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p. 295 and ff. ; Smith's Diet, of Biog., art. "Augustus."


history that since the adoption of our Constitution
the progress of our time has been, whether for
good or ill, progress toward a greater diffusion of
political power. It has not been toward the " brass
collars, whips, and handcuffs " of Carlyle. The
limitations of the suffrage, universal at the adop-
tion of our Constitution,^ have been swept away ;
property and educational qualifications are abol-
ished ; with few and diminishing exceptions " one
man, one vote," is the established principle of
the American commonwealth. Influence still de-
pends on wealth, position, and education, but polit-
ical power does not. The ballot of the million-
aire and of his butler, of the college professor
and the college janitor, of the scion of a noble
American family and of the recently landed immi-
grant, carry the same weight and are estimated at
the same value. The most that aristocracy, that
is, government by the best, has been able to do
in American history thus far is so to delay this
transference of power from Aristos to Demos as
to prevent a too sudden revolution.

Perhaps in nothing has this change from gov-

1 In 1700 " very little of what would now be called democracy
existed. Everywhere the political rig-hts of men were fenced
about with restrictions which would now be thoug-ht unbearable.
The rig-ht to vote, the right to hold office, were dependent, not
on manhood qualifications, but on religious opinions, on acres of
land, on pounds, shillings, and pence." McMaster, History of the

U. <S., vol. iii. p. 146. McMaster substantiates this general state-
ment with elaborate details. Compare, for views of Hamilton
and Adams in favor of restricted suffrage, Hildreth's Hist, of the

U. S., vol. iv. p. 297.


ernment by the few to self-government been more
strikingly indicated than in the changed character
and functions of our American representative as-
semblies, whether municipal, state, or national,
except in the still more changed functions of the
Electoral College. The founders of the American
Constitution declared that political power was de-
rived from the people, but did not expect the
people to exercise it. It was their plan that the
people should elect the wisest and the best of
the nation to represent them, and that the repre-
sentatives thus elected should direct the policy of
the nation. They thus provided an Electoral Col-
les:e which should itself elect a President. The
Electoral College has long since ceased to elect
Presidents. The people choose the Presidents, and
the Electoral College simply registers the popular
decision. A similar change is taking place in the
national and state legislative bodies. Congress has
ceased to determine national policies, — has ceased
even, to any considerable extent, to discuss them.
Speeches in Congress rarely if ever change a vote.
The people assemble in conventions wholly un-
known to the Constitution to deliberate on public
questions. The deliberation is carried on in clubs,
country stores, family circles, and by the press and
pulpit. The results of these discussions are pressed
upon Congress by editorials, visiting delegations,
private letters. The work of the House of Repre-
sentatives almost wholly, of the Senate very largely,
is done in committees. The committees frame in


law what the people have clemanded. Congressional
action rej^resents popular urgency, their inaction
popular indifference.

The course of Indian legislation may serve as a
concrete illustration of this process, but scores of
other illustrations would serve as well. In 1882
the friends of justice to the Indian were summoned
by Mr. A. K. Smiley to the Lake Mohonk House, a
well-known summer hotel in Ulster County, to con-
sider Indian rights and wrongs. At that time the
Indians throughout the country were placed on
reservations, from which all civilizing influences,
except those of special missionary and educational
institutions, were excluded. They were denied all
rights of citizenship, including the right to buy
and sell in open market, the right of free transit
throughout the United States, and the right to pro-
tection of person and property by the courts. The
schools which existed were utterly inadequate to
provide for the education of the Indian children,
and were maintained under a complicated no-
system of partnership between the government and
the churches, which had grown up without fore-
thought or direction. The control of the Indians
was placed under the administration of a bureau,
the personnel of which changed with every Presi-
dential election, so that continuity of purpose and
policy were impossible. To a discussion and recti-
fication of these evils this Lake Mohonk Confer-
ence addressed itself, though it apparently pos-
sessed neither political power nor influence. As


the result of its discussions, a policy was shaped and
pressed upon Congress and upon successive Presi-
dents. Public sentiment was created to reinforce
the positions laid down in the Lake Mohonk plat-
forms. Congressional and departmental coopera-
tion was secured in carrying out a continuous and
measurably consistent policy. The reservation sys-
tem has been abandoned ; the reservations are being
broken up ; the land is in process of allotment to the
Indians in severalty ; a public school system under
national control and at national expense has been
established ; appropriations for educational purposes
have been increased from a few hundred thousand
to more than a million annually ; appropriations
for rations have been diminished ; the partnership
between the nation and the churches has been dis-
solved, and all sectarian appropriations are, during
the next few years, to be discontinued ; and at this
writing a bill has been introduced into Congress
for the appointment of a non-partisan commission
to superintend Indian affairs, take the Indian
Bureau out of politics, and secure in the adminis-
tration of it a permanent, non-partisan service. All
this has been accomplished, not by deliberation in
Congress, moving thereto of its own volition, but
by the deliberations and determinations of men
especially interested in and familiar with Indian
affairs, creating a public opinion in favor of reform
throughout the nation, and guiding both Congress
and the department in a steadily advancing move-
ment toward an ultimate solution of the Indian


problem. The work of Congress has been really,
not to decide what should be done, but to do what
the people interested have demanded.

The contrast between the American republic
and the Roman empire, and the changes in spirit
and method wrought in the American republic in
the one short century of its existence, indicate
the direction in which the United States is
moving. It is not toward less but toward more
democracy, — not toward a greater concentration,
but toward a greater diffusion, of political power.
In Rome, as to-day in Russia, " the machine "
was law, liberty was revolution. In America, lib-
erty is law, " the machine " is revolution. " The
machine " still exists, but its bureaucratic powers
are really un-American, and every new battle
between " the machine " and the people is a new
defeat for the former. The latest and perhaps
most striking is the adoption of a constitutional
amendment in New York State which requires
that all offices, the qualification for which can be
determined by competitive examination, shall be so
determined, and the decision of the highest court
in the State that this provision is self-executory,
and that to fill such an office otherwise is uncon-
stitutional and illegal.! The primaries are still
controlled by oligarchies, but how to make their

1 Since this chapter was written, the Massachusetts Supreme
Court has rendered an equally significant decision, affirming- the
rig-ht of the more competent to the office in question, and deny-
ing the right of the legislature to deprive him of it in favor of a
veteran who has not proved his competency.


action the expression of the real will of the people
is already a subject of vigorous current discus-
sion. The attempt to cure municipal corruption
by transferring the power from the people to the
§tate legislature, and governing the city by com-
missions, has been tried and has failed; munici-
pal reformers are beginning to demand in unmis-
takable tones the extension to the cities of those
rights and responsibilities of local self-govern-
ment, which are now had by the village, the town,
the county, and even the school district. The
Senate of the United States, which was removed
from the people in order that it might be a safe-
guard, is found to be for that very reason danger-
ous, and the demand for the election of Senators,
not by the state legislators but by the people of
the several States, is growing yearly more urgent.
The Referendum, according to which important
pieces of legislation are referred to the people
themselves for direct vote, and the Initiative,
according to which on the petition of a reasonable
number of citizens any question must be sub-
mitted by the legislature to the people for direct
vote, have worked so well in the little republic
of Switzerland, that American reformers are be-
ginning to urge the adoption of these methods
here, and in a modified form and in a tentative
way, after the fashion of reforms in Anglo-Saxon
communities, the experiment is being tried.^ In

1 Referendum and Initiative are two political institutions pecu-
liar to Switzerland. Referendum means the reference to all vote-


short, every decade in American political history
marks a nearer approach to at least so much of

possessing- citizens, either of the Confederation or of a Canton, for
acceptance or rejection of laws and resolutions framed by their
representatives. The Referendum is of two kinds, compulsory
and optional. It is compulsory in certain Cantons, where all
laws adopted by the Grand Council, or other representative body
of a Canton, must be submitted to the people, and optional where
limited to those cases in which a certain number of voters demand
it. The Federal Constitution of 1874 contains an article extend-
ing- the exercise of the popular vote, when demanded by thirty
thousand citizens, or eight Cantons, to all Federal laws, and all
resolutions of a g-eneral nature which have been passed by the
Chambers. The principle of the Cantonal and the Federal Ref-
erendum is the same. By the Cantonal Referendum, whether
compulsory or optional, many important local matters are sub-
mitted to the collective vote of the citizens of the particular
Canton interested. " The Referendum has struck root and
expanded wherever it has been introduced, and no serious
politician of any party would now think of attempting- its
abolition." " It has g-iven back to the people of Switzerland
rights originally possessed by them in most of the old Cantons,
but partly or wholly lost in the course of time." "The con-
sciousness of individual influence, as well as the national feeling,
is declared to have been strengthened, and the fact of a large,
and on several occasions increased, participation of the people in
the vote is quoted as tending to prove that their interest in polit-
ical questions is growing keener." " Extreme measures, whether
radical or reactionary, have no chance whatever of being accepted
by the people, who, while in a manner fulfilling the functions of
a second chamber, have infinitely more weight than any such
body usually possesses, even if it be thoroughly representative
and chosen by universal suffrage." " Initiative is the exercise of
the right granted to any single voter, or body of voters, to initiate
proposals for the enactment of new laws, or for the alteration or
abolition of existing laws." " It is essentially a powerful engine
in a democratic direction. By means of it legislative bodies,
mostly composed of persons belonging to the well-to-do class, can
be compelled by the people to take up and put to a vote matters


Christ's principle as is embodied in the statement
that no man is to be called Master ; that all men
are brethren ; and that the few great men are to
be the servants, and subject to the will, of the

Two reflections must be permitted on this branch
of the subject before we pass from it. The first,
that in so far as a government is democratic it
manifests the national character, since it is the
expression of the national will. The people of
Rome might have been either much better or
much worse than the government imposed upon
them ; but the people of America are neither
much better nor much worse than the govern-
ment which they themselves create and control.
The people of the cities of New York and Phila-
delphia, Chicago and St. Louis, have as good gov-
ernments as they deserve, except indeed as those
governments are imposed upon them by state
legislatures in spite of their protests. It is in
vain for the American to revile Congress ; Con-
gress is a mirror which reflects the national
features. On the one hand, its refusal to re-

which, without it, would in all probability never be brought to
the front. But it is still an institution in its infancy, and requir-
ing development." — The Swiss Confederation, Sir F, O. Adams
and C. D. Cunningham, eh. ^vi. See, also, Prof. Dieey's art, in
The Contemporary Review for April, 1890; and Leeky's Liberty
and Democracy, vol. i. pp. 277-293. The Referendum has
already extended beyond Switzerland ; it is significant that it is
advocated on conservative grounds, and within defined limits, by
a writer who believes as little as does Mr. Lecky in the virtue and
intelligence of the people.


pudiate national indebtedness or to pay it in
depreciated currency ; its legislation for the pro-
tection of the emancipated negro, and for the
deliverance of the Indian from the barbarism to
which previous legislation had consigned him ; its
attempt to exercise, in the interest of the public,
some control over the interstate railways ; its legis-
lation against the Louisiana Lottery ; its submis-
sion of the Alabama Claims and the Northwest
Boundary question to arbitration ; its tardy and
imperfect provision for international copyright, —
are all reflections of the better thought and life
of the American people. On the other hand, its
bargaining and log-rolling in tariff legislation ; its
cheap and noisy war-talk ; its reluctant surrender
of the s23oils system ; its often absurd appro-
priations for public improvements designed and
pressed through for personal ends ; its passionate
haste when deliberation is demanded, and its some-
times long delays when prompt action is indis-
pensable to public warfare, — are all symptoms
of dangerous elements in national life. For the
government, whether of city, state or nation, is a
government of the people, and is therefore a man-
ifestation of their character.

The other reflection is, that Christ's principle,
•' Call no man your father upon the earth," can be
defended only as it is based upon his other princi-
ple, " One is your Father which is in heaven."
There is not space here, and fortunately there is


not need, to trace the rise and progress of de-
mocracy in order to show that religious liberty has
always preceded and prepared for civil liberty, and
that only as men have recognized God's sovereignty
have they ceased to admit the sovereignty of their
fellows. History and philosophy combine to make
it clear that the only permanent foundation of self-
government in the state is capacity for self-govern-
ment in the individual ; and that the only basis for
self-government in the individual is his frank recog-
nition of a superior authority in a divine law, and
therefore a divine Lawgiver, whose authority he
does not question. The first condition of self-
government is the ability to recognize an invisible
law, and to subject one's self to its restraint. This
is what Christ means when he says, " If the Son
therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free
indeed." ^ The law of liberty is the supremacy of
the individual conscience in the individual life.
" Despotism," says De Tocqueville, " may govern
without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is
much more necessary in the republic which they
(the atheistic republicans) set forth in glowing
colors than in the monarchy which they attack ; it
is more needed in democratic republics than in any
other. How is it possible that societies should
escape destruction if the moral tie be not strength-
ened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed ?
And what can be done with a people who are their
own masters, if they be not submissive to the
1 John viii. 36.


Deity? "1 Jesus Christ Dot only prophesied de-
mocracy, but laid the foundations and furnished
the inspiration essential for it.

III. Christianity, which brings with it the dif-
fusion of education and the diffusion of political
power, brings with it also the diffusion of wealth.
But this, as it is the least important, so it is the
last to be furnished. Christ, in his work of refor-
mation, as we shall have occasion to see later,
begins with the man himself, and thence proceeds
to the improvement of his condition and his cir-
cumstances. This has been as true in his dealing
with the race as in his dealing with the individual.
First came the religious emancipation, next the
intellectual, after that the political, last of all the
pecuniary and material.

It is not necessary to repaint pictures of Roman
life and remind the reader of a state of society in
which half the population were slaves, and in which
of the other half a large proportion lived so upon
the verge of starvation that they were only saved
from death by great gifts of food coerced from the
rich or bestowed by the government.^ Though the
concentration of wealth in America is still great,
and probably constitutes the greatest peril to the
republic, still there has never been a time in the
history of the world when wealth, with its ac-

^ De Tocqiieville, Democracy in America, ch. xvii. § 6.

-' Lecky, History of European Morals, i. 278 ; Uhlhorn, Con-
fiict of Christianity with Heathenism, bk. i. ch. ii. p. 109. Cf.
Gibbon, ch. xvii. vol. ii. p. 205, and notes, Harpers' edition, and
ch. xxxi. vol. iii. p. o82 ; Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Boman
Antiquities, 2d ed. p. 550, art. '' Frumentariae Leges."


companying comforts, has been so widely diffused
as to-day. Even those in whose hands it is con-
centrated hold it in such forms and put to such
uses that its benefits are diffused throughout the
community. The main benefit enjoyed by the
railroad king: who owns two hundred million dol-
lars is the right to administer a great property for
the benefit of the common people. They travel on
the same railroad with him, generally at about the
same rate of speed, often in the same train, and
commonly with the same degree of comfort, though
not of luxury. If he charges them more than he
ought for tlieir carriage, all that he can do with
his profits is to build another railroad to accom-
modate another community. Whether the nation
pays railroad kings too much for the service they
render, whether railroads should be under the ad-
ministration of railroad kings or under that of the
people, are questions not here considered. What-
ever the answer may be, it remains true that under
the present system railroad wealth, manufacturing
wealth, mining wealth, are diffused wealth. The
capitalist no longer does in America what the
Armenian capitalist still has to do in Turkey, —
invest his gains in clothes which he cannot wear,
or in gold or jewels which he is compelled to hide
from the government. Society has been revolu-
tionized so that there is no honest way by which a
man can acquire wealth for himself without con-
ferring some of it on his neighbors ; and so little
recognition is there by the public of the service


which he renders to the public that truth gives
keenness to the satire of George Bernard Shaw's
definition : "To be a millionaire, then, is to have
more money than you can possibly spend on your-
self, and to appreciate at the same time the in-
considerateness of those persons to whom such
a condition appears to realize perfect contented-
ness." ^

Yet despite the fact that wealth has never been
so diffused, and the comforts wealth brings never
so broadcast, as in America to-day, the thoughtful
student of our national life must certainly recog-
nize that the concentration of wealth is America's
greatest peril, and a more equable distribution of
wealth its greatest need. That cannot be counted
either a Christian or a democratic state of soci-
ety in which one per cent, of the people own one
half of all the wealth, and the other half is very
unequally distributed among the other ninety per
cent, of owners,^ — in which there are a few million-
aires at one pole of society who cannot possibly

1 " Socialism for Millionaires," Contemporary i?ei'ie?i', February,

2 G. K. Holmes in Pol Sci. Quarterly, vol. viii. No. 4, Dec, 1893,
gives a fuller statement of the distribution of wealth. " Ninety-
one per cent, of the 12,690,152 families of the country own no
more than about twenty-nine per cent, of the wealth, and nine
per cent, of the families own about seventy-one per cent, of the
wealth." p. 592.

" We are now prepared to characterize the concentration of
wealth in the United States, by stating- that twenty per cent, of it
is owned by three hundredths of one per cent, of the families ;
fifty-one per cent, by nine per cent, of the families (not including


Spend their income, and many men and women at
the other pole of society who have little or no in-
come to spend. If Adam were created six thou-
sand years ago, had lived until this time, and had
succeeded in laying up one hundred dollars a day
for every working day of the six thousand years of
his life, he would not, without interest, have made as
much money in six thousand years as the elder Cor-
nelius Vanderbilt is said to have made in a lifetime.
Jay Gould started in life with a mousetrap ; at
the end of twenty-five years he unrolled certificates
to the amount of a hundred million dollars. He
made four million dollars on the average each
year, that is to say, if we count three hundred days
to the year, over thirteen thousand dollars a day ;
and the statisticians tell us that the average wages
of unskilled labor in this country is less than one

millionaires) . . . and twenty-nine per cent, by ninety-one per
cent, of the families.

" About twenty per cent, of the wealth is owned by the power
families that own farms or homes without incumbrance, and these
are twenty-eight per cent, of all the families. Only nine per cent,
of the wealth is owned by tenant families and the poorer class of
those that own their farms or homes under incumbrance, and these
together constitute sixty-four per cent, of all the families. As
little as five per cent, of the nation's wealth is owned by fifty-two
per cent, of the families, that is, by the tenants alone. Finally,
4,047 [millionaires] families possess about seven tenths as much as
do 11,593,887 families." p. .593.

" If a recomputation should give one third of the wealth to the
11,593,887 families, — and it can hardly do more than that, — still
sixty-seven per cent, of the wealth is owned by nine per cent, of
the families." p. 593.

See, also, T. G. Shearman, " Owners of the United States," Forum,
vol. viii., p. 263, November, 1889.


dollar a day, and of skilled workingmen not over
four dollars a day as a maximum.^ In view of
such inequalities as this, one need not be a radical
to believe with James Russell Lowell in " giving
to the hands, not so large a share as to the brain,
but a larger share than hitherto in the wealth they
must combine to produce."

For the evils of such concentration of wealth are
many and great. It tends to degradation at one
pole of society by producing luxury, enervation,

Online LibraryLyman AbbottChristianaity and social problems → online text (page 4 of 25)