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The rebuilding of old commonwealths, being essays toward the training of the forgotten man in the southern states; online

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tion are the very members of the com-
munity that ought not under any cir-
cumstances to be neglected. There
is, therefore, no way under Heaven
to train those who need training most
but by training everybody at the pubHc
expense.

More than this (for democracy has
the quality of giving constant sur-
prises) it is always more than likely
that among the neglected are those
that would become the most capable
if they were trained. Society forever
needs reinforcements from the rear.
It is a shining day in any educated
man's growth when he comes to see
and to know and to feel and freely to



90 THE SCHOOL THAT

admit that it is just as important to
the world that the ragamuffin child
of his worthless neighbour should be
trained as it is that his own child
should be. Until a man sees this he
cannot become a worthy democrat
nor get a patriotic conception of edu-
cation; for no man has known the
deep meaning of democracy or felt
either its obligation or its lift till he
has seen this truth clearly.

There is another peculiarity about
the people of Northwood that you will
notice. They talk about the proper
training of men, but you never hear
them say much about the natural re-
sources of their community. When I
went there, I recalled that some of
our Southern people used to talk much
about our natural resources and to invite
all the world to come and live with



BUILT A TOWN 91

them, because they had good air and
good water and good soil and good
timber and gold and iron under the
groimd — in other words, because God
had been generous to the land. Well,
the truth is, the land was really richer
when the Indians held it than it is now ;
the water was just as good, the air
just as pure, and there were more
forests and more iron and gold than
there are now. For that matter, there
are undeveloped regions in South Amer-
ica that have many natural advantages
even over the great and varied natural
advantages of Georgia.

This programme of inviting settlers
was a programme of sheer dependence
on Nature. It implied the old con-
ception of education, the old con-
ception of wealth-creation; for it took
no accoimt, or little account, of the
part that men play in making wealth.



92 THE SCHOOL THAT

God might make a land as fertile as
Eden and underlay it with gold and
stock it with venison and quail; yet
it would yield no more than men made
it yield. Within reasonable limits, it
matters little what Nature has done
for a country. If you take any land
in the temperate zone and put well-
trained men there, the land will turn
out to be all right. What did Nature
do for Holland, which is the most
densely peopled country of Europe,
and one of the most thrifty and happy ?
Nature overflowed it with the sea, and
man had to reclaim the very soil he
lives on. On the other hand, the
city that was the capital of the Roman
Empire is now to a great degree un-
inhabitable for malaria and fevers,
and the Grecian archipelago itself does
not attract modern immigration. But
the land of the Pharaohs does, after



BUILT A TOWN



93



the neglect of centuries, because it is
under trained English administration.
I know a part of our own country so poor
in natural resources that God must
have forgotten to finish it; yet the
people who live there make more kinds
of useful and beautiful things than
the same number of people make
anywhere else in America and more
of them are rich or well-to-do than
the people in any other part of the
country. And education engages as
large a part of the population as any
other single industry, and there is as
much money spent on school-houses
and their equipment and on libraries as
is spent in the equipment of any single
industry.

While natural resources count for
much, the community where the people
are trained to profitable industry is
the community to which other men will



94 THE SCHOOL THAT

go to live, and they will go from all
parts of the world. After the first
pioneer settlements are made, it is
trained men that attract men rather
than natural resources. The right
training of men is a better thing than
the bounty of Nature itself. Nature
alone never made prosperous States.

But what commonplace things are
these that I tire you with ! They are
only the A. B. C. of your philosophy and
of your work. Yet if any should ask
for proof of this doctrine, that it is the
training of men that makes a country
great, let him take a chapter out of
the current history of the United
States. The most remarkable spectacle
that has ever been seen in the world is
the spectacle of the trained American
people at work to-day. From one
ocean to the other they are so doing



BUILT A TOWN 95

their daily labour that the products of
their skill as well as the products of
their soil are invading not only every
new land, but every country of the
Old World as well and the sleeping
Orient to boot. In London the Eng-
lishman will soon go from his home to
his office on an electric railway owned
by Americans. He wears American
shoes and uses American cutlery. If
you cross Southern Europe on one
of the fastest express trains, you will
be drawn by an American locomotive.
In Spain itself they use American
engines and American machinery. And
American locomotives whistle in African
jungles and climb the Andes, and run
across Japan. We have built bridges
over rivers on the road to Mandalay.
American electrical machinery lights
the southernmost beacon on the globe
in Terra del Fuego, and American



96 THE SCHOOL THAT

machinery cuts timber at the northern-
most lumber camps in Sweden, almost
under the midnight sun, whither it
was drawn on reindeer sleds. The
lantern of Aladdin has been superseded
in Bagdad by American lamps. The
coolies that fanned Indian princes have
lost their job, for American electric
fans do it better. We send laundry
machinery to Shanghai, and brewing
apparatus to Germany.

And it is not by mechanical work
and mechanical achievements only that
the trained American is covering the
earth with his influence. We are bring-
ing civilization and order to long
neglected islands on both sides of the
globe and proving that the true gov-
ernment of colonies is to teach them
to govern themselves. We prevailed
against the powers that prey in pre-
venting the partition of China.



BUILT A TOWN 97

These achievements have a deeper
meaning than the mere skill they show
in diplomacy, in administration, in
organization, in artisanship, and in
trade, though the meaning of these is
deep enough. They show that we
have learned something in the training
of men that no other people has learned,
some method whereby every man may
find his aptitude and may reach his
most natural development. They show
that we have found the secret of pre-
serving the mobility of society whereby
individuals may reach the highest effi-
ciency with some certainty and not
by chance.

The only advantage that Americans
have over their kinsmen of the Old
World is the advantage of free demo-
cratic training. We are no more capa-
ble by nature than the English, and
we are not as well trained as the Ger-



98 THE SCHOOL THAT

mans, but we have greater social mobil-
ity, which is the very essence of demo-
cratic training. We have built a type
of society that permits more men to
find their natural places in it. And
thus it is that the greatest contribution
to social science, to the science of
training men and of building States,
is the demonstration that we have
made of the ever-re-creative and ever-
renewing quality of democratic society.
If the triumphs of trained democracy
that are now filling the w^orld with
talk and wonder prove that the first
duty of the State is the right training
of all its children, see what this means
for Georgia ! There are more than two
million pairs of hands and brains in
Georgia. If they were all trained to
wasteless work and to straight thought
while they work, men would soon
come from every land to learn of you.



BUILT A TOWN 99

No other part of the globe would be
so rich, no other part of the multitudin-
ous swarms of mankind would be so
blest. What would you have your
Commonwealth become? The train-
ing place of the peaceful conquerors
of the world? You have the material
for making it so. The neglected boy
of your sandhills might become, if he
were rightly trained, a strong leader
of men or a creator of great wealth.
The tangle -haired girl that plays in
your gulleys might become the mother
of a greater statesman than you have
yet bred. By training every one of
them, but not by training some only,
to a useful occupation and a steady
balance of body and mind, in two
generations, even before many of us here
shall die, you may have more wealth,
a better diffused well-being, a more
robust manhood, greater grace, than



25 • - '^0



loo THE SCHOOL THAT

Georgia in all her generations has
yet had, and more renown than all
the deeds of all her honourable sons
have yet brought her.

Have you not merely played with
education and missed the meaning
of it, regarding it as an incident of
juvenile life, or as a thing to confer a
little distinction in conventional society ?
Have you kept it in mind that it is
the science of building commonwealths ?
When you see its full meaning your
State will grow under the patriotic
ministrations of these its consecrated
servants as well-tended gardens grow
under the nurture of your Southern
sun. And the Georgia of to-day, pros-
perous and fortunate as it is, is but a
raw wilderness in comparison with
the Georgia that may be.

Ladies and Gentlemen of this state-



BUILT A TOWN loi

creative craft, the happiest of mortals
have always been those who have
worked under a great inspiration.
Happiest of men and women are you,
then, who have an inspiration that
none has had since the fathers of our
Republic. For you have dedicated
yourselves to the most solemn high
service of democracy; and the mute
appeal of neglected children is to you
the voice of God. It is your privilege
to lead them who have been forgotten
through the wide-swinging doors of
opportunity; and thus you will develop
the richest neglected resources of civili-
zation. I feel honoured to applaud
you as you go forth, not as w^orkers for
wages, but as rebuilders of this Com-
monwealth on a broader foundation
than the fathers laid.

You whose privilege it is to labour
here and we who have the pleasure



I02 THE SCHOOL THAT

to applaud you — let us together recite
this creed:

/ believe in the free public training of
both the hands and the mind of every
child born of woman.

I believe that by the right training of
men we add to the wealth of the world.
All wealth is the creation of man, and
he creates it only in proportion to the
trained uses of the community; and,
the more men we train, the more wealth
everyone may create.

I believe in the perpetual regeneration
of society, in the immortality of democ-
racy, and in growth everlasting.

We who have seen this truth have
been changed by it; and we can never
fall away from it. We have an in-
exhaustible supply of energy and a
boundless hope. We work with joy
for the love of our fellows and for our
faith in them. We cannot rest for the



BUILT A TOWN 103

glory of democracy as it has been
revealed to us, for we are caught in the
swing of its orbic movement. And
we cannot recant even at the bidding
of all the ** solemn plausibilities of the
world." We have learned the central
secret of human progress. Since civi-
lization began, religions and state-
craft, priests and conquerors, cliques
and classes, sects and sections of
society have played for the leadership
of man. We play for it, too ; and we
hold the master trick against them all;
for, when we win, man leads himself.



The
Rebuilding of Old Commonwealths



THE REBUILDING OF OLD
COMMONWEALTHS

[Reprinted from " The Atlantic Monthly," for
May, 1^02.]

I HAVE lately been to a neighbour-
hood in one of the Southern
States that I knew twenty-five
years ago. The railway station was
then a flimsy shanty that the country
merchant had himself built in payment
for the railroad's stopping its one daily
passenger train if it were signalled. It
stopped twice or thrice a week and the
passenger who got off or on felt himself
a person with privileges. The one daily
freight train stopped as seldom; and,
when it stopped, it put off a box or a
barrel for the merchant, but I think it
107



io8 THE REBUILDING OF

never took anything on. Three families
of importance hved near the railway sta-
tion, and the little settlement dwindled
down the muddy road to a dozen Negro
shanties. All round about was a
country population on small farms,
and further away there were the wrecks
of two old plantations.

In the neighbourhood were a Method-
ist church and a Baptist church.
" Mother, " said a pious Methodist girl of
eighteen, "is it impossible for an
Episcopalian to be saved?" For still
the circuit-riding preacher at " revival "
times insisted that the grace of God
fell short of saving them that danced
and played cards. The young people
and occasionally a hoary sinner went
to the mourners' bench and were duly
"converted." Then the community
rested from disturbing questions of
faith till the Baptist "revival" came



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 109

and the Elder insisted on the necessity
of immersion.

There was a shanty down the road
that was used for a school-house. A
yotmg woman taught a dozen children
for $1 a month each till she was married.
Then there was no school for two years.
For a generation or two it had an in-
termittent life. A public school was
kept for the very poor in a hut a mile
away in the woods for about six weeks
a year. Life ran easy and life ran slow.
Politics and religion, each in its season,
the crops and the promise of peaches,
stories of fox-hunting and sometimes
reminiscences of the war were the
staples of conversation.

Two railroads now run by the town
and you may take a sleeping car on
either one and go to New York in
twenty hours, whereas twenty years
ago it was a journey of fifty or sixty



no THE REBUILDING OF

hours with several stops and there
was no sleeping car. The town has
mills and shops and paved streets and
electric lights, a well-maintained pri-
vate school and two public schools,
one for whites and one for blacks.
Society still divides itself into church-
groups, but the violence of religious
controversy is abated, especially among
the men ; for they now discuss the price
of certain stocks in New York. Even
whist parties are held at the home of a
man of Baptist antecedents. The men
have a wider range of activities and
the women have more clothes. The
spread of well-being has been general.
The intellectual life has been quickened,
although it yet shows some of its struc-
tural peculiarities. The people are be-
coming like village -folk wherever they
have been touched but not radically
changed by material prosperity. If the



OLD COMMONWEALTHS iii

well-trained reader of The Atlantic
Monthly who is looking for a problem
were now to go to this town, she would
go too late; for time is working its
natural results in this American com-
munity and twenty years hence it will
be (except for the presence of two
races) very like hundreds of towns in the
Middle West. It is true the people
talk slowly and cut off their words;
they read the worst newspapers in the
world because they are ''Democratic";
but, if they had better cooks, you would
be content to live with them the rest
of your life, for they give you good
fellowship and they have the inestimable
boon of leisure.

These good qualities of fellowship
and leisure mark them off from the
people of corresponding fortune and
social gradation in most other parts of
the coimtry. They are not only demon-



112 THE REBUILDING OF

strati ve; they really care for one an-
other in most affectionate ways. Help-
fulness is not an act of conscience: it
is an impulse. Hospitality is not a
mere habit: it is a necessity of their
natures. It was in a town like this
that a plan was made to build a hotel;
and, when the leading citizen was asked
to subscribe to stock in the hotel-com-
pany, he replied with a touch of in-
dignation: "A hotel? What do you
want with a hotel ? Whenever a gentle-
man comes to town I entertain him;
and, if a man comes here who isn't a
gentleman, let him go on." If you
are a gentleman and go there, any man
in the town will stop w^ork for a day
(or seem to stop it) to entertain you.
His household and his business will
seem to move wholly with reference
to your comfort and convenience; and
every man and woman you meet will



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 113

be delighted to see you. They will
tell you so and show you that they
mean it. You will come away with
the feeling that, though you had before
known hospitable individuals and fami-
lies, you now know a whole town that
had nothing to do but to entertain you.
I can never forget or recall without a
thrill of gratitude the distinction that
was paid me several years ago when
I went on an errand to a Southern
city where I was almost a stranger.
I had been at the hotel less than an
hour when a gentleman whom I had
not seen for twenty years called and
took me to his home. His beautiful
children did their share in entertaining
me as if I had gone only to see them.
I had a letter of introduction to a feeble
old gentleman who lived nearly two
miles away. I presented it and he
seemed overwhelmed with regret that he



114 THE REBUILDING OF

could not return my call nor add to my
entertainment. During my visit the
venerable coloured servant of this fine
old man rode to the house of my host
every morning at eight o'clock and
delivered this speech: "De Col'nel
sent me to ax consarnin' Mr. Page's
helf. He hopes he slep' well an' feels
refreshed dis mawnin', and he 'spesses
de hope dat you is all well. " God rest
his soul ! he opposed most ideas that I
think sound, but he loved all men and
women that are lovely and strong ; and
he was a radiant gentleman.

If you are determined to find a prob-
lem, you may reflect on this — how in
the march of industrialism these quali-
ties of fellowship and leisure may be
retained in the mass of the people;
and how they might be transplanted
to corresponding towns in other parts
of the Union? It is not a trick, not a



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 115

mere fashion or a tradition : it is a quality
of the blood — a touch of nature that
would redeem the unlovely wastes of
much more prosperous and better-
informed life.

A few months ago I rode for more
than a hundred miles along this first
railway that ran by the village that I
have described, in the company of a
man who has gradually amassed a
fortune by the good management of a
cotton-mill. As we passed a dozen
such towns he said that he had always
believed in the success of " our people. "
''They are as capable as any people
under the sun and are better neigh-
bours than most," said he. "But I
had no idea that I should ever live
to see such a degree of financial
prosperity as they have already
reached. " Then after a long talk about



ii6 THE REBUILDING OF

the growi:h of these communities he
remarked — "Schools, schools, schools
of the right sort — that is what we
need."

But in the country about these towns
men and women are essentially like
the men and women who lived there
fifty years ago, or eighty years, or even
a hundred. The farmers have more
money than their predecessors had,
but the general structure of their life
is the same — a dull succession of the
seasons where agriculture is practised
in old-fashioned ways, where weary
housewives show resignation rather than
contentment and where ignorance has
become satisfied with itself. The coim-
try is somewhat more densely popu-
lated than it was twenty years ago
but the gro\^i:h of population suggests
only a denser stagnation.

These men and women do not feel



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 117

poor. They have a civilization of their
own, of which they are very proud.
They have for a hundred years been
told to be proud of it. The politicians
have told them that they are the best
people on earth, that the State they
live in is the most important in the
Union, that the ideas they stand for are
the bulwarks of our liberties. Do they
not own land? Are they not inde-
pendent ? What more could men ask ?
One in five is illiterate. But what
matter? Some of the illiterate men
are more successful than some others
that can read. What does it profit a
man, then, to read? There is a self-
satisfied personal dignity which these
men show that prevents near approach.
If you propose to change any law or
custom, or are suspected of such a
wish, or if you come with a new idea,
the burden of proving its value is on you.



ii8 THE REBUILDING OF

What they are they regard as the nor-
mal state of human society. There
was talk in one neighbourhood, I recall,
about the possibility that the son of
one of the more prosperous of these
men might go away to study medicine.
"I don't see the use," said the father.
''We've got two doctors nigh enough
and there ain't no room for a third."
The preacher, too, has hardened their
self -contentment, especially the self-
contentment of the women, by fixing
their attention on the life to come,
almost to the exclusion of ambition to
lift up the life that is.

A country schoolmaster in this
region told me last year (truly enough)
that the ability to read was not a good
test even of a man's intelligence, to
say nothing of his character. "Why,
do you know," asked he, "how many
of the Confederate soldiers were illiter-



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 119

ate? And they were the best soldiers
that ever went to war."

** Suppose they had all been trained —
trained to some useful occupation,
some as geologists, some as miners,
some as machinists, some as ship-
wrights, some as gun-makers; the
iron in Alabama, the wood and coal
near by — would these not have been
utilized in war?"

*' Utilized? We'd Ve whipped the
Yankees — shore !"

''What w^ould you think of schools
where men should now be trained to
occupations — schools here in this neigh-
bourhood, to make ploughs, waggons,
furniture — everything ? ' '

"That'd be a mighty good thing;
but that ain't education."

There is, of course, a considerable
variety of social conditions here as
everywhere else in the world. Near



I20 THE REBUILDING OF

one home where both children and
grandchildren are illegitimate is the
residence of a man who holds his land
by direct descent in his family from
a colonial grant, and whose sons are
successful lawyers and preachers in
four States. A good many youth go
to the towns and find wider opportuni-
ties. From this same neighbourhood a
young man went to New York and is a
rich merchant there; another went to
college by his own exertions and is an
electrical engineer in a great manu-
facturing city; another is a partner in
a factory in New England; another is
a judge in Oregon. The most ambitious
of course, go away; and the general
level of life seems to remain as low as
it was generations ago. The number
of emigrants from the old Southern
States tells the story of the stagnation
of life in these rural regions.



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 121

Three influences have held the social
structure stationary — first, slavery,
which pickled all Southern life and left
it just as it found it ; then the politician
and the preacher. One has proclaimed
the present as the ideal condition;
and, if any doubt this declaration, the
other has bidden him be content and
make sure of the world to come. Thus
gagged and bound this rural society
has remained stationary longer than
EngHsh-speaking people have remained
stationary anywhere else in the world.
It is a state of life that keeps perma-
nently the qualities of the frontier
civilization long after the frontier has
receded and been forgotten. The feel-
ing that you bring away with you after
a visit to such a community is a feeling
that something has intervened to hold
these people back from their natural
development. They have capacity that



122 THE REBUILDING OF

far outruns their achievement. They
are citizens of an earlier time and of a
narrower world who have not come to
their own. And this is the cue to their
character.

The familiar classification of the
Southern people as "gentlemen" and
"poor whites" is misleading. The
number of the large landed proprietors


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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 4 of 6)