apparent conflict, the legitimate and rightful appeal
is always from any dissent of the governed now to that prob-
able consent which, we have sufficient reason to believe, will
be freely given when all the facts are clearly seen, and when
the reason and conscience of the governed, fully awakened
and matured, are able to look back upon their history in the
light of empirical knowledge.



Political events, unlike the phenomena of the physical
world, can never be studied exclusively from the standpoint
of descriptive and explanatory science. The ethical instinct
and the ideal-creating passion will ever compel men to con-
sider what "ought to be" in public policy, no less than to
seek the causes of what has been and what is, and to study
the factors that are shaping what is to be. Nevertheless,
without patient investigation of causes and tendencies there
can be no sound philosophy of politics ; and it is an unfor-
tunate infirmity of many noble minds that in their ambition
to perfect the ethical ideals of the race they neglect the
humbler task of forecasting social probabilities. They do
not err in assuming that a widely shared sentiment of what
" ought to be " should and will be a factor in the further
evolution of public interests; for this assumption is true.
Their error lies in a more or less serious failure to grapple
with the larger problem of the relative importance of such-
factors, and consequently in a more or less complete failure
to perceive what is reasonably to be expected as the actual
outcome of the struggle of competing or cooperating influ-
ences, regarded as a whole.

This is unfortunate, because often it results in a waste or
misdirection of the intellectual energies of the wisest men
in the community. So intent are they upon their notion of
what ought to be, so blind are they, at times, to what prob-
ably will be, that they give us no real aid in adapting
ourselves to inevitable conditions. In battling for the
impossible, long after they should see its impossibility, they
leave us without guidance in making the best of circum-
stances as they are — in adjusting our lives to what cannot
be helped.


With much reluctance, and with a painful feeling that I
am opposed to men whose opinions I have long held in deep
respect, I have been forced to the conclusion that a melan-
choly example of the mistake that I have just described has
recently been afforded in the discussion of the war between
the United States and Spain, and is now being afforded in
the further discussion of the future policy of the United
States. The attitude of nearly every conservative political
thinker who has approached the subject in a philosophical
temper has been that of moral opposition to the war. With
few exceptions, the same thinkers are now vigorously oppos-
ing all territorial expansion, and are especially earnest in
their antagonism to the retention of the Philippine Islands
by the United States. The purpose of the present article is
to show that this opposition, although it springs from con-
scientious convictions and is backed by arguments that
deserve thoughtful consideration, is probably as futile as
opposition to the trade wind or the storm. There are not
lacking reasons for thinking that the war with Spain was as
inevitable as any event of nature, and that, at this particular
stage in the development of the United States, territorial ex-
pansion is as certain as the advent of spring after winter.

If these hypotheses are sound, it follows that our wise men
should discontinue their idle contention against cosmic law
— in the realms of mind and of history — and should address
themselves to the practical question : How can the American
people best adapt themselves to their new responsibilities ?

These assertions must, of course, be proved. The alleged
reasons must be named. It is idle to say that the war with
Spain could not have been prevented, or that territorial
expansion is a matter of destiny, unless there is an array of
impregnable facts to support such propositions.

Why, then, should we entertain the proposition that the
Spanish War was inevitable ? The very men who have nuost
vehemently declared that the war ought not to have occurred
have partly answered this question: they have marshalled
much proof that hostilities could not have been averted.


They have told us that the war was brought on by " jingoes "
and yellow journals, aided and abetted by the combative
instincts that express themselves in college athletics. For
many years past, they have assured us, an uneasy element in
the American population had been eager to engage in blood-
letting. The peaceful pursuits of industry, professional life,
and scholarship had become wearisome to men of this kind.
A new excitement was necessary to give vent to their pent-up
feelings. In Congress the Morgans, the Cabot Lodges, and
the Forakers had clamoured for a foe. They had feared to see
the American people lose its fighting qualities. They had
dreaded the day when we should cease to be manly and
become "supine." Our educators had feared that mere
intellectual struggles would leave our youth anaemic book-
worms, unfit for the serious work of practical politics. The
yellow journalists, having worked the field of crime and
scandal to the point of diminishing returns, had been obliged
to cast about for new sensations ; and what material could be
found more profitable to the purveyor of extras than news of
battle ? All these people, we have been told, in the bottom
of their hearts really wanted war — war to develop American
character, war to afford an outlet to American energies and

Now, an amusing side of all this is that the writers and
speakers who have been telling us these things have appar-
ently been making statements that they themselves have
not quite believed. Or, at least, they have been so anxious
to emphasize their disapproval or even contempt of the
belligerent elements in our population, that they have failed
to measure in a cold-blooded way the importance of certain
facts merely as facts. They seem to have supposed that they
could describe a man as bloodthirsty, and that then, without
being ridiculous, they could argue that, if only the man were
not bloodthirsty there need not be any fighting. In fact, it
seems never to have occurred to these gentlemen that, if we
are a nation of jingoes, bullies, and sensation lovers, it is waste
of breath to talk about what might have been if we had all
been reasonable, long-suffering, diplomatic, and peace-loving.


Again, these deprecators of force have assured us that, in
its final outbreak, the war was merely an act of vengeance.
They have said that the American people lost its senses over
the destruction of the Maine, and made no critical inquiry to
ascertain whether this disaster occurred with the connivance
of the Spanish government. They have asserted that the whole
nation, at white heat with excitement, took up the cry of " Re-
member the Maine ! " without troubling itself with any nice
questions of legal evidence or, indeed, of moral probability.

Here, again, we must notice that those who have con-
demned the war on this ground have been so preoccupied
with moral feeling that they have failed to see the scientific
significance of the fact which they allege, when looked at
merely as a fact. If the American people was indeed swept
off its feet by a wave of revengeful passion that submerged
both reason and conscience, it is but little more profitable to
discuss the occurrence in terms of the moral imperative than
to talk about the wickedness of a West Indian hurricane.

In like manner, these reasoners have alleged other facts
which, if they are facts, assure our territorial expansion. It
seems that we are a nation of promoters, lobbyists, " boodlers,"
place-hunters, and Indian agents. We long ago became weary
of sowing and reaping, and also of legitimate trading; we
are beginning now to weary even of our protected manufac-
tures. We must find new opportunities for making fortunes-
by jobs and government contracts. The reservations allotted
to our unhappy red men have nearly all been appropriated by
rough riders, and we naturally turn to the sunny lands and
gentle savages of Hawaii and Luzon for farther practice of
the Christian art of exploitation. Honolulu may not be as
good a field for political banking as Philadelphia has been ;
and Cuba does not afford unlimited opportunities for the
development of Star Route postal facilities. Nevertheless,
they offer something better than an honest living, earned in
the sweat of one's brow. No one has so vivid a sense of the
terrible rapidity with which the world is shrivelling up as
those commercial sharks who "stand in" with successive
administrations .


All these people, we are given to understand, are collec-
tively the dominant power in American politics. They
control Congresses and the political bosses. When times
grow dull, they put forth every effort to secure some new
outlet for their energies. For years they have been urging
the annexation of Hawaii, and it now appears that they were
guilty also of fomenting disturbances in Cuba. Doubtless
they were the wicked ones who prompted Mr. Olney to write
his famous message on the Venezuelan question, in the hope
that we should evict Great Britain from some of her colonial
possessions ; and they have even been suspected of designs
to build — at the public expense — a stone-ballasted railroad
from the Klondike to Tierra del Fuego, in anticipation of
our annexation of South America. And yet, notwithstand-
ing this complete control of our politics and government by
commercial adventurers, the philosophical observers who
have discovered and described the situation profess to think
that territorial expansion can be prevented by carefully
reasoned demonstrations — by showing that a colonial policy
is likely to undermine republican institutions, destroy the
simplicity of American society, and conduct us on the down-
ward road to that world of shadows where flit the historic
ghosts of Carthage and the Roman Empire.

All this would be highly amusing if, as was said a moment
ago, it were not so near the truth. For, in fact, these de-
scriptions of the American people are caricatures rather than
malicious inventions. Queer distortions as they are, the
truth is yet visible in them, as were the features of Tweed
and Sweeny in Thomas Nast's cartoons in the days of the
great New York City ring.

The truth that underlies the caricature is simply this : the
American population of seventy million or more souls is at
this moment the most stupendous reservoir of seething energy
to be .found on any continent. Already it has accomplished
marvels of material civilization, of governmental organization,
of education, and even of scientific discovery. Let any reader
of Mr. Wallace's "Wonderful Century," glancing again
through its pages, ask himself what proportion of the achieve-


ments therein recorded are to be credited to America and
Americans, and he will see a revelation compared with which
the Apocalypse is tame. And yet it is practically certain
that all the things that the American has done are but
earnest of the things that he is to do. If in the coming
centuries this reservoir of energy can discharge itself in
enterprise, in investigation and discovery, it can do more
for the advancement of the human race than imagination can
now conceive. If, by any mistaken policy, it is denied an
outlet, it may discharge itself in anarchistic, socialistic, and
other destructive modes that are likely to work incalculable

This volume of human enterprise is not altogether made
up of reasonableness, far-seeing wisdom, and stainless
morality. It is as heterogeneous as it is vast. The mill-
ions of human beings who have come to our shores from
foreign lands are not all assimilated to American standards,
and their new-found liberty has not altogether ceased to be
license. In those other millions who are descended from an
earlier American stock, the primitive human passions have
not been brought under absolute control, and the love of
primitive occupations that partake of danger has not been
eradicated. Let us not forget that no population on the face
of the earth is so largely descended from daring adventurers.
It is not yet three hundred years since the colonists of our
eastern coasts were performing their daily industrial tasks
under the shadow of ever-threatening danger from savage
foes. It is not a hundred and fifty years since the pioneers
of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys were making clearings
in the wilderness during intervals of exterminating warfare.
It is not yet fifty years since the later pioneers of the western
plains were crossing a pathless desert, in caravans that left
a trail of bleaching bones to mark a route for those who
should follow them to the El Dorado of the West. Are we
to suppose that the offspring of such men, in so short an
interval, have lost those instincts that lead men to prefer
enterprises that call for physical courage and resourcefulness ?
It is not true that we are a nation of jingoes. It is not true


that we desire war for the sake of war, or that in our sports
we prefer methods that are adapted to inflict injury. But
it is true that we are a nation endowed with exceptional
courage, that we heartily despise physical cowardice and all
manner of weakness. It is true that we are restless under
the disappearance of opportunity for adventure and daring
enterprise. It is therefore certain that, more than most
nations, we are liable to an outbreak of warlike spirit under
what we conceive to be real provocation ; and that no other
nation is so likely as ours to turn itself into great armies
and to fight with an indomitable determination to conquer,
when it is once convinced of the justice of its cause.

The same impulses, directed into peaceful channels, have
produced the American commercial spirit. The love of risk
and of great responsibilities characterizes our industrial and
commercial undertakings to a degree unknown in any other
country. The perfectly safe small business does not appeal
to the native American mind. This may be unfortunate ; but
we are not now discussing merits and demerits, but only
the actual facts and forces that are controlling our policy.
Throughout the Eastern states, and with somewhat lesser
rapidity in the West, small farming, shopkeeping, and minor
manufacturing of the absolutely safe kind are falling into
the hands of the immigrant population of French-Canadian,
German, and Italian extraction. A few years ago the Massa-
chusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor published an interesting
investigation, showing that in New England the early factory
population of American birth really had not been displaced
by the Irish, French-Canadian, and Polish immigrants, but
had voluntarily left the factory occupations to engage in more
remunerative pursuits, calling for greater enterprise, greater
personal initiative, and, withal, greater risk. No other
people in the world has experimented on so costly a scale
with new mechanical inventions. No other people has taken
such gigantic risks of railway construction, with so little aid
from the taxpayer. No other people has shown such eager-
ness to rebuild on a larger scale both old and new cities,
displacing the three and four story office buildings of ten


years ago with modern sky-scrapers, reckless of the proba-
bility that much floor space would long remain unrented.
No other people has shown so comprehensive a grasp of busi-
ness possibilities in the organization of combinations and
trusts. This trait of character has created also our social
standards. It was through no mere whim or caprice that the

Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 21 of 29)