ADVANCING SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION IN THE UNITED STATES
ADVANCING SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION IN THE UNITED STATES
[1896 or 1897]
Colonial society; embryonic society. — American history disproves the notion of the “Boon of Nature, etc.” — Movement of American history away from anarchistic liberty. — Colonial industrial organization the slightest possible. — No employer and employee or other classes. — Social organization was characterized by equality and democracy. — But there were modifications of democracy: 1. Aristocratic distinctions, so far as possible; 2. Distinctions by talent and industry; 3. Slavery. — Summary of points about democracy and classes.—Colonial society furnishes a test of the village community notion. — No society of free and independent tillers only. — Analysis of democracy; definition of its varieties. — Aristocracy of slavery. — Jacobinism and sanaculottism. — The Constitution-maker and democracy. — Sense of radical and conservative in America. — Upper classes and political duty. — Significance of organization. — Advantages of a new country. — The escape from tradition. — No manors. — Agriculture and land tenure in the colonies. — The town and township. — Extension of loyalty from town to province, then to Union. — The advancing civil organization. — Disruptive forces. — Anarchistic liberty; it is limited in towns by unpopularity and gossip. — Character produced by anarchistic liberty. — Character produced by great chances of wealth. — Liberty due to freedom from powerful neighbors. — Merits of the quarrel with England, 1763–1775. — Effects of disorganization in the Revolution. — Effects of disorganization under the Confederation. — Constitution unwelcome; why? — Grand extension of discipline and reign of law. — How the federal government took the place of Great Britain. — It had to deal with the same anarchistic elements. — Necessity that these should be overcome. — The work of the Federal party. — The course of the Jeffersonians. — The Supreme Court has helped the integration. — Police were needed in cities to uphold the authority of law. — Survival of Revolutionary delusions in the Civil War. — Latest phenomena of those delusions. — Combination of the different stages of organization in the United States now. — Inevitableness of struggle for mastery in the Union. — The future will see condensation of the organization. — Advantage of rapidity of growth. — Institutions in the Constitution. — War between democracy and institutions. — Compromise between them. — The contemporaneous transfer of power to the masses with civil liberty, in the place of anarchistic liberty. — Reasons for the power of democracy. — Economic causes of the present social and political revolution. — This has given power and chances to the masses. — Decline of representative institutions. — Risks of high organization. — Prophets are either optimists or alarmists. — Error of optimists. — Error of alarmists.
The fact which gives chief value to the study of the early history of the United States is that in it we can see a society begin from its earliest germ and can follow its growth. It is a case of an embryo society, not however of savages but of civilized men. They came armed with the best knowledge and ability which men, up to the time of their migration, had won. They began with the laws, customs, institutions, arts, and sciences of their mother-country at the time, and of course they tried to imitate the social organization in which they had been brought up. This they did not do, however, without some variations, for they had notions of their own about government, religion, and social order. The emigrants were, in many cases, the radicals of their time and in coming to America they seized the opportunity to try to realize some of their pet ideas.
Very soon also it became apparent that transplanted institutions and customs must undergo change. Under changed physical and social circumstances the social relations alter and the social organization is forced to adapt itself. That is what happened here; and it is the perception and appreciation of such changes, in their causes and nature, which is one of the chief objects to be sought in the study of our colonial history. It is often said that this colonial history is dull and insipid, and so it is if you look only at the magnitude and complication of the events or the grade of the passions at play and the interests at stake. It is from the point of view which I have just indicated and in the study of the facts which I have described that that history wins very high philosophical importance and presents elements to the student of society which he can find nowhere else; for later colonial enterprises have been undertaken with the help of steam and constant communication between the colony and the mother-country, and so under conditions of less complete isolation. Our colonies consisted of little groups, thrown on the coast of this continent and left to find out how to carry on the struggle for existence here, in ignorance of the geography, the climate, and other most essential facts, with very little capital, and with only the most imperfect connection with the mother-country from which they must expect help and reinforcements. It is, however, just this isolation, with the necessity of self-adjustment to the conditions, which gives interest and value to the story of the colonies as social experiments. It is a fact of more importance than the story of dynasties and wars that not a single permanent settlement could be made on the territory now occupied by the United States until more than a hundred years after Columbus discovered America; for it is a fact which at once proves the folly of the notion that there is such a thing as a “boon of nature,” or that “land” is a free gift from nature of a thing useful to man. Why did a hundred men perish miserably when trying, in the sixteenth century, to found a settlement on territory where now seventy million live in prosperity? It was because nature offers, not a boon but a battle; not a gift but a task; and those men, with the means they possessed, were not competent for the task or able to win the battle. Although the settlements at Jamestown, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay did not perish, the story of their first years shows with what toil, pain, and risk a foothold could be won for beginning the struggle for existence here. It is anything but a picture of men quietly walking in to take their places at the “banquet of life,” bounteously and gratuitously offered by nature.
But from the social germ planted by these colonists all that we have and are has grown up by expansion, adaptation, absorption of new elements, death or abolition of old ones — in short, by all the working and fighting, suffering and erring which go into the life of a big, ambitious, and vigorous society.
In following out this conception of American history we shall find that it presents a very remarkable contrast to the history of modern Europe. In the latter the movement which runs through the history is one of advancing organization, attended by an extension socially, industrially, and politically, of individual liberty; in the United States, however, while the social organization has advanced with gigantic strides, it has been attended by restrictions of individual liberty. Here I use the word “liberty” in its anarchistic sense of exemption from restraint, and not in its legal and institutional sense. While the progress of time has brought in Europe the abolition of minute and vexatious restrictions upon individual self-determination, in the United States it has increased the number of laws, customs, and usages which, extending over all departments of social activity except religion, interfere with the freedom of individual action. This is one of the penalties of high organization. If as a member of a great and strong organization you win advantages, you must pay for them by conformity and co-operation within the organization; but these will limit your individual liberty. If we bear in mind this contrast between American and European history, it will help to explain many apparent contradictions in their philosophy which may perplex us when studying them side by side. All that I have yet to say will further expound and develop this contrast.
We shall also find another and most remarkable fact of American social history in this: that, while the lines of the social organization have been more strictly drawn and the social discipline has been steadily made more stringent, there have been new and other developments of individual activity which have far more than offset the loss of the earlier rude and, in truth, barbaric liberty.
A very amusing incident is mentioned in Winthrop's history of New England. A land-owner hired a man to work for him, but, not being able to pay the stipulated wages, he gave the man a pair of oxen and discharged him. The laborer asked to go on with their relation. “How shall I pay you?” said the employer. “With more oxen,” replied the man. “But when the oxen are all gone?” “Then you can work for me and earn them back again.” There is in this story a whole volume of demonstration of the social relations of that time and that society. We can see that the relation of employer and employee was, under then-existing circumstances, impossible; when land was available in unlimited amount, how could one man be land-owner and another laborer? Why should not the latter go on a little further and become another land-owner? The two would then be alike and equal. If, however, one of them worked for the other, what wages would he demand? Evidently as much as he could gain by taking up land and working for himself. But this would equal all that he could produce as a laborer for another or all that his employer's land could produce, so far as it occupied one man's labor. Hence the laborer and the employer could only exchange places and impoverish each other alternately; and so no wages system was possible. For the same reason no complete wages system exists yet. Where increased human power was required in the colonies, it must be got by free co-operation, as in log-rolling and barn-raising. But this means that there was no industrial organization. All were farmers; ministers, teachers, merchants, mechanics, sailors carried on other occupations only incidentally; all owned land and drew their subsistence in a large proportion directly from land. It was far down in the eighteenth century before mechanics, sailors, merchants, lawyers, and doctors were differentiated as distinct and independent classes of persons. Thus in a century and a half or two centuries there has grown up here all this vast and complicated industrial organization which we now see, with its hundreds of occupations, its enormous plant and apparatus of all kinds, connected throughout by mutual relations of dependence, kept in order by punctuality and trustworthiness in the fulfillment of engagements, dependent upon assumptions that men will act in a certain way and want certain things, and, in spite of its intricacy and complication, working to supply our wants with such smoothness and harmony that most people are unaware of its existence. They live in it as they do in the atmosphere.
I shall return to this point in a moment and try to show the commanding significance of this fact that we all earn our living in and as parts of a great industrial organization; and indeed the purpose of this entire essay will be to try to get some due appreciation of the whole social and political organization, especially in its advancing phases, and of its dominion over us and our interests. But we have not yet quite exhausted all the significance of the incident which I mentioned at the outset. We see from it that not even the simplest class distinctions, those of employer and employee, were possible here at that time. No man could gain anything by owning more land than he could till; the people who got grants of land made disagreeable experience of the truth of this. Because land was the best property a man could own in England, and ten thousand acres was a great estate there, they supposed that a man who got a grant of ten thousand acres in America got a great fortune, whereas in reality he got only a chance to sink a fortune without hope of return. As there could be no landlord, there could be no tenant; no man would hire another's land when he could get land of his own for the labor of reducing it to tillage. Now landlords, tenant-farmers, and laborers are the three groups which form the fundamental framework of a class-divided society; but if they are all merged in a class of peasant-proprietors or yeomen-farmers, there is absolutely no class organization. All are equal, by the facts of the case, as nearly as human beings can be equal. A farmer tilling as much land as his own labor will suffice to cultivate never can accumulate a fortune in the midst of a society of others just like himself. Neither need any one of them lack subsistence for himself and family. His children are not a burden but a help; they offer the only aid which he can hope for, since the relation of hire is impossible. If his sons, as they grow up, go off and take up land of their own, it is an advantage to him to have many sons, that the series may last as long as his own working years. If the minister and schoolmaster, as the only representatives of the professional classes, live amongst these farmers in the same way and on the same scale, and if the merchants of the commercial towns are few and their gains are slow and small, there result just such commonwealths as existed in the northern colonies. The people of a town all club together to support a school for their children and a “common school system” is born unawares. It is plain that equality is the prevailing characteristic of this society; its members are equal in fortune, in education, in descent (at least after a generation or two), in mode of life, in social standing, in range of ideas, in political importance, and in everything else which is social, and nobody made them so. Such a society was what we call democratic, using the word in reference to the institutions, ideas, customs, and mores existing in it, and without reference to politics. It was made so, not by any resolutions or constitutions, but by the existing economic circumstances, of which the most important was the ratio of the population to the land. Nobody could have made the communities otherwise than democratic under the existing circumstances under which the struggle for existence was carried on.
The picture of colonial society which I have just drawn is the one which is generally presented and it may be familiar to the reader. In order to render it truthful, however, it is necessary at once to add some very important modifications.
In the first place, the English traditions and prejudices which had been inherited were distinctly aristocratic and the pet notions and doctrines of the colonists were not those of equality. If any man had anything to pride himself on as a distinction, he made the most of it, as nearly all men everywhere have done; and if the distinction was one of relationship to people of social importance in England, it was quite tenaciously nourished. Social distinction, however, if we may trust some reports, cost a man political ostracism. St. Jean de Crèvecoeur says that the richest man in Connecticut in 1770 was worth about $60,000; but he could not be elected to any office, and with difficulty obtained for his son a position as teacher in a Latin school in order to keep him in and of the people.
Then again, the innate and utterly inevitable inequality of men in industry, energy, enterprise, shrewdness, and so on, quickly differentiated these yeomen-farmers. Some families kept up the industrial virtues for generations; others manifested a lack of them. There were social failures then as there are always. Most of them “went West,” choosing an avenue of escape whose immense importance in the whole social history of this country must not for a moment be lost sight of; but we hear also of shiftless, lawless, and vagabond people who lived on the mountains or on the outskirts of the town, given to drink, quarreling, and petty thieving. This phenomenon warns us that the pleasing picture of an Arcadian simplicity, equality, and uniformity, such as has often been applied to our colonial society, is unreal. It is impossible in human nature. Put a group of men in equal circumstances, under wide and easy conditions, and instead of getting equal, uniform, and purely happy results, you will get a differentiation in which some will sink to misery, vice, and pauperism.
Yet again, when considering inequality, we must remember the existence of slavery in this society; of that I will speak presently in another connection.
We must, therefore, understand that the notion of our colonies as pure and ideal democracies is unhistorical. While broad features might seem to justify it, the details, in which lie all the truth and reality, greatly modify the picture.
But there is a wider aspect of this matter and one which, so far as I know, has never been noticed at all. I cannot find anywhere in history any case of a society of free and equal men consisting exclusively of independent tillers of the soil. We are forced to ask whether such a thing is a social impossibility. A notion has had wide currency within the last thirty years that “village communities” are a stage of primitive democratic organization through which most modern civilized societies have passed. That there have been villages which were organized for industrial and social purposes is as certain as that there have been states; but the “village community” has been personified and elevated to the rank, not of a social organization expedient for a purpose, but of an independent organism, something more than a society although less than an intelligent being. Hence it has been made to appear that the breaking up of village communities was not the abandoning of an organization which was no longer useful, but was the killing of something of an exalted and ideal character. This is all mythology. It is impossible to find any village community which was ever anything more than a group of people who were trying to get their living out of the ground as well as they could under the circumstances in which they found themselves. That is just what we are doing now. The most peculiar features of the village community were dictated by envy and jealousy, lest one man should be better off than another, and the chief lesson the study of them enforces is that when laws and customs are made with a view to equality they crush out progress.
But the point to which I wish now to call attention especially is even stronger if we assume that village communities were once such ideal societies, with vigorous and healthy forces inside of them; if they ever consisted of free and equal men, standing sturdily together, working industriously, sharing fairly, maintaining rights and justice d which they had a clear and natural apprehension, making every man do his duty, letting no man encroach upon another, and resisting all oppression from without. For the question then is: If any territory ever was occupied by such units, why did they sink into serfdom? The things which are strong vindicate their strength by their resistance and their achievements; it will not do, therefore, to say that the village communities were overridden by force; what is claimed for them is that they contained the most powerful and persistent social forces which can be called into play. All western Europe was feudalized and its cultivators of the soil were reduced to serfdom. Scandinavia was only partially feudalized, but it illustrates the point even better, because we can follow the reduction of free peasants as far down as they went towards serfdom, and we know that it was not their own energy of resistance which kept them from going lower. Furthermore, all over Europe among the peasant-tillers of the soil, while they were free yeomen (if they ever were so), there were slaves. These were owned by the freeholders. But if the yeomen were themselves slaveholders, their society is excluded from my proposition, for the society does not then consist of free and equal tillers of the soil alone.
I wish to bring into connection with this another fact which may seem at first to lie far removed from it. In stages of half-civilization where tillage is just beginning we find that the tillers are ruled by warlike nomads. This relation has been found all over the globe; especially where the tillers occupy a fertile plain below steppes or mountain slopes, the latter are inhabited by wild and wandering tribes which periodically descend into the plains to rob and plunder or levy tribute. A large part of Africa has long presented this state of things. It is evident that the settled tillers unlearn the arts of war, for they want peace, order, regularity. They must spend great labor on permanent works of construction and irrigation which are, however, at the mercy of an invader. The nomads are warlike and have greater physical power; they either make periodical raids or they compromise for a regular tribute. Great states have grown in the course of time out of this latter relation, the ruling nomads becoming the nobles and the tillers the peasantry or serfs. The first of these stages shows us militarism and industrialism in conflict; the second shows us the two combined and adjusted in a great state. This antagonism of militarism and industrialism is the most important thread of philosophy which can be run through history.
Here, then, is a startling phenomenon and a problem for the sociologist to elucidate. Does the tiller of the soil gravitate to servitude by some inherent necessity? There are no peasant-proprietors now in Europe who are not maintained by arbitrary operation of law. Whole schools of social philosophy have taken up the notion that peasant-proprietors are fine things to have and that they must be got or produced at any price in the old countries. It is not my intention now to discuss the problem thus raised, but I hasten to bring what I have said to bear on the subject before us. We see why it is interesting and important to ask whether the American colonies do present an exceptional case of what we are looking for, viz., a society consisting exclusively of free and equal tillers of the soil. To this the answer is that they do not. They used slaves; the great need of an organization of labor by which combined effort could be brought to bear was what caused the introduction of slavery. We have positive testimony from the colonial period that the practical reason for slavery was that without it laborers could not be induced to go and stay where the work was to be done, especially in remote districts. Slavery, of course, became developed and established more and more to the southward, as those districts were reached whose products — tobacco, rice, and indigo — could be cultivated only on a large scale by a great organization of labor, many laborers being combined under one overseer. In the northern states, when slavery was abolished, towns had grown up, professional classes had begun to be formed, artisans and merchants constituted distinct classes, and the whole social organization had become so complex that the simple society consisting exclusively of tillers of the soil was not to be sought there. It is true that our new states have, within a hundred years, come nearer to presenting us that phenomenon than any other communities ever have; but then again it is to be remembered that they are parts in a worldwide organization of industry and commerce and are not any longer distinct communities.
In the course of my remarks on the last point, I have touched upon the case of slavery in the South. It has often been said that slavery in the South was an aristocratic institution. Aristocratic and democratic are indeed currently used as distinctly antagonistic to each other, but whether they are so or not depends upon the sense in which each of them is taken, for they are words of very shifting and uncertain definition. It is aristocratic to measure men and scale off their social relations by birth; it is democratic to deny the validity of such distinctions and to weigh men by their merits and achievements without regard to other standards. In this sense, however, democracy will not have anything to do with equality, for if you measure men by what they are and do, you will find them anything but equal. This form of democracy, therefore, is equivalent to aristocracy in the next sense. For, second, aristocracy means inequality and the social and political superiority of some to others, while democracy means social and political equality in value and power. But no man ever yet asserted that “all men are equal,” meaning what he said. Although he said, “all men,” he had in mind some limitation of the group he was talking about. Thus, if you had asked Thomas Jefferson, when he was writing the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, whether in “all men” he meant to include negroes, he would have said that he was not talking about negroes. Ask anybody who says it now whether he means to include foreigners — Russian Jews, Hungarians, Italians — and he will draw his line somewhere. The law of the United States draws it at Chinamen. If you should meet with a man who should say, as I would, although I do not believe that all men are equal in any sense, that such laws are unjust and that all men ought to have an equal chance to do the best they can for themselves on earth, then you might ask him whether he thought that Bushmen, Hottentots, or Australians were equal to the best-educated and most cultivated white men. He would have to admit that he was not thinking of them at all. Now, if we draw any line at all, the dogma is ruined. If you say: “All men are equal except some who are not,” you must admit tests and standards and you are like the aristocrats, only that they may have other standards than yours and may draw the line around a smaller group. Furthermore if you define a group and then say that all are equal within it, that is pure aristocracy; all peers are equal — that is what their name denotes. School-boys learn from their Greek books enthusiasm for Greek democracy, but in the height of Athenian glory there were four slaves for every Athenian freeman and “democracy” meant the equality of these latter in exploiting the emoluments of the Athenian state. This brings us to the case of our Southern slaveholders. It was not a paradox that the great Virginians were slaveholders and great democrats too; the paradox is in the use of the words, for we see that the terms dissolve into each other. Before you know which you are talking about, it is the other. The Southern democrats drew their line between white and black, but they affirmed the equality of all whites, that is, of all who were in the ring. This made them great popular leaders — of whites. If we should repeal our naturalization laws, admit no more immigrants to citizenship, restricting political power to those now here and letting them and their descendants possess it by universal manhood suffrage, we should create a democratic-aristocracy in a generation or two. Hence it is clear that a democratic-aristocracy is not a contradiction in terms.
So far then, we see, I think, that democracy in the sense of political equality for the members of the ruling race was produced in the colonies out of the necessities and circumstances of the case. No convention ever decreed it or chose it. It existed in the sense of social equality long before it was recognized and employed as a guiding principle in institutions and laws; its strength in the latter is due to the fact that it is rooted and grounded in economic facts. The current popular notion that we have democratic institutions because the men of the eighteenth century were wise enough to choose and create them is entirely erroneous. We have not made America; America has made us. There is, indeed, a constant reaction between the environment and the ideas of the people; the ideas turn into dogmas and pet notions, which in their turn are applied to the environment. What effect they have, however, except to produce confusion, error, mischief, and loss is a very serious question. The current of our age has been entirely in favor of the notion that a convention to amend the Constitution can make any kind of a state or society which we may choose as an ideal. That is a great delusion, but it is one of the leading social faiths of the present time.
I turned aside from the second sense of aristocracy and democracy to show how the distinction applied to the case of our southern colonies. It will be an economy of time if I now return to that analysis before going further. Aristocracy means etymologically the rule of the best. Cicero says: “Certe in optimorum consiliis posita est civitatum salus.” If there were any way of finding out who are the best and of keeping them such in spite of the temptations of power, we might accept this dictum. In practice aristocracy always means the rule of the few. Democracy means the rule of the many; in practice it always means the rule of a numerical majority. A dogma has been made out of this and it has been affirmed that the majority has a right to rule in a sense as absolute as that in which the divine right of kings was formerly laid down. It has been asserted that the majority had a right to misrule, to waste money, to perpetrate injustice, and so on, if such was its good pleasure. This doctrine is democratic absolutism and it is as slavish and false as any doctrine of royal absolutism. In the working of majority rule it always degenerates into oligarchy; a majority of a majority is endowed with power, in one subdivision after another, until at last a few control. On the other hand, many cases can be found in history where an aristocracy has applied majority rule inside of itself with a dogmatic absoluteness surpassing that of democracy itself.
The degenerate form of democracy, when it runs out into an oligarchy or when it is entirely unregulated by constitutional provisions, is often designated as jacobinism. It is the rule of a clique, arrogating to itself the name of the people or the right to act for the people. It is the inevitable outcome of any form of democracy which is not restrained and regulated by institutions. A still more excessive degeneration of democracy is sansculottism. As a political form this is the rule of a street mob; as a philosophy it is hatred of all which is elegant, elevated, cultured, and refined. It stamps with rage and contempt on everything which is traditionally regarded as noble, praiseworthy, and admirable and it embraces with eagerness whatever is regarded by tradition as foul, base, and vulgar.
Returning now from this more philosophical analysis, which seemed necessary to a full understanding of terms, let us come back to the historical aspect of our subject. It does not appear that anybody paid any attention to the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence when it was written or that anybody except Thomas Paine then held to the dogmas of democracy. The men of that generation were all afraid of what they always called unbridled democracy. The disturbances of public order between 1783 and 1787 greatly intensified this fear, so that the Constitution-makers were not in a mood for any pure democracy. A few of them held to the system of political maxims which simply expressed the satisfaction of the great mass of the people with the loose political and social organization which had existed up to that time; but these men had very little influence on the result. The Constitution of 1787 is also remarkable, considering the time at which it was framed, for containing no dogmatic utterances about liberty and equality and no enunciation of great principles. Indeed this was made a ground of complaint against it by the leaders of the popular party; they missed the dogmatic utterances to which they had become accustomed during the war and they forced the passage of the first ten amendments. Even then, however, the Constitution contained no declaration of rights, but was simply a working system of government which was constituted out of institutions and laws already operating and familiar. In the one or two points in which the Constitution-makers endeavored to devise something new and clever with which to avert an apprehended danger, as for instance in the case of the Electoral College, their wisdom has all been set at naught. It is noticeable that this was a safeguard against democracy. In another case, when they set no limit to the number of reelections which a president might obtain, the democratic temper of the country has forced an unwritten law limiting the terms to two. Here I should like to point out a confirmation of one thing which I said at the outset, that the direction of political movement in this country and in Europe has been opposite. According to European usage, which has become current here also, we should want to call the Antifederalists radicals, and we should call Hamilton, Madison, and the other advocates of the new Constitution conservatives. But if conservative means clinging to the old and if radical means favoring change and innovation, then the Antifederalists were the conservatives and the Federalists were radicals.
There are people amongst us who are thrown into a flutter of indignation by the suggestion that there are any classes in our American society, yet from time to time we hear blame cast upon the educated and property classes for not taking a due share in politics. The existence of some class differentiation is then recognized. Democracy is in general and by its principles jealous of the interference of any who are distinguished from the mass by anything whatever; as soon as anybody is distinguished in any way he ceases to be one of the people. We hear the word “people” used in this way all the time and we know that it means, not the population but some part of the population which is hard to define but which, I think, means the mass with all the distinguished ones taken out. This is another recognition of class. Now it is part of the system of theoretical or dogmatic democracy to hold that wisdom is with the people in the sense just defined. They are said to know; they judge rightly; they perceive the truth; if we trust them, they will govern aright. Incidentally scorn is often cast on the sages and philosophers, the theorists and bookworms — and it is probably for the most part well-deserved; but the implication is that the mass of men have by nature and common sense the wisdom which the sages and philosophers lack. In any democratic system, therefore, the distinguished classes are kept aloof from the active control. There is nothing which the stump-orator, ambitious for influence and position, more energetically disclaims than the assumption that he is any better qualified to teach than any of his audience; he anxiously insists that he is only a common man and one of the people. This is the great reason why civil service reform has never won wide popular support — that it is considered undemocratic. It is so because it assumes that some men are more fit and capable for public office than other men are. Most of the time we give office to people whose vanity will be gratified by it, not to those who can serve us in the position. Those who have special ability, skill, capital, or knowledge are called upon in emergencies to help us out of difficulties, but they are watched with great jealousy lest they get a notion that they are essential and begin to assume that they must be retained and rewarded. They are therefore dismissed again as soon as possible and without reward. So far we have not got many of them to accept the rôle which is thus allotted to them, and although we scold them and tell them that they ought to carry tile burdens, do the work, and take the blows while somebody else gets the glory and the pay, we do not seem to make much impression on them. As a class they turn to money-making as a far more pleasant and profitable occupation.
We began with an employer and an employee face to face with each other and we have been brought to notice the lack of industrial organization and the incongruity of class distinctions in the colonial days on account of industrial facts. Already, then, we begin to see that the conditions of the existing social organization are controlling facts for the welfare and interests of men. Let us try to realize the full significance of this observation. We can perhaps understand it better now, having begun with the interpretation of a concrete case. Every one of us is born into society, that is to say, into some form and kind of society — the one which is existing at the time and place; we must live our lives in that society under the conditions which its constitution and modes of action set for us. We can imagine the same human infant taken either to the United States, to Russia, to Turkey, to China, or to Central Africa, and it is plain that his career and existence would be determined in its direction, modes, and possibilities by the one of those societies which should become his social environment. It is equally true, although not so obvious because the contrast is less strong, that a man could not be and become in Massachusetts in the seventeenth or the eighteenth century what he can be and become there in the nineteenth. The social organization is produced by the reaction between the environment and the society, in the process of time. At any point of time the existing social organization determines the character of the great mass of the people; only the élite amongst them react against it and slowly mold it from generation to generation. The social organization existing at any time also determines the character, range, and vitality of political institutions; it determines what ideas can take root and grow and what ones fall unnoticed; and it determines the ethical doctrines which are accepted and acted upon. You need only compare mediaeval and modern society to see how profoundly true this is at every point.
The social organization of these colonies was that of a new country and a young society. Its first advantage was that it could throw off all the traditions of the old countries which it did not like and retain all the knowledge, arts, and sciences which it wanted. It is one of the commanding facts in the history of the globe that one part of it was hidden and unknown until a very late day. Men living on the part which they did know developed civilization, but their civilization was mixed up with all the errors and calamities of thousands of years. Then they found a new world to which they could go, carrying what they wanted out of all which they had inherited and rejecting what they did not want. They undoubtedly made mistakes in their selection, because human error is ever present and is as enduring as humanity; but some things which they brought and should have left at home died out here under the influence of the environment. The most remarkable case of this is the manor system. A European of the seventeenth century could not think of society outside of the manor system and we see manor ideas and institutions imported here in more or less definite form; but they all shriveled up and became obsolete because they were totally unfit for a society in which land was unlimited and civil authority adequate to maintain peace. The only element of manor-making which was at work here was the lack of laborers. Serfdom and villainage were in large measure due to the necessity of holding the laborer to the spot in order that tillage might be carried on. In this country, at least in the northern states, slavery was due to the necessity of holding the laborer to the spot in order that tillage might go on. Slavery, therefore, must be regarded as a product of some of the same conditions which in Europe made serfdom. Plantations took the place of manors in the South and yeoman farms with a small amount of slavery took the place of them in the North. This difference in land tenure and agricultural system between America and the old countries, which was foreseen and devised by no man but was imposed upon the colonists by the facts they had to deal with, became, of course, the cause of the greatest differences through the whole social organization. The development here was new, fresh, and original. Slavery appears as an incongruous element at first; as the population increased and the organization became more developed, that institution was dropped in the northern states. There its incongruity with the whole social system and the ethical ideas of a body of yeomen tilling their own soil first became apparent. At a later time, by the progress of the arts, slavery became dispensable and it has disappeared entirely. With its cessation it seemed that every vestige of a manor system or analogy to it had vanished from the land, but among the tentative organizations of labor in the southern states at the present time, out of which some new and suitable system for the conditions of industry there existing will be developed, there is a kind of manor system with labor rents. The problem of land tenure and of the agricultural system upon which a great free state can be built contains difficulties and mysteries which have not yet even been defined; but if one gets near enough to them to even guess at their magnitude and difficulty, he sees in a very grotesque light the propositions of the “single tax” and of state assumption of land. In our colonies, where these things shaped themselves with the greatest freedom to suit the welfare of the settlers themselves, all the principles of the English common law were overridden, so that this did not determine the result. The land of a town was originally divided equally between the settlers because all shared equally in the risk and trouble of settlement. Small estates existed because, as we have seen, there was no object in owning big ones. Equal division of estates in case of intestacy was introduced because, if primogeniture had been retained, younger sons would not have lived and worked on the father's land. Finally, land tenures gradually became allodial. But an allodial tenure is the utmost private property in land conceivable; it makes of every freeholder a petty sovereign on his domain. We can plainly see that no other tenure would attract and hold settlers on raw land. The so-called unearned increment is the reward of the first settler who meets the first and greatest hardships incident to the peopling of new land. Thus we see that the land tenure and the agricultural system were fully consonant with the loose industrial organization and the democratic social organization which we have already noticed.
The settlements were made in little groups or towns. No civilized people have ever had so little civil organization as the colonial towns early in their settlement; there was little division of labor, scarcely any civil organization at all, and very little common action. Each town was at the same time a land company and an ecclesiastical body, and its organization under each of these heads was more developed than in its civil or political aspect. The methods of managing the affairs of a land company or a congregation were those of the town as a civil body also and the different forms of organization were not kept distinct. The administration of justice shows the confusion most distinctly: all common interests were dealt with by the one common body without distinction or classification; and as committees for executing the decisions of the body were the most obvious and convenient device for executive and administrative purposes, we find that device repeated with only slight variations.
Attempts have been made to endow this primitive system with some peculiar dignity and value. People have talked of “townships” instead of towns. Whenever the abstract is thus put for the concrete, our suspicions of myth-making should always be aroused. A town was a number of people living in a neighborhood and co-operating for common interests as convenience required; a township could be endowed with life and functions and could be made, by myth, into a force or sort of ruling providence. This township has been connected with so-called village-communities which we have seen to be another case of myth. The utility of the study of the New England towns is, in part, in the critical light which is thrown on the whole notion of village-communities as it has become current in our literature. The New England towns certainly lacked the communal element; religious sympathy was the strongest associative principle there was in them, but otherwise the sentiment was strongly individualistic. They were also so utterly loose in their ties, and the internal cohesion was so slight, that they never exercised that educating and formative influence which peasant villages in Europe, having through centuries retained the same institutions and customs, undoubtedly did exercise. In the South, where the plantation system existed, not even these nuclei of social organization were formed. Thus the whole of this country, until the beginning of the eighteenth century, presented the picture of the loosest and most scattered human society which is consistent with civilisation at all, and there were not lacking phenomena of a positive decline of civilization and gravitation towards the life of the Indians. Political organization scarcely existed and civil organization was but slight. Later generations have condemned and ridiculed the religious bigotry of the colonists with its attendant religious persecution and the political ostracism of all but the ruling sect; but it this strong religious sympathy had not existed, what associative principle would they have had to hold them together and build up a civil society?
I have said that the picture presented by the settlements in this country until the beginning of the eighteenth century was that of little groups of farmers scattered along the coast and rivers, forming towns under the loosest possible organization. Names such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, were used then to cover areas very great as compared with the amount of land under cultivation. Those names had very little meaning to the people of that time, for life and its interests were bounded by the town. Only in the eighteenth century can we see the horizon extend so that the province grows to be the real civil unit and grows into a real commonwealth; the process was slow, however, and for the most part unwilling. In the nineteenth century the conception of the national and civil unit has expanded so that our sense of nationality cleaves to the Union as a great confederated state. This advance in the feeling of the people as to what the country to which they belong is, and what that is which is the object of patriotism, is one of the interesting developments of our history. The merging of the town into the state and of the state into the United States has been brought about by the increase of population, the filling up of the country, the multiplication of interests reaching out all over it and grappling the people together. The bonds are those of kin, of industry and commerce, of religion through the various denominations and churches, of common pursuits in education, science, and art, and of associations for various purposes of culture or pleasure. This is what we mean by the advancing social organization. It unites us into a whole; it forms us into a society; it gives us sentiments of association and co-operation. Our states, instead of being separate bodies united only by neighborhood and alliance, are formed into one body with nerves running through it; and it is by virtue of these nerves, that is, of the lines of common feeling and interest which I have mentioned, that a touch at one point brings out a reaction from the whole.
There are other causes which are always at work in the contrary direction. They are the forces of discord and divergent interest. In a state of seventy million people scattered over a continent the forces of disruption are always at work. The great social organization all the time tends to promote a great political organization; as the interests multiply and become complex, there is a call for federal legislation in order to get uniformity, e.g., as to marriage, divorce, bankruptcy. The laws also get extensions from use and new application, the effects of which in a few years amaze us by their magnitude and importance, as, for example, the Interstate Commerce Law. Now all this extension, systematization, and uniformity-making produces symmetry, order, and elegance, but it goes with the old terror of our statesmen — consolidation. It is making of us a great empire. Few people, even of those who have lived through it, seem to notice the great change which has come over our federal system since the Civil War. The most important alteration is that in the feeling of the people about what sort of a government there is at Washington — what it is and what it can do. Young people should understand that the indescribable sense and feeling about that question, which we carry with us now, is totally different from the sentiments of our fathers between 1850 and 1860. Now there is a danger in centralization. A big system never can fit exactly at more than a few places, if at any; elsewhere it strains a little in its adaptation and it may strain very much. If it does, we shall hear an outcry of distress and it may be of anger and revolt, for the movement to higher organization means a movement away from liberty, and is always attended by irritation until men become habituated to the constraint of the organization and realize its benefits. In the course of our history this has been fully illustrated. Every step of the way up to the present system which, I think, we regard almost unanimously as an advance and a gain, as we look back upon it, has been contested. The advancing organization draws together and consolidates, provided its action is not so abrupt and harsh as to provoke rebellion and disruption. In every case it produces a more prompt civil reaction. By this we mean that there is a more prompt obedience to authority, greater punctuality in the performance of legal duties, and greater exactitude in the co-operation of institutions and persons who are called upon by the civil authority to perform civil functions for the good of the state. This means greater discipline and less liberty.
Here I use the word “liberty” in its primary sense: a status in which there are no restraints on the self-determination of the individual. That liberty is, of course, never more than relative, for there are restraints wherever there are any institutions, customs, or laws at all. Therefore this kind of liberty, if an attempt is made to realize it against laws and institutions, is anarchistic. I shall refer to it sometimes in speaking of the later history as anarchistic liberty.
No men on earth have ever been as free to do as they pleased as these American colonists were. Savage men are not free to do as they please and may be dismissed from comparison; civilized men in the Old World were born into a society already old; here, however, were civilized men who, after they had secured a footing, were limited by the very least restraint of any kind which can exist in human life. The fetters which they laid on themselves in accordance with their religious dogmas were no doubt a good thing, for otherwise there would have been no discipline at all, and for human welfare liberty and discipline need to be duly combined. In fact, the colonists, after two or three generations, threw off the puritanical restraints only too much.
Liberty had its cause and its enduring guarantee in the circumstances of the case. If a man lives alone in the middle of a farm of one hundred acres, what he does there will make little difference to his neighbors, each living in the same way. But if he and his family live in a tenement house, with a score of other families, separated only by thin partitions and floors, everything that he does or neglects will make a great difference to others. Therefore there are few laws made by the community as to how a man shall behave on a farm, whereas there are strict regulations by the state, the city, and the landlord as to how people shall behave in tenement houses. The latter regulations are no proof of meddlesomeness and officialism — they are a necessity of the case. On the other hand, the “liberty” of colonial farmers was no choice of theirs, no creation of law, no proof of clearer wisdom than that of Old-World statesmen — it was a necessity of the case.
In one respect, indeed, the townsmen of a colony lacked liberty — for in no case and in no sense can you find absolute liberty on this earth; that is an anarchistic dream. The public opinion of a town was an impervious mistress; Mrs. Grundy held powerful sway and Gossip was her prime minister. This accounts for the remarkable subserviency, in the early days of this country, of public men to popularity. Unpopularity in a town or petty neighborhood where everybody knows everybody else intimately is an extreme social penalty; it reaches a man through his wife and children and it affects him in all his important interests and relations. It was a powerful coercive force here and was, as far as it went, a restraint on liberty. It was not, however, an organizing force, and its influence does not contradict the observation that the organization was loose and slight.
The effect of this great liberty on both the virtues and the vices of colonial character was clearly marked. The people were very bold, enterprising, and self-reliant; they were even imprudent in their enterprises; they took great risks because the trouble and cost of precautions were great. They were not painstaking because there was so much to be done in subduing a continent that they could not stop to be careful; they had to be contented with expedients and to sacrifice the long future interest to the immediate one. It would have been unwise and wasteful to do otherwise. They were also very versatile; a man had to be a jack-of-all-trades because there was no elaborate industrial organization. They also took things very easily. They were not energetic; they could with ease get enough and they were not willing to work very hard to get a little more. They were optimistic; they went on, never fearing but what they could conquer any difficulties they might meet and borrowing very little trouble. Most of these traits, as we know, have become fixed in the national character. As a consequence, the colonists were divided into two well-marked types: one industrious and steady, the other shiftless and lazy. There were very few avenues to wealth and so there were few rewards for great exertion. The love of trading was due to the fact that it offered quicker and larger gains than could be got from tilling the ground. It is the opening of grand chances of exceptional success in the nineteenth century which has wrought a great transformation in the national character, for it has offered rewards for exceptional ability and exceptional achievement which have stimulated the whole population. Here is a fact — and it is one of the most salient and incontrovertible facts in our own history — which shows the shallowness and folly of a great deal of current lamentation or denunciation of the accumulation of wealth. If you will turn to European history, you will find that the moment when land would produce, not merely a subsistence for those who tilled it but also a profit, that is, the moment when it would bear rent, is the moment when the modern world began to spring into energetic life. Here land has never yet borne rent, but transportation rates have taken the place of rent and, together with manufacturing on a large scale and the application of capital to develop the continent, have opened far broader avenues of profit and have offered greater prizes than land-rent in the Old World. It is these chances which have filled the population with a fever of energy and enterprise and enthused them with hope, and in the might of such driving forces they have done marvellous things. It is true, as the French proverb says, that they have not made omelettes without smashing some eggs; and we have many social philosophers who are crying over the eggs.
What I have said thus far of liberty has referred to individual liberty. Political liberty inside of any country depends very largely upon its external relations. The great force for forging a society into a solid mass has always been war. So long as there were Indians to be fought, and so long as the Dutch were in New York or the French in Canada, the colonies had a foreign policy; they had enemies at the gates. Such a state of things forces some attention to military preparations. The state must make calls on its citizens for money and for military services and this state-pressure limits political liberty. After the French were driven out of Canada there was a great change in this respect: there was nothing more to fear, and all military exercises, being regarded as irksome, were almost entirely neglected. Internal liberty took a new expansion. In the prevailing dullness of colonial life one of the chief sports had been to bait the colonial governor; and the colonists now gave themselves up to this diversion with greater freedom than ever. Internal discord involved no risk of weakness in the presence of a neighboring enemy. Note well that those people are easily free who have no powerful neighbor to fear. Imagine, if you can, that the boundary of Russia had been at the Mississippi River and that she had been meddling with us in the eighteenth century as she did with Sweden and Poland — do you suppose that we could have got this liberty which our historians and orators talk about? If not, then you may be sure that no human shrewdness or wisdom entailed it on us as it is, but that it was born of a happy conjuncture of circumstances.
The absence of powerful neighbors has been an important fact in all our later history. It has freed us from the militarism which now weighs so heavily upon Europe and it has made it possible for us to develop to its highest limit a purely industrial social organization. It is true that the Civil War with its debt, taxation, bad currency, and pension burdens has made us acquainted with some of the burdens of militarism, but that is all our own fault; by virtue of the lack of strong neighbors we had a right to be free from it if we had been wise enough to profit by the advantages of our situation. But an industrial society brings to bear upon its members an education widely different from that of a military civilization; the codes of citizenship, the conception of what is heroic, the standards of honor, the selection of things best worth working for, the types to which admiration is due, all differ in the two systems. Militarism is produced by a constant preoccupation with the chances of war and the necessity of being prepared for it, and this preoccupation bars the way when people want to think about the reform of institutions or the extension of popular education or any other useful social enterprise. From all that preoccupation the people of this country have been free; they have been able to give their attention without reserve to what would increase the happiness and welfare of the people.
Let us sum up what we have thus far gathered from our review of the colonial period. We have seen that the division of labor was slight; that there was scarcely any industrial organization; that, if slavery be left out of account, there was but little differentiation of classes; that the social ties, even before religious enthusiasm died out, were very few and narrow and strictly local; that, after that enthusiasm died out, such ties scarcely existed at all; that the horizon of life was the town and only at second stage the province. We have also seen that the most peculiar characteristics of the colonial society were the equality of its members and the large liberty of self-will enjoyed by individuals. We know that the separate provinces had very little sympathy or even acquaintance with each other; at one time and another, under the influence of a common danger from the Indians or the French, a feeble thrill of common interest ran through some of them, but it never proved strong enough to unite them. These social and political elements were the inheritance of the Union from the colonial period.
I by no means agree with the current histories about the facts and merits of the quarrel with England between 1763 and 1775. They are all tinctured with alleged patriotism and the serious facts of the case are sometimes passed over in silence. The behavior of the colonists was turbulent, lawless, and in many cases indefensible; and the grounds on which they based their case were often untenable in law and history and often inconsistent with each other. They sought these grounds as a lawyer seeks grounds on which to argue his case, choosing them, that is, on the basis of whether they will make more for him than against him, not whether they are true or not. The principles of 1774 were distinctly anarchical because they were put forward as a basis of continued relation to Great Britain but were inconsistent with that relation. Another cause of rebellion which was very strong in the South, although little stress is laid upon it in history, was the accumulated debt to British merchants which it was hoped would be cancelled by war. It is true that the English colonial policy of the eighteenth century did not rise above the eighteenth-century English level, which from our standpoint was base; but that it was not very shocking to eighteenth-century Americans is shown by the fact that they never fully, clearly, and in principle revolted against the Navigation Act, which was their greatest grievance. Even as to taxation the Americans never put their case on a clear and intelligible ground; they talked of various abuses of taxation, but they showed that they would not consent to any taxation. Adam Smith, taught no doubt by study of the case of our colonies, said: “Plenty of good land and liberty to manage their own affairs in their own way seem to be the two great causes of the prosperity of all new colonies.” The American colonies had the land but not the liberty. If they wanted to do anything which they thought expedient for their own interest they had to send to England for permission. Even if the reply was reasonably prompt, this cost a year; but inasmuch as applications were bandied about, neglected, and forgotten, in spite of the zeal of agents, there were fetters laid upon colonial development. As soon, therefore, as the colonists were able to be independent and dared be independent, it was necessary that they should be so. That is the cause and the justification of the Revolution. The rest is all the wrangling about rights, dogmas, laws, and precedents which accompanies every revolution. I see no use at all in the study of history unless the historian is absolutely faithful to the truth of the matter; but when, in a moment, my reason for introducing these remarks here appears, the case will then serve to prove, I think, how much more the truth is worth than anything else is worth in history.
All the laxness of the social organization, all the mischief of what has been called church-steeple patriotism, and all the weakness of anarchistic liberty appeared most distinctly in the Revolutionary War. In Congress, in the army administration, in the finances, in the medical department, the faults of lack of organization were conspicuous and their consequences were humiliating. The effects of lack of organization may be summed up in a word: such a lack makes it impossible to bring the power and resources of the community to bear on the task in hand. That is what was proved in the history of the War. In the meantime the bonds of social order were relaxed on every side: the “committees” accustomed the people to arbitrary and tyrannical action; the cruel and wicked persecution of the Tories demoralized the Whigs; the corruption of the paper money produced bitter heart-burnings and discontent; the sudden enrichment of a few by privateering and speculation presented an irritating phenomenon which had not been seen before. The heated declamation about liberty had produced vague expectations and hopes which were, of course, disappointed; and all this culminated in the period of the Confederation, when it seemed to some that the whole social and political fabric was falling to pieces. There was, however, a great deal of jacobinism, to use a later term, the adherents of which were perfectly satisfied that things were going in the right direction.
Now if we do not know these facts and give them their due weight, how are we to appreciate the work of the Constitution-makers? How can we understand what their task was, what difficulties they had to overcome, what the grounds were of the opposition which they had to meet? Everyone knows nowadays that the people by no means leaped forward to grasp this Constitution, which is now so much admired and loved, as the blessing which they had been praying for. Why did they not? To put it in the briefest compass, the reason why not was this: that Constitution was an immense advance in the political organization at a single step. It made a real union; it reduced the independent (I avoid the word “sovereign”) states to a status of some limitation; it created a competent executive — one who could govern, not influence or persuade; it created a treasury which could reach the property of the citizen by taxes, not by begging; it created a power which could enforce treaties. Considering the anarchical condition of things and the waywardness and irritation of the public temper, it is amazing that such a step could have been accomplished.
Its opponents declared that the new Union was simply taking the place which Great Britain had occupied; that its dominion was as intolerable as hers had been; that they had only changed masters by the War. Here is the point at which we need to recall what has been said about the attitude and behavior of the colonists between 1763 and 1774. If this is done it will be seen that the allegation about the Union having come to occupy the position which Great Britain had occupied was true; it had to claim what she had claimed and to meet with the same insubordination which she had met with. One cause of quarrel with England had been the regulation of commerce; but the Constitution had given Congress the power to regulate commerce — and we are still quarrelling about what this power means and how to use it. Another cause of quarrel had been over the legal-tender paper money, which Great Britain had tried to forbid; but the Constitution forbade legal-tender paper money to the states and, as was then believed, to the Union too. It forbade the states to impair the obligation of contracts, which went farther and was more explicit than anything Great Britain had done. Where England had been very careful about coming into direct contact with the individual citizen in the colonies, the Constitution distinctly and avowedly brought the Union into contact with the individual through the judiciary and through indirect internal taxes. The necessity had been experienced during the War of frowning down any partial confederations between less than the whole number of states, but precisely by so doing was the disapproval of England against the Stamp Act Congress and other congresses justified. The state governments had already found it necessary to use measures against smuggling like those which had given so much offence when used by Great Britain. In the treaty of peace, again, which the federal government was now authorized to enforce, British creditors were ensured the use of the courts to enforce payment. Finally in the matter of taxation the Union inherited all the embarrassments of Great Britain. The states had shown that they would not freely consent to any import duties in their ports for the federal treasury; but now the federal government had power to lay and collect them by its own officers. It also proceeded at once to use its power to lay excise taxes, and when this produced a rebellion, it put down the rebellion by armed force with a vigor and promptitude far surpassing anything which the English did, even during the War. In the trials which ensued to punish the violators of law, to which there is no parallel whatever in anything done by the English during the colonial period, the doctrine was laid down that it was high treason to go with arms to the house of an administrative officer of the law with intent to injure his property or otherwise intimidate him from the performance of his duty. But according to that ruling very many of those who took part in the Stamp Act riots were guilty of high treason. Therefore, to sum it up, the doctrines of the radical Whigs were now the doctrines of the radical Antifederalists. The latter claimed with truth that they were consistent, that they had all the same reason to oppose and dread the Union which they had had to oppose Great Britain, and that the Union had inherited and was perpetuating the position of Great Britain. It became a current expression of discontent with the federal system, of which you hear occasional echoes even now, that it was an imitation of the English system invented and fastened on the country by Alexander Hamilton — and this was rather a distortion of the true facts than an utter falsehood.
What, then, shall we infer from all these facts? Plainly this: that the Revolutionary doctrines were anarchistic, and inconsistent with peace and civil order; that they were riotous and extravagant; and that there could be no success and prosperity here until a constitutional civil government existed which could put down the lawless and turbulent spirit and discipline the people to liberty under law. This is the position which was taken by the Federal party; this is why New England, although it had been intensely Whig, became intensely Federal. The people knew the difference between war measures and peace measures and they realized the necessity of tightening again the bonds of social order. This is also why the Federal party was so unpopular; it was doing a most useful and essential work, but it is never popular to insist upon self-control, discipline, and healthful regulation. On the other hand Jefferson and his friends always prophesied smooth things, assuring “the people” that it was showing the highest political wisdom when it was doing as it had a mind to. Their doctrine was that “the people,” that is, all the population except the educated and property classes, knew everything without finding it out or being aware of it, and distilled from votes infallible wisdom for the solution of political problems, although the individuals that made up “the people” might have no wisdom in their individual heads. Of course this was popular; men are delighted to hear that they have all rights without trouble and expense, that they are wise without hard experience or study, and that they shall have power without being put to any trouble to win it. The Jeffersonians, therefore, preached relaxation, negligence, and ease, while the Federalists were working for security, order, constitutional guarantees, and institutions. However, when the Jeffersonians got into power, the conservatism of authority got possession of them and they, in their turn, increased the federal power and developed and intensified the political organization. Perhaps they did it more prudently, wisely, and successfully than the Federalists did, just because they advocated it in phrases borrowed from the old pet doctrines of relaxation and undiscipline.
I shall no more than mention the development of the power of the Supreme Court in the interpretation of the Constitution; this began after the second war with England and was a powerful influence in carrying on the development and integration of our political institutions. I might also mention the introduction of police into our large cities, a measure which, when it was done, was viewed with great disfavor by the friends of liberty, although our large cities had been disgraced by frequent riots, and the dangerous classes in them had become organized and were almost independent of the law.
In the Civil War the delusion of the Southerners was, in large part, a survival of the old anarchism of the Revolutionary period. All the jargon of Secession is perpetuated from the period before the Revolution; the genealogy of it, down through the resolutions of '98 and Nullification, is clear and indisputable. It is pitiful to see with what sublime good faith the Southerners repeated the old phrases and maxims; they thought that they were enunciating accepted and indisputable truths and evoking, on their own behalf, the memories of our heroic age. But the defeat of the South in the War has not meant the definitive extrusion of those maxims and notions from our political system. If we do not wish another generation to grow up with another set of delusions to be cured by bloodshed, it would be well to correct the stories in our popular histories about the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party and the doctrine about “no taxation without representation,” as well as those about natural rights and the equality of all men. It is by no means true that what our young people need is an uncritical patriotic inflation. The principles of '76 were: (1) revolution, because there was a revolution on hand — but this principle can have no utility or applicability until there is another revolution on hand; (2) rebellion against the crown of England and secession from the British empire — but this principle, as we have found by experience, was good for once only, when the causes were serious enough to justify it; (3) independence — but independence is not a general principle; if it were, it would require a series of revolts until every town stood by itself. The common wealers of last summer built their whole platform on delusive constructions of the popular dogmas of liberty and on phrases of historical reference to the Revolution. In these great strike riots you hear echoes of all the Fourth of July sentiments and corollaries of all the great Revolutionary principles. They are all delusions as to what this world is, what human society is, what we can do here. The uneducated and half-educated men who utter them are not half to blame for them. They have been taught so; they have caught up catchwords and phrases; and now they are converting these into maxims of action. Such delusions are never cured without much pain and many tears.
When we gather together the observations we have made, showing the advance of the entire social organization from the colonial settlement up to the present time, in all its branches — the industrial system, the relations of classes, the land system, the civil organization, and the organization of political institutions and liberty — we see that it has been a life-process, a growth-process, which our society had to go through just as inevitably as an infant after birth must go on to the stages of growth and experience which belong to all human beings as such. This evolution in our case has not been homogeneous. The constant extension or settlement into the open territory to the west has kept us in connection with forms of society representing the stages through which the older parts of the country have already passed. We could find today vast tracts of territory in which society is on the stage of organization which existed along the Atlantic coast in the seventeenth century; and between those places and the densest centers of population in the East we could find represented every intervening stage through which our society has passed in two hundred years. This combination of heterogeneous stages of social and political organization in one state is a delicate experiment; they are sure to contend for the mastery in it, and that strife threatens disruption. As I believe that this view has rarely received any attention, it is one of the chid points I have wished to make in surveying the advance of social and political organization in this country.
The Federalists opposed the creation of frontier states which should share, on an equal footing in some respects, with the old ones in the federal Union. They thought that the wishes, tastes, interests, and methods of the two classes of states would be inconsistent, that they would clash, and that the things which the old states held dear would be imperilled. This view afterwards became a subject of ridicule. New states were not new very long before they became old; they filled up with population, acquired capital, multiplied their interests, and became conservative. It seemed an idle and pedantic notion that there could be any political difficulty in the combination of new and old states; the more we got in, the bigger we grew — and that was the main point. Then again all political struggle centered in the struggle of North and South for supremacy in the Union; the other elements which were included in the struggle have blinded us to the fact that that was the real character of it — a struggle for supremacy in the Union. Just as certainly as you have a unit-group inside of which different elements can be differentiated, just so certainly will those elements strive for the mastery; it is a law of nature and is inevitable. In the Constitutional Convention of 1787 the one great question was: If we have a union, who will rule in it? It was not until equal representation in the Senate was agreed upon that union became possible. Then the great division was between large states and small ones. The resolutions of '98, by Virginia and her daughter, Kentucky, were aimed at a Yankee President and his supporters, by whom Virginia would not be ruled. As soon as the system was in full operation, the alliance of Virginia and New York attempted to control it; they threw the Federal party and the East out of power, upon which you find New England going over forthwith to secession and disunion. Then, as the new states came in, the divisions of the old ones sought their alliance. The coalition of the South and West in the '20's could not be consolidated because the new states came in so fast. The slave states and the non-slave states then became the most clear, important, and positive differentiation there was. With the census of 1840, however, it became clear that the slave states could not retain the proportional power and influence which they had had in the confederation; and it was their turn to become disunionists. Fifty years of our history have gone into that struggle, for it is not more than well over now. Meanwhile other great interests have been neglected and great abuses have grown up unnoticed: war taxation and war currency are still here to plague us. Our people have come out of that struggle with a great confidence that nothing can ever again put the Union at stake. Let us not make that error. The Union is always at stake. Instead of being a system which can stand alone and bear any amount of abuse, it is one of great delicacy and artificiality which requires the highest civic virtues and the wisest statesmanship to preserve it. It will be threatened again whenever there is a well-defined group which believes its interests jeopardized inside the Union and under the dominion of those who control the Union.
At the point which we have now reached the whole continent has received a first occupation and settlement; and from now on the process will be one of consolidation and condensation. This will raise the organization over the whole country. That process cannot go on too rapidly at the present stage, for the more rapidly it goes on the quicker it will tide us over the dangers in which we find ourselves — dangers due to the great differences in the social and political organization which now exist. In all the past the rapidity of our growth has been one of our best safeguards; no state of things has existed long enough to allow people to understand it, to base plans upon it, and to carry them out, before the facts have all changed and frustrated all the plans. There have been plenty of presidential aspirants in the United States who have found that four years was a long time to bridge over with combinations based upon the assumption that circumstances in states and sections would remain that long unchanged.
There has been, however, another and apparently contradictory evolution side by side with the one already mentioned, and it is the combination of the two which has given to our history its unique character. The public men of the Revolutionary period were not democrats — they feared democracy. The Constitution-makers were under an especial dread of democracy, which they identified with the anarchism of the period of 1783–1787. They therefore established by the Constitution a set of institutions which are restrictions of democracy. They did not invent any of these institutions, for all of them were already familiar in the colonies, being of English origin and developed and adapted to the circumstances here. Their general character is that while they ensure the rule of the majority of legal voters, they yet insist upon it that the will of that majority shall be constitutionally expressed and that it shall be a sober, mature, and well-considered will. This constitutes a guarantee against jacobinism. Now the whole genius of this country has been democratic. I have tried to show that its inherited dogmas and its environment made it so inevitably. Down through our history, therefore, the democratic temper of the people has been at war with the Constitutional institutions. When the Constitution was established there was no such thing as universal manhood suffrage here; the suffrage was connected with freehold in land. This restriction, measured by the number of people it excluded, was a very important one. It was not until after the second war with England that a movement towards universal suffrage began in the old states; then it ran on with great rapidity until universal suffrage was established in them all. The democratic temper also seized upon that device in the Constitution which was the most positive new invention in it and which was developed as a safeguard against democracy, tviz., the electoral college, and turned it into a mere form through which the voters should directly elect their own President. The same sentiments called forth an unwritten law that the President should serve only two terms and has always loudly favored one term. Perhaps, since the great precedent was the purchase of Louisiana by Jefferson, democracy ought also to be credited with forcing an unwritten addendum on the Constitution that the federal government could buy land. Democracy has chafed, at one time and another, against the veto of the President, the power of the Senate, and, above all, against the prerogatives of the judiciary — all of which are institutional checks on democracy. The most recent effort in the same direction is the plan to nominate senators by party convention and to compel the legislators to vote for the candidates thus set before them. No one will deny, moreover, that a democratic spirit has been breathed through all our institutions, has modified their action and determined their character. Opinions would differ as to whether its effect has always been good, but I doubt if anyone would deny that it has sometimes been good.
We see then, in our history, that neither have the Constitutional institutions and guarantees proved a castiron jacket in which to enclose our society and prevent its changes, nor, on the other hand, has democracy been able to override the institutions and render them nugatory. On the contrary, our institutions as they are to-day are the resultant of a struggle between the two — a struggle accompanying that expansion and intensification of the organization which I have aimed to describe.
Here, then, is an extraordinary phenomenon: an advance of the organization and an advance of liberty too, or, to speak more accurately, an advance in the organization with a transformation in the conception of liberty and the widest possible expansion of that liberty. While the discipline and constraint of the institutions have been exerted to reduce anarchistic liberty, they have enlarged and created civil liberty, or liberty under law. These two notions of liberty are totally different from one another. We are suffering from the fact that in our current philosophy, even amongst educated people, the notion of liberty is not sufficiently analyzed and this distinction is not sufficiently understood. Here has been a society advancing with the greatest rapidity in the number, variety, complication, and delicacy of its interests; yet it has at the same time opened the suffrage on gratuitous terms to all adult males, and granted them access to every public office, with corresponding control over all societal interests. Where else in history have all adult males in a society actually possessed political power, honors, and emoluments and at the same time been subject to no responsibilities, risks, charges, expenses, or burdens of any kind — these being all left to the educated and property classes? Where else has it ever been possible for a numerical majority to entail upon a society burdens which the minority must bear, while the aforesaid majority may scatter and leave the society and trouble themselves no further about it? The men of the Revolution never could have imagined any such state of things. In 1775 the convention of Worcester County, Massachusetts, petitioned the Provincial Congress “that no man may be allowed to have a seat therein who does not vote away his own money for public purposes in common with the other members' and with his constituents'.” That was the prevailing doctrine everywhere at the time, and yet within fifty years the evolution of civil institutions, instead of realizing that doctrine, produced the state of things which I have just described — and that state of things was produced contemporaneously with an integration of civil institutions, an elevation of the authority of law, and a sharpening of social discipline.
Now the current opinion amongst us undoubtedly is that the extension of the suffrage and the virtual transfer of the powers of government to the uneducated and non-property classes, compelling the educated and property classes, if they want to influence the government, to do so by persuading or perhaps corrupting the former, is a piece of political wisdom to which our fathers were led by philosophy and by the conviction that the doctrine of it was true and just. There were causes for it, however, which were far more powerful than preaching, argument, and philosophy; and besides, ff you will notice how hopeless it is by any argument to make headway against any current of belief which has obtained momentum in a society, you will put your faith in the current of belief and not in the power of logic or exhortation. You will then look at the causes of the current of belief, and you will find them in the economic conditions which are controlling, at the time, the struggle for existence and the competition of life. At the beginning of this century it would have been just exactly as impossible to put aristocratic restrictions on democracy here as it would have been at the same time to put democratic restrictions on aristocracy in England. Now the economic circumstances of our century which have modified the struggle for existence and the competition of life have been, first, the opening of a vast extent of new land to the use and advantage of the people who had no social power of any kind; and, second, the advance in the arts. Of the arts, those of transportation have been the most important because they have made the new land accessible; but all the other applications of the arts have been increasing man's power in the struggle for existence, and they have been most in favor of the classes which otherwise had nothing but their hands with which to carry on that struggle. This has lessened the advantage of owning land and it has lessened the comparative advantage of having capital over that of having only labor. An education has not now as great value to give its possessor a special advantage — a share, that is, in a limited monopoly — as it had a century ago. This is true in a still greater degree of higher education, until we come up to those cases where exceptional talent, armed with the highest training, once more wins the advantages of a natural monopoly.
Hence it is that the great economic changes I have mentioned have produced the greatest social revolution that has ever occurred. It has raised the masses to power, has set slaves free, has given a charter of social and political power to the people who have nothing, and has forced those-who-have to get power, if they want it, by persuading and influencing those-who-have-not. All the demagogues, philosophers, and principle-brokers are trying to lead the triumphal procession and crying: “We got it for you.” “We are your friends.” “It is to us that you owe it all.” On the other hand the same social revolution has undermined all social institutions and prescriptions of an aristocratic character and they are rapidly crumbling away, even in the Old World, under the reaction from the New.
If now we put this result together with what we had reached before, we find that the advance of the social and political organization which should have been attended, according to all former philosophy, by greater social pressure and diminishing prosperity for the masses, although it has indeed been attended by lessening of the old anarchistic liberty, has also been accompanied by the far more important fact of enormously enlarged social and political power and chances for the masses. The world has passed into hands of new masters, and the all-absorbing questions for mankind and civilization now are: What will they do with it? How will they behave? Already in this country, and in all others which have adopted democratic forms, successive elections show a steady movement towards throwing out men of well-defined convictions and positive strength on either side, so that parliamentary institutions seem to be clearly on the decline. In every great civilized country, also, political parties are breaking up and are losing their character as groups of persons holding common convictions on questions of general policy. Their place is being taken by petty groups of representatives of certain interests. The more we enlarge the sphere of government, the more true it is that every act of legislation enriches or ruins those who are interested in some branch of industry; such persons say, therefore, that they cannot afford to neglect legislative proceedings. The consequence is the immense power of the lobby, and legislation comes to be an affair of coalition between interests to make up a majority. If that goes on, its logical and institutional outcome must be that the non-possessors, if united, must form the largest interest-group, and that they will then find that the easiest way ever yet devised to get wealth is to hold a parliament and, by a majority vote, order that the possessors of wealth shall give it to the non-possessors. This program has already been proposed and adopted and strong efforts are on foot to organize the parliamentary groups on this basis so as to put it into action.
We have abundant facts at hand to show us, also, that the higher the social organization is the more delicate it is and the more it is exposed to harm upon all sides and from slight influences. A great, complicated, and delicate social organization presents a vast array of phenomena of all kinds, many of which are paradoxical and contradictory in their relation to each other. The analysis of these phenomena and the interpretation of them is the easiest thing in the world if we go about it with a few so-called “ethical” principles; but if we approach it with any due conception of what it is that we are trying to do, we find it the hardest mental task ever yet cast upon mankind. We boast of our successes in science and art; but those successes have brought about a social organization and produced social problems which we cannot evade, and if we do not solve them aright, we may ruin all our other achievements and go down to barbarism again.
Here I find myself on the verge of prophecy and so here I arrest myself. The political prophets of our country have always been either optimists or alarmists. I should not be willing to be either. The optimists scoff at all warnings and misgivings; they think we need not trouble ourselves to think or take care, and they exhort us to go ahead, encouraging us with familiar phrases and commonplaces. I have suggested that we need to be prudent, to listen to reason, to use forethought and care. Social and political crises are sure to arise among us as they must in any human society — we have had enough of them to convince us that they will come again. I have suggested also that our political system calls for more political sense, sober judgment, and ever active prudence than any other political system does. It also forbids us to do many things which states of other forms may undertake. It is especially incompatible with our form of democratic republic to charge the state with many and various functions, for our state should be simple to the last possible degree. It should handle as little money as possible; it should encourage the constant individual activity of its citizens and never do anything to weaken individual initiative. But the tendency to-day is all the other way. Our state should have as few office-holders as possible. The stubborn dogmatism of the old Jeffersonians on these points showed that they had stronger sense of the maxims necessary to maintain the kind of state they liked than anybody has nowadays; to suppose that these maxims are inconsistent with strength of government, in the distinct and exclusive field of government, is to give proof of a very shallow political philosophy. They are the conditions of strong government in purely civil affairs, for the more outside functions a state assumes the more it is hampered in its proper business. Furthermore, our federal state cannot enter on a great many enterprises which imperial states under the monarchical or aristocratic form have been wont to undertake; it cannot embark on an enterprising foreign policy or on conquest or on annexation without putting its internal equilibrium at stake. This is because of its peculiar structure and principles. We may see, however, strong symptoms amongst us of all the old ambitions, the thirst for bigness and glory which have cost the people of Europe so dearly, and we hear all the dogmas of militarism once more brought to the front as rules of our policy. Here are things which call for something very different from heedless optimism.
The alarmists, on the other hand, have against them the immense vigor of this society, its power to react against calamity and to recover from errors. Alarmist predictions of the past have all been proved utterly mistaken. You can find such predictions scattered all the way along: in 1800, when the Federalists gave way to Jefferson; at the Second War; all through Jackson's time; at the Mexican War; at the Civil War — and it may be some encouragement to the timid to ask whether, at those crises, there did not seem to be as good cause for alarm, albeit a different one, as seems to exist now. It is evident that if George Washington and his contemporaries had tried to anticipate our problems and to solve them for us in advance they would have made ridiculous blunders, for they could not possibly have foreseen our case or understood the elements which enter into it. Let us be very sure that if we try to look forward a century we are making just the same kind of ridiculous blunders. We cannot make anything else. One of the chief results of our historical studies is to show us the repeated and accumulated faults and errors of men in the past. You will observe that the common inference is that we, since we see the errors of the past, are perpetrating none in our own schemes and projects; but this is the greatest fallacy there is (and there are a great many) in our historical method of social study. The correct inference would be that we too, if we plot schemes of social action which reach beyond the immediate facts and the nearest interests, are only committing new errors, the effects of which will be entailed upon posterity. The reason for this is that the future contains new and unknown elements, incalculable combinations, unforeseeable changes in the moods, tastes, standards, and desires of the people. If we look back to Washington's time and see what changes have taken place in all these respects, then we may look to the future in full confidence that such changes will go on in the next hundred years.
These changes are what have turned the terrors of the alarmist to scorn. Certain it is that the Americans of the nineteenth century have been far happier, as a society, than any other society of human beings ever has been. They have been shielded from the commonest and heaviest calamities and have been free from the most vexatious burdens of human society; except at certain periods, taxation has been light and military duty an amusement; they have inherited a great untouched continent, with powers of science and art, for taking and using it, incomparably superior to anything ever possessed before by men. Very few of them apparently have understood or understand their own good fortune and its exceptional character. If all conditions should remain the same and the population go on increasing, the exceptional conditions would pass away and our posterity would have to contend sometime or other with all the old social problems again. The conditions, however, will not remain the same; they will change, no doubt in the direction of still greater and better chances. This fact is what gives the optimist his justification and makes his reckless blindness appear to be the shrewdest foresight. Furthermore, the problems which sometimes appal us nowadays are not peculiar to America; they are quite as heavy and as knotty in England, France, and Germany as they are here. In many points we are further on towards a solution than those countries are: we have better social defences from behind which to meet the dangers; and they do not come upon us, as they do upon the nations of Europe, mixed up with militarism, with the relics of feudal institutions, and with the traditions of absolute monarchy. And now my task is done if, by a discussion of the teachings of our history, I have contributed to a better understanding of present facts and forces; for the highest wisdom and the most patriotic devotion to our country which we can manifest lie in the faithful performance of present civic duties and in diligent efforts to accomplish the tasks which lie immediately before us. We may be very sure that a succeeding century will take care of itself; also that it will not be able to take care of us. All the energy we spend, therefore, in preparing for it is worse than thrown away. It will be useless for its purpose and it will be abstracted from what we can spend on our own problems, which are big enough and hard enough to require all the energy we have to deal with them.