Copyright
Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

. (page 19 of 39)
Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 19 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


marked decrease save in the exceptional years of industrial de-
pression. Of chief significance, however, is the fact that the
greater part of all the immigration that we have thus far received
has consisted of the same nationalities from whose amalgama-
tion the original American stock was produced. England, Ire-
land, Germany, and Scandinavia have sent to our shores the
greater part of our population not descended from the American
colonists. Of the foreign-born population enumerated in the
United States in 1890, 33.76 per cent were from the United
Kingdom, 30.11 per cent were from Germany, 10.61 per cent
from Canada, 10.09 per cent from Norway,- Sweden, and Den-
mark, 1.22 per cent from France, leaving only 14.21 per cent



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 195

from all other countries. The total immigration to the United
States from 1821 to the 3oth of June, 1898, was 18,490,368, and
of this total much more than two- thirds came from the United
Kingdom and the Germanic countries. When we remember
that it was the crossing of the Germanic and the Celtic stocks
that produced the English race itself, we are obliged to assume
that the future American people will be substantially the same
human stuff that created the English common law, founded
parliamentary institutions, established American self-govern-
ment, and framed the Constitution of the United States.

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

Nevertheless, it may be said, the institutions of civil liberty
presuppose something more than a vigorous and growing popu-
lation that has an unbounded faith in its own abilities and des-
tinies. Great peoples have given themselves over to policies
not to say to crazes that have resulted in the destruction of
their primitive liberties and in the complete transformation of
their institutions. An energetic people may devote itself to the
production of wealth or to military achievements, and neglect
the less alluring task of perfecting and protecting individual
rights. Rome conquered the world, but at the cost of her repub-
lican simplicity. Florence and Venice achieved wealth and splen-
dor, but bowed to despotism. France overran Europe with her
armies, and then enthroned her own military dictator.

These lessons of history are often recalled, and their applica-
tion to American conditions has often been attempted. I think
it is high time to protest that, in scientific strictness, these lessons
do not apply to ourselves in any important particular. The his-
torian by this time should understand the truth (which the
students of physical science in our generation have so completely
mastered) that like antecedents have like consequents when all



196 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

conditions remain unchanged, but that, when all conditions are
changed, like antecedents, with unerring certainty, are followed
by unlike consequents. Very slightly, indeed, do the conditions
of American life today reproduce the conditions of Roman,
Florentine, Venetian, or Parisian history.

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

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

Bearing these truths in mind, let us look at the conditions
presented by the United States. Instead of being a single city-
state, organized on republican lines, practically isolated from
any similar community, and, therefore, defenseless against any
influence powerfully tending to undermine or to destroy it, the
United States is a strongly organized aggregate of thousands of
local republics, each one of which, practically independent in



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 197

its home affairs, preserves all the traditions of English civil
liberty, of democratic custom, and of American constitutional
order.

It is true that not all of these self-governing local communi-
ties enjoy that perfect form of democratic administration which
was developed in the New England town; but whether as towns,
counties, or parishes, as incorporated villages, boroughs, or
municipalities, practically all the subdivisions of the American
commonwealths are self-governing bodies of one type or another.
They make ordinances and elect magistrates, they raise and
expend revenues. It is true that important modifications of
local government are now taking place throughout the nation.
The concentration of wealth and of population in the larger cities,
the long-continued depression of agriculture, and the consequent
abandonment of farming by large numbers of country-bred
youth, are bringing about a certain readjustment of functions
between state and township administration. It is easy for the
state to raise money, increasingly difficult for the rural town.
Consequently, we see a disposition to throw upon the state
governments a part of the burden of maintaining roads and
bridges, of supporting schools, and of caring for the insane and
other defective persons. With this transfer of financial responsi-
bility, goes, of course, a transfer of administrative regulation.
To this extent, it must be admitted, we are witnessing a certain
decay of that local self-government which hitherto has been
most immediately bound up with the daily lives and lesser in-
terests of the people. And even in the cities the abuses of popular
power have, in some instances, led to a transfer of authority
from municipal to state governments; as, for example in cities
like Boston, which no longer elect or through their mayors appoint
their police commissions, but accept them at the hands of the
governor of the commonwealth. Yet, notwithstanding these
facts, it is certain that throughout the national domain the
lesser local governments still have great vitality, and that no
modification of our administrative machinery is likely to strip
them altogether of their functions. Far more probable is it, that
the limit of addition to the duties of our commonwealth govern-



ig8 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

merits will soon be reached. Certain functions which in the past
have been performed by townships and counties, or by munici-
palities, may be given over to the states because they pertain to
matters in which all the people of the commonwealth are directly
interested, but other matters of purely local interest will be
left even more entirely than now to the local administrative
organs. States may maintain the more important roads and
bridges, but not the lesser ones. They will care for the insane,
but probably not for the ordinary poor. They will support some
of the higher institutions of learning, but not, to any great
extent, the common schools.

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

If these things are true, then it is further true that from the
traditions and existing habits of any one of these thousands of
self-governing local communities, together composing the United
States of America, could be reproduced the entire fabric of
American polity, if in every other one the entire constitutional
system were suddenly destroyed. This is a fact unique in the
history of civil liberty. It is a guarantee of the perpetuity of our
institutions, so tremendous that only the blindest of pessimists
can fail to appreciate its significance. Remembering that, as
was said before, a form of law or type of institution, or even a
custom, once rooted in more than one place on the earth's sur-
face, is practically indestructible, since if destroyed in one it
can always be reproduced from another, it is impossible to



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 199

believe that any modification of our governmental system,
whether by territorial expansion or by military activity, whether
by the growth of trusts or by any other phenomenon of the pur-
suit of wealth, can ever, throughout the length and breadth of
our vast domain, destroy in all these thousands of local com-
munities the instincts, the habits, and the institutions of Anglo-
Saxon civil liberty.

Not only will this civil liberty be preserved, but it will also
be developed. The heritage of a nation which, historically
speaking, is yet in its most vigorous youth, with generations of
active effort for the perfection of civilization yet before it, civil
liberty will not be worshipped with passive idolatry, but, con-
tinually thought about, worked over, and enlarged by a reflec-
tive people of abounding vitality and limitless faith in their own
destiny, it will be brought to a perfection of justice, of discrimi-
nation, 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 oppon-
ents 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



200 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

the state itself to aggrandize the few by the impoverishment of
the many. To permit the intelligent 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
then* 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 labor. 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, substanti-
ally 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 pre-
ceding civilization in all human history; and it is certain that
the moral forces of the nation are conspiring to make it yet more
satisfactory 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 political suffrage.
A majority were disqualified by lack of property or of education.
The approach to universal suffrage has been very gradually
made by the abolition of the earlier restrictions, 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 rapidly
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



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY aoi

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 aristocracy of Virginia, to which he himself be-
longed. This was the prohibition 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 own-
ers have the business ability to use them productively.

To what extent we shall further limit the freedom of bequest
and the right of private accumulation, no statesman or econo-
mist 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 own-
ership as has been done in Australia and New Zealand may
not ultimately be demanded by natural justice and a due con-
sideration for the highest social welfare. We know that experi-
ments in the redistribution of taxation, with the avowed pur-
pose of placing a larger share of public burdens upo"n the owners
of great wealth, are not likely to cease for many years to come.
At the same tune, we may repose great confidence in both the
Puritan conscience and the Yankee common sense of the Ameri-
can people. Whatever the difficulties 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 individual
liberty with natural justice in our business methods. Legislatures
and courts have for many years been earnestly endeavoring 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



202 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

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 legiti-
mate business, not by permanently lowering prices for the bene-
fit of consumers, but by a temporary cut which is not to be
maintained after the rival is destroyed. Such conduct is not
yet a crime, but an unsophisticated 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 honorable
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 that 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 commend 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 produced. It is not equality, it is rather the unchecked
growth of a monstrous inequality that, as Arnold shows, ulti-
mately 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 certain
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 com-
munity to develop itself with the utmost possible fullness and
freedom? Can it be denied, that to live in a society 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



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 203

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 people in France he truly says, that the
economic equality which was created among them by the Revo-
lution and the "Code of Napoleon" has undoubtedly given to the
lower classes "a self-respect and an enlargement of spirit, a con-
sciousness of counting for something in their country's action,
which has raised them in the scale of humanity." "The com-
mon people, in France," he continues, "seem to me the soundest
part of the French nation. 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
elsewhere 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 civi-
lization 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 an 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 un-
tamable 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 questions 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 developed largely through the evolution of
equity, wherein a larger and sounder justice is made to override
precedents and technicalities that have ceased to be a true ex-
pression of living conditions, so shall our politics also develop
through the evolution 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.



204 NATIONAL IDEALS AND PROBLEMS

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 American people, rather
than of any other nation, because in no other nation are com-
bined so many of the forces and conditions necessary for its per-
fect 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 individual 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 helpfulness, 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 educa-
tion to the poorest and the humblest, to carry the elements of
civilization 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 rela-
tion of equality and liberty, and will thereby establish a rela-
tively perfect equity.

There is, however, a proviso, a condition. All this will hap-
pen, provided the American population, with its abounding
vitality, its faith in its own powers, and its heritage of liberal
traditions dispersed throughout a wide domain, is composed of
individual men of the right moral type. Any failure of char-
acter, 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.



AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 205

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 taking with him a
distinct notion of what sort of man, merely as a man, apart from



Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 19 of 39)