Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

. (page 22 of 39)
Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 22 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

on committees to raise money for charitable or public purposes,
to advance important measures of legislation, and to reform the
evils which are especially rife in great municipalities. To do this
they give then- money, as well as their time and strength, which
are of more value than money, to objects wholly outside the
labors by which they support themselves or their families, or
gratify then* own tastes or ambitions. In this fashion they meet
the test of what constitutes usefulness in a citizen by rendering
to the country, to the public, and to their fellow- citizens, service
which has no personal reward hi it, but which advances the good
of others and contributes to the welfare of the community.

Thus, hi divers ways, only indicated here, are men of all con-
ditions and occupations able to render service and benefit their
fellow- citizens. But all these ways so far suggested are, however
beneficial, indirect as compared with those usually associated
in everyone's mind with the idea of public service. When we
use the word "citizen," or "citizenship," the first thought is of
the man in relation to the state, as the very word itself implies.
It is in this connection that we first think of service when we


speak of a public-spirited or useful citizen. There are many other
public services, as has been said, just as valuable, just as desir-
able, very often more immediately beneficial to humanity than
those rendered directly to the state or to public affairs, but there
is no other which is quite so imperative, quite so near, quite so
obvious in the way of duty as the performance of the functions
belonging to each man as a member of the state. In our country
this is more acutely the case than anywhere else, for this is a
democracy, and the government depends upon the action of the
people themselves. We have the government, municipal, state,
or national, which we make ourselves. If it is good, it is because
we make it so. If it is bad, we may think it is not what we want,
and that we are not responsible for it, but it is none the less just
what it is simply because we will not take the trouble necessary
to improve it. There is no greater fallacy than the comfortable
statement so frequently heard, that we owe misgovernment,
when it occurs anywhere, to the politicians. If the politicians
are bad, and yet have power, it is because we give it to them.
They are not a force of nature with which there is no con-
tending; they are of our own creation, and, if we disapprove of
them and yet leave them in power, it is because we do not care to
take the trouble, sometimes the excessive trouble, needful to be
rid of them. People in this country, as in other countries, and as
in all periods of history, have, as a rule, the government they
deserve. The politicians, so commonly denounced as a class,
sometimes justly and sometimes unjustly, have only the advan-
tage of taking more pains than others to get what they want, and
to hold power in public affairs. To this the reply is always made
that the average man engaged in business, or in a profession, has
not the tune to give to politics which the professional politician
devotes to it. That excuse begs the question. If the average
man, active, and constantly occupied in his own affairs, cannot
find time to choose the men he desires to represent him and
perform his public business for him, then either democracy is a
failure, or else he can find time if he chooses ; and, if he does not
choose, he has no right to complain. But democracy is not a
failure. After all allowances and deductions are made, it is the


best form of government in the world today, and better than any
of its predecessors. The fault is not in the system, even if there
are hi it, as in all other things human, shortcomings and failures,
but in those who operate the system; and, in a democracy, those
who in the last analysis operate the system are all the people.
It must always be remembered, also, that in representative
government all the people, and not some of the people, are to be
represented. In a country so vast in area and so large in popula-
tion as the United States, constituencies are very diverse in
their qualities and there are many elements. Some constituencies
are truly represented by men very alien to the standards and
aspirations of other constituencies. All, however, are entitled
to representation, and the aggregate representation stands for
the whole people. If the representation in the aggregate is
sound, and honestly representative, then the theory of democracy
is carried out, and the quality of the representation depends on
the people represented.

There are two things, then, to be determined by the people
themselves the general policy of the government, and the per-
sons who are to carry that policy into effect and to perform the
work of administration. To attain the first object, those who
are pledged to one policy or another must be elected, and the per-
sons thus united in support of certain general principles of policy
or government constitute a political party. The second object,
the choice of suitable persons as representatives of a given polit-
ical party, must be reached by all the people who support that
party taking part in the selection. In the first case, the general
policy is settled by the election of a party to power; in the
second, the individual representative is picked out by his fel-
low-members of the same party.

This, hi broad terms, describes the field for the exertions of
the citizen in the domain of politics, and the methods by which
he can make his exertions most effective. I am aware that in
this description I have assumed the existence of political parties
as not only necessary but also desirable. This is not the place
to enter into a history or discussion of the party system. Suffice
it to say here that all experience shows that representative


government has been a full success only among the English-
speaking people of the world, with whom a system of a party
of government and a party of opposition has always prevailed.
In other countries the failures or serious shortcomings of rep-
resentative government are attributed by good judges and
observers, both native and foreign, largely to the absence of the
party system as practised by us. The alternative of two parties,
one carrying on the government and the other in opposition
ready to take its place, is the system of groups or factions and
consequent coalitions among two or more of the groups in order
to obtain a parliamentary majority. Government by group-
coalitions has proved to be irresponsible, unstable, capricious,
and short-lived. Under the system of two parties, continuity,
experience and, best of all, responsibility, without which all else
is worthless, have been obtained. That there are evils in the
party system carried to the extreme of blind or unscrupulous
partisanship, no one denies. But this is a comparative world,
and the party system is shown, by the experience of two hundred
years, to be the best yet devised for the management and move-
ment of a representative government. Nothing, in fact, can be
more shallow, or show a more profound ignorance of history,
than the proposition, so often reiterated as if it were a truism,
that a political party is something wholly evil, and that to call
anyone a party man is sufficient to condemn him. Every great
measure, every great war, every great reform, which together
have made the history of England since the days of William of
Orange, and of the United States since the adoption of the Con-
stitution, have been carried on and carried through by an
organized political party. Until some better way is discovered
and proved to be better, the English-speaking people will con-
tinue to use the party system with which, on the whole, they have
done so well so far, and the citizen aiming at usefulness must
therefore accept the party system as one of the conditions under
which he is to act.

The most effective way in which to act is through the medium
of a party, and as a member of one of the two great parties,
because in this way a man can make his influence felt, not only


in the final choice between parties, but in the selection of candi-
dates and in the determination of party politics as well. This does
not mean that a man can be effective only by allying himself with
a party, but that he can in that way be most effective, both in
action and in influence. Many there must be unattached to either
of the parties, whose mental condition is such that they can
neither submit to discipline nor yield nor compromise their own
views in order to promote the general principles in which they
believe, all of which conditions or sacrifices are necessary in order
to maintain party organization. These are the voters who shift
their votes if not their allegiance; and, if it were not for them,
one party, as politics are usually hereditary, would remain
almost continually in power, and the results would be extremely
unfortunate. It is the necessity of appealing to these voters
which exercises a restraining effect upon the great party organiza-
tions. But these men who vote as they please at the minute,
and yet usually describe themselves by a party name, and as a
rule act with one party or the other, must be carefully distin-
guished from the professional independent, whose independence
consists in nothing but bitterly opposing and seeking to defeat
one party at all times. This independent is the worst of partisans,
for he is guided solely by hatred of a party or of individuals,
and never supports anything because he believes in it, but merely
as an instrument of destruction or revenge. Equally ineffective,
even if less malevolent, is the perpetual fault-finder, whether in
conversation or in the newspapers. He calls himself a critic,
blandly unaware that unrelieved invective is no more criticism
than unrelieved laudation, and that true criticism, whether of a
book, a work of art, a public measure, or a public man, seeks to
point out merits as well as defects, in order to balance one against
the other, and thus assist in the proper conduct of life. The real
and honest critic and the genuine independent in politics are most
valuable, for they are engaged in the advancement of principles
in which they believe, and will aid those and work with those
who are laboring toward the same ends. But the professional
independent, whose sole purpose is to defeat some one party
or certain specified persons whom he hates, no matter what that


party or those persons may be doing, the critic who only finds
fault, the professional philanthropist or reformer who uses his
philanthropy or reform solely to vilify his country or his gov-
ernment, and to bring shame or sorrow to some of his fellow-
citizens, so that his personal malice may be gratified, these
men advance nothing, for their attitude is pure negation, and
they generally do great harm to any cause which they espouse.
They are not useful citizens; but, as a rule, to the extent of
their power, which luckily is not great, they are positively

The serious difficulty, however, is not with those who give
a false direction to their political activities, but with the political
indifference which most good citizens exhibit, except on rare
occasions when some great question is at issue which stirs the
entire community to its depths. Yet it is in the ordinary every-
day affairs of politics that the attention of good citizens is most
necessary. It is then that those who constitute the undesirable
and objectionable elements get control, for they are always on
the watch, and to defeat them it is essential that those who
desire good and honest government should be on the watch, too.
The idea that they cannot spare the time without detriment to
their own affairs is a mistake. The time actually consumed in
going to a caucus or a convention is not a serious loss. What is
most needed is to follow the course of public affairs closely, to
understand what is being done, and what the various candidates
represent; and then, when the time for the vote in the caucus
or at the polls arrives, a citizen interested only in good govern-
ment, or in the promotion of a given policy, knows what he wants
and can act intelligently. His weakness arises, almost invariably,
from the fact that he does not rouse himself until the last minute,
that he does not know just what he wants or with whom to
act, and that, therefore, he is taken by surprise and beaten by
those who know exactly what they want and precisely what they
mean to do. Here, then, is where the useful citizen is most
needed in politics, and his first duty is to understand his subject,
which a little thought and observation day by day will enable
him to do. Let him inform himself, and keep always informed,


as to men and measures, and he will find that he has ample time
to give when the moment of action arrives.

No man can hope to be a useful citizen in the broadest sense,
in the United States, unless he takes a continuous and intelligent
interest in politics and a full share, not only in the elections, but
also in the primary operations which determine the choice of
candidates. For this everyone has time enough, and, if he says
that he has not, it is because he is indifferent when he ought to be
intensely and constantly interested. If he follows public affairs
from day to day, and, thus informed, acts with his friends and
those who think as he does at the caucus and the polls, he will
make his influence fully felt and will meet completely the test
of good citizenship. It is not essential to take office. For not
doing so, the excuse of lack of time and the demands of more
immediate private interest may be valid. But it would be well if
every man could have, for a short period, at least, some experi-
ence in the actual work of government in his city, state, or nation,
even if he has no intention of following a political career. Such
an experience does more to broaden a man's knowledge of the
difficulties of public administration than anything else. It
helps him to understand how he can practically attain that
which he thinks is best for the state, and, most important of all,
it enables him to act with other men, and to judge justly those
who are doing the work of public life. Public men, it is true,
seek the offices they hold in order to gratify then- ambition,
or because they feel that they can do good work in the world
in that way. But it is too often overlooked that the great ma-
jority of those who hold public office are governed by a desire to
do what is best for the country or the state, as they understand
it. Ambition may be the motive which takes most men into
public life, but the work which is done by these men after they
attain their ambition is, as a rule, disinterested and public-
spirited. I have lately seen the proposition advanced that, in
the last forty years, American public men, with scarcely an
exception, have said nothing important because they were so
ignorant of their subject, and have done nothing of moment
because the country was really governed by professors, men of


business, scientists, presidents of learned societies, and especially
by gentlemen who feel that they ought to be in high office, but
have never been able to get any sufficient number of their
fellow-citizens to agree with them in that feeling. With the
exception of the last, all these different classes in the community
exercise a strong influence on public opinion, the course of public
affairs, and public policy. Yet it is none the less true that the
absolute conduct of government is in the hands of those who hold
high representative or administrative office.

The personal qualities and individual abilities of public
men have a profound effect upon the measures and poh'cies which
make the history and determine the fate of the nation. Often
they originate the measures or the poh'cies, and they always
modify and formulate them. Therefore it is essential that every
man who desires to be a useful citizen should not only take part
in moulding public sentiment, in selecting candidates, and in
winning elections for the party or the cause in which he believes,
but he should also be familiar with the characters, abilities, and
records of the men who must be the instruments by which the
policies are to be carried out and the government administered.
There are many ways, therefore, in which men may benefit
and aid their fellowmen, and serve the state in which they live,
but it is open to all men alike to help to govern the country
and direct its course along the passing years. In the performance
of this duty in the ways I have tried to indicate, any man can
attain to good citizenship of the highest usefulness. It is not
too much to say that our success as a nation depends upon the
useful citizens who act intelligently and effectively in politics.



[Theodore Roosevelt (1858 ) was graduated from Harvard Univer-
sity in 1880. In this same year he entered public life as a member of the
New York legislature. President Harrison appointed him United States
Civil Service Commissioner. Later he became assistant secretary of the
navy, a position which he resigned when the Spanish- American War began,
to organize the famous cavalry regiment, the "Rough Riders." On his
return from Cuba, he was elected governor of New York. In 1900 he
was elected Vice-President of the United States, and succeeded to the
Presidency on the death of President McKinley. In 1904 he was elected
President to succeed himself. In 1912 he was defeated for the Presidency as
the candidate of the Progressive party. Among the policies which are asso-
ciated with his name, such, for instance, as the "square deal" between capital
and labor, and "social justice" for the wage-earner, "Americanism" has
always been conspicuous.]

Patriotism was once defined as "the last refuge of a scoundrel;"
and somebody has recently remarked that when Dr. Johnson
gave this definition he was ignorant of the infinite possibilities
contained in the word "reform." Of course both gibes were
quite justifiable, in so far as they were aimed at people who use
noble names to cloak base purposes. Equally, of course, the
man shows little wisdom and a low sense of duty who fails to
see that love of country is one of the elemental virtues, even
though scoundrels play upon it for their own selfish ends; and,
inasmuch as abuses continually grow up in civic life as in all
other kinds of life, the statesman is indeed a weakling who
hesitates to reform these abuses because the word "reform"
is often on the lips of men who are silly or dishonest.

What is true of patriotism and reform is true also of American-
ism. There are plenty of scoundrels always ready to try to be-
little reform movements or to bolster up existing iniquities in
the name of Americanism; but this does not alter the fact that
the man who can do most in this country is and must be the
man whose Americanism is most sincere and intense. Outrag-

!From American Ideals and Other Essays. (Copyright, 1897, G. P. Putnam's Sons.)
Reprinted by permission.


ecus though it is to use a noble idea as the cloak for evil, it is
still worse to assail the noble idea itself because it can thus be
used. The men who do iniquity in the name of patriotism, of
reform, of Americanism, are merely one small division of the
class that has always existed, and will always exist the class of
hypocrites and demagogues, the class that is always prompt to
steal the watchwords of righteousness and use them in the
interests of evil-doing.

The stoutest and truest Americans are the very men who have
the least sympathy with the people who invoke the spirit of
Americanism to aid what is vicious in our government, or to
throw obstacles in the way of those who strive to reform it.
It is contemptible to oppose a movement for good because that
movement has already succeeded somewhere else, or to cham-
pion an existing abuse because our people have always been
wedded to it. To appeal to national prejudice against a given
reform movement is in every way unworthy and silly. It is as
childish to denounce free trade because England has adopted it
as to advocate it for the same reason. It is eminently proper, in
dealing with the tariff, to consider the effect of tariff legislation
in time past upon other nations as well as the effect upon our
own; but in drawing conclusions it is in the last degree foolish
to try to excite prejudice against one system because it is in
vogue in some given country, or to try to excite prejudice in its
favor because the economists of that country have found that
it was suited to their own peculiar needs. In attempting to solve
our difficult problem of municipal government it is mere folly
to refuse to profit by whatever is good in the examples of Man-
chester and Berlin because these cities are foreign, exactly as it
is mere folly blindly to copy their examples without reference to
our own totally different conditions. As for the absurdity of
declaiming against civil-service reform, for instance, as "Chinese,"
because written examinations have been used in China, it would
be quite as wise to declaim against gunpowder because it was
first utilized by the same people. In short, the man who, whether
from mere dull fatuity or from an active interest in misgovern-
ment, tries to appeal to American prejudice against things for-


eign, so as to induce Americans to oppose any measure for good,
should be looked on by his fellow-countrymen with the heartiest
contempt. So much for the men who appeal to the spirit of
Americanism to sustain us in wrong-doing. But we must never
let our contempt for these men blind us to the nobility of the
idea which they strive to degrade.

We Americans have many grave problems to solve, many
threatening evils to fight, and many deeds to do, if, as we hope
and believe, we have the wisdom, the strength, the courage, and
the virtue to do them. But we must face facts as they are. We
must neither surrender ourselves to a foolish optimism, nor
succumb to a timid and ignoble pessimism. Our nation is that
one among all the nations of the earth which holds in its hands
the fate of the coming years. We enjoy exceptional advantages,
and are menaced by exceptional dangers; and all signs indicate
that we shall either fail greatly or succeed greatly. I firmly be-
lieve that we shall succeed; but we must not foolishly blink the
danger by which we are threatened, for that is the way to fail.
On the contrary, we must soberly set to work to find out all we
can about the existence and extent of every evil, must acknowl-
edge it to be such, and must then attack it with unyielding reso-
lution. There are many such evils, and each must be fought
after a separate fashion; yet there is one quality which we must
bring to the solution of every problem that is, an intense and
fervid Americanism. We shall never be successful over the dan-
gers that confront us; we shall never achieve true greatness, nor
reach the lofty ideal which the founders and preservers of our
mighty Federal Republic have set before us, unless we are
Americans in heart and soul, in spirit and purpose, keenly
alive to the responsibility implied in the very name of Ameri-
can, and proud beyond measure of the glorious privilege of
bearing it.

There are two or three sides to the question of Americanism,
and two or three senses in which the word "Americanism" can
be used to express the antithesis of what is unwholesome and
undesirable. In the first place we wish to be broadly American
and national, as opposed to being local or sectional. We do not


wish, in politics, in literature, or in art, to develop that unwhole-
some parochial spirit, that over-exaltation of the little commu-
nity at the expense of the great nation, which produces what
has been described as the patriotism of the village, the patriot-
ism of the belfry. Politically, the indulgence of this spirit was
the chief cause of the calamities which befell the ancient repub-
lics of Greece, the medieval republics of Italy, and the petty

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 22 of 39)