Franklin Henry Giddings.

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

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erations of active effort for the perfection of civilization yet
before it, civil liberty will not be worshipped with passive
idolatry, but, continually thought about, worked over, and
enlarged by a reflective people of abounding vitality and lim-
itless faith in their own destiny, it will be brought to a per-
fection of justice, of discrimination, of fairness to all men such
as has not yet been achieved under any human government.

To a great extent the task of all government — through its
legislation, its interpretation of law, and its administrative
activity — is to reconcile equality with liberty. Most of the
restraints upon liberty are in the interest of that measure of
equality which experience has shown to be necessary to social
stability, and which the conscience of mankind declares to be
right. The reconciliation, however, is not an easy thing to ac-
complish, and all systems of law and policy remain imperfect.

The equality to which we here refer, and with which public
policy has to do, is not an equality of bodily powers, of mental
abilities, or of moral attainments. In these matters men are
not and, while biological evolution continues, cannot be
equal. Only those writers who are willing to misrepresent
their opponents ever attribute to the founders of the republic
the absurd notion that in these personal attributes men are
born equal and free. The equality which the state should
create and cherish is that social condition which prevails
when a just government restrains those who, being powerful,
are also unscrupulous, from taking any unfair advantage of
the weak, and when no artificial distinctions, privileges, or
monopolies are created by the state itself to aggrandize the
few by the impoverishment of the many. To permit the in-
telligent and the strong to profit by their superiority, so long
as they derive their gain from the bounty of nature, and not
from the enslavement or robbery of their brethren, is one


thing ; to permit or to encourage them to use their superiority
at the expense of their fellows is a totally different thing ; and
it is the latter which is opposed by the notion of equality as
a principle of civil government.

This notion, however, is of slow growth in the minds of
men, and of slower application to the concrete facts of legal
procedure, political status, property, trade, taxation, and the
employment of labour. From the earliest days we in America
have proclaimed the principle of equality before the law.
All men, we say, in natural justice have, and in the courts
must secure, substantially equal rights. Yet we have not
always in practice faithfully adhered to this high standard.
The poor man has not always had the same treatment as the
rich man, at the bar of justice. Juries have been bribed, and
so occasionally have been prosecuting attorneys and even
judges. On the whole, however, our record in these matters
has probably been higher than that of any preceding civiliza-
tion in all human history; and it is certain that the moral
forces of the nation are conspiring to make it yet more satis-
factory in coming years.

Political equality was not an original principle of American
government. Of the adult male citizens comprised within the
population of less than four million souls dwelling in the
United States a century ago, not one half enjoyed the politi-
cal suffrage. A majority were disqualified by lack of prop-
erty or of education. The approach to universal suffrage has
been very gradually made by the abolition of the earlier re-
strictions, until now, in many of the commonwealths, voters
need not even pay a poll-tax.

Political equality in the long run means an attempt to set
limits to those inequalities of economic condition which rap-
idly grow up in a prosperous state if the rights of private
property are unconditionally extended to all the requisites of
production, and if no restraints are placed upon the methods
of business competition or of trade combination. It is this
question of the relation of the state to economic inequality
which is by far the most perplexing one to the conscience
and the judgment of the patriotic citizen. One immensely


important restriction of liberty in the interest of equality was
made at the foundation of our government, largely through
the sagacity and fearlessness of Thomas Jefferson, who did
not hesitate to antagonize the land-owning aristocrScy of
Virginia, to which he himself belonged. This was the pro-
hibition of primogeniture and entail. Thanks to this wise
restriction, the vast estates that under our present laws may
be built up in America can be continued in the same families
through successive generations only if their owners have the
business ability to use them productively.

To what extent we shall further limit the freedom of be-
quest and the right of private accumulation, no statesman or
economist has at this moment the prescience to foretell. We
only know that thousands of thoughtful and conscientious
men are asking the question whether the withdrawing of some
portion of the land and productive capital of the nation from
private ownership — as has been done in Australia and New
Zealand — may not ultimately be demanded by natural jus-
tice and a due consideration for the highest social welfare.
We know that experiments in the redistribution of taxation,
with the avowed purpose of placing a larger share of public
burdens upon the owners of great wealth, are not likely to
cease for many years to come. At the same time, we may re-
pose great confidence in both the Puritan conscience and the
Yankee common sense of the American people. Whatever
the diificulties of the undertaking, we may expect them to
find a practical method for limiting the undue growth of
economic inequality without discouraging business enterprise
or destroying our prosperity.

The same good sense and sound morality may be expected
to solve also the problems arising out of the conflicts of indi-
vidual liberty with natural justice in our business methods.
Legislatures and courts have for many years been earnestly
endeavouring to maintain the old common-law rule against
combinations in restraint of trade ; but just how morality and
business expediency are to be identified in practice, we do not
yet clearly see. Certain it is that at the present moment the
conscience of the people is far in advance of the positive law.


The law as yet provides no way to punish a combination that
deliberately crushes a legitimate business, not by permanently
lowering prices for the benefit of consumers, but by a tempo-
rary cut which is not to be maintained after the rival is
destroyed. Such conduct is not yet a crime, but an unsophisti-
cated conscience pronounces it blameworthy, from a moral
point of view as wrong as were the cattle-raiding and castle-
burning exploits of mediaeval barons, or as any act of wanton
conquest. By one or another means it will ultimately be
made impossible in a nation that values honourable dealing
above gold.

As among educated men there are some who distrust the
vital instincts of the people and the popular sense of justice,
so also are there some who deplore the popular demand for
equality. Blinded by a culture that is at once too sensitive
and too narrow in its sympathies, these men would persuade
us thait only through the growth of economic inequality can
we create a splendid art, develop a profound philosophy,
and attain elegance of manners. To all such I would com-
mend the thoughtful conclusions of that most cultivated, most
reasonable of modern critics, Mr. Matthew Arnold, whose
essays on " Democracy " and " Equality " are, perhaps, the
sanest reflections on these great themes that our age has pro-
duced. It is not equality, it is rather the unchecked growth
of a monstrous inequality that, as Arnold shows, ultimately
destroys all fresh enthusiasms, all spontaneous sweetness, all
brightness in social intercourse, and that brutalizes the selfish
rich no less than the burdened poor. " Can it be denied," he
asks, " that a certain approach to equality, at any rate a cer-
tain reduction of signal inequalities, is a natural, instinctive
demand of that impulse which drives society as a whole —
no longer individuals and limited classes only, but the mass
of a community — to develop itself with the utmost possible
fullness and freedom ? Can it be denied, that to live in a so-
ciety of equals tends in general to make a man's spirits expand,
and his faculties work easily and actively; while, to live in
a society of superiors, although it may occasionally be very
good discipline, yet in general tends to tame the spirits and to


make the play of the faculties less secure and active ? Can
it be denied, that to be heavily overshadowed, to be profoundly
insignificant, has, on the whole, a depressing and benumbing
effect on the character?" And of the common peo;^e in
France he truly says, that the economic equality which was
created among them by the Revolution and the " Code Napo-
leon " has undoubtedly given to the lower classes " a self-respect
and an enlargement of spirit, a consciousness of counting for
something in their country's action, which has raised them in
the scale of humanity." " The common people, in France," he
continues, "seem to me the soundest part of the French na-
tion. They seem to me more free from the two opposite
degradations of multitudes, brutality and servility, to have a
more developed human life, more of what distinguishes else-
where the cultured classes from the vulgar, than the common
people in any other country with which I am acquainted."

That this view of the relation of equality to the highest
civilization prevails among the American people, as among the
people of France, I presume no one will seriously question.
At the same time, the American is more assertive, more
self-reliant, more intolerant of any unnecessary limitation
of his personal liberty than is the man of Gallic blood. The
American is at bottom a Saxon-Norman. After all it is the
blood of the old untamable pirates that courses through his
veins. Consequently, he will continue to struggle with this
practical problem of the conciliation of liberty with equality.
This problem will continue to furnish the fundamental ques-
tions of his politics ; and he will gradually solve it, not by the
elaboration of an abstract theory, but by a practical dealing
with concrete cases as they arise. Just as our law is devel-
oped largely through the evolution of equity, wherein a larger
and sounder justice is made to override precedents and tech-
nicalities that have ceased to be a true expression of living
conditions, so shall our politics also develop through the evo-
lution of a larger equity, which, passing the bounds of the
equity known to lawyers and the courts, shall be nothing less
than a fundamental policy, expressive of the best conscience
and judgment of the nation.


The great task, then, which I foresee for the American
people in the coming centuries, and which I believe is to be
its supreme contribution to civilization, is the creation of this
larger equity, and its perfect expression and guarantee in the
institutions of civil liberty. It is to be the task of the Ameri-
can people, rather than of any other nation, because in no other
nation are combined so many of the forces and conditions nec-
essary for its perfect achievement. No other great nation is
still so young, so vigorous, in possession of so exhaustless a
fund of energy for great undertakings. In no other nation
are the people in reality so democratic. In no other is the
sense of equality in reality so strong. In no other is the in-
dividual so assertive, so little likely to surrender his privilege
of free initiative, and to make himself a mere creature of the
state. But chiefly is this task committed to America because
in no other people is so strongly developed that spirit of help-
fulness, of human brotherhood, which alone will suffice to
make the reconciliation of equality with liberty complete and
lasting. As yet no other nation in the world has shown this
spirit in such practical and costly forms — no other has made
such sacrifices to emancipate the slave, to give education to
the poorest and the humblest, to carry the elements of civil-
ization through home and foreign missions to the unenlight-
ened of every land. This spirit, together with the other
forces and conditions that I have named, will, in the coming
years, find a practical solution of the difficult problem of the
right relation of equality and liberty, and will thereby estab-
lish a relatively perfect equity.

There is, however, a proviso, a condition. All this will
happen, provided the American population, with its abound-
ing vitality, its faith in its own powers, and its heritage of
liberal traditions dispersed throughout a wide domain, is com-
posed of individual men of the right moral type. Any failure
of character, any breaking away from the highest ideals of
manhood, could easily result in the destruction of all our hopes.

And here we are brought to a consideration of the relation
of our educational institutions to the future of the American
nation, and to the survival of civil liberty.


The duty of schools and colleges cannot be told in a word.
They must impart knowledge, they must quicken the love of
truth, they must foster scientific research, they must discipline
character. But none of these is the supreme obligation. ' The
highest duty of any institution of learning is to present to all
its students a noble ideal of manhood and womanhood, and
through all the ways of discipline to strive unceasingly to
mould them to its perfect image. Never should any student
find it possible to pass from the quiet nurture of his college
life into the storm and stress of the outer world, without tak-
ing with him a distinct notion of what sort of man, merely as
a man, apart from all his attainments, the college graduate
should be ; a notion that he can never efface, even though,
through any evil disposition, he should wish to do so; a
notion that forever will force itself upon his attention, com-
pelling him through all the years of his life to measure what
he is by that image of what he ought to be.

Not, indeed, in all the endless marvel of detail can the
ideal of character be drawn. By each human being for him-
self must the detail be filled in. But in general outlines we
can sketch the type of perfect manhood that we ought to
require of ourselves and of our fellow-men.

The perfect citizen demanded by our own age and by our
own nation can be characterized in a single phrase. The
American who is worthy to be so called, the patriot on whom
his country may depend in any hour of peril, the voter who
will neither take the scoundrel's bribe nor follow the lead of
any fool, — he is exactly and fully described when we say
that he is a rationally conscientious man.

For such a man is, first of all, everything for which the
word "man" stands in its truest emphasis. He is virile, a
personal force, an organism overflowing with splendid power,
alert, fearless, able to carry to perfect fulfilment any under-
taking to which he may put his hand. Moreover, he is inde-
pendent, preserving in his disposition and habits the best
traditions of a pioneer manhood, of those Americans of an
earlier time who asked little and did much, who made homes
and careers for themselves. He demands not too much of


society or of his government. He does not expect to be
provided for. He does not ask what ready-made places in
the government service or elsewhere he may slip into, to
enjoy tliiough life with little bother or anxiety. Rather
does he explore, invent, and create opportunities for himself
and for others. It is a melancholy thing when numbers of edu-
cated men go looking for "jobs," or stand waiting for oppor-
tunities to drift their way. The educated man has already
had opportunity, and the world rightly expects him to show
powers of initiative and leadership. He has no right to be a
mere imitator of others ; and when he is content to be such,
there is something radically wrong either with him or with
the college that has trained him.

In the second place, the true American is a conscientious
man. He feels as a vital truth — and does not merely say as
cant — that no one liveth to himself. When he has provided
for his own, he does not think that he has accomplished the
whole duty of man. He remembers that, although he has
demanded little of society, he has in reality received much.
Education, legal protection, the unnumbered benefits flowing
from the inventions, the sacrifices, and the patriotism of past
generations, he has shared. These benefactions he wishes to
repay, and he realizes that most of them he must pay for
through the activities of good citizenship. And especially
does he realize that no man can pay these debts by merely
living justly in private life and kindly within the circle of
his immediate family and personal friends. There is no more
wretched sophistry than that which excuses unprincipled con-
duct in politics, on the ground that the wrong-doer has always
been a good husband and father, and an honourable man in
his private affairs. No nation can endure which draws fine
distinctions between public and private morality. There is
only one kind of honour, there is only one recognized brand
of common honesty. A man who, to serve his party, becomes
a liar and a thief, is a liar and a thief, through and through,
in every fibre of his being, though he never told a falsehood
to his wife or robbed an orphan niece of her inheritance.

And, finally, the true American must be a rational man.


His conscientiousness must not be of that narrow, dogmatic
type, which degenerates into mere formality or, what is
worse, into intolerant fanaticism. We must not suppose
that because the future of America is full of promise it is
devoid of dangers. Among the dangers that we have to
face, none is more grave than that fanatical passion which
too often manifests itself in lawless dealings with criminal
offenders — in the name of justice destroying the very foun-
dation of legal retribution — which now and then takes the
form of a wild destruction of property in a misguided attempt
to redress the wrongs of the working man, or which, from
time to time, breaks forth in political crazes that sweep thou-
sands of voters into the support of sheer folly and dishonour.
To meet these dangers we must have men not only honest
and manly, but also cool, deliberate, large-minded, able to
deal reasonably with problems that are not easy of solution.

" Not till the ways of prudence all are tried,
And tried in vain, the turn of rashness comes."

But let us not be deceived by words. There is rationalism
and rationalism. The rationalism which our country demands
is the positive, not the merely negative and fault-finding kind.
We have quite enough of men whose genius consists in an
acute perception of all that is wrong or imperfect. We have
quite enough of those critics of our political system who can
find nothing good since the fathers fell asleep. The men of
the new day must be of tougher fibre than they, of broader
views, of more inventive mind. The efficient citizen of the
twentieth century must be rational in a positive and con-
structive sense. A lover of justice, a hater of wrong, he
must be also a disciple of wisdom.

" For to live disobedient to these two, Justice and Wisdom, is no life
at aU."

In presenting these views of the future of our country and
of the type of man which it will demand, to you who are
about to go forth from college life into the realities of that
future, I feel assured of comprehension and approval; be-
cause, in an eminent degree, you have enjoyed the teaching


and received the inspiration which foster the manly and
womanly character that I have endeavoured to describe.
Preeminently among our colleges has Oberlin stood for the
positive, the helpful, the hopeful spirit. Preeminently has
she represented ideals of democracy and equality. No dis-
tinctions of race or of nationality have been recognized by
her. And not only this, but an inspiration of the rarest kind
you have had in the personal history of one from whom this
institution took its name. Few, indeed, have been the lives
that have so perfectly exemplified the ideal of rationally con-
scientious manhood as did that of Jean Fr^ddric Oberlin, the
tireless pastor of the Ban de la Roche. That district of the
Vosges, when Oberlin began his labours there, was merely nine
thousand acres of rocky soil, with only mule paths for roads.
It was inhabited by a people desperately poor, and so igno-
rant that few of them could read, while none spoke any other
language than a barbarous patois. Before Oberlin died, sixty
years later, the Ban de la Roche, largely through his influ-
ence, had been transformed into a productive region, densely
populated, exporting agricultural products, traversed by excel-
lent roads, and built up with substantial dwellings. Its people
had learned to maintain admirable schools and churches, and
to speak the French language with a purity not excelled any-
where in France. Such are the possibilities of one earnest
life. What may not you accomplish toward the perfection of
our American civilization, if, in the active years upon which
you now enter, you are faithful to examples such as this.

Do not, however, be satisfied with any mere following of
example, with any mere conformity to standards that have
been held before you, in your college days. From you, as
from those who have lived before you, the world will rightly
demand new thoughts and new achievements. Look back
upon your Alma Mater with reverence, but also with a filial
care that she do not too early descend "the quiet, mossy
track of age." As alumni, let it be your study to discover
wherein her discipline can be made more liberal, her teaching
sounder and broader, her influence wider, saner, and more


And cany with you into the larger life of American citi-
zenship the same spirit. Be not satisfied with those achieve-
ments of the nation that have passed into history. Do not
forget the past, but live and work for the future. If yeu and
those others who, like you, have enjoyed the privileges of a lib-
eral training, as educated men and women, as citizens of our
republic, shall do your whole duty rationally, conscientiously,
fearlessly, there can be no failure of our experiment in self-
government, no diminution of the blessings of civil liberty.





"I UNDERTOOK civil and foreign wars by land and sea
throughout the whole world, and as victor I showed mercy to
all surviving citizens." These two lines from the "Monu-
mentum Ancyranum," the autobiographical epitaph of the
divine Augustus, are an epitome of the moral history of the
civilized world. Every nation that has played an important
part in the elevation of mankind from barbarism to enlighten-
ment, from despotism to civil liberty, from ruthless cruelty to
compassion and fraternity, has begun its career with a magnifi-
cent display of power, has continued it in the lust of wealth,
has learned the lessons of restraint and sacrifice, and at length
has come to some appreciation of the infinite capacities, the
immeasurable potential value of the individual soul. It has
begun with conquest; but it has crowned its career with
mercy and beneficence.

The hidden forces of national life are instinctive and un-
conscious. The masses of men move onward to the fulfilment
of their destinies as individuals do, borne forward by currents
of feeling, and automatically guided by motor impulses that
had their origin thousands of generations back in the dim
ages of animal evolution. But nations, like individuals, in a
measure have shaped their destinies, in a measure have guided
their progress, by the light of ideals that reason has created,
through critical reflection upon the revelations of experience,
and by a comparative study of the relative values of human
desires, as tested by experiment.

As the individualities of men and women are created by
their differing tastes and varied enthusiasms far more than by

Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 24 of 29)