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the service of corporations. Within the last hundred years the
American people have invented a new and large application of
the ancient principle of incorporation. We are so accustomed to
corporations as indispensable agents in carrying on great public
works and services, and great industrial or financial operations,
that we forget the very recent development of the corporation



i8 4 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

with limited liability as a common business agent. Prior to 1789
there were only two corporations for business purposes in Massa-
chusetts. The English general statute which provides for in-
corporation with limited liability dates only from 1855. No
other nation has made such general or such successful use of
corporate powers as the American and for the reason that the
method is essentially a democratic method, suitable for a country
in which great individual or family properties are rare, and small
properties are numerous. Freedom of incorporation makes
possible great combinations of small capitals, and, while winning
the advantages of concentrated management, permits diffused
ownership. These merits have been quickly understood and
turned to account by the American democracy. The service of
many corporations has become even more important than the
service of the several States of the Union. The managers of
great companies have trusts reposed in them which are matched
only in the highest executive offices of the nation; and they are
relatively free from the numerous checks and restrictions under
which the highest national officials must always act. The ac-
tivity of corporations, great and small, penetrates every part of
the industrial and social body, and their daily maintenance
brings into play more mental and moral force than the main-
tenance of all the governments on the Continent combined. . . .
It is easy to see some of the reasons why American corpora-
tions command the services of men of high capacity and char-
acter, who in other countries or in earlier times would have been
in the service of the state. In American democratic society cor-
porations supplement the agencies of the state, and their func-
tions have such importance in determining conditions of labor,
diffusing comfort and general well-being among millions of
people, and utilizing innumerable large streams and little rills
of capital, that the upper grades of their service are reached by
merit, are filled, as a rule, upon a tenure during good behavior
and efficiency, are well paid, and have great dignity and con-
sideration. Of the enormous material benefits which have re-
sulted from the American extension of the principle of incorpora-
tion, I need say nothing. I wish only to point out that freedom



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 185

of incorporation, though no longer exclusively a democratic
agency, has given strong support to democratic institutions;
and that a great wealth of intellect, energy, and fidelity is
devoted to the service of corporations by their officers and
directors.

The four forms of mental and moral activity which I have
been considering that which maintains political vitality
throughout the Federal Union; that which supports unsubsidized
religious institutions; that which develops the higher instruction
in the arts and sciences, and trams men for all the professions;
and that which is applied to the service of corporations all
illustrate the educating influence of democratic institutions an
influence which foreign observers are apt to overlook or under-
estimate. The ballot is not the only political institution which
has educated the American democracy. Democracy is a training-
school in which multitudes learn in many ways to take thought
for others, to exercise public functions, and to bear public re-
sponsibilities.

So many critics of the theory of democracy have maintained
that a democratic government would be careless of public obli-
gations, and unjust toward private property, that it will be
interesting to inquire what a century of American experience
indicates upon this important point. Has there been any dis-
position on the part of the American democracy to create exag-
gerated public debts, to throw the burden of public debts on
posterity rather than on the present generation, or to favor in
legislation the poorer sort as against the richer, the debtor as
against the creditor?

The answer to the question is not doubtful. With the excep-
tion of the sudden creation of the great national debt occasioned
by the Civil War, the American communities have been very
moderate in borrowing, the State debts being for the most part
insignificant, and the city debts far below the English standard.
Moreover, these democratic communities, with a few local and
temporary exceptions, pay their public debts more promptly
than any state under the rule of a despot or a class has ever
done. The government of the United States has once paid the



i86 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

whole of its public debt, and is in a fair way to perform that
feat again

After observing the facts of a full century, one may there-
fore say of the American democracy that it has contracted public
debt with moderation, paid it with unexampled promptness,
acquired as good a public credit as the world has ever known,
made private property secure, and shown no tendency to attack
riches or to subsidize poverty, or in either direction to violate
the fundamental principle of democracy, that all men are equal
before the law. The significance of these facts is prodigious.
They mean that, as regards private property and its security,
a government by the many, for the many, is more to be trusted
than any other form of government; and that as regards public
indebtedness, an experienced democracy is more likely to exhibit
just sentiments and practical good judgment than an oligarchy
or a tyranny.

An argument against democracy, which evidently had great
weight with Sir Henry Maine, because he supposed it to rest
upon the experience of mankind, is stated as follows: Progress
and reformation have always been the work of the few, and
have been opposed by the many; therefore democracies will be
obstructive. This argument is completely refuted by the first
century of the American democracy, alike in the field of morals
and jurisprudence, and the field of manufactures and trade.
Nowhere, for instance, has the great principle of religious tolera-
tion been so thoroughly put in practice as in the United States;
nowhere have such well-meant and persistent efforts been made
to improve the legal status of women; nowhere has the conduct of
hospitals, asylums, reformatories, and prisons been more care-
fully studied; nowhere have legislative remedies for acknowledged
abuses and evils been more promptly and perseveringly sought.
There was a certain plausibility in the idea that the multitude,
who live by labor in established modes, would be opposed to
inventions which would inevitably cause industrial revolutions;
but American experience completely upsets this notion. For
promptness hi making physical forces and machinery do the
work of men, the people of the United States surpass incontest-



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 187

ably all other peoples. The people that invented and introduced
with perfect commercial success the river steamboat, the cotton-
gin, the parlor-car and the sleeping-car, the grain-elevator, the
street railway both surface and elevated the telegraph, the
telephone, the rapid printing-press, the cheap book and news-
paper, the sewing-machine, the steam fire-engine, agricultural
machinery, the pipe-lines for natural oil and gas, and machine-
made clothing, boots, furniture, tools, screws, wagons, firearms,
and watches this is not a people to vote down or hinder labor-
saving invention or beneficent industrial revolution. The fact is
that in a democracy the interests of the greater number will
ultimately prevail as they should. It was the stage-drivers and
inn-keepers, not the multitude, who wished to suppress the loco-
motive; it is some publishers and typographical unions, not the
mass of the people, who wrongly imagine that they have an in-
terest in making books dearer than they need be. Furthermore,
a just liberty of combination and perfect equality before the law,
such as prevail in a democracy, enable men or companies to en-
gage freely in new undertakings at their own risk, and bring
them to triumphant success, if success be in them, whether the
multitude approve them or not. The consent of the multitude
is not necessary to the success of a printing-press which prints
twenty thousand copies of a newspaper hi an hour, or of a ma-
chine cutter which cuts out twenty overcoats at one chop. In
short, the notion that democracy will hinder religious, political,
and social reformation and progress, or restrain commercial and
industrial improvement, is a chimera.

There is another criticism of the working of democratic insti-
tutions, more formidable than the last, which the American
democracy is in a fair way to dispose of. It is said that democ-
racy is fighting against the best-determined and most peremp-
tory of biological laws, namely, the law of heredity, with which
law the social structure of monarchical and oligarchical states is
in strict conformity. This criticism fails to recognize the dis-
tinction between artificial privileges transmissible without re-
gard to inherited virtues or powers, and inheritable virtues or
powers transmissible without regard to hereditary privileges.



i88 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

Artificial privileges will be abolished by a democracy; natural,
inheritable virtues or powers are as surely transmissible under a
democracy as under any other form of government. Families can
be made just as enduring in a democratic as in an oligarchic
State, if family permanence be desired and aimed at. The
desire for the continuity of vigorous families, and for the repro-
duction of beauty, genius, and nobility of character is universal.
"From fairest creatures we desire increase" is the commonest of
sentiments. The American multitude will not take the children
of distinguished persons on trust; but it is delighted when an
able man has an abler son, or a lovely mother a lovelier daughter.
That a democracy does not prescribe the close intermarriage
which characterizes a strict aristocracy, so-called, is physically
not a disadvantage, but a great advantage for the freer society.
The French nobility and the English House of Lords furnish
good evidence that aristocracies do not succeed in perpetuating
select types of intellect or of character.

From this consideration of the supposed conflict between
democracy and the law of heredity the transition is easy to my
last topic; namely, the effect of democratic institutions on the
production of ladies and gentlemen. There can be no question
that a general amelioration of manners is brought about in a
democracy by public schools, democratic churches, public con-
veyances, without distinction of class, universal suffrage, town-
meetings, and all the multifarious associations in which demo-
cratic society delights; but this general amelioration might exist,
and yet the highest types of manners might fail. Do these fail?
On this important point American experience is already inter-
esting, and I think conclusive. Forty years ago Emerson said
it was a chief felicity of our country that it excelled in women.
It excels more and more. Who has not seen in public and in
private life American women unsurpassable in grace and gra-
ciousness, in serenity and dignity, in effluent gladness and
abounding courtesy? Now, the lady is the consummate fruit of
human society at its best. In all the higher walks of American
life there are men whose bearing and aspect at once distinguish
them as gentlemen. They have personal force, magnanimity,



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 189

moderation, and refinement; they are quick to see and to sym-
pathize; they are pure, brave, and firm. These are also the quali-
ties that command success; and herein lies the only natural
connection between the possession of property and nobility of
character. In a mobile or free society the excellent or noble man
is likely to win ease and independence; but it does not follow that
under any form of government the man of many possessions is
necessarily excellent. On the evidence of my reading and of my
personal observation at home and abroad, I fully believe that
there is a larger proportion of ladies and gentlemen in the United
States than in any other country. This proposition is, I think,
true with the highest definition of the term "lady" or "gentle-
man;" but it is also true, if ladies and gentlemen are only per-
sons who are clean and well-dressed, who speak gently and eat
with their forks. It is unnecessary, however, to claim any
superiority for democracy in this respect; enough that the high-
est types of manners in men and women are produced abun-
dantly on democratic soil.

It would appear then from American experience that neither
generations of privileged ancestors, nor large inherited posses-
sions, are necessary to the making of a lady or a gentleman.
What is necessary? In the first place, natural gifts. The gentle-
man is born in a democracy, no less than in a monarchy. In other
words, he is a person of fine bodily and spiritual qualities, mostly
innate. Secondly, he must have, through elementary education,
early access to books, and therefore to great thoughts and high
examples. Thirdly, he must be early brought into contact with
some refined and noble person father, mother, teacher, pastor,
employer, or friend. These are the only necessary conditions in
peaceful tunes and in law-abiding communities like ours. Ac-
cordingly, such facts as the following are common in the United
States: One of the numerous children of a small farmer manages
to fit himself for college, works his way through college, becomes
a lawyer, at forty is a much-trusted man in one of the chief
cities of the Union, and is distinguished for the courtesy and
dignity of his bearing and speech. The son of a country black-
smith is taught and helped to a small college by his minister; he



IQO NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

himself becomes a minister, has a long fight with poverty and
ill-health, but at forty-five holds as high a place as his profession
affords, and every line in his face and every tone in his voice
betoken the gentleman. The sons and daughters of a successful
shopkeeper take the highest places in the most cultivated society
of their native place, and well deserve the preeminence accorded
to them. The daughter of a man of very imperfect education, who
began life with nothing and became a rich merchant, is singularly
beautiful from youth to age, and possesses to the highest degree
the charm of dignified and gracious manners. A young girl, not
long out of school, the child of respectable but obscure parents,
marries a public man, and in conspicuous station bears herself
with a grace, discretion, and nobleness which she could not have
exceeded had her blood been royal for seven generations. Strik-
ing cases of this kind will occur to every person in this assembly.
They are everyday phenomena in American society. What
conclusion do they establish? They prove that the social mo-
bility of a democracy, which permits the excellent and well-
endowed of either sex to rise and to seek out each other, and
which gives every advantageous variation or sport in a family
stock free opportunity to develop, is immeasurably more bene-
ficial to a nation than any selective in-breeding, founded on class
distinctions, which has ever been devised. Since democracy has
every advantage for producing in due season and proportion the
best human types, it is reasonable to expect that science and
literature, music and art, and all the finer graces of society will
develop and thrive in America, as soon as the more urgent tasks
of subduing a wilderness and organizing society upon an untried
plan are fairly accomplished.

Such are some of the reasons drawn from experience for be-
lieving that our ship of state is stout and sound; but she sails

"... the sea
Of storm-engendering liberty "

the happiness of the greatest number her destined haven. Her
safety requires incessant watchfulness and readiness. Without
trusty eyes on the lookout, and a prompt hand at the wheel, the



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY i 9I

stoutest ship may be dismantled by a passing squall. It is only
intelligence and discipline which carry the ship to its port.



THE SURVIVAL OF CIVIL LIBERTY 1

FRANKLIN HENRY GIDDINGS

[Franklin Henry Giddings (1855 ) is a distinguished American sociol-
ogist. He was born in Sherman, Connecticut. After graduating from Union
College, he engaged in journalism for several years. In 1888 he became
professor of sociology in Bryn Mawr, holding this position until 1894 when
he went to Columbia University. He is now professor of sociology and the
history of civilization in that institution. The selection here given was first
delivered as a commencement address at Oberlin College, June, 1899.
Although it was called forth by the Spanish- American War, it is pertinent
to the situation of the present day.]

Recent events have raised the question of the stability of
American institutions. The war with Spam was bitterly deplored
by many educated men, who feared that military activity would
necessarily create arbitrary power and curtail the liberties of in-
dividual citizens. When our demand for the cession of the Phil-
ippine 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 imper-
ialism. 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 bitter-
ness, they do not hesitate to malign the character of their fel-

JFrom Democracy and Empire. (Copyright, 1900, The Macmillan Company.) Re-
printed by permission.



I9 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

low-citizens, or to insult the fair fame of the nation that has
nurtured and that still defends them. In one lamentable in-
stance, a citizen of honored 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 welfare 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 com-
monwealths have the American people, as a whole, felt so con-
fident of their place among the nations, or so sure of the excel-
lence of their polity, and of the vitality of their laws and
immunities. Never have they been so profoundly convinced that



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 193

their greatest work for civilization lies not in the past, but in
the future. They stand at the beginning of the twentieth cen-
tury, 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 con-
ceit, 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 undoubtedly
the primal source of the American's faith in himself and in the
destiny of his country. It is also our best assurance that the
faith will find realization. In no other population is there such
abounding energy, such inventive ability, such fearless enter-
prise as in the American people. This vitality has been mani-
fested 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 vigor
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 have met it with-
out one moment's hesitation. Physical courage is, after all, the
elemental factor in a nation's power, the very fountainhead of
its moral stability and its faith; and that in such courage we are
not lacking, the records of Lexington and Yorktown, of New
M



194 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

Orleans and Chapultepec, of Antietam 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. Notwith-
standing the rapidity with which the best lands of the interior
and of the Southwest 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, comprising 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 dis-
charge its overflow; and the stream of immigration shows no



Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 18 of 39)