Henry Appleton.

What is freedom? and when am I free? : being an attempt to put liberty on a rational basis, and wrest its keeping from irresponsible pretenders in church and state online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryHenry AppletonWhat is freedom? and when am I free? : being an attempt to put liberty on a rational basis, and wrest its keeping from irresponsible pretenders in church and state → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

■- C : V'fcN; ^r <

What is Freedom?

When am i Free?





< iJiWilUENCB, R. I.






SOCRATES is said to have replied to a friend who congratu-
lated him on his wisdom : " I am wiser than other men be-
cause I know that I know nothing : other men do not know this."
We do not know what freedom is, because we have never expe-
rienced it. Max Miiller, who has handled dictionaries more
diligently, perhaps, than any other man living, depreciates the
English habit of being satisfied with mere definitions, contrast-
ing it with the more profound mental training of Germany. If
we should consult Webster or Blackstone or Mill or Hegel for
a definition in words, it would only be shifting the question with-
out answering it. A definition, which is simply an equation in
words, can only be perfect when it contains every effectuating
factor of the problem. We once heard a school-boy at an exam-
ination define a potato as an esculent plant ; but both he and the
pretty school-mistress were thoroughly demoralized when a " stu-
pid old German " on the committee wanted to know what an es-

culent plant was. Th€|po«pequation, when hard pushed, had
no alternative but to roll over and expire on the pert lips of its
mistress : " Why ! an esculent plant is a potato, of course ! "
Plato fixed his place as " the school-master of the ages " through
his matchless dexterity in overthrowing siich opinions of his
pupils as they paraded about, snugly bound in high-sounding
phrases. The insolent and conceited Alcibiades comes into
the presence of Socrates, prepared, with brazen self-assurance,
to define goodness, justice, and virtue, only to discover, in his
galling discomfiture, that he knows nothing about these subjects,
— does not even know his own opinions.

Some philosopher had the curiosity to approach a wretched
Lazzarone in Naples, and ask : " What is your idea of freedom .? "
"What is freedom, sir! Freedom is free macaroni," was the
ready response. Everywhere we find the search after freedom
obscured by some prospective object to be gained. Tell women
they are prostituted slaves, robbed of their individuality, right
of suffrage, scope for development, etc., and if they happen to be
sumptuously kept, most of them reply : " I have all the freedom I

2 IV/iat is Freedom ?

want." They are virtually on the same plane as the Lazzarone.
Freedom with such ladies generally means elegant wardrobes,
fine mansions, and admission into gilt-edged society. But the
analysis of freedom as a condition, induced through the analogies
of Nature, is an abstraction, having little temptation for the av-
erage mind. Yet freedom, or its synonyme, liberty, has ever been
the theme of poets, the watchword of patriots, and the hope of
every people.

Did it ever occur to the reader why the ordinary similes which
we use to express a condition of freedom are gathered from fluids .-*
We say : " His money is as free as water ; " "I feel as free as
the mountain air;" "the free meanderings of the woodland
stream." Yet science teaches us that the air is just as severely
bound by natural law as is the iron buried under a mountain.
There is no absolute freedom in Nature. It would seem that
whatever is associated with motion and spontaneity is always
suggestive of it. Fluids are flexible. Their particles are so feebly
attracted that they are easily affected by external forces. They
seek their own level, and will find it, if not interfered with. Some
mountain stream, rolling down the Sierras, will inspire a poet or
patriot with the genius of liberty ; but, as soon as you interpose
the miller's dam, he turns away.

Certain chemical elements, we are told, have an affinity for
each other. If another element be brought in contact with
those already united, and one of the elements have a greater af-
finity for it than for the one with which it is already united, ft
will combine with the new element, and its old affinity is ''set
free." Not imprisoned for adu^^ty ; not expelled from the
Creator's laboratory ; not banishl^^oA the best chemical fam-
ilies, — but set free to go whither it will, and unite in accordance
with its highest law. When, therefore, we say "free as the ele-
ments," we say something more beautiful than we realize. The
elements, left to the operation of their own laws, work out their
highest destiny. Whether it be natural selection, chemical affin-
ity, equilibrium, or any other term of science, no matter where
we turn in the book of Nature, the lesson will always point to
the great trinity of her economy, — motion, spontaneity, growth.

Things seem to be freest in Nature when no artificial arrange-
ment is interposed to prevent their association in the manner
most conducive to their growth and most in harmony with the
conditions of their being. If this be so, it will apply to man and
to society. Man is the cosmos in miniature. Society has been
his greatest curse in one respect. It has coaxed him into selling
his individuality, and burying it in collectivity. As soon as a
man is prompted to follow some wholesome law of growth, his
neighbor stands ready with the warning : " But you must not
forget that you are a member of society ; you do not own your-

W/tat is Freedom ? 3

self ; society owns you." This is the most fatal heresy that ever
seduced the race. Human progress never will begin in earnest
till every man is taught to feel his own divinity. The Almighty
never was known to sacrifice the most insignificant law of Na-
ture, even in the interest of the whole universe. The universe
is made up of a series of organisms, and the evident plan of its
economy is that each shall fulfil its destiny in accordance with
its conditions. Every man and woman is a distinct organism.
His or her duty is to study the conditions and elements best fitted
for the development of its best possibilities. Such forces and
elements will naturally gravitate to it. just as material substances
naturally associate for their most perfect development. Despot-
ism begins when artificial and conventional interposition usurps
the place of Nature, — when one organism assumes to provide
for the wants of another, and dictate conditions for it.

When we conform to the conditions of our physical organism,
we are blessed with what we call health. We feel freest when
we feel healthiest. Did you ever seem freer than when you had
just finished a morning sea-bath f When you breathe the vital-
izing air of the ocean, and the blood courses nimbly through
your veins, how naturally do you exclaim : " I feel as light and
free as a bird ! " On the other hand, when do you feel so much
like a slave as when you sit in the solitude of an ill-ventilated
room, a victim to the poisonous drugs of your doctor.'' An arti-
ficial invasion upon the methods of Nature in restoring your bod-
ily functions is an invasion on your physiological freedom. If
you are spiritually ill, you go to the glens or mountains, or to the
sea-shore. The carol of the^irds ; the tinkling of the mountain
rills; the great bosom of old 'ocean, — divert and neutralize the
bitter currents of your soul. You finally say : " I have freed my
spirit of its bitterness ; now I feel freer to go among my friends
again." But suppose, on the other hand, that through a false
early education, or through fear of hell or of the devil, you go
within the dismal walls of some Calvinistic church. A spiritual
quack doctor, in sombre garb, with a voice as from the tomb, sol-
emnly opens a ponderous book, and tells you " there shall be weep-
ing, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth." While presenting the
"gospel of light," this theological ghoul systematically dams up
every channel of freshness and, cheer in your nature. What has
he really done .-* He has invaded your soul's freedom. He has
drugged your natural organs of spiritual recuperation. Because
he has seduced you into his gospel shop through your own want
of enlightenment, he is none the less a tyrant over you. He has
prevented you from being free, — that is, from working out your
salvation in the manner which Nature-has provided and adapted
especially to you.

A state of freedom, then, would seem to be a state of health.

4 What is Freedom ?

— a condition of normal functional activity, either in the individ-
ual or in society. As the air you breathe, composed of oxygen,
nitrogen, and carbonic acid gas, is free and elastic through the
impossibility of its being imprisoned and dammed up by the in-
novations of men, so your soul, composed of conscience, reason,
and love, would also be free, were it not unfortunately in the
power of your fellows to interpose arbitrary barriers to the con-
summation of its natural destiny. Why is the mountain air
wholesome and vivifying } Because it is free. Why is the
ocean invigorating and vitalizing .' Because it is free. Why is
the air of your cities pestilential and impairing.' Because it is
poisoned by commercial greed, and confined by the avarice of
rent-hounds. Why does the mill-stream dispense noxious va-
pors .' Because the spoliator of laborers behind the mill-wheel
can meddle with its free meanderings.

Supposing you to be an intelligent man or woman, who had
watched and studied your own physical organization, and felt
yourself to be in a condition of perfect bodily freedom (health),
how would you feel if you were impertinently accosted on some
beautiful Spring morning by a self-constituted functionary, who
should say : —

" My dear sir, you seem to be feeling pretty well, but I tell you,
you are sick ; now I am called, or elected, to be your doctor ; you
must take my medicines, which the law directs me to adminis-
ter. You, in your conceit, think you are healthy ; but you, as
an individual, are of no account. You belong to society, which,
by the sacred authority of the ballot-box, has made me }-our phy-
sical adviser. You, in common with your fellow-republicans,
have taxed yourself to support me in my healing office ; and
now, I, in obedience to my oath, am called upon to offer you a
dose of government pills, which, as you see, are duly stamped
with the seal of this great and free commonwealth. If you take
them like a loyal, law-abiding citizen, it shall be well with you ;
but if you refuse, my brother doctors of the judiciary, whom you
ha\'e also elected, will feel themselves obliged to administer the
more salutary dose of penitentiary tea, which I can assure you
will not fail to bring you to terms " .''

Would you not retort, in fierce indignation : —

" But who made you, audacious intruder, the judge of my
health .-' Do I not know when my bodily functions work freely .■*
Away with you and your pills ! I can take care of myself " ^

Yet, my friend, you are already committed. Your State or
Congressional doctor has only to reply : —

"Was it not. yon, sir, whom I saw wire-pulling at the primary
convention .'' Was it not you, sir, whom I heard howling to an
excited rabble on the eve of election about the sacred right of
suffrage } Well do I recollect how, amid thunders of bellowing

IVAat is Freedom ? 5

applause, you finished your speech with these last words, making
night hideous with your noise : — ' Unless the doctor and his party
ore elected, the country is lost ! '

I submit that this is a fair sketch of the general nature of gov-
ernment. With immense expense of money and patriotism we
elect governments to tell us when we are sick. Government is
predicated on the assumption that we are all sick, just as popu-
lar theology is predicated on the assumption that we are all by
nature helpless and depraved. Like some coquettish female who
loves to be sick occasionally that she may allure the caresses
of her lover, or be fondled by a handsome young physician, we
sovereign republicans delight in being sick from the immense
satisfaction we have in being doctored. How thoroughly we are
doctored is evident in the startling reports of national, state, and
municipal indebtedness which come to us, and in the shameless
prostitution of justice which is everywhere thrust before our

The case is the same in theology. Presumptuous doctors of
divinity insist upon it that your soul is sick. In vain do you
protest that your soul is feeling tolerably well ; you try to be
upright, honest, and conscientious in your dealings with your
fellow-men ; you strive to be generous and charitable, and live
up to your highest convictions of right. But nothing will do.
These ill-mannered intruders are determined to tear your soul
from your own keeping. They still insist upon it that you are
sick, and must be doctored, or refuse at your eternal peril. Yet,
proud voter, when you call them to account, your case is compro-
mised at the outset. They may reply : —

" Do you not boast of your sacred prerogative of taking part,
and having a sovereign voice, in the election of the executives of
a government which taxes you to support me and my church ?
Do you not make our office remunerative and eminently respect-
able by holding it fanatical and treasonable for your neighbor to
refuse to be taxed for the support of sectarian schools, into which
the bible of a caste religion is thrust, and which are controlled
by our caste clergy ? Why do you complain of religious and le-
gislative doctors, when the very basis of your free government
is founded on the theory that all men are born socially and mor-
ally sick? If you do not wish to be put on the sick-list against
your will, then be consistent, and unmake or remodel the whole
swindle. The fault is yours, not ours."

It is a poor compliment to republican logic that a man in pri-
vate life will often repel an inroad upon his personal liberty with
indignation, while he fosters and loves with patriotic devotion a
government which does the same thing with impunity. Waiting
in a barber's shop some time ago, I listened to a very suggestive

• 6 IV/iat is Freedom ?

dialogue between a Judge of one of our higher courts in Rhode
Island, and a Baptist deacon. It was in this wise : —

Deacon. "Judge, I did not see you yesterday at our church.
We had an excellent sermon by the Rev. Dr. R."

yudge. " No, Deacon, I was somewhat overworked last week,
and so I went on the Sunday excursion to get a little snuff of the

Deacon. "Judge, I am very sorry to see a man holding your
position give countenance to advertised Sabbath-breaking by his

Judge. " Oh, well. Deacon, I don't think these Sunday steam-
boat e-xcursions do any harm. You know thousands of opera-
tives, shut up in mills, have no time but Sundays to get a little
air and sunlight. There was no liquor allowed on board, and
every thing was quiet and orderly. I rather think some of those
poor fellows were as well off as if they had been crowded into an
ill-ventilated church. As for myself, I don't recollect of sinning

Deacon. " But, Judge, you know we are commanded to keep
the Sabbath as a day of rest, if nothing more."

Judge. " Well, Deacon, it may rest you on a hot day to sit
and listen to a dry, long-winded sermon, but for me it would be
the hardest work you could put me to."

Deacon. " Judge, I am shocked to hear a man of your stand-
ing talk so slightingly of the concerns of your soul."

Judge (a little piqued). " Deacon, you and I would never
get anywhere arguing these points. What I want to know is :
Who ■a.xQ. you that you should presume to decide for me what is
rest and what is labor, either on Sunday or any other day "i "

And so this little duel of words ended. The Judge had evi-
dently struck at the root of the matter with one blow. Yet, if
on that very day the steamboat company on whose boat he sailed
had been indicted for Sabbath-breaking, he would have been
bound by the laws of Rhode Island to convict it on the very
grounds for which he called the deacon to account. If the deacon
has no right to decide what is rest and what is labor for his neigh-
bor on the Sabbath, who are you, Your Honor. I ask, that you
should do that v^ery thing on a bench, dedicated to justice itself,
in the name of the State .^ Do the eternal principles of right
and wrong become inverted to suit your case, simply because you
are backed by prisons and police and a posse of political scoun-
drels ? Verily, the average American is sick when he speaks
with feelings akin to reverence of the terrors and sanctity of the
law, and yet would be tempted to rudely upbraid his own mother
for the kind of interference with his personal liberty which a
drunken New York judge can practise with impunity.

So, then, perhaps we ought not to be too severe on the doc-

What is Freedom f 7

tors. They are but- the creatures of a society which is deter-
mined to be sick. A young medical assistant told me that he
once received a terrible reprimand from his superior. He had
been called suddenly to the bedside of a lackadaisical female to
find that nothing was the matter with her but a natural scarcity
of brains. On returning to the office he told the senior medicus
that he had repaired to the lady's side in great haste only to find
that she was well enough, — had told her so, and come away.
" What ! " said the doctor in great anger, as he opened a large
book to debit a three-dollar fee; "at that rate you will soon
kill off the cream of my practice. Never do that again ! " In
the davs of Athens and Sparta it used to be a disgrace to be sick.
Even the untutored savage of the American forest felt degraded
to the core when he could no longer bear the tomahawk and the
bow. Frederick the Great refused to submit to the humiliation
of dying on a sick bed, and expired sitting erect in an iron chair
with his faithful dogs beside him. One of Napoleon's officers
refused to dismount from his horse when his leg was shot off
above the knee ; and the surgeons amputated the limb, while
he sat in the saddle so quietly as not to start his faithful steed.
But the age of physical hardihood has given way to that of moral
hardihood. As Mr. Taine has it : "Those great moral giants of
Cromwell's time have gone, never to return." It is now a proud
mark of honor and wisdom to be politically, religiously, and soci-
ally sick, that we may boast of a royal pageant of priests, presi-
dents, legal hierarchs, and Grundies. Nor are these functionaries
necessary to restrain the ignorant and uncultivated alone. They
are fed and flattered and kept for the benefit of the wise and ^lite.
I think it was in a number of the old "Penny Magazine" that
I read the following amusing anecdote. An audacious quack
had come to London, and by dint of loud advertising and lying
had stirred up an immense /«wr^ among the lame, the halt, and
the blind of the metropolis. So great and persistent was the
rush to his office, night and day, that the income of the most
eminent professionals began to be affected by it. Finally the
King's physician, as spokesman for the others, addressed a letter
to the " London Times," denouncing the shameless intruder in
the most scathing terms, and ended by saying that he was a
most outrageous quack, and that " none but knaves and fools
would patronize him in the future." The next morning the royal
physician was surprised to find a most courteous reply to his
fierce philippic. It thanked him most heartily for his gracious
condescension in greeting a new brother with so eminent a no-
tice through the public press ; and after the cleverest manipula-
tion of the adversary's insult, it concluded : " But, dear brother,
I would not have you kill yourself with kindness : for should
you really be so generous as to retain none but wise men, and

8 WAat is Freedom f

leave all the knaves and fools for me, no one better knows than
yourself that I should soon absorb the entire practice of London."
If, then, a state of sickness be preferable to a state of health,
then is a state of slavery preferable to a state of freedom. Christ-
ianity is responsible for the most irrational and pernicious soph-
ism that ever cursed civilization, — namely, that we are all by
nature sinful and depraved ; or, as the couplet runs : —

" In Adam's sin
We all jined in."

Its effect is seen in every phase of social history, present and
past. The earliest lesson that a child receives is that all men
are natural robbers, who, if left to their native ways, will cer-
tainly pillage him. Hence he must prepare himself, tooth and
nail, for what is called " the great struggle of life." The first
Sunday-school lesson teaches him that Adam entailed the curse
of sin upon all succeeding generations, until poor Christ was
sandwiched in to be the scapegoat of the whole perverse gang.
Hence, if nothing be known to the contrary, your neighbor is
a villain. Keep a sharp eye on him, or he will plunder you.
From this logic come such beautiful Americanisms as " Look
out for number one ; " " Never trust to appearances ; " and others.
They even tell us that this is a part of the government of God.
Cain was sent out of the presence of the Lord to dwell in the
land of Nod, or Nad, which signifies a vagabond ; for God in-
tended that, because of the sin of Cain, all who henceforth set-
tled in that city should be called vagabonds. A pious historian,
in speaking of the city of Nad as the first which was founded in
the world, remarks solemnly : " Like all places which are the
resort of vagabonds, the city increased rapidly in wealth and
population ; for nearly all of Adam's children were of that class."
So too, if one of our merchants is proven to be a cheat or de-
faulter, the antagonistic classes declare that all business men are
knaves. After the operations of John Law, nearly every man
engaged in large operations, however legitimate, was watched
like a thief. If a dark mystery occur in connection with Ma-
sonry, a grand anti-masonic rage is born, and every Free Mason
is for a time a villain. If a vicious Methodist parson commit an
outrage on chastity, straightway the more vulgar class of infi-
dels denounce all clergymen as scoundrels and impostors. If a
bloody murder occur in England, every Englishman fancies the
man at his shoulder to be a murderer. Thomas DeQuincey, in
his thrilling story of "Three Notable Murders," says that, after
the terrible deed of John Wilson in 1812, England was thrown
into a fearful fever of suspicion and fear, and everybody fancied he
saw the brand of Cain on his neighbor. " I myself," he says, " was
three thousand miles away from London, but there and every-

W/uit is Freedom f 9

where the panic was indescribable. My next neighbor, a lady,
refused to retire till she had carefully barricaded eighteen doors,
and access to her was nearly as difficult as to a feudal baroness
of the Middle Ages." " The panic was not confined to the rich ;
women in the humblest ranks more than once died on the spot
from the shock attending some suspicious intruder, with no worse
intent perhaps than simple larceny." So late as 1862, because of
a few bold cases of "garroting." the streets of London were
nearly deserted at night for weeks after, and representatives of
the first respectability of the metropolis were rudely arrested on
the strength of some fancied peculiarity of look or manner. In
the late trials of spiritualism the same proneness to belief in uni-
versal depravity is manifest. Detect some low-bred medium in
fraud, or supplement some dexterous feat of legerdemain to ex-
plain an alleged spiritual phenomenon, and for purposes of per-
secution you have made out a case against all the mediums in
the world. The cry is everywhere raised : " I told you so !
They are all a set of rogues and impostors."

Thus the wicked, blighting doctrine that we are all by nature
perverse and depraved has shaped the course of history. If ty-
rants and meddlers had been simply content to enunciate the
proposition, and leave the pursuit of health and salvation to the
victims, it would have been comparatively harmless. But this
inhuman premise developed a tragic logic, which in its execution
has ground and goaded a host of martyrs, and poisoned and
choked the native springs of growth and civilization for ages.
The plunderers of human liberty on thrones and benches, in
pulpits and parlors, have always assumed that, granting you to
be sick, they are the anointed and divinely appointed keepers of
your health. It is for taking issue with this brazen assumption

1 3 4

Online LibraryHenry AppletonWhat is freedom? and when am I free? : being an attempt to put liberty on a rational basis, and wrest its keeping from irresponsible pretenders in church and state → online text (page 1 of 4)