Franklin Henry Giddings.

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

. (page 23 of 29)
Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 23 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

irremediable than any which we have yet known in American
political life. Who could have predicted that, after a century
of continuous territorial expansion, with a correspondingly
rapid multiplication of official positions, the administrative
side of British government, instead of becoming hopelessly
incapable under the increasing strain, would have become
the purest and most nearly perfect mechanism thus far known
in political history? Have we, then, any right to despair
of our own experiment, under a similar broadening of oppor-
tunities and responsibilities ? If we have, our estimate of
American character must be a sorry one. Great Britain suc-
cessfully administers the governmental affairs and protects
the economic interests of populations numbering 381,037,874
souls, occupying a territory of 11, 335, 806 square miles. The
islands that have recently been annexed, and those that may
soon be annexed to the territory of the United States, are
167,753 square miles in extent and are inhabited by about
10,000,000 people. If the republican form of government is
to be undermined and destroyed in a nation of 70,000,000 of
the most resourceful, energetic, and, all in all, conscientious
human beings that have yet lived upon this planet, under
the strain of devising and administering a workable terri- '
torial government for outlying island possessions of such
modest dimensions as these, it would appear that our estimate
of the excellence and stability of republican institutions must
have been a grotesque exaggeration.

And now there remains one further consideration, before
completing this rapid and necessarily superficial survey of
the forces and circumstances that are bearing the American
people into a new and momentous stage of their political


evolution. Republican institutions may be destroyed by
internal corruption or overwhelmed by external force. This
latter danger has never been a real one for the American
people ; because, during our century of political experiment,
world politics have been dominated by a power which, not-
withstanding the disobedience of our early years and the
cantankerous spirit of our adolescence, has ever regarded us
with a certain parental pride and has ever wished us well.
Very different might have been our fate had world politics
during these one hundred years been dominated by an empire
of the Napoleonic type. Let us then soberly ask ourselves
whether we have any substantial assurance that the time has
gone by when political absolutism may again have the
ascendency in international relations ? So securely have we
dwelt in our Western isolation that we have almost ceased to
think of absolutism as a modern force, or to regard it as any-
thing but a singular survival of antiquity, as powerless and
as picturesque as the ruin of an ancient fortress. From this
security we may rudely be awakened. Of late it has dawned
upon a few outreaching minds that the one formidable com-
petitor of the liberty-loving, English-speaking people of the
world is that gigantic nation of the North, whose political
organization is still absolutely autocratic and whose teeming
millions of inhabitants are, for the most part, a superstitious,
ignorant multitude, who bow to authority with unquestion-
ing submission. The rapidity with which that nation is
extending its territorial possessions and influence indicates
that its statesmen are restrained by no such fears of the
inherent weakness of empire as have recently been voiced
within the United States. Little by little it is tightening
its grasp upon the peoples of Eastern Asia; and its purpose
stands clearly revealed to extend its sovereignty and its
political organization throughout at least a great part of
China. Can any one look forward to the consolidation of a
Russian-Chinese empire without serious misgivings as to
the future of those things that we are accustomed to regard
as the essentials of civilization ? Certain it is that a gigantic
struggle impends between that empire and the power from


■which we have derived our own civilization and institutions,
and which to-day is our truest friend and strongest ally. In
the broad sense, there is from henceforth but one real political
question before mankind. That question is: Are world
politics to be dominated by English-speaking people in the
interest of an English civilization, with its principles of
freedom, self-government, and opportunity for all; or by the
Russian-Chinese combination, with its policy of exclusive-
ness and its tradition of irresponsible authority ? Let us not
deceive ourselves with any notion that we can safely stand
apart from this conflict. If we pursue a course so selfish
and short-sighted, the probabilities are that both Great
Britain and the United States will lose commercial oppor-
tunities, will sink to positions of secondary influence, and
-will presently find themselves obliged to conform in all their
policies to a power that will dominate international relations
as remorselessly as did Caesar or Napoleon. If, on the con-
trary, we throw our energies into the struggle in alliance
with Great Britain, we need have little fear that another
thousand years of medigeval night will fall upon the Western

Opportunity is ours to determine the fate of more nations
than one. In the closing days of June in the year 451, on
the plain of ChMons-sur-Marne, was fought the most mur-
derous battle that has occurred within the Christian era.
An army of 700,000 Huns from Central Asia, apparently
about to take possession of the European coasts and forever
to extinguish the Latin civilization and the Christian faith,
was there opposed by the united forces of Aetius and Theod-
■orio ; and the struggle was to the death. Legendary history
says that 160,000 warriors were left dead upon the field.
The remnant of Attila's horde made its way back through
Italy, and at length to its Asian home. On the first morning
of May in the year now passing into history, on the other
side of the world, under a tropical sun, in the waters of
Manila Bay, was fought the most nearly bloodless battle of
any importance within the Christian era. Without loss of
American life, a fleet of second-class, but efficient vessels


overwhelmed the Spanish naval forces of the Pacific. But
was that all ? The victory of ChS,lons forever turned back
the hordes of Asian barbarism from their westward advance.
Were they stopped in their eastward advance by the guns of
Admiral Dewey's fleet ? It is for the people of the United
States to say.



Recent events have raised the question of the stability
of American institutions. The war with Spain was bitterly
deplored by many educated men, who feared that military
activity would necessarily create arbitrary power and curtail
the liberties of individual citizens. When our demand for
the cession of the Philippine Islands was included in the
terms of peace, and the treaty of Paris was followed by the
despatch of troops to Manila to put down insurrection, these
opponents of the nation's policy, believing that their worst
fears were being realized, asserted that the American people,
intoxicated with military success, were blindly departing
from all the safe traditions of their history to enter upon a
hazardous and probably fatal experiment of imperialism.
The arguments of these men have disquieted many timid
souls, some of whom seem to be already convinced that our
republic is verily a thing of history, — one more splendid
failure added to the long list of glorious, but tragic attempts
of earth's bravest sons to build an enduring state upon
foundations of equality and self-government. Indeed, so
despondent have some of our self-styled anti-imperialists
become that, in their bitterness, they do not hesitate to malign
the character of their fellow-citizens, or to insult the fair
fame of the nation that has nurtured and that still defends
them. In one lamentable instance, a citizen of honoured name
has so far lost all sense of reality as to declare in a public
address that "we are a great assassin nation," and that "the
slaughter of patriots stains our hands."

And yet, these proclamations of doom have failed to arouse
the nation. Some seventy millions of people continue their
daily vocations in serenity of mind, wholly unconscious of



the impending extinction of their liberties. Does this mean
that the plain people, the bone and sinew of the nation, who
hitherto have shown themselves intelligent enough to deal
wisely and fearlessly with the gravest issues of human wel-
fare are, after all, amazingly obtuse? Does it mean that,
after a hundred years of level-headed self-government, the
American people are now blindly moving toward a ruin which
clear-sighted men should plainly foresee ? Or, does it rather
mean that these millions of plain people, with all their mental
limitations, are still, as so often they have been in the past,
immeasurably wiser — that they are gifted with a deeper
insight, that they are endowed with a truer knowledge and
a saner judgment, and that they are fortified with a sturdier
faith — than are the prophets of gloom ? That the latter is
the true explanation I have not the shadow of a doubt, and
for a brief hour I ask your attention to reasons in support of
this belief.

And first of all, we have the undeniable fact that the faith
itself which the American people feel in their own power, in
the stability of their institutions, and in the nobility of their
destiny, is at the present moment unbounded. Whatever
the pessimists may say, the millions of hard-working, common
people do not believe that republican government has failed,
or that civil liberty is not to be the heritage of their sons.
Never since the Constitution was ratified by the thirteen
original commonwealths have the American people, as a
whole, felt so confident of their place among the nations, or
so sure of the excellence of their polity, and of the vitality
of their laws and immunities. Never have they been so pro-
foundly convinced that their greatest work for civilization
lies not in the past, but in the future. They stand at the
beginning of the twentieth century, in their own minds fully
assured that the responsibilities which they are about to face,
and that the achievements which they expect to complete,
are immeasurably greater than are those which have crowned
the century of their experiment and discipline.

What, then, are the sources of this faith ? Is it a baseless
enthusiasm, a thoughtless confidence born of an ignorant


conceit, or is it in reality a substantial and truthful forecast
of the future, which we may safely accept, as one that is
neither more nor less than a projection into coming years of
those lessons that experience has taught us in the past?

The sources of all genuine faith in the future are two.
The first is vitality. The second is our knowledge of what
already is or has been.

The consciousness of vigorous life, the sense of physical
power, imparts to those who have it an unconquerable faith
in their ability to achieve; and this mere vitality is un-
doubtedly the primal source of the American's faith in him-
self and in the destiny of his country. It is also our best
assurance that the faith will iind realization. In no other
population is there such abounding energy, such inventive
ability, such fearless enterprise as in the American people.
This vitality has been manifested not only in our industrial
enterprise, but also in that very territorial expansion which
of late has been under discussion. From the Louisiana
purchase to the annexation of Hawaii we have seized, with
unhesitating promptness, every opportunity to broaden our
national domain and to extend our institutions to annexed
populations. Even more convincingly has our vigour been
shown in the fearlessness with which the cost of every new
responsibility has been met. Whether this cost has been
paid in treasure or in blood, the American people has met it
without one moment's hesitation. Physical courage is, after
all, the elemental factor in a nation's power, the very
fountain-head of its moral stability and its faith ; and that
in such courage we are not lacking, the records of Lexington
and Yorktown, of New Orleans and Chapultepec, of An-
tietam and Gettysburg, of Manila and El Caney, will tell.

Next to vitality, and supplementing it, the basis of faith
in the future is a sound, full knowledge of the present
and the past. The American people know facts about
their own numbers, resources, and activities, which fully
justify their belief that they are at the beginning, not
approaching the end, of their evolution as a civilized nation.
Only in a few spots within our national domain does the


density of population yet approach the average density of the
older European countries. Notwithstanding the rapidity
■with which the best lands of the interior and of the South-
west have been appropriated as homesteads, the intensive
cultivation of our vast domain has hardly begun. While,
according to the census of 1890, the states constituting the
north Atlantic division had a population of 107 to the square
mile, the United States as a whole had less than 22 to the
square mile. The western division had less than 3 to the
square mile; the great north central division, comprising
some of the most prosperous commonwealths in the Union,
had less than 30; and the south Atlantic division, compris-
ing the old slave-owning and cotton-growing states, had
less than 33. .A population of 300,000,000, instead of
75,000,000, or 80,000,000, would not seriously tax our
food-producing capacity. -

Into this domain the population of Europe continues to
discharge its overflow ; and the stream of immigration shows
no marked decrease save in the exceptional years of industrial
depression. Of chief significance, however, is the fact that
the greater part of all the immigration that we have thus far
received has consisted of the same nationalities from whose
amalgamation the original American stock was produced.
England, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia have sent to
our shores the greater part of our population not descended
from the American colonists. Of the foreign-born population
enumerated in the United States in 1890, 33.76 per cent
were from the United Kingdom, 30.11 per cent were from
Geri&any, 10.61 per cent from Canada, 10.09 per cent from
Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, 1.22 per cent from France,
leaving only 14.21 per cent from all other countries. The
total immigration to the United States from 1821 to the 30th
of June, 1898, was 18,490,368, and of this total much more
than two-thirds came from the United Kingdom and the
Germanic countries. When we remember that it was the
crossing of the Germanic and the Celtic stocks that produced
the English race itself, we are obliged to assume that the
future American people will be substantially the same human


stuff that created the English common law, founded parlia-
mentary institutions, established American self-government,
and framed the Constitution of the United States.

All our knowledge of social evolution compels us tolaelieve
that a nation which has not yet begun to reach the limit of
its resources and which is thus still receiving great additions
to its population by an immigration of elements that, for the
most part, are readily assimilated to the older stock, is one
whicli, if no overwhelming catastrophe prevents, must con-
tinue for numberless generations to maintain and to perfect
its civilization.

Nevertheless, it may be said, the institutions of civil lib-
erty presuppose something more than a vigorous and growing
population that has an unbounded faith in its own abilities
and destinies. Great peoples have given themselves over to
policies — not to say to crazes — that have resulted in the
destruction of their primitive liberties and in the complete
transformation of their institutions. An energetic people
may devote itself to the production of wealth or to military
achievements, and neglect the less alluring task of perfect-
ing and protecting individual rights. Rome conquered the
world, but at the cost of her republican simplicity. Flor-
ence and Venice achieved wealth and splendour, but bowed
to despotism. France overran Europe with her armies, and
then enthroned her own military dictator.

These lessons of history are often recalled, and their appli-
cation to American conditions has often been attempted. I
think it is high time to protest that, in scientific strictness,
these lessons do not apply to ourselves in any important
particular. The historian by this time should understand
the truth (which the students of physical science in our
generation have so completely mastered) that like antece-
dents have like consequents when all conditions remain un-
changed, but that, when all conditions are changed, like
antecedents, with unerring certainty, are followed by unlike
consequents. Very slightly, indeed, do the conditions of
American life to-day reproduce the conditions of Roman,
Florentine, Venetian, or Parisian history.


The overwhelming difference is this : In the earlier days,
republican institutions were cherished only here and there
in exceptional communities, and they were threatened on
every hand by the hosts of military despotism ; to-day they
are rooted in unnumbered communities, which only now and
then are diverted by war from the normal pursuits of peace.

Rome, in the days of her republican freedom, was a single
local community practically isolated from any similar social
organization. Such was the situation also of each of the
Italian republics and of Paris after the Revolution ; for, out-
side of Paris, France was not yet republican. To undermine
in a single isolated town or city any given form of government
and to substitute for it something totally different, has never
been a difficult undertaking. But to offset this fact we have
the equally important truth — one of the most important that
historical sociology discloses — that nothing is more difficult
than to destroy institutions and customs that are rooted in
more than one spot, if they admit of being carried from one
place to another. The Roman Republic was destroyed, but
not the Roman law, which lives to-day and is applied to the
interests of millions more of human beings than in the days
of Julius Ciesar. The Roman Empire was overthrown, but
not the Roman system of provincial administration, which to
this hour, in itsessentialfeatures, is preserved in the municipal
and departmental governments of every European state.

Bearing these truths in mind, let us look at the conditions
presented by the United States. Instead of being a single
city-state, organized on republican lines, practically isolated
from any similar community, and, therefore, defenceless
against any influence powerfully tending to undermine or
to destroy it, the United States is a strongly organized
aggregate of thousands of local republics, each one of which,
practically independent in its home affairs, preserves all the
traditions of English civil liberty, of democratic custom, and
of American constitutional order.

It is true that not all of these self-governing local com-
munities enjoy that perfect form of democratic administration
which was developed in the New England town ; but whether


as towns, counties, or parishes, as incorporated villages,
boroughs, or municipalities, practically all the subdivisions
of the American commonwealths are self-governing bodies
of one type or another. They make ordinances and elect
magistrates, they raise and expend revenues. It is true that
important modifications of local government are now taking
place throughout the nation. The concentration of wealth
and of population in the larger cities, the long-continued
depression of agriculture, and the consequent abandonment
of farming by large numbers of country-bred youth, are
bringing about a certain readjustment of functions between
state and township administration. It is easy for the state
to raise money, increasingly difficult for the rural town.
Consequentlj', we see a disposition to throw upon the state
governments a part of the burden of maintaining roads and
bridges, of supporting schools, and of caring for the insane
and other defective persons. With this transfer of financial
responsibility, goes, of course, a transfer of administrative
* regulation. To this extent, it must be admitted, we are
witnessing a certain decay of that local self-government
which hitherto has been most immediately bound up with
the daily lives and lesser interests of the people.. And even
in the cities the abuses of popular power have, in some
instances, led to a transfer of authority from municipal to
state governments; as, for example, in cities like Boston,
which no longer elect or through their mayors appoint their
police commissions, but accept them at the hands of the
governor of the commonwealth. Yet, notwithstanding these
facts, it is certain that throughout the national domain the
lesser local governments still have great vitality, and that
no modification of our administrative machinery is likely to
strip them altogether of their functions. Far more probable
is it, that the limit of addition to the duties of our common-
wealth governments will soon be reached. Certain func-
tions which in the past have been performed by townships
and counties, or by municipalities, may be given over to
the states because they pertain to matters" in which all the
people of the commonwealth are directly interested, but


other matters of purely local interest will be left even more
entirely than now to the local administrative organs. States
may maintain the more important roads and bridges, but not
the lesser ones. They will care for the insane, but probably
not for the ordinary poor. They will support some of the
higher institutions of learning, but not, to any great extent,
the common schools.

Local administration, however, is not the only or, perhaps,
the most important means through which the traditions of
civil liberty are maintained in our American Republic. Of
the greatest educational influence are the local courts and
their procedure. So long as every boy is bound to learn, not
through books, but through the events that happen year by
year in his own township or county, the fundamental tradi-
tions of the common law, the immunity from arrest without
a warrant, the personal responsibility of the officer of the law,
the right of bail and of trial by jury, the right of free
speech and of public meeting, there is little danger that the
American people will submit tamely to any arbitrary attempt
of a central government to abridge these liberties.

If these things are true, then it is further true that from
the traditions and existing habits of any one of these thou-
sands of self-governing local communities, together com-
posing the United States of America, could be reproduced
the entire fabric of American polity, if in every other one the
entire constitutional system were suddenly destroyed. This
is a fact unique in the history of civil liberty. It is a
guarantee of the perpetuity of our institutions, so tremendous
that only the blindest of pessimists can fail to appreciate its
significance. Remembering that, as was said before, a form
of law or type of institution, or even a custom, once rooted
in more than one place on the earth's surface, is practically
indestructible, since if destroyed in one it can always be
reproduced from another, it is impossible to believe that any
modification of our governmental system, whether by terri-
torial expansion or by military activity, whether by the
growth of trusts or by any other phenomenon of the pursuit
of wealth, can ever, throughout the length and breadth of


our vast domain, destroy in all these thousands of local com-
munities the instincts, the habits, and the institutions of
Anglo-Saxon civil liberty.

Not only will this civil liberty be preserved, but it will
also be developed. The heritage of a nation which, histori-
cally speaking, is yet in its most vigorous youth, with gen-

Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 23 of 29)