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and of large slave-holders has been
greatly exaggerated by tradition.
Smaller, too, than is thought is the
class that may properly be called
' ' white trash " or " buckra . ' ' The great
mass of these people came of sturdy
English and Scotch-Irish stock and
they are very like the country popula-
tion that settled the other States
eighty years or more ago. They are
not poorer nor "trashier" than the
rural population of New Jersey or



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 123

Pennsylvania or New York or New
England were several generations ago,
nor than they are now in some remote
regions of these States.

If the rural parts of New York or
New Jersey or of Pennsylvania were
to-day depopulated and all the ma-
chinery of the present civilization were
removed, and if to-morrow the popu-
lation of eighty years ago were to re-
appear just as it was, this would be a
community very like these Southern
communities. What an interesting field
for sociological experiment such a re-
appearance of a part of the past would
present ! Peddlers, missionaries, and
reorganizers of social life would over-
whelm their '/ contemporary ancestors. "
It would be a pleasure to help them
forward in a decade as far as their
descendants travelled in eighty years,
but it would not be an easy task.



124 THE REBUILDING OF

After many impatient efforts we should
learn the wisdom of trying to find out
their point of view and of contenting
ourselves with seeing them advance in
their own way, even if they came slowly
and seemed stupid. Teaching one's
ancestors is at best a difficult under-
taking; for it is not the same task as
teaching one's descendants. What a
lot of disappointing effort this genera-
tion might have saved if it had known
this simple truth somewhat sooner !

I have purposely not written of the
Negro as a separate part of the popula-
tion, for in the building up of the
commonwealth he will yield to the
same kind of training. The Negro,
at once the beneficiary and the victim
of slavery, yet holds the white man,
who was its victim and not its benefi-
ciary, in economic bondage; and he is



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 125

himself also in economic bondage and
in bondage likewise to the white man's
race-feeling. Training that brings eco-
nomic independence sets the strongest
and most natural forces of life at
play. I long doubted whether a de-
mocracy could absorb two different
races thus living together and yet apart.
But the practical results of right train-
ing, both on the white man and on the
Negro, have left no room for doubt, I
think, in the mind of any far-seeing
man who has made a personal study of
these results. The doubtful thing is
whether within any calculable time they
will all receive right training.

Without right training, you have
such a problem as men nowhere else
in our country have. It will yield
little to reason. Argument will not
solve it. Time alone will bring slow
change. The preacher cannot help;



126 THE REBUILDING OF

for the races have fallen apart in their
religious life. The politicians have only
made the race-relations worse. The
white man has held the Negro back,
the Negro has held the white man back ;
and dead men have ruled them both.
Training to economic independence is
the only true emancipation.

Distinctive vSouthern life is to be
found not only in the country but
in certain old towns also. A college-
town will serve as an example. I
know such a community where it seems
proper to rest till one die, so quiet is its
mild, contented life, so dignified the
houses and the trees, and so peaceful
the half -neglected gardens. You are
aware only of an invitation to repose.
When a route for a railroad half a
century or more ago was run through
a college-town very like this there was



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 127

great excitement. A railroad ? Never !
It would jar the dignity of the com-
munity and corrupt the morals of
youth. It was deflected, therefore;
and, after thirty years of jolting in
hacks over bad roads, the people had
to build a branch railroad. But even
then they would not permit a locomo-
tive nearer than a mile. The railroad,
therefore, ended in an old field and the
same hacks yet have their share of
work to do. But the old field is now
the site of a cotton mill.

I recently visited a college-town
contemporary with this. The century-
old buildings, the elms and the oaks
that give acres of shade — trees some
of which were planted by great men
with proper ceremonies — in such an
atmosphere generation after generation
of youth has absorbed a little learning
and much patriotism. The young men



128 THE REBUILDING OF

you meet are grave in manner, earnest
fellows who have already dedicated
themselves to the State; for the State
is greater than the Nation.

It was in this academic circle more
than a decade ago that I asked a
member of the faculty why he attended
a particular church, for I knew that
he had for many years been an "ad-
herent" of another sect and a believer
in none. "I throw beef to the lion,"
said he. "The sectarian representa-
tion in this faculty must be evenly
balanced, and by this adjustment I
belong to the church that I attend."
He unlocked a door in his library and
took out a handful of books, Matthew
Arnold's "Literature and Dogma," a
volume of Renan and two or three
others. "These I keep under lock and
key."

It was in this college town that I



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 129

went to reot last winter. My memory
will suffer palsy before I forget the
imchanging charm of that academic
circle of eighteenth-century life; for it
is as it was before anything was that
now is in our country. The suc-
cession of generations is an incident;
the coming of men from other States
and other lands — it is they that soon
change, not this circle into which they
come. Tradition is king here and
there is no other. You would wear
his livery yourself within an hour after
you entered his kingdom; and you
feel at home, as you would feel at home
if you could visit your ancestors from
whom you were reprehensible for stray-
ing away into your own generation.

When the play of general conversa-
tion had ended one evening the talk
settled down to a specific topic, and
this was the topic — the lack of freedom



I30 THE REBUILDING OF

of speech in the community. Of course,
there was in that company absolute
freedom. We were talking about
"radical" opinions, especially on theo-
logical subjects and about the race-
relation. "I should not dare," said
one Professor, "to say in public — in
my lecture-room or in print — a single
thing that I have said here. "

"Why?"

" I should be dismissed. "

" Do the men who hold the power of
dismissal all coimt your opinions a
crime?"

"Why, not one of them. They all
agree with me. There is no difference
of private opinion. I can discuss any-
thing with them in private. But they
could not withstand the public in-
dignation that would be expressed
through the press."

"This is the more remarkable,"



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 131

another added with a laugh, "because
the editor of the most important news-
paper in this quarter of the world
holds more 'radical' opinions than any
other man I know. But he has to serve
the public."

"Who is the public?"

*'The Democratic platform, the
Daughters of the Confederacy, old
General So-and-so, and the Presby-
terian creed," said one.

**And the farmers who vote whether
they can read or not, " added another.

As for the editor of the powerful
newspaper, I knew that a year before
he had sought an engagement in New
York in order **to get out of the realm
that is ruled by the dead. "

It is in such a circle of the old aca-
demic society and in rural regions that
you come upon the real Southern
problem — that unyielding stability of



132 THE REBUILDING OF

opinion which gives a feeling of de-
spair, the very antithesis of social
growth and of social mobility. " Every-
thing lies here where it fell," said a
village philosopher in speaking of this
temper. "There are the same rocks in
the road that were there before the war. "

To illustrate — one morning I went
to a school for the Negroes and I heard
a very black boy translate and construe
a passage of Xenophon. His teacher
also was a full-blooded Negro. It
happened that I went straight from
the school to a club where I encoun-
tered a group of gentlemen discussing
the limitations of the African mind.

"Teach 'em Greek!" said old Judge
So-and-so. " Now a nigger could learn
the Greek alphabet by rote, but he
could never intelligently construe a
passage from any Greek writer — im-
possible!" I told him what I had



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 135

just heard. ''Read it? understood it?
was black? a black man teaching him?
I beg your pardon, but do you read
Greek yourself?"

" Sir, " said he at last, ** I do not for a
moment doubt your word. I know
you think the nigger read Greek; but
you were deceived. I shouldn't be-
lieve it if I saw it with my own eyes
and heard it with my own ears. "

Such are the baffling facts of a sparse
population and of a self-satisfied life
that lingers past its day. Do they give
reason for despair ? Not at all : but they
do give reason for patience. The prob-
lem is the most important that has
been presented in our national life.
It is not the education of a few millions
of neglected persons; it is not the
modernizing of a few picturesque in-
stitutions; least of all is it the task of



134 THE REBUILDING OF

imposing on these people the civiliza-
tion that has been developed elsewhere
(for this would be a fool's errand in-
deed and in no way desirable if it were
possible) ; but the larger question is
this : —

Since democracy means constant
social growth and social mobility, is
Southern life becoming democratic or
is it remaining stable, or going back
to an essentially aristocratic structure?
Are forces inside it asserting themselves
that give promise of shaping this life
in line with democratic growth? Or
are the native forces reactionary? Is
democracy there at last to be a failure ?
Is it equal to the task of assimilating
the master race and the freed race?

There are thoughtful men who frankly
deny the possibility of such a complete
conquest by the democratic idea. I
quote one such, a man of learning if



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 135

not of wisdom, who wrote this memo-
randum for me tinder the mistletoe in
an old South Carolina mansion last
winter :

"The dominant elements of society
in the two sections of the country were
different from the beginning. Slavery
did not make the difference, it only
emphasized it. The unconscious aims
and ideals of the two peoples diverged.
The abolition of slavery was a matter
of force. So also was the suppression
of secession. But these events did not
change the essential character of the
people. Superficially they are now one.
But forty years are as nothing in the
life of a people, nor fifty years nor a
hundred. The South is to-day further
from a willing acceptance of real demo-
cratic ideals than it was twenty years
ago. The growth of such organiza-
tions as the Daughters of the Confeder-



136 THE REBUILDING OF

acy, the increasing celebration of the
heroism of the Confederate soldier,
the silent unwillingness of white men
to tax themselves to educate the Negro,
the instinctive denial to the Negro
of any real standing in the most im-
portant matters of Hfe — these things
seem to me to point to a different
genius, a different tendency, a different
ideal, even a different necessity. How
the divergence will work itself out, I
do not know; but a century hence the
South will be, in the essence of its civi-
lization, further from the North than it
now is. No outward forms of govern-
ment can make two different peoples
the same."

Another man of learning if not of
wisdom used to say to me in Cambridge,
Massachusetts : ' ' The Southerners have
always seemed foreigners to me. The
Northern and the Southern people are



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 137

different, I do not think they will
ever work out the same ideals."

These opinions (which I have heard
in recent years only in South Carolina
and in Massachusetts and only in
academic circles) strip the question of
all side issues and of all temporary
aspects. It is true that the same laws
may not mean the same thing North
and South (as the XlVth amendment
to the Federal Constitution does not) ;
and forty years have not essentially
changed the Negro's place in the com-
munity; and it is true that no exterior
or temporary influence counts for much
and the hereditary '* essence of a civi-
lization" is everything. No man of
thought has ever regarded laws enacted
at Washington against the consent of
the Southern people as a primary force
in shaping their life, nor outside aid to
education or to anything else as revolu-



138 THE REBUILDING OF

tionary if it ran counter to the native
''genius"; preaching is of no avail;
alms-giving is an estranging force; in a
word, if Southern Hfe have not in it
the seed and the necessity of a true
democratic development, then a demo-
cratic order cannot be thrust upon it
and it were useless to try.

But, if I understand the great forces
of our time, and if I know the history
of the people of the Southern common-
wealths (which to the obscuring of the
whole large matter remains unwritten)
my friends from whom I have quoted
have made a radical misinterpretation
of all the large facts and of all dominant
present tendencies. There is no un-
democratic trait in the Southern people
that is not directly accounted for by
slavery and by the results of slavery.
The most conspicuous institutional re-
sults were the political machines that



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 139

were built on race differences first by one
political party and then by the other,
and the ecclesiastical machines that
are the direct result of popular ignor-
ance and isolation. The country peo-
ple that I have described are men of
good mettle, men to make free com-
monwealths of. The very strongest
impulse they have is patriotic and
democratic. The contrary tendencies
are clearly survivals of a deflection
of their development. So strongly have
I been impressed with the democratic
quality of Southern character that I
believe, if a democracy existed no-
where in the world, Southern life
would now evolve one, perhaps even of
a radical type.

These old commonwealths were ar-
rested in their development by slavery
and by war and by the double burden
of a sparse population and of an ignor-



I40 THE REBUILDING OF

ant alien race. When the weight of
these burdens is considered, the pro-
gress made these thirty years in
the development of the innate demo-
cratic tendency is without parallel in our
history. The present backwardness of
Southern life in rural communities and
in old academic or social circles is but
a picturesque reminder of the distance
we have travelled. Descriptions of
these may entertain us, as the charm of
the obsolete appeals to all cultivated
minds, but they give no hint except by
contrast of the real forces of the period
in which we live.

The process that has been going on in
the upland South in particular is a
process of conscious and natural State-
building, constructive at every impor-
tant step. Reactionary influences have
been respectable, but they are spent
•impulses. There are two great con-



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 141

struct! ve forces. The first is Industry,
which has already given the essential
power over to a class of men that bring
mobility to social life and opportunity
to them that can take it. This in-
dustrial development would finally work
out the inherent democratic tendency
of the people if no other force were
brought into play. But no man who
knows the gentleness and the dignity
and the leisure of the old Southern life
would like to see these qualities blunted
by too rude a growth of sheer indus-
trialism.

The other great force that frankly
recognizes the arrested development
of the people and is taking hold of the
problem of their natural growth is the
new impulse in public education. This
is native, and it is nothing different
from Jefferson's creed and plan. So
strong is it that its recent manifesta-



142 THE REBUILDING OF

tion may fairly be called a new chapter
in our national history. In the presence
of this revolutionary force, fear of re-
action and doubt about the democratic
"essence" of Southern civilization falls
away. Beside this all other forces
except the force of industrial life count
for nothing.

Formal education has been going on
in the South these thirty years with
increasing efficiency in the cities and
the large towns and at the colleges.
There are communities in which the
whole attitude towards modern life has
been changed by the influence of the
schools. But it is not of town life, nor
of higher education, that I now write.
I write rather of that new impulse for
the right training of the neglected
masses that is a larger matter than
school-room work or academic or pro-
fessional training — of the subject as it



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 143

affects the direction of the whole
people's development. From this point
of view a dozen or two colleges count
for little, however excellent they may
be; and life in the cities is, in a sense,
of secondary importance, because the
cities are few and the wide stretches of
rural life are almost immeasurable.

The situation is discouraging enough,
Heaven knows. In the ten cis-Mis-
sissippian Southern States the propor-
tion of illiterate white voters is as large
as it was in 1850; and the public
schools in these States now give "five
cents ' worth of education per child per
day for only eighty-seven days a year. "
This is to say that the total expenditure
on the public schools is five cents a school-
day per pupil and they are kept open
an average of only eighty-seven days
a year. But it is precisely because the
situation is so bad that it is becoming



144 THE REBUILDING OF

so hopeful. Schools of this sort are
little better than none. The people
do not care for them. The stolidity
of ignorance can not be overcome by
any such perfimctory attack as this.
The leaders of the best Southern
opinion have come to recognize this
truth, and they have begun work in
a new way. They have discovered
that the schools must do something
more than teach the three R's, for a
people without diversified occupations
and without training do not care for
the three R's, nor do the three R's
profit them greatly. An idle and un-
productive man is no less useless because
he can read and write.

It was this fundamental fact that
General Armstrong saw when he worked
out the system of training towards oc-
cupations at Hampton Institute for
the Negroes ; and it is this fundamental



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 145

fact that the present leaders of popular
education in the Southern States un-
derstand. They are training hand and
mind together. The experience in
every rural community where a school
of this kind has been established, is
that the people who cared nothing for
what they called "education" are so
eager for this training that they will
make any sacrifice to obtain it. Herein
is the beginning of a complete change
in neglected village and rural life.
Here, too, is proof that the people are
not " in the essence of their civilization "
different from the people of the other
parts of the country. The "way out"
has been found. The problem that the
South now presents has at last become
so plain that thoughtful men no longer
differ about it. It is no longer ob-
scured by race differences, nor by
political differences. It is simply the



146 THE REBUILDING OF

training of the untrained masses. As
slavery and war and an isolated life
arrested their development and held
them in a fixed social condition, so the
proper training of them to helpful occu-
pations will release them to usefulness
in a democracy.

The new movement is revolutionary
for another reason. The old notion of
education was that it meant the train-
ing of a few. It is now understood
that none can be well educated imless
all are trained. The failure to educate
the masses has sometimes brought
tragic results to the educated. There
was a man, for instance, in an old
Southern town who became a famous
scholar in the law; and I suppose that
he was a man of very unusual learning.
He became a judge, and he was re-
garded as the foremost jurist in his
State. But his income hardly kept



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 147

his library replenished. He lived in
respectable want and died without
making provision for his family. His son
also was trained to the law; and, since
the family felt it a sort of sacred duty
that he should remain where he was
bom, his practice, too, was so small
that he became discouraged and his
life was a failure. The daughter
sold the family mansion to pay the
family debts. "But," as one of her
neighbours said, **she is the first happy
and independent member of that fam-
ily." She teaches wood- work in the
public school, and is training her
nephews to scientific agriculture.

The men and women of both races
who are leading this great popular
movement work with an inspiration
that puts conventional teachers to
shame. For example: A young agri-
cultural chemist several years ago be-



148 THE REBUILDING OF

gan with enthusiasm a campaign of
education among the farmers. He put
much faith in bulletins and leaflets,
which were sent broadcast. "I soon
found out," said he, ''that sending out
literature did little good as long as
many farmers could not read, and
many more would not." He left his
laboratory and became an educational
statesman, and there are few men in
America whose influence in building
up the people is greater than his. Out
of a comparatively small acquaintance,
I know many similar experiences. A
well-trained preacher, for example,
who has had much to do with the ad-
ministration of the churches of his sect
in rural regions, lately gave up his
work and became a superintendent of
public schools. "Till the country peo-
ple are educated," said he^ ''church
work will not stick. "



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 149

Anyone who knows the work that
such men are doing could fill these pages
with a bare catalogue of heroic deeds —
deeds like these for example: The
principal of a school for training white
teachers proposed to the faculty that
they give a part of their salaries, which
were meagre to the edge of poverty,
to erect a new building for the school.
Not one demurred. The building was
put up, but there is yet not room
enough for the self-supporting students
that apply for admission; and twelve
teachers have only four recitation rooms.
They are occupied almost every hour
of the day. Yet no sooner had their
winter vacation come than the principal
hurried to Hampton Institute to study
its method of teaching handicrafts;
and half the faculty went to New York
to hear lectures at the Teachers' Col-
lege. A vacation does not suggest rest



I50 THE REBUILDING OF

to them but opportunity to equip
selves better. One of them went, as
soon as his vacation began, to organize
a model school in a village of two
hundred people. They had collected
$i,ooo. He secured $500 from some
other source. The building was opened
and every white parent in the neigh-
bourhood went to the dedication of it;
and the school, with its garden, its
kitchen and its workshop as well as its
books, provokes such enthusiasm as
the community never would have felt
for a mere book-school.

Educational work in these States is,
therefore, something more than the
teaching of youth; it is the building of
a new social order. The far-reaching
quality of the work that the energetic
educators in the South are doing lifts
them out of the ranks of mere school-
masters and puts them on the level of



OLD COMMONWEALTHS 151

constructive statesmen. They are the
servants of democracy in a sense that
no other pubhc servants now are; for
they are the re-builders of these old
commonwealths .

Any man who has the privilege to
contribute even so small a thing as ap-
plause to this great movement feels the
thrill of this State-building work so
strongly that he is not likely to take a
keen interest in such tame exercise as
historical speculation. Yet it would
be interesting to speculate on the effects
of Jefferson's plan for public education
if it had been carried out. Would the
public schools not have prevented the
growth of slavery? True, public


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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 5 of 6)