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Rebuilding of Old Commonwealths






i May IP-

Copyright, 1902, by Walter H. Page

Copyright, 1902, by Houghton, Mifflin & Company

Published April, 1902


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Old Jeff. Meddlin lived in a ram-
shackle house, ploughed a poor farm,
made a cross-mark for his signature,
led prayers in the congregation, and
only twice in his life went out of the
county where he was bom. He was a
man with a strong body and with good
sense ; but his thought travelled in nar-
row ways, and dyspepsia wore him out
before he grew old. Young Jeff, is
very like his father, with this differ-
ence, that he indulges in drink instead
of prayer ; and Jeff. 3d, a lad of good
parts, has started life on the level
where old Jeff. died. The family for
three generations has not got out of its


viii Preface

Their neighbour, Colonel Graham,
says, ** Some men will rise and some men
will not. Nothing can lift up the Med-
dlins." With this comfortable irrespon-
sibility, he has never seriously thought
of their potential value to the State,
nor (since they have always voted for
him) as sovereign and possibly danger-
ous citizens. He sees men ranged in
clearly defined classes, but he has never
thought of them as a democracy. Nor
has he ever included his thriftless black
neighbour, Sam. Goode, in his thoughts
of citizenship except at election times,
when Sam., though dependent on him,
has always voted against him.

Now, when I think of the commimity
where Colonel Graham lives and of its
future, I think not only of him but of
the Meddlins and of the Goodes as well ;
and I have on several occasions, by
tongue and by pen, tried to convince



him that the very virtue of a democracy
is that by the right training of all its
children it has the power constantly to
reinforce itself from the rear.

What I have written and said to him
makes up this little book. If I have
repeated many things many times
(things, too, that were old before I was
bom) it is fair to ask the reader to
remember that Colonel Graham is some-
what deaf and hard to convince. I will
thank the reader to remember, too, (as
an old English writer reminded the
prince whose patronage he sought), that
" the Author's worst Publick Crime is
that he is an 111 Writer."

W. H. P.
May, 1902.


Preface vii

The Forgotten Man

An Address delivered in June, 1897, ot the
State Normal and Industrial School for
Women, at Greensboro, North Carolina.

The School that Built a Town . 49

An Address delivered in December, iQOi, at
the State Normal School, at Athens, Georgia.

The Rebuilding of Old Com-

Republished from The Atlantic Monthly, for
May, 1902.

The Forgotten Man


[An Address delivered at the State Normal and
Industrial School for Women at Greensboro,
North Carolina, June, i8g^.]

THE cordiality of your greeting
touches me deeply. I have
not, as some old-time wander-
ers are said to have done, carried with
me wherever I have gone a pot of my
native earth; but I have carried with
me always what the pot of earth would
stand for. Your welcome is the more
gratifying because you are kind enough
to link me with the great cause for
which your institution stands.

We have often reminded ourselves
and informed other people that we


have incalculable undeveloped resources
in North Carolina, in our streams, our
forests, our mines, our quarries, our
soil — that Nature has been most boun-
tiful; so that our undeveloped re-
sources invite men under the pleasant-
est conditions to productive industry.
And so they do. But there is one
undeveloped resource more valuable
than all these, and that is the people
themselves. It is about the develop-
ment of men that I shall speak, more
particularly about the development
of forgotten and neglected men.

In making an estimate of a civiliza-
tion it is the neglected and forgotten
man more than any other that must be
taken into account. When you build
a house, you make the foundation the
strongest part of it, and the house,
however ornate its architecture, can
be no stronger than the foundation.


In considering the level of the life of
any community, you must not give
undue value to any class of men. A
community is not rich because it con-
tains a few rich men, it is not health-
ful because it contains a few strong
men, it is not intelligent because it con-
tains a few men of learning, nor is it
of good morals because it contains
good women — if the rest of the popu-
lation also be not well-to-do, or health-
ful, or intelligent, or of good morals.
The common people is the class most
to be considered in the structure of
civilization. ^Moreover, in proportion
as any commimity in the organization
of its society or in the development of
its institutions lays emphasis on its
few rich men, or its few cultivated men,
it is likely to forget and to neglect its
very foundations. It is not these small
classes that really make the commu-


nity what it is, that determine the
condition of its health, the soundness
of its social structure, its economic
value and its level of life. The security
and the soundness of the whole body
are measured at last by the condition
of its weakest part.

So much, if you please, to get the
proper point of view. If you have
been in the habit in your social studies
of dividing men into classes and of
considering some more important in
possibilities to the common weal than
others, your studies are not in keeping
with the dominant democracy of our
country and of our race. In any
scheme of man-culture one man must
be regarded of as great importance as
another. The doctrine of equality of
opportunity is at the bottom of social
progress, for you can never judge a
man's capacity except as he has op-


portunity to develop it. When we
make a social study, we must come
face to face with all the men who
make up the social body, seeing them
as they are, and not through the
medium of our traditions nor by their
estimates of themselves.

From this point of view let me make
a very rapid and general survey of the
culture of men in North Carolina —
of the social structure and the social
forces that have shaped our civiliza-

In the days of our fathers the social
structure was to a slight extent aristo-
cratic, but it was much less aristocratic
than the social structure was, for ex-
ample, in Virginia or in South Caro-
lina. The mass of the people were
common people; they lived directly
out of the soil and they had the man-
ners and the virtues and the limitations


of a simple agricultural population,
which was much the same in the eariy
part of the century in all countries
where a livelihood was easily obtained.
They were nearly all of English and
Scotch, and Scotch-Irish stock. Most
of them were sprung from peasants
of sturdy qualities; a very few from
gentlemen; and some were descended
from forced and hired immigrants.
Taken all together they were a com-
mon people, capable of as sound de-
velopment as the population of any
other State. But they were ignorant,
as the common people in all lands
were a hundred years ago.

The dominant idea of education
was that it was a luxury for the rich,
or a privilege of the well-bom — if a
necessity at all, a necessity only for
the ruling class. This class-feeling in
education was perceptible even within


my recollection. When I was a pupil
at the most famous school for boys in
the State, a lad whose father had not
had a military or political career, was
at a certain disadvantage. I recall a
scene more ludicrous than any in
Dickens when a thirteen-year-old com-
panion of mine came to my room one
day, shut the door and fell on the bed
and wept — because his father was not
a Colonel. I tried to comfort him by
telling him that my father was not a
Colonel either. So far from consoling
him this information only gave him the
less respect for me. I had not seen
this weeping lad for more than twenty-
five years, till I recently met him on
the train. He was telling me of his
children and I asked if he had ever
reflected that his own children's father
was not a Colonel. He recalled the
incident as clearly as I recalled it.


Learning might be acquired but there
could be no true education in an at-
mosphere where such an incident could

These things I mention not in blame
of our ancestors. It is out of just such
stock that the men came who to-day
rule the world. But I mention these
things because we ourselves have writ-
ten and spoken much nonsense about
ourselves and about our ancestors and
have made ourselves believe that we
were in some way different from other
sturdy folk and that we were in some
way better than other common people.
Thus we have come to put a false value on
our social structure, and we have never
looked ourselves in the face and seen
ourselves as others see us. This false
view has done incalculable hurt. All
social progress must begin with a clear
understanding of men as they are.


We are all common folk, then, who
were once dominated by a little aris-
tocracy, which, in its social and eco-
nomic character, made a failure and
left a stubborn crop of wrong social
notions behind it — especially about edu-

There lingers one very striking relic
of the aristocratic structure of opinion
in North Carolina — a certain timidity
on the part of our leaders in dealing
with the public, a timidity on the part
of the leaders, which we have falsely
called conservatism on the part of the
people, a hesitation to trust the people's
judgment. It cropped out humor-
ously on this platform yesterday. Mr.
Scarborough declared that our people
were conservative — very conservative !
You must consider what they are
ready for and what they are not ready
for, for they are very conservative.


A half hour later, while narrating the
career of Doroth-ea Dix, Mr. Carr
showed how one woman of enthusiasm
came here from Massachusetts and
induced the State to spend for a single
institution at one time (and that an
asylum for the insane) a larger sum
than the whole annual resources of the
State government; and no man has
from that day to this made objection
to the expenditure. Our whole history
is full of such incidents. Almost every
noteworthy thing that we have done
has been done in obedience to an im-
pulse. Conservative ? We are the most
impulsive people imaginable. But if
" conservatism " so overcome any
one who hears me in the very con-
servative things that I have to sslj,
it must be understood that I speak
only for myself. I speak out of my
own ignorance only, and I speak, I


regret to say, only as a spectator of
your noble work.

In the old days when education was
dominated by the aristocratic idea,
the chief influences that shaped opinion
were the stump and pulpit. From
the stump two cardinal articles of faith
were proclaimed. One was that a man
must have liberty. Much was made
of what was called personal liberty,
and I think rightly. If any man sought
an unfair advantage of another, the
injured man was quick to assert his
rights before the law, if, indeed, he
did not assert it with his fists. This
sturdy notion of liberty has been a
great quality from the time of the
Mecklenburg Declaration till to-day.
If our fathers emphasized it too much
let us forgive them, for we shall see
presently that we also have need of


some fighting qualities. Another ar-
ticle of faith proclaimed from the
stump was that taxes were too high.
From the days of King George to this
day, the politicians of North Carolina
have declaimed against taxes, thus
laying the foundation of our poverty.
It was a misfortune for us that the
quarrel with the King George hap-
pened to turn on a question of taxation
— so great was the dread of taxation
that was instilled into us.

The other great educational force
was the pulpit. Parts of the people
were strongly inclined to an emotional
kind of religion, and our historians tell us
of great camp meetings and "revivals"
that swept over whole counties, con-
tinued for weeks, and threw many
persons into trances. More men lost
their reason from religious troubles
than from any other cause, except the


lonely overwork of women. The latest
book written and published in the State
that I have happened to see is the
autobiography of a notable religious
maniac whom I knew in my boyhood.
The more primitive and violent forms
of religion took a deep hold on the peo-
ple and (as is usually the case) without
affecting their conduct at all.

Not only was the preacher a mighty
man in our life, but there was in the
old days a type of preacher who was
an heroic man, a man who had all
the qualities of the pioneer. He was
ready any day to face the hardships
of the wilderness or to stand in the
presence of the Almighty. I doubt if
we have ever produced other men as
great as our pioneer preachers. They
were cast in so large a mould, they
dealt so directly with the fundamental
emotions of men and with some of the


great facts of the spiritual life, that
they almost ranged themselves with
the giants. I had rather have known
one of these men than all the political
and military heroes that we have since
bred. The politician has been the
greater popular hero, but the preacher
has had much the greater influence.
For a century he was by far our greatest
man — the man of the largest original
power and of the strongest character.
He inherited the heroic qualities of the
pioneers, and he led a life at once
serene and active. He was a primitive
sort of character, genuine and fearless.
If our traditions overrate the political
leaders that we have produced, they as
greatly underrate the early preachers.

Now let us see what these two powers
that ruled our fathers did for the edu-
cation of the masses. The first con-
ception of education was the aristo-


era tic conception, and the first system
of teaching was controlled by those
who held political power; it was the
old system of class education. It did
not touch the masses. They had no
part in it. They grew up with the
idea that education was a special
privilege: they did not aspire to it, did
not believe that it was attainable, and
at last they came to believe that it was
not desirable, certainly that it was not
necessary. They remained illiterate,
neglected, forgotten. There was no
substantial progress in broadening edu-
cational opportunities in North Caro-
lina from the time of the colony till
the beginning of the civil war, except
the noteworthy and noble work that
was done just before the war to develop
a public school system. This notable
and noteworthy effort gives us good
reason to hold those who made it,


chief among whom was Calvin H.
Wiley, in grateful remembrance.

I commend to you most earnestly
as of the first importance a thorough
study of our social beginnings and
development — not always as it has
been described by our historians, but
from original sources. You will clear
your minds of the hazy exaggerations
that we get from tradition. Many
traditional heroes will disappear, and
many whose names have been forgotten
or are seldom heard will re-appear
as real heroes. Among these will be
the group of men who strove forty
years ago or more to establish a public
school system. But their scheme, like
Jefferson's own great scheme, was
doomed to await a later time for its

Later than the aristocratic system
of education and overlapping it, came


the ecclesiastical system. In establishing
and developing this, the preachers did
valiant service. They were colporteurs
and they carried religious books to the
people. The churches established, be-
sides preparatory schools for boys and
girls, three schools for men which grew
into colleges. At first they were es-
tablished for the education of preachers,
but they broadened their field of labour
and became schools of general culture,
and most admirable service they have
done. The denominational educational
movement was broader in its benefits
than the old aristocratic educational
movement had been, for these colleges
were open to the common people and
they proclaimed the desirability of
general education. Still they were class
institutions ; each was a school of a sect.
Universal education, universal free edu-
cation, was not on their programme.


Some men whom the State had ne-
glected were now remembered by the
churches, especially if they were of
an emotional temperament and felt
''called" to preach. The way towards
general education was broadening, but
the very conception of education was
yet a class conception. It was provided
less for the sake of the people than for
the sake of the church.

The forgotten man remained forgot-
ten. The aristocratic scheme of educa-
tion had passed him by. To a less
extent, but still to the extent of hun-
dreds of thousands, the ecclesiastical
scheme also passed him by. The gen-
eral level of education was almost as
low as it had ever been. Both the
aristocratic and the ecclesiastical plans
held imdisputed sway till a time within
the memory of us all. But in the
meantime education had been making


more rapid conquests — developing in
method and extending its benefits in
other States and in other lands — than
in any preceding time in the history of
the world.

Tried by the tests of this progress,
what have the aristocratic system and
the ecclesiastical system of education
to show for themselves ?

First, what did they do for their own
favoured classes? North Carolina is
one of the old thirteen States. The
aristocratic system had free play here
for nearly a hundred years, and the
ecclesiastical system has had free play
for at least half as long. They estab-
lished our university and our denomi-
national colleges. Excellent as these are,
they do not rank with the best institu-
tions of most of the other original thirteen
States — of Virginia, nor of New Jersey,
nor of New York, nor of Connecticut,


nor of Massachusetts. Nor have they
trained even a select body of scholars
that have been or are in any way
famous. Make another test: there are
no great libraries in the State, nor do
the people yet read, nor have the
publishing houses yet reckoned them
as their patrons, except the publishers
of school books. By any test that may
be made, both these systems of educa-
tion failed even with the classes that
they appealed to. One such test is
the test of emigration from the State.
In 1890 there were living in other States
293,000 persons who were bom in
North Carolina. One in eight of every
native of the State then living had
gone away. When we remember that
almost every one of those emigrants
went to States where taxes are higher
and schools are more numerous and
better and where competition is more


fierce, and when we remember that
they went away from a State that is
yet sparsely settled and richer in
natural opportunities than most of the
States to which they went, the failure
of these systems becomes painfully

If a slave brought $1,000 in old times,
it ought to be safe to assume that every
emigrant from the State has an eco-
nomic value of $1,000. This emigra-
tion therefore had up to 1890 cost us
$293,000,000 — a fact that goes far to
explain why we are poor. To take the
places of these 293,000 emigrants, after
twenty years of organized effort to
induce immigration 52,000 immigrants
bom in other States had come here, a
large proportion of whom had come
for their health. But counting the
sick and the dying at $1,000 each, we
had still lost $241,000,000 by the


transaction. This calculation gives a
slight hint of the cost of ignorance and
of the extravagance of keeping taxes
too low.

Next, what did these systems of edu-
cation do for the masses? In 1890,
twenty-six per cent, of the white
persons of the State were unable even
to read and write. One in every four
was wholly forgotten. But illiteracy
was not the worst of it ; the worst of it
was that the stationary social condi-
tion indicated by generations of illiter-
acy had long been the general condi-
tion. The forgotten man was content
to be forgotten. He became not only
a dead weight, but a definite opponent
of social progress. He faithfully heard
the politicians on the stump praise him
for virtues that he did not have. The
politician told him that he lived in
the best State in the Union, told him


that the other poHtician had some
hare-brained plan to increase his taxes,
told him as a consolation for his ignor-
ance how many of his kinsmen had
been killed in the war, told him to dis-
trust anybody who wished to change
anything. What was good enough for
his fathers was good enough for him.
Thus the forgotten man became a dupe,
became thankful for being neglected.
And the preacher told him that the ills
and misfortunes of this life were bless-
ings in disguise, that God meant his
poverty as a means of grace, and that
if he accepted the right creed all would
be well with him. These influences
encouraged inertia. There could not
have been a better means to prevent
the development of the people.

I have thus far spoken only of the
forgotten man. I have done so to
show the social and educational struc-


ture in proper perspective. But what I
have come to speak about is the for-
gotten woman. Both the aristocratic
and the ecclesiastical systems made pro-
vision for the women of special classes —
the fortunately born and the religious
well-to-do. But all the other women
were forgotten. Let any man whose
mind is not hardened by some worn-out
theory of politics or of ecclesiasticism
go to the country in almost any part
of the State and make a study of life
there, especially of the life of the
women. He will see them thin and
wrinkled in youth from ill prepared
food, clad without warmth or grace,
living in untidy houses, working from
daylight till bed-time at the dull round
of weary duties, the slaves of men of
equal slovenliness, the mothers of joy-
less children — all uneducated if not
illiterate. Yet even their condition


were endurable if there were any hope,
but this type of woman is encrusted
in a shell of dull content with her lot ;
she knows no better and can never learn
better, nor point her children to a
higher Hfe. If she be intensely re-
ligious, her religion is only an additional
misfortune, for it teaches her, as she
imderstands it, to be content with her
lot and all its burdens, since they
prepare her for the life to come. Some
men who are bom under these condi-
tions escape from them ; a man may go
away, go where life offers opportuni-
ties, but the women are forever help-
less. .

And this sight every one of you has
seen, not in the countries whither we
send missionaries, but in the borders
of the State of North Carolina, in this
year of grace. Nor is it an infrequent
sight. There are thousands and thou-


sands of such women in our popula-

Now one of the two things is true —
either these forgotten men and women
are incapable of development, and belong
to a lower order of intelligence than
any other people of Anglo-Saxon stock ;
or our civilization, so far as they are
concerned, has been a failure. Of
course there is no doubt which of these
suppositions is true; for these people
are capable of development, capable
of unlimited growth and elevation.
But, if they be capable of development,
then both the aristocratic and the
ecclesiastical systems of society have
failed to develop them.

Since both the politician and the
preacher have failed to lift this life after
a century of unobstructed opportunities,

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Online LibraryWalter Hines PageThe rebuilding of old commonwealths, being essays toward the training of the forgotten man in the southern states; → online text (page 1 of 6)