Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

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states of Germany as it was in the last century. It is this spirit
of provincial patriotism, this inability to take a view of broad
adhesion to the whole nation that has been the chief among the
causes that have produced such anarchy in the South American
states, and which have resulted in presenting to us, not one great
Spanish-American federal nation stretching from the Rio Grande
to Cape Horn, but a squabbling multitude of revolution-ridden
states, not one of which stands even in the second rank as a
power. However, politically this question of American nation-
ality has been settled once for all. We are no longer in danger of
repeating in our history the shameful and contemptible disasters
that have befallen the Spanish possessions on this continent
since they threw off the yoke of Spain. Indeed there is, all through
our life, very much less of this parochial spirit than there was
formerly. Still there is an occasional outcropping here and
there; and it is just as well that we should keep steadily in mind
the futility of talking of a northern literature or a southern litera-
ture, an eastern or a western school of art or science. The
Sewanee Review and the Overland Monthly, like the Century and
the Atlantic, do good work, not merely for one section of the
country, but for American literature as a whole. Their success
really means as much for Americans who happen to live in New
York or Boston as for Americans who happen to live in the Gulf
States or on the Pacific slope. Joel Chandler Harris is emphati-
cally a national writer; so is Mark Twain. They do not write
merely for Georgia or Missouri, any more than for Illinois or
Connecticut; they write as Americans and for all people who
can read English. It is of very great consequence that we should
have a full and ripe literary development in the United States,
but it is not of the least consequence whether New York, or


Boston, or Chicago, or San Francisco becomes the literary center
of the United States.

There is a second side to this question of a broad American-
ism, however. The patriotism of the village or the belfry is
bad, but the lack of all patriotism is even worse. There are
philosophers who assure us that, in the future, patriotism will
be regarded not as a virtue at all, but merely as a mental stage
in the journey toward a state of feeling when our patriotism will
include the whole human race and all the world. This may be
so; but the age of which these philosophers speak is still several
aeons distant. In fact, philosophers of this type are so very
advanced that they are of no practical service to the present
generation. It may be that in ages so remote that we cannot
now understand any of the feelings of those who will dwell in
them, patriotism will no longer be regarded as a virtue, exactly
as it may be that in those remote ages people will look down
upon and disregard monogamic marriage; but as things now
are and have been for two or three thousand years past, and
are likely to be for two or three thousand years to come, the
words "home" and "country" mean a great deal. Nor do they
show any tendency to lose their significance. At present, trea-
son, like adultery, ranks as one of the worst of all possible crimes.

One may fall very far short of treason and yet be an undesir-
able citizen in the community. The man who becomes Euro-
peanized, who loses his power of doing good work on this side
of the water, and who loses his love for his native land, is not a
traitor; but he is a silly and undesirable citizen. He is as em-
phatically a noxious element in our body politic as is the man
who comes here from abroad and remains a foreigner. Nothing
will more quickly or more surely disqualify a man from doing
good work in the world than the acquirement of that flaccid
habit of mind which its possessors style cosmopolitanism.

It is not only necessary to Americanize the immigrants of
foreign birth who settle among us, but it is even more necessary
for those among us who are by birth and descent already Ameri-
cans not to throw away our birthright, and, with incredible and
contemptible folly, wander back to bow down before the alien


gods whom our forefathers forsook. It is hard to believe that
there is any necessity to warn Americans that, when they seek
to model themselves on the lines of other civilizations, they
make themselves the butts of all right-thinking men; and yet
the necessity certainly exists to give this warning to many of
our citizens who pride themselves on their standing in the world
of art and letters, or, perchance, on what they would style their
social leadership in the community. It is always better to be an
original than an imitation, even when the imitation is of some-
thing better than the original; but what shall we say of the fool
who is content to be an imitation of something worse? Even if
the weaklings who seek to be other than Americans were right
in deeming other nations to be better than their own, the fact
yet remains that to be a first-class American is fifty-fold better
than to be a second-class imitation of a Frenchman or English-
man. As a matter of fact, however, those of our countrymen who
do believe in American inferiority are always individuals who,
however cultivated, have some organic weakness in their moral
or mental make-up; and the great mass of our people, who are
robustly patriotic, and who have sound, healthy minds, are
justified in regarding these feeble renegades with a half-impa-
tient and half-amused scorn.

We believe hi waging relentless war on rank-growing evils
of all kinds, and it makes no difference to us if they happen to
be of purely native growth. We grasp at any good, no matter
whence it comes. We do not accept the evil attendant upon
another system of government as an adequate excuse for that
attendant upon our own; the fact that the courtier is a scamp
does not render the demagogue any the less a scoundrel. But
it remains true that, in spite of all our faults and shortcomings,
no other land offers such glorious possibilities to the man able
to take advantage of them as does ours; it remains true that
no one of our people can do any work really worth doing unless
he does it primarily as an American. It is because certain classes
of our people still retain their spirit of colonial dependence on,
and exaggerated deference to, European opinion, that they fail
to accomplish what they ought to. It is precisely along the lines


where we have worked most independently that we have accom-
plished the greatest results; and it is in those professions where
there has been no servility to, but merely a wise profiting by,
foreign experience, that we have produced our greatest men.
Our soldiers and statesmen and orators; our explorers, our
wilderness-winners and commonwealth-builders; the men who
have made our laws and seen that they were executed; and the
other men whose energy and ingenuity have created our marvel-
ous material prosperity all these have been men who have
drawn wisdom from the experience of every age and nation,
but who have nevertheless thought, and worked, and conquered,
and lived, and died, purely as Americans; and on the whole they
have done better work than has been done in any other country
during the short period of our national life.

On the other hand, it is in those professions where our people
have striven hardest to mould themselves in conventional Euro-
pean forms that they have succeeded least; and this holds true
to the present day, the failure being of course most conspicuous
where the man takes up his abode in Europe; where he becomes
a second-rate European, because he is over-civilized, over-sen-
sitive, over-refined, and has lost the hardihood and manly cour-
age by which alone he can conquer in the keen struggle of our
national life. Be it remembered, too, that this same being does
not really become a European; he only ceases being an Ameri-
can, and becomes nothing. He throws away a great prize for
the sake of a lesser one, and does not even get the lesser one.
The painter who goes to Paris, not merely to get two or three
years' thorough training in his art, but with the deliberate pur-
pose of taking up his abode there, and with the intention of fol-
lowing in the ruts worn deep by ten thousand earlier travelers,
instead of striking off to rise or fall on a new line, thereby forfeits
all chance of doing the best work. He must content himself
with aiming at that kind of mediocrity which consists in doing
fairly well what has already been done better; and he usually
never even sees the grandeur and picturesqueness lying open
before the eyes of every man who can read the book of America's
past and the book of America's present. Thus it is with the


undersized man of letters, who flees his country because he, with
his delicate, effeminate sensitiveness, finds the conditions of life
on this side of the water crude and raw; in other words, because
he finds that he cannot play a man's part among men, and so
goes where he will be sheltered from the winds that harden
stouter souls. This emigre may write graceful and pretty verses,
essays, novels; but he will never do work to compare with that
of his brother, who is strong enough to stand on his own feet,
and do his work as an American. Thus it is with the scientist
who spends his youth in a German university, and can thence-
forth work only in the fields already fifty times furrowed by the
German plows. Thus it is with that most foolish of parents
who sends his children to be educated abroad, not knowing
what every clear-sighted man from Washington and Jay down
has known that the American who is to make his way in
America should be brought up among his fellow Americans. It
is among the people who like to consider themselves, and, in-
deed, to a large extent are, the leaders of the so-called social
world, especially in some of the northeastern cities, that this
colonial habit of thought, this thoroughly provincial spirit of
admiration for things foreign, and inability to stand on one's
own feet, becomes most evident and most despicable. We
thoroughly believe in every kind of honest and lawful pleasure,
so long as the getting it is not made man's chief business; and
we believe heartily in the good that can be done by men of
leisure who work hard in their leisure, whether at politics or
philanthropy, literature or art. But a leisure class whose leisure
simply means idleness is a curse to the community, and in so far
as its members distinguish themselves chiefly by aping the worst
not the best traits of similar people across the water, they
become both comic and noxious elements of the body politic.

The third sense in which the word "Americanism" may be
employed is with reference to the Americanizing of the new-
comers to our shores. We must Americanize them in every way,
in speech, in political ideas and principles, and in their way of
looking at the relations between Church and State. We wel-
come the German or the Irishman who becomes an American.


We have no use for the German or Irishman who remains such.
We do not wish German- Americans and Irish- Americans who
figure as such in our social and political life; we want only
Americans, and, provided they are such, we do not care whether
they are of native or of Irish or of German ancestry. We have
no room in any healthy American community for a German-
American vote or an Irish-American vote, and it is contemptible
demagogy to put planks into any party platform with the pur-
pose of catching such a vote. We have no room for any people
who do not act and vote simply as Americans, and as nothing
else. Moreover, we have as little use for people who carry reli-
gious prejudices into our politics as for those who carry preju-
dices of caste or nationality. We stand unalterably in favor of
the public-school system in its entirety. We believe that the
English, and no other language, is that in which all the school
exercises should be conducted. We are against any division of
the school fund, and against any appropriation of public money
for sectarian purposes. We are against any recognition what-
ever by the state in any shape or form of state-aided parochial
schools. But we are equally opposed to any discrimination against
or for a man because of his creed. We demand that all citizens,
Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Gentile, shall have fair treat-
ment in every way; that all alike shall have their rights guaran-
teed them. The very reasons that make us unqualified in our
opposition to state-aided sectarian schools make us equally bent
that, in the management of our public schools, the adherents of
each creed shall be given exact and equal justice, wholly without
regard to their religious affiliations; that trustees, superinten-
dents, teachers, scholars, all alike, shall be treated without any
reference whatsoever to the creed they profess. We maintain
that it is an outrage, in voting for a man for any position, whether
state or national, to take into account his religious faith, pro-
vided only he is a good American. When a secret society does
what in some places the American Protective Association seems
to have done, and tries to proscribe Catholics both politically
and socially, the members of such society show that they them-
selves are as utterly un-American, as alien to our school of


political thought, as the worst immigrants who land on our shores.
This conduct is equally base and contemptible; they are the
worst foes of our public-school system, because they strengthen
the hands of its ultramundane enemies; they should receive the
hearty condemnation of all Americans who are truly patriotic.

The mighty tide of immigration to our shores has brought
in its train much of good and much of evil; and whether the good
or the evil shall predominate depends mairily on whether these
newcomers do or do not throw themselves heartily into our
national life, cease to be European, and become Americans like
the rest of us. More than a third of the people of the northern
states are of foreign birth or parentage. An immense number
of them have become completely Americanized, and these stand
on exactly the same plane as the descendants of any Puritan,
Cavalier, or Knickerbocker among us, and do their full and
honorable share of the nation's work. But where immigrants,
or the sons of immigrants, do not heartily and in good faith
throw in their lot with us, but cling to the speech, the customs,
the ways of life, and the habits of thought of the Old World
which they have left, they thereby harm both themselves and us.
If they remain alien elements, unassimilated, and with interests
separate from ours, they are mere obstructions to the current
of our national life, and, moreover, can get no good from it
themselves. In fact, though we ourselves also suffer from their
perversity, it is they who really suffer most. It is an immense
benefit to the European immigrant to change him into an Ameri-
can citizen. To bear the name of American is to bear the most
honorable of titles; and whoever does not so believe has no
business to bear the name at all, and, if he comes from Europe,
the sooner he goes back there the better. Besides, the man who
does not become Americanized nevertheless fails to remain a
European and becomes nothing at all. The immigrant cannot
possibly remain what he was, or continue to be a member of the
Old World society. If he tries to retain his old language, in a
few generations it becomes a barbarous jargon; if he tries to
retain his old customs and ways of life, in a few generations he
becomes an uncouth boor. He has cut himself off from the Old


World, and cannot retain his connection with it; and if he wishes
ever to amount to anything he must throw himself heart and soul,
and without reservation, into the new life to which he has come.

So, from his own standpoint, it is beyond all question the
wise thing for the immigrant to become thoroughly American-
ized. Moreover, from our standpoint, we have a right to demand
it. We freely extend the hand of welcome and of good-fellow-
ship to every man, no matter what his creed or birthplace, who
comes here honestly intent on becoming a good United States
citizen like the rest of us; but we have a right, and it is our duty,
to demand that he shall indeed become so, and shall not con-
fuse the issues with which we are struggling by introducing
among us Old-World quarrels and prejudices. There are cer-
tain ideas which he must give up. For instance, he must learn
that American life is incompatible with the existence of any
form of anarchy, or, indeed, of any secret society having murder
for its aim, whether at home or abroad; and he must learn that
we exact full reKgious toleration and the complete separation of
Church and State. Moreover, he must not bring in his Old-
World race and national antipathies, but must merge them
into love for our common country, and must take pride in the
things which we can all take pride in. He must revere only our
flag; not only must it come first, but no other flag should even
come second. He must learn to celebrate Washington's birth-
day rather than that of the Queen or Kaiser, and the Fourth of
July instead of St. Patrick's Day. Our political and social
questions must be settled on their own merits, and not compli-
cated by quarrels between England and Ireland, or France and
Germany, with which we have nothing to do: it is an outrage to
fight an American political campaign with reference to questions
of European politics. Above all, the immigrant must learn to
talk and think and be United States.

The immigrant of today can learn much from the experience
of the immigrants of the past, who came to America prior to the
Revolutionary War. Many of our most illustrious Revolutionary
names were borne by men of Huguenot blood Jay, Sevier,
Marion, Laurens. But the Huguenots were, on the whole, the


best immigrants we have ever received; sooner than any other,
and more completely, they became American in speech, con-
viction, and thought. The Hollanders took longer than the
Huguenots to become completely assimilated; nevertheless they
in the end became so, immensely to their own advantage. One
of the leading Revolutionary generals, Schuyler, and one of the
Presidents of the United States, Van Buren, were of Dutch
blood; but they rose to their positions, the highest in the land,
because they had become Americans and had ceased being
Hollanders. If they had remained members of an alien body, cut
off by their speech and customs and belief from the rest of the
American community, Schuyler would have lived his life as a
boorish, provincial squire, and Van Buren would have ended
his days a small tavern-keeper. So it is with the Germans of
Pennsylvania. Those of them who became Americanized have
furnished to our history a multitude of honorable names, from
the days of the Muhlenbergs onward; but those who did not
become Americanized form to the present day an unimportant
body, of no significance in American existence. So it is with the
Irish, who gave to Revolutionary annals such names as Carroll
and Sullivan, and to the Civil War men like Sheridan and Shields
all men who were Americans and nothing else: while the Irish
who remain such, and busy themselves solely with alien politics,
can have only an unhealthy influence upon American life, and
can never rise as do their compatriots who become straightout
Americans. Thus it has ever been with all people who have
come hither, of whatever stock or blood.

But I wish to be distinctly understood on one point. American-
ism is a question of spirit, convictions, and purpose, not of creed
or birthplace. The politician who bids for the Irish or German
vote, or the Irishman or German who votes as an Irishman or
German, is despicable, for all citizens of this commonwealth
should vote solely as Americans; but he is not a whit less des-
picable than the voter who votes against a good American,
merely because that American happens to have been born in
Ireland or Germany. Know-nothingism, in any form, is as
utterly un-American as foreignism. It is a base outrage to


oppose a man because of his religion or birthplace, and all good
citizens will hold any such effort in abhorrence. A Scandinavian,
a German, or an Irishman who has really become an American
has the right to stand on exactly the same footing as any native-
born citizen hi the land, and is just as much entitled to the
friendship and support, social and political, of his neighbors.
Among the men with whom I have been thrown in close personal
contact socially, and who have been among my staunchest
friends and allies politically, are not a few Americans who happen
to have been born on the other side of the water, in Germany,
Ireland, Scandinavia; and I know no better men in the ranks of
our native-born citizens.

In closing, I cannot better express the ideal attitude that
should be taken by our fellow-citizens of foreign birth than by
quoting the words of a representative American, born in Ger-
many, the Honorable Richard Guenther, of Wisconsin. In a
speech spoken at the time of the Samoan trouble, he said:

"We know as well as any other class of American citizens where our duties
belong. We will work for our country in time of peace and fight for it in time
of war, if a time of war should ever come. When I say our country, I mean,
of course, our adopted country. I mean the United States of America. After
passing through the crucible of naturalization, we are no longer Germans; we
are Americans. Our attachment to America cannot be measured by the
length of our residence here. We are Americans from the moment we touch
the American shore until we are laid in American graves. We will fight for
America whenever necessary. America, first, last, and all the time. America
against Germany, America against the world; America, right or wrong;
always America. We are Americans."

All honor to the man who spoke such words as those; and I
believe they express the feelings of the great majority of those
among our fellow-American citizens who were born abroad. We
Americans can only do our allotted task well if we face it
steadily and bravely, seeing but not fearing the dangers. Above
all we must stand shoulder to shoulder, not asking as to the
ancestry or creed of our comrades, but only demanding that
they be hi very truth Americans, and that we all work together,
heart, hand, and head, for the honor and the greatness of our
common country.




[William James (1842-1910), a distinguished American psychologist and
philosopher, was born in New York City. He studied for a time in the
Lawrence Scientific School, and afterward obtained an M.D. degree from
Harvard. In 1872 he began to teach at Harvard as an instructor in psy-
chology and later became professor. His published works in his particular
field of study have placed him among the foremost thinkers of his generation.
This article was originally an address delivered at a meeting of the Asso-
ciation of American Alumni at Radcliffe College, November 7, 1907.]

Of what use is a college training? We who have had it
seldom hear the question raised we might be a little non-
plused to answer it offhand. A certain amount of meditation
has brought me to this as the pithiest reply which I myself can
give: The best claim that a college education can possibly make
on your respect, the best thing it can aspire to accomplish for
you is this that it should help you to know a good man when you
see him. This is as true of women's as of men's colleges; but
that it is neither a joke nor a one-sided abstraction I shall now
endeavor to show.

What talk do we commonly hear about the contrast between
college education and the education which business or technical
or professional schools confer? The college education is called
higher because it is supposed to be so general and so disinterested.
At the "schools" you get a relatively narrow practical skill,
you are told, whereas the "colleges" give you the more liberal
culture, the broader outlook, the historical perspective, the
philosophic atmosphere, or something which phrases of that

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 23 of 39)