Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

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one of our failings. "La France," in Michelet's appealing phrase,
"est une personne;" and lovers of that land have always felt the
term as something more than a figure of speech. Hardly could
the warmest admirer of the United States have used it of his
own country a year ago. America was not a "person;" she was
an aggregation. We had begun as disunited colonies uncom-
monly diverse in social or religious or economic aims, and the
crisis that made us free came far short of making us one. Con-
trarieties persisted through the years when each state was going
its own precarious way, and, when the intolerable result forced
a closer federation, burst into flames of antagonism that were
smothered with difficulty, and only partly, by the compromises
of the Constitution. For two more generations they smoldered
on, and then flared up in a wall of fire searing its wide way be-
tween the two camps of hatred into which it had parted the
land. The first of our crises failed to unite us, and the second
was disastrously divisive.

All that is over now, we say, and thank Heaven. Well, yes,
if we mean that the notion of secession is dead and that the
memory of Mosby on the one hand, or of the march through
Georgia on the other, is all but obliterated. But if we mean that,
in the mass of the people especially, no prejudice hangs over from
the ancient time, that none arises out of the still different social
ideals of New York and Charleston, or out of the far more differ-
ent interests of the Southern planter and the Northern banker
and merchant, we might be nearer to the truth.

Whatever was happening in Massachusetts, south of the
Potomac boys even of the second generation after Appomattox
were brought up in considerable distrust of the offspring of the
Yankee. I can vouch for it that the scion of the new-comer from
the North had a hard time in school in my day in the nineties.


Many a day we sent him home blubbering his r's to his mother,
and the principal was not very hard on us for it. One morning
we had a holiday to see the soldiers go off to Cuba. We sped
them on their way with clamorous patriotism, and when the
train was out of sight we turned our surplus energy to pummel-
ing the little carpet-bagger from Vermont. A few months later
the President passed through our town, and in a speech gave
thanks that a common cause had at last made us into "one
country and one people." But it was not quite true, as the little
carpet-bagger had reason to know later; the cause had not been
great enough, the struggle intense enough, to bring unison.
There was still a North and a South.

More strikingly there is an East and a West, or several Easts
and several Wests. A land so vast and so diversified has en-
forcedly developed different types and clashing interests, and its
rapid growth has left its people little leisure to reason them-
selves into like-mindedness. And state governments have aided
physical geography in this matter. In one state you may do
business for which hi another you would go to jail; in one you
may be married and crazy, in another single and sane. In the
intelligent society of certain regions a young man who has no
socialistic leaning is in danger of being considered unthinking,
while in another region to confess to socialism would be to court
the estate of outcast.

However little we may habitually think of it, the differences
between the Californian and the Vermonter, the Mormon and
the South Carolinian, are rather extreme for a country so young
and perfectly at peace with itself. Think of the charges and
countercharges we have heard recently from one part of the
country accusing another part of apathy toward the Great War,
think of the campaigns launched in one region with the purpose
of "waking up" another. The spectacle of a prominent author
in New York challenging a Kansas bishop to raise a thousand
dollars for a war charity, and offering in that glad case to retract
her charges against Kansan hebetude, is a case in point.

The more disquieting sight of many delegates in Washington
representing one region of the country as against or at the


expense of the whole, with the pork-barrel as their perfect work,
is only too familiar. Just as these words are being written, the
morning paper brings a pronouncement from a congressman that
clamors for quotation. The legislator points out that ten south-
ern states are now controlling thirty-one out of sixty chairman-
ships in the House, that four of these states alone control
eighteen chairmanships, and that the South should keep this
power at great costs.
He continues:

But it won't be able to do so if these ten southern states vote almost
solidly against the Federal Suffrage Amendment. The South has every-
thing to lose by such a short-sighted policy. ... I speak as a southern
Democrat. . . . The Democratic party is now in control of all branches
of the Federal Government. Almost every committee assignment, so far as
the chairmanships are concerned, is held by southern Democrats. . . .
For the southern Democrats hi Congress to say to the millions of patriotic
women of the nation that suffrage shall not be given them would bring
down upon our heads such condemnation from the suffrage states that we
would be driven from power.

No pleading for or against suffrage here, no inquiry as to
whether even the South wants it, nothing but unashamed nudity
of sectional grasping in the ninth month of the war! Our
illustration happens to be furnished by a Kentuckian, but others
as impressive might be quoted from deputies of every state.
The thing would be amazing if it were not so American.

But even such differences are unimportant, most people will
agree, in comparison with those of social or of economic class.
Oregonian and New Yorker can get along together when they
meet, though we must remember that the vast majority of them
never do meet; but what about the miner and the coal baron,
the I. W. W. in the lumber camp and the broker on the exchange?
The piece-worker in Allen Street and the negro bent over the
cotton in Mississippi have about as little as is possible in common
with the manufacturer who more or less directly pays them both.

Of course we share class problems with every other nation,
and with some for whom they are more perplexing than for us;
but the rapidity of their growth in this land of plenty is rather


remarkable. The contrast here between the four hundred and
the four million, between dollars and muscle or inheritance and
brains, has grown apace for a country where nature left much for
all. Twenty or so years ago Coxey's Army was a joke; today it
would be at least a symptom, and the difference measures a
development of class consciousness. With us, also, the contrast
is likely to be between inordinate wealth and dire poverty. In
this respect we are very like England, where enormous fortunes
exist side by side with bitter penury, and we are much worse
off than France, where colossal private wealth is rarer and where
unmitigated poverty is all but unknown. In any large city in
America a single block often separates families living under
conditions more extremely different than could well be found in
all France. And to emphasize these class distinctions, we have
imported, mainly into the four million, men from every quarter
of the globe, and made up in two-thirds of the states a piebald
population unparalleled hi any sizable area of the Old World.
Most of the so-called mixed races of Europe are fairly pure in
comparison, not with the people of New York City, but with
those of the Wisconsin plains.

But all these incongruities have never brought a clash? The
melting-pot has never boiled over? Well, there have been
mutterings. There are some thinkers, and not excitable ones,
who have foreseen a race war in store for us or for our children.
There are others who fear a new secession as the land fills up if
interests grow more contradictory. There are far more who
prophesy a conflict of classes amounting to revolution. Possibly
we need fear none of these forecasts, though any one of them
might have seemed plausible four years ago by the side of a
prediction that we should now be at war in Europe.

Whatever may be the danger of the future, the fact that we
have had so little friction in the last fifty years has been due
mainly to the circumstance that we were all too busy to stop
and make trouble. Each tenth of us was too hard pushed to
worry overmuch about what the other nine-tenths were doing.
Few people want a revolution when they are too rushed to
take the time off for it and on the whole too prosperous to feel


the need of it. But quiescence may be apathy, not unity. The
mere indifference of most of us to the rest of us might be a main
reason for our drifting apart. So far there has been more than a
man's work for every man, with little tune to interfere with other
men. But what will happen in the day approaching fast when
there is less? How will our sectionalism, our class antagonism,
our individualism, measure in that day against our cohesion as
one people?

There is no intention here of borrowing trouble from the
future. We are not worrying about a clash that may or may
not come; we mean solely to mention some of the splendid
changes now taking place in regard to our unity as a people.
The answer to the questions just propounded no one knows, of
course, though everyone has hopes. But the one sure fact is this:
that its first crisis having failed to weld it into one, and its second
having riven it asunder, our heterogeneous half -continent has had
to wait for this its third and most portentous crisis for a great
common cause. We have met a problem and a piece of work
dwarfing anything that we ever thought would fall to us.

It has come home to every one of us, of whatever region or
whatever class. We know that we shall stand or fall together,
and all the more because we have now seen the one other country
of our size in the world fall before our enemy because divided. A
hundred million of us are facing Washington, facing Flanders,
facing life and death; and the result in national unity already
surpasses all expectation and all precedent among us. Ten
million men and women have opened their purses to lend the
nation money; not an act of high virtue at a four per cent profit,
though the refusal would have been vicious, but a tie of no mean
force among those people and between them and the Govern-
ment. Ten million more will share in the partnership later.
Millions more of men and women who little dreamed a year ago
of deviating from their daily round at the country's call have
gone to camps and hospitals and trenches. There the nephew of
Lee has taken the hand of the grandson of Grant, the White
Mountain boy is keeping step with the Hoosier, and the young
millionaire is swapping anecdotes and "makings" with the


plumber unless the plumber has won his spurs. We have never
had a school of equality approaching a draft army facing common
work and common peril. It is as democratic as the Subway
and as unifying as the college, without the bad air of the one or
the manufactured sentiment of the other, and it gives also a fine
training hi order, precision, Tightness that hardly any other
American institution affords.

Those who are not yet called to this onerous service are get-
ting at home an appreciable lesson in fraternity. It takes a
stringent time like the present to put individual men and classes
on their mettle in confederate effort. And classes are approach-
ing each other. A lady throws open her parlors to a congress
called by her butler to consider food-saving. In general, for the
exceptions, though noisy, are few, capitalist and laborer stand
shoulder to shoulder straining to do their best. In general,
labor gains increasingly for its services, and capital pays the
larger bills of the war, a fact that few of the right-minded will
deplore. And if the small-salaried man feels the pinch more than
either, the tightening of his belt will probably not impede a desir-
able expansion of his better sentiments. The few who stand aloof
and "strut their uneasy hour" are growing lonelier every day.
If anyone thinks that they are many, a little reading in the
history of the Civil War on either side will soon alter his opinion.
He will easily convince himself of the prime fact that never
before, not in the war for independence, not in the war for the
union, or at any other tune or over any other question, has
America enjoyed such unanimity.

Based on free consent, a unanimity like this is of incalculable
value. It need not interfere with a high degree of diversity in
non-essential matters, and human nature may be amply trusted
to see that it does not. Small as she is, for instance, that nation
whom Michelet loved to call a "person" because in the hour of
need she could be of one mind, rejoices in a larger diversity of
personal or local habit concerning things not fundamental than
we enjoy in this country. If we can preserve the unity we have
now gained, and are still to gain, upon non-essentials, or that
portion of it that is consonant with freedom of opinion in periods


of smaller strain, if we can make permanent that sense of inter-
dependence between each tract of the country and all the rest,
between each social group and all the others, we shall have won
a great good fortune out of the war.

The measure of all this that we shall preserve doubtless
depends largely on the firmness and wisdom with which we pro-
secute the war and solve the problems that will arise when we
have won it. At least we have an opportunity that we have
never had before. Is it too much to hope that we may come out
of the war deserving some such phrase as that with which
Michelet crowned his country? Without that single-mindedness
in the face of danger which distinguishes our gallant ally possibly
above all other peoples, the battle of the Marne would never
have been won, our aid might never have been possible, and the
history of centuries might have been reversed. One could hardly
wish a larger gain for his own country than that she, too, prove
worthy of the title so fitly given to happy France.

We may win in cosmopolitanism. For unanimity at home is
no foe to cordiality abroad, but rather, in all ordinary times,
its firm ally. And whether or not we have enjoyed a satisfactory
harmony among ourselves, it is all but universally agreed that we
have been slow to understand and to appreciate our sister nations.
Here again we had too much work at home to worry greatly as
to what was happening elsewhere. We also had a strong tradi-
tion of aloofness, wise in its origin among three millions depend-
ing on the sailing-ship for their connection with the outer world,
but dubious indeed in its application to a hundred millions fur-
nished with steam and wireless. But whatever the reasons, no
one can well profess that we have been a cosmopolitan nation,
while many would argue that we have been the most isolated of
all great peoples; and this despite the fact that in racial origins
we are about the most international of all and great globe-
trotters to boot.

One of our distinguished ministers to a foreign country was
saying the other day that in general our diplomats are admired
and esteemed abroad as upright gentlemen of fine capacity, but
that for years they have astonished the statesmen of the conti-


nent by their ignorance of what was really going forward in the
chancelleries of Europe, or their indifference to it. At home we
have produced noble statesmen of whom we are justly proud,
but hardly an international figure. In business and finance we
have had potentates hi plenty, but few whose influence has
reached far beyond our own shores few Rothschilds or Rhodeses.
For the protection of South American republics and of our own
we have upheld a Monroe Doctrine for a century; and how much
do we know about those southern countries under our whig?
Pitifully little. The British, French, Spanish, Germans could
give us lessons about our nearest neighbors.

If this is true of Ecuador, what, say, of the Balkans? How
many of our minds went absolutely void, a few years ago, at
the mention of them ! Many Parisians of some education could
have drawn us a pretty good map of them, sketched their his-
tory, named then* present rulers, and told us a little about their
population and then- industries. The stolid indifference of many
Americans, especially of those at some distance from centers of
discussion, through months and years of the present war, the
feeling so humiliating to some of their compatriots that the war
was a squabble between powers across the ocean who ought to
have had sense enough to keep the peace, and that it was none
of our business except as it raised our prices and possibly our
incomes, the feeling which, translated into a thousand pla-
cards, read, "No war talk here," all this was evidence of an
insularity unflattering to America. It is useless to multiply
the uncomfortable illustrations. In one word, we were a great
people apart.

Well, we are going to get over a great deal of that, and it is
high time we were doing so. History does not tell a very reassur-
ing tale of peoples that have striven to live apart, any more than
memoirs give a comforting account of recluses. The comparison
is not perfect, of course, but it is certain that no nation can cut
itself off from the world without stunting its material and
spiritual growth. For the nation as for the individual man, "A
talent is developed hi solitude, a character in the current of the
world." Is it permissible to hazard a suspicion that while we had


talent in plenty, especially in practical and in inventive efforts,
if less in pure science and in the arts, the American character,
compared, for instance, with the French or the British, was a
little undefined and possibly a bit loose-jointed?

Perhaps, if true, this is no more than the awkwardness of
adolescence, and if so, experience is the remedy. And we are
now beginning a full experience of those world problems which
have been the common heritage of European peoples. Questions
once all but academic here have become vital to us as full citizens
of the world. We are sharing with the nations that lead in culture
and achievement a cause perhaps the greatest that has actuated
effort in all time. And our own part in the effort will be large,
however slight it may of necessity remain as yet. Our blood and
our counsels will mingle with our friends', we shall share in their
triumph, and solve with them the problems of settlement that
ensue. Our one hope is to do well.

But in the meantime we may gain much that is of great price,
and much that is beyond price, out of the association. We may
batter down that wall of American misprision and of British
disdain that has separated us from the English. We shall surely
demolish, if we have not already done so, that notion once so
prevalent among us that the Frenchmen of today are only
anemic descendants of their lusty forbears, that notion that led
a prominent American magazine a few years before the war to
conduct a long debate as to whether the French were a decadent
race or not. We may put an end to one belief about ourselves,
unmerited, if ever reputation was, yet singularly strong in the
opinion of most foreigners, that we are a people who live for
money. We got the reputation because there were such fortunes
to be made here and so many people making them; and no prodi-
gality or philanthropy, though hi both we led the world, did
much to palliate it. Whole-hearted contribution to a war not for
ourselves alone, but for the world, may wipe out the last vestiges
of that prejudice. Clearing away a thousand misunderstandings
like these, we may conceivably hope to cement in national friend-
ships the foundations of enduring peace.

We may win in modesty. It is a gift which visitors among us


from abroad and observers of our own travelers in foreign
countries have not been prone to take as typical of us. To have
founded a country on principles so new, borrowed, though they
were from thinkers of the Old World, and to have made a wilder-
ness into a world power within a century, give us natural reason
for pride in ourselves. But the most reasonably proud Americans
and the present writer would fain be counted among them
have not infrequently smiled or blushed, according to their
temperament and the occasion, at irrational exhibitions of boast-
fulness on the part of their compatriots.

To the thoughtful traveler abroad in other days, perhaps, these
words will best commend themselves, for few of us have got
as far as Southampton without wondering where the particular
boat-load of Americans who shared the voyage could have been
collected; and the wonder grew as we kept meeting parties from
the boat at strategic points for sight-seeing on the Continent.
People like us abroad, of course, especially in France; we are the
most generous of their visitors (unless this be a boast !) and we
are so happy-go-lucky that we are easy to get along with. But
although they give us a warm welcome, they have an honest feel-
ing, more of amusement than of malice, that they must expect
a good deal of bragging from us. And we ourselves, when we
speak of "spread-eagleism," are usually thinking of our own
country. One of our weeklies that has of late been so ferocious
on the trail of unwise patriots as to leave too little space to
mention the other kind was itself guilty recently of saying that
"What distinguishes the statesmanship of President Wilson
from that of the other leaders of the Allied cause ... is
nothing but superior rationality." Only that ! Even if obviously
true, the statement would be exceptionally raw. So far as the
present writer knows, America is the first of the Allies to print
such a statement. Supposing that an English review had said it
of Lloyd-George or a French paper of Clemenceau, how should
we feel about it?

Possibly we do not fully deserve the notable reputation for
spread-eagleism that we have gained, but in view of the illustra-
tions it is only fair in candor to plead guilty to having lighted a


good deal of fire under all the smoke. We could hardly have
savored the famous "Yankee in King Arthur's Court" so much
if we had not seen ourselves, however caricatured, hi him. Many
of us have been a little like him, whether in a court abroad or hi
the bank or grocery at home. We were the people, the brave and
the free. We had the red blood, let the blue flow through whose
veins it chose. We had the ships and the guns or we should get
them the minute the need came, if it ever did. We thought the
French were effete; there is no use denying it, however much we
may have had our eyes opened. We thought the English were
stupid, more or less Dundrearys, and we stopped only too in-
frequently to ask how Dundrearys could manage such an empire
so harmoniously. We were the clean-cut race of quick brains.
We could lick the world, if the world ever required it.

To be sure, we had a good deal of dirty linen to wash at
home. We had political corruption of a scale unknown in the two
countries just mentioned. We had poverty undreamed-of in the
first mentioned of them. We were coming to hate a captain of
industry as much, and as indiscriminately, as we hated a lord.
Such things we would debate among ourselves, but let a foreigner
approach us upon these topics, and we turned to him our
American front and proceeded to show him how, despite any
little injustices, our land of promise enjoyed a certain superi-
ority over his own outworn country. Not always did we do this,
but too frequently. We may honestly disclaim arrogance; we
can hardly prefer a claim to modesty.

But much of that we m ly now learn. The silence of French
heroism may lead us to emulation. The honest confession of
British muddling may teach us to acknowledge ours, if we must.
The arrogance of Prussia may impress upon us the amiability of
its opposite. Congestion on railroads, delays in ship-building,
shortages of ammunition, of uniforms, of coal, may set us all so
busy mending faults that we shall have time neither for boasting
nor for writing articles in deprecation of it.

Far more important, the powerful enemy that confronts us

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 38 of 39)