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ADDRESS BY HENRY DE FOREST BALDWIN, YALE, 1885 - William Graham Sumner, The Challenge of Facts and other Essays 
The Challenge of Facts and other Essays, ed. Albert Galloway Keller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914).
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ADDRESS BY HENRY DE FOREST BALDWIN, YALE, 1885
When I was an undergraduate we were lately launched upon a new epoch. The world had been assimilating Darwin's “Origin of Species” about twenty years. The intellectual world was looking at things from a new point of view. Tradition was less sacred, authority less compelling to us than it had been to our predecessors. We revered and admired the old men, but they did not altogether meet our needs. The college had not then departed very far from the old curriculum which characterized institutions of learning for the three or four previous centuries. From all I can learn, there has been more change in the college curriculum from 1880 to the present time than took place from the foundation of the college to the time when I entered it. We were looking for a teacher who we felt could free himself from the old ways of thought, and whom we could rely upon to speak boldly, honestly, and clearly from the new point of view. We found our intellectual leader in Sumner. He did not appear to be afraid of talking over our heads. We felt he was giving the best he had to give, and that he believed what he taught. We knew he was devoting his great talents to us and had stores of wealth to give us, if we chose to listen to him. As a scholar he asked no quarter from an antagonist. As a teacher he did not ask blind acceptance of his ideas from his pupils. He stated his views without any concessions to make them acceptable to his hearers and without any attempt to hide a weak spot. His method of teaching called for an exercise of his pupils' critical capacity.
He had a striking way of putting things which made them stick. I remember once there was under discussion the subject of socialism. In dismissing the class Sumner said: “If any of you are ever in a community where a committee runs the whole thing, take my advice and get on the committee.” Nearly twenty-five years afterward I was sitting in Cooper Union, New York, enjoying the interesting experience of hearing a prospective candidate for President of the United States questioned by an audience politically, although not personally, hostile to him. He was asked some question about socialism, and he replied that he did not know very much about it, that he had read a book on it and had come to the conclusion that it involved having everything run by a committee, and that he preferred not to live in a community where a committee ran the whole thing — unless he were on the committee. I then realized that Professor Sumner had repeated himself at least once, and that the result of his teaching had not been entirely lost, even though it had not made a democrat of this distinguished Yale graduate.
I hear it said that many economists question some of Sumner's conclusions. I do not care very much how you professional economists now look upon his views of the wage-fund theory or of any other particular economic problem. I do not mean to imply, by that, that it is not important that such questions should be thought out right. But I am sure that the most important thing we got from Professor Sumner did not lie wholly within the limits of the particular subject he was teaching us. He gave us a point of view with respect to the individual's place in the political and industrial community. He warned us to allow for bias. He implanted in us certain fundamental notions which I for my part have never been able to get away from. A few years ago I came across in a lady's drawing-room his great work on “Folkways.” I read it with delight, not only for what it gave me that was new, but also for what I found in it that awakened old memories. I continually ran across various expressions and thoughts which I recognized as old friends; thoughts which had influenced my whole intellectual life; in many cases thoughts of which I had forgotten the source and had, perhaps, foolishly believed them to be the result of my own reflection. I realized then more than ever before what an influence Sumner had been in my life.
While I was an undergraduate, there was going on in the country a trend toward the democratic party. Sumner's sledge-hammer blows in the cause of free trade and sound money, as well as his general treatment of economic subjects, were a powerful influence in that direction. His advocacy of the causes which so many younger men hoped the democratic party would represent added interest in his personality and made him to a greater extent the subject of discussion. It also led some of those who came from stalwart republican homes to withhold themselves, to a certain extent, from the full benefit they might have received from his leadership; for the normal man holds his politics like his religion, and treats with suspicion any one who undertakes to subject them to intelligent examination. A few of these obtained the attendance of a Pennsylvania professor to deliver a lecture or lectures on protectionism. This turned out to be a good thing, for the contrast was marked.
But Sumner's influence on the tariff and sound money was not confined to undergraduates. The New York Free Trade Club, and later its successor, the Reform Club, which for many years constituted the center of agitation against protectionism, were largely dominated by men who had come under his teaching and influence in one way or another.
The absence of the qualities which make the successful politician was as marked in Sumner as was the presence of those qualities which make the scientific man and teacher. When men seek to attain political ends they necessarily look for allies; and if they are opposed to those in power they cast their eyes on the discontented, the unsuccessful under the present régime, and bid for their support by offering what they believe will prove attractive. Political affairs are necessarily a series of compromises. The need of allies to make a majority prevents logical progress, and in political life an old evil is rarely eradicated without the planting of some seeds of a new evil. The politician must be a compromiser. Sumner was no compromiser. I heard him once speak of himself as a popular agitator; but his agitation consisted in pointing out to his fellow-citizens the folly of what they were doing. I do not believe he ever undertook to tell them what they should do. He never set up to be a statesman. Certainly he never attempted the politician's rôle, which is quite apt to be to point out to a part of the people how they can collect some unearned advantage from another part of the people.
Sumner continually called attention to the difference between the task of the political economist and patient student of the industrial and social consequences of certain courses of conduct, and the task of the statesman. He used to insist that there is no “ought” in political economy; that it is neither the study of the question of Christian charity, nor of morals, nor of statesmanship. These other subjects are well worthy of study, but he could see no gain in mixing them with the study of political economy. There flourished during his time many statesmen who believed themselves possessed of some happy thought which, it put into operation by legislation, would ameliorate the lot of mankind and change our social condition. There were also men calling themselves political economists who believed they saw the one thing needful as a cure for all poverty, discontent, and unhappiness. These he called “Prophets.” Such people have always been assured of a following. Our great political parties have often been dominated by their ideas. Sometimes we hear that probably our national existence or, anyway, our prosperity, is due entirely to the beneficent operation of the protective tariff, and to perpetuate it was justification enough for saddling the country with the demoralizing, not to say expensive, pension system. Again, we hear that all will go well if the government will only give us the blessings of free silver coinage, or government ownership of railroads, or prohibition of the traffic in liquor. Against all such short cuts to welfare Sumner poured out his scorn. He had no place in such company. He laid the emphasis not on what the state or the individual ought to do, but upon the need of a careful inquiry into the consequences for the community and individuals of proposed actions however well-intended.
There is frequently drawn a distinction between democrats and “real democrats,” or, as it is sometimes phrased, “democratic democrats.” Sumner was a real democrat, a real apostle of democracy. But it was not in a party sense of the word that he was a democrat. He had faith in the possibilities of a true democracy, — as he expressed it, a society based on contract as distinguished from a society based on status. His democracy was of the kind that asked for each man a fair field and no favor. He would let the individual reap where he had sown, and suffer for his own vices, slothfulness, or stupidity. He was against privilege as wrong economically, as wrong morally, as against justice, against progress, against human welfare, and against civilization. He was as much opposed to those who would array the House of Want against the House of Have as he was against the beneficiaries of a protective tariff. He pointed out that “the real danger of democracy is that the classes which have the power under it will assume all the rights and reject all the duties — that is, they will use the power to plunder those who have,” and he could see no difference between the poor plundering the rich and the rich plundering the poor.
If, as is sometimes said, faith in democracy is waning, it is doubtless due to our failure to be true to the democratic principles of equality and liberty. Sumner tersely and vigorously pointed out wherein that failure consists. He strove against the two strongest tendencies which have undermined our democratic faith — protectionism which has created a privileged class among the wealthy, and humanitarian social theories which would create a privileged class among workingmen and among the lowly and poor. He scornfully says that A and B, the reformers and the philanthropists, undertake to decide what C shall do for D, D standing for the poor man and C, for the Forgotten Man, the man who pays. He saw the great net gain in the destruction of the ancient privileges of the old classes of society. He combated the tendency to fasten upon our social institutions new privileges which must inevitably create new classes. The European aristocracies always recognized some duties attached to their privileges by immemorial tradition and custom. The privileged classes which we are creating have no traditions and recognize no absorbing personal duties to society. They are as self-centered as corporations. Sometime this country may wake up and realize that the things Sumner specifically attacked — protectionism, trades-unionism, and the doctrine that it is beneficent to devise means to distribute among the poor the proceeds of taxes collected from the rich — perpetuate the same kind of injustice and inequality which characterized the feudal system and constitute the great dangers to democratic institutions. If, ultimately, the people of this country renounce the temptation to establish privileged classes as a part of our political and industrial policy, we shall owe a great debt to Sumner, who led, away in advance, against such tendencies.
In the comments that have been made since Professor Sumner's death, I have seemed to feel a suggestion that in his last years he felt some disappointment that he had not observed more tangible results in our national policy of his vigorous teaching. I cannot but believe that this has been assumed as something that might be the case rather than an impression gained by those intimate with him. His self-imposed rôle was that of a critic who called attention to the need of subjecting plans for political and social amelioration to scrutiny and investigation. It involved a life-time of running counter to popular tendencies. The man who adopts this course can never expect to attain a popular following such as comes to the man who advocates a happy thought which is believed to lead to prosperity and contentment. He attacked privilege, and naturally the Interests tried to destroy him. He told his contemporaries they were pursuing false and wasteful methods. They disliked to listen to him. When the whole country was laboring under delusions with respect to protectionism and bimetallism, he stood boldly for free trade and sound money. He turned not aside to ride on the wave, but headed straight for his mark, sturdily stemming wind and tide, and no one better than he knew that he could not expect popular applause, or better realized that his achievements could not be measured in the coin with which the politician or the demagogue is paid. Like most philosophers who are not more politicians than philosophers, he must wait for the full results of his efforts from the work of his many pupils whom he started upon courses of correct thinking. The seeds he planted by his long years of teaching and by his writings we may hopefully expect to bear a substantial fruit in the strenuous times we must all anticipate in the immediate future. As was said of Socrates, he was more useful in devoting his energies to teaching the youth than if he had tried to rule the state.
It is not at all unlikely that the strongest advocates of Sumner's political philosophy will soon be found among the very class which looked upon him as its enemy when he denounced protectionism.