I HAVE recently had much conversation, on subjects connected with politics and our national life and interests, with several thoughtful and earnest men in two of the principal New England States. Some of them are laborers in cotton mills; some are manufacturers and capitalists; others are farmers. Some are possessors of considerable property, and live in easy comfort, if not in affluence; others are very poor. There is a noticeable agreement of ideas or convictions among them in regard to some problems which are becoming more and more important for the people of our country, I asked the same questions of these representatives of various classes of my fellow-citizens; and the absolute identity, not only of thought or belief, but of the forms of expression, in most of the answers, indicates, I think, a pretty thorough indoctrination by the same teachers of the whole school or party holding these sentiments. I give, for the most part, my own questions, with the replies, which were nearly the same from all. Much of the language is reported exactly, from notes made while we talked. Some slight verbal changes were necessary, but the meaning is given as accurately as possible throughout.
The first question was, usually, Do you think the condition of our country prosperous and encouraging ?” And the answer was, uniformly, “ Not for the many, the mass of the people. There can be no real prosperity for our country under such conditions as now exist for laboring people.”
“ What do you regard as the chief dangers of our country ? ”
“ There are two great dangers. The first is the aggregation of wealth in a few hands, especially the aggregation of wealth in the possession of large corporations, in which ambitious and unscrupulous men use the power which money gives as a means for the control of legislation and of public thought and its expression. The great moneyed corporations, or a few rich men in them, own all the influential newspapers, and they allow no thought opposed to their opinions or interests to reach the people. No one can speak for the interests of the people except through a few feeble and obscure journals. The control of the great moneyed corporations over legislation is, in our country, almost absolute.”
“ The other great danger is the growing belief in the necessity of a strong government, and the fear, even in the minds of good men, that the people cannot safely he trusted, and that some men must be kept away from the polls. There seems to be a growing tendency in the minds of literary men to regard universal suffrage as a failure, and to wish the possession of the ballot to be confined to a more select body than the whole people. It is believed that the history of republics shows that every experiment in republican government has ended in an aristocracy, — in the elevation of a few men to complete control; and that our system must have the same result and end. We have already made some changes in this direction. The cry is that the people of cities are not fit to govern them. There is a strong tendency in recent legislation to limit the right of suffrage in the name of political purity.”
“ The two greatest dangers are the corruptions of aggregated wealth, and the indisposition to trust the whole people with a share in the government.”
“ All history shows that the many have never done wrong to the few, but the few have often done wrong to the many. All legislation by tlm people has been honest and fair to the few. History acquaints us with no instance to the contrary.”
“ Delusions never seize upon, possess, or mislead the many, the mass of the people, but always have their development and mischievous influence in some select class,—among persons who are, by their tastes or culture, separated from the mass of the people.”
“ When a particular, select body or class of men acquire what is now commonly called education (it is usually partial and unpractical), they are thereby enabled to impose their theories upon the people, thus deluding and enslaving the masses for the aggrandizement of their self-appointed guides. Massachusetts is, in greater degree than any other part of our country, the prey of delusions of all kinds, as she has more of what is called culture than any other State.”
“ But is not education or culture necessary to fit the people for the duties of citizenship, especially in our country, where problems so grave and difficult require solution?”
“ There is already sufficient intelligence in the possession of the mass of the people to enable them to govern wisely, justly, and beneficently, if they were not thwarted, misled, and oppressed by the few. The people go wrong, not from lack of intelligence, but from being deceived; and in this respect things are growing worse in our country. The people do not think, but allow editors to think for them.”
“ What can we do to hinder or prevent the aggregation of wealth in the hands of a few men, and in the possession of great corporations? ”
“ When the fathers formed the constitution of our country, they did not imagine it possible that such evils or abuses could ever arise under its operation. We ought to have laws requiring the absolutely equal division of estates, at the death of parents, among all their children. We should adopt measures looking to the abolition of the corporate possession and management of wealth.”
“ All moneyed corporations should be dissolved, and, in time, their charters should be revoked. The constitution of the United States should contain an absolute prohibition of national corporations.”
“ We should repeal all laws that limit the right of suffrage; should make the ballot, absolutely secret; and should give the ballot to every man simply because be is a man. No State should have power to limit the suffrage, or to exclude any class of men from the exercise of this sacred right.'’
“ The many always know more than the few about every subject connected with the science of government and its practical working. Any ten thousand men know more than any one man.”
“ As to matters of national finance, we would have the government issue all the currency the people need in the form of paper money. Neither gold nor silver should hereafter be used as money. Our financial and Industrial depression is the result of our having reduced everything to a gold standard of value. e have brought everything to a low value, that is, we have destroyed a great part of the wealth of the country, by making gold the standard, because there is not gold enough to go around. We have issued only enough greenbacks and paper money to produce some slight alleviation of our difficulties.”
“ The gold standard has paralyzed our industries. Money is invested by hundreds of millions in bonds at a low rate of interest. Nobody can engage in any productive industrial enterprise. There is frightful speculation in stocks and bonds of worthless companies, but nothing is undertaken that, if it were successful, would add to the real wealth of the country. Money is put into four per cent, bonds, because the gold standard has made it impossible to obtain any considerable profit from any legitimate business or industry.”
“ What we should do is to have money issued by the government according to the wants of the people. The government pays out some hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the people who work for it, —to soldiers and sailors, to clerks and officers, in its service. Let it pay them in its own paper money, which shall be used for all purposes for which money is needed, and shall be the only money of the country. Our opponents assert that we wish the government to give money to the people without equivalent or service from them, but this is not true.”
“ Money should be made of some material which has no intrinsic value, so that it cannot be made an article of commerce. Its sole value should consist in the government stamp upon it.”
“ The government should derive all its revenues from direct taxation, chiefly from the taxation of incomes, with taxes on tobacco, whisky, and other articles of luxury.”
“ Would you permit unlimited immigration from all parts of the world to our country? ”
“ Yes; let everybody come who comes freely and of his own motion. All our troubles connected with immigration have resulted from imported labor, as in the ease of the negroes and the Chinese. But those who are influenced by their own judgment to seek better opportunities for themselves and their children will benefit our country, not injure it.”
“ Is there no danger of our country’s being overcrowded ? ”
‘ No; we have room and ample means of support for five hundred millions of people in this country. Our having assimilated so many races here, mingling the blood of all the principal nations of the world, is one of the chief causes of our superiority over all other countries and their people.”
“ Then you think Americans are superior to all other nations? ”
“ Undoubtedly. We are developing a higher type of manhood than has ever existed anywhere. Americans are more conscientious than any other people. The average intellectual character of our people is much higher and better than it was a hundred years ago. Our national morality is improving.”
“ How would you have the railroads of the country managed?
“ We should break up the corporations, and the railroads should be owned by the government. They should be made common highways, and every man who might wish to put a car on the road, and engage in the business of transporting freight or passengers, should be permitted to do so, under suitable regulations. The roads should be supported by taxation, if necessary. It is absurd to say that a navigable river is a public highway, and belongs to the people, while a railroad which runs by the side of the river, along its whole length, cannot be a common highway, but must be the exclusive possession of a few men in a chartered corporation.”
“ What would you have the people taught in regard to morality, or the ground and standard of moral obligation? ”
“ Temperance, industry, and probity constitute all the morality a man in this country needs.”
“ Is falsehood ever profitable to a man in public life, or to a political party? ”
“ No man ever succeeds by falsehood. The man who uses it comes to an end, There is no political success, no future, for a man or a political party guilty of falsehood. Frank truthfulness is wisdom and strength. Pretense and concealment are folly and weakness. There never was a cause strong enough, or good enough, to sustain the injury of lying and dishonesty on the part of its supporters or advocates.”
“ What are your wishes in regard to our system of public education? ”
“ We would not make much change. We would require every child to go to school, but would not teach a little of everything, as is done now. We would make education more practical, and more thorough in the branches of knowledge which would benefit the common people. ’ ’
“ Are your people generally optimists? Are you hopeful about our country’s near future ? ”
“ We are growing worse as to the impoverishment of the people. We have a greater number of men now who are enormously rich than ever before. These great aggregations of wealth make extreme poverty inevitable for the mass of the people. We do not expect speedy improvement. Perhaps there will have to be a great uprising of the people to right these wrongs. The ballot is the remedy for every evil and wrong in this country, and if the people can have the ballot they will make everything right. But if the ballot is withheld from any class, the people may take things into their own hands. We may be sure that the people will have their rights in one way or another.”
“ What kind of income tax would you approve? ”
“ We should tax all incomes, large and small, at the same rate. But we should define income as that which ‘ comes in ’ from invested wealth. The earnings of labor and the profits on the business of a merchant should not be regarded as income. Dividends received for money which is no longer in the owners’ hands, which are paid year after year to men who do nothing to earn them, should be taxed. They constitute real income. We should also have a heavy legacy tax. These arrangements would enable us to tax the income from bonds of every kind and class.”
“ Great accumulations of property in a few hands caused the downfall of Rome, and are now the worst curse of England. How soon the people may see these things, and assert their rights, nobody can tell, but all these reforms must come in time. There will probably he a great deal of trouble before the people open their eyes and take possession of their rights. At present the country is not proceeding or acting upon any rational system or method; tve are merely stumbling, and tumbling, and wallowing along.”
‘ What can be done to give the people greater advantages in connection with journalism:? ”
“ We hope for electrical printing; for such advancements in science and invention, and such improvements in machinery, as will make printing so cheap that everybody can enjoy the advantages and opportunities which are now the exclusive possession of the very rich. There is no limit to what science may do for us. The earth is made for man, and all the powers and elements of nature are for his use and benefit. There is abundant provision for all human wants, if nature’s rich gifts are not monopolized by the few to the exclusion and injury of the many.”
“ Are there some good and honest men who oppose you and your doctrines ? ”
“ Oh, yes. The cultivated men do not believe in the people. We do. We trust, the people. We think this country belongs to the people, and that they have a right to govern it. The Harvard men think we would ruin the country, but we only want the people to have what belongs to them.”
“But would not your doctrines open the way to frequent and radical changes of our system of government, and thus imperil some things which are of great importance, — some things which are essential to our free institutions and our national life? ”
“ The very essence and object of our system of government, as the fathers established it, is that the people shall govern, and shall make any changes which in practice or experience they may see to be necessary.”
Having thus reported the opinions of my fellow-citizens as fully as possible in the form in which they were expressed in conversation, I wish to add some account of the impressions made upon me by the persons themselves. About the time of the close of our great civil war, or a little before, I had many opportunities of becoming acquainted with ideas and sentiments closely resembling those which are here described; and since that time it has seemed worth while to study these tendencies and products of the intellectual life of our country directly, to converse with men of all classes and conditions of life who hold these opinions, in order really to know what they believe and seek, and upon what grounds they hold such convictions and cherish such aims. I have not adopted the judgment of their enemies, or that of their friends, in regard to the doctrines or the character of these men, but have sought to obtain first their own account of their principles.
I think these men are, as a class, thoroughly sincere in their opinions and sentiments regarding political subjects. They honestly believe what they profess, upon grounds which to them appear reasonable and sufficient. They manifest greater earnestness, or intensity of conviction, than is exhibited at present by the members of the other political parties of the country. This may result naturally from the fact that their party has never been in power, and that they are in consequence free from responsibility for the mistakes and evils of the time. They are likely to gain more and lose less than others by a frank avowal of their aims, even by the bold profession of doctrines which are generally regarded as extreme and dangerous. It is commonly remarked that both the old political parties are now somewhat wanting in earnestness, or strength of conviction, in regard to some important political doctrines. This is natural, and in a way inevitable, because both parties are manoeuvring for position for the opening of the canvass preceding the next national elections. Probably the party managers do not greatly care upon what ground the contest is waged, if they can, at the beginning of the fray, secure advantages which will give them hope of “breaking the enemy’s line, and throwing his forces into confusion.” They do not, on either side, quite believe the dreadful things they have been saying of their adversaries. What I wish here to point out is that, while this manœuvring and the want of moral earnestness which it reveals are, under the circumstances, inevitable, and required by the necessities of political warfare, such tactics have certain disadvantages and embarrassments connected with them, from which our friends of the third party are entirely free. Boldness and frankness are elements of power in their appeal to the people. These men have more of sentiment than any other political class, and can more readily and successfully appeal to “ the great American ideas of freedom and the rights of man.” They are the natural heirs of some of the heroic elements and influences which formerly belonged to the attitude of the antislavery people. Upon examination this will be found a matter of considerable practical importance. I think that our fellow-citizens of this class may be said to be characterized by amiable and generous qualities. They are usually possessed of benevolent dispositions and strong sympathies. They all hold extremely hopeful and optimistic views of human nature, and sincerely believe that the common people are sages, saints, and heroes.
As to their thought or doctrines, these friends of ours have remarkably clear and definite ideas in regard to the objects of their efforts, and the means by which they expect to attain them. They believe that nature has provided abundantly for the wants of all her children, that the earth rightly belongs to the people, and that if men were not wrongfully deprived of their heritage all would live in comfort. Happiness is the object of human life. Man has a natural right to happiness, but the masses are robbed of their rights by the misrule and oppression of the few. They believe that excessive toil is one of the chief causes of unhappiness among the people, and they intend to shorten the hours of toil. They think that the labor of the common people is inadequately paid, and that the capitalist receives far too large a proportion of the profits of labor, and they intend to transfer a considerable proportion of these profits to the laborer himself. They believe that unhappiness and pain, weariness and poverty, can be in a very great measure abolished, and they mean to accomplish this by reorganizing society under the rule of the common people. They think it entirely right to change all constitutional provisions or other teatures of our system of government which are found to obstruct the will of the people, and that such changes should be made as often as the people may think it necessary, and in such ways as the people may prefer.
These friends of ours believe that the people, as they are, are capable of governing rightly and wisely, and that if they had the power in their hands their rule would always be just and beneficent. They think the notion that there is anything very difficult in the science of government or its practical administration, which requires peculiar wisdom, or culture superior to that possessed by the mass of the people, is a fiction, an invention of the oppressors of the people, by which they seek to strengthen their wrongful rule over the masses. They hold that “the hearts of the people are always right; ” that the people love justice with a passionate and enthusiastic worship, that they are superior to all such unworthy and injurious passions as revenge, greed, envy, and selfishness, and that they are as wise as they are good; that the best dreams and ideals of poets and prophets are realized in the character of the common people of our country.
In conversing with my countrymen who cherish these sentiments and opinions, I am constantly reminded of Rousseau. Their ideas, and even their phrases and forms of expression, are often identical with his. I quote a few sentences from the Emilius (Nugent’s translation, London, 1763): —
“ Conscience affords greater light than all the philosophers ; we have no occasion to read Cicero’s Offices in order to learn to be honest.” (Vol. ii. p. 271.)
“ It is evident to the last degree that the learned societies of Europe are no more than public schools of falsehood; and there are certainly more errors propagated by the members of the Academy of Sciences than are to be found among a whole nation of savages.” (Vol. i. p. 304.)
“ It is in vain that we aspire at liberty under the protection of the laws. Laws ! Where are they? And where are they respected ? Wherever you have directed your steps, you have seen concealed under this sacred name nothing but selfinterest and human passions. But the eternal laws of nature and of order are still in being. They supply the place of positive laws in the eye of the man of prudence; they are written in the inmost recess of his heart by the hands of reason and conscience; it is to these he ought to submit in order to be free.” (Vol. ii. p. 392.)
“ It is the common people that constitute the bulk of mankind ; the rest above that order are so few in number that they are not worth our consideration.” (Vol. i. p. 339.)
“ You should therefore respect your species: remember that it is essentially composed of the common people : that if all the kings and philosophers were to be taken away, they would not be missed, and affairs would be conducted as well without them.” (Vol. i. p. 341.)
“ Were we to divide all human science into two parts, one common to the generality of mankind, the other particular to the learned, the latter would be very trifling compared to the former.” (Vol. i. p. 48.)
It is not probable that these resemblances of thought and language proceed from familiarity on the part of my friends with the writings of Rousseau. Few of them, I suppose, have read anything from his pen. Such thoughts and ideas have arisen naturally in their minds, as they did in his. These opinions and beliefs regarding the political and social interests and relations of mankind have been produced or developed here anew by the conditions of our national life. If we consider the circumstances of our people, their education and experience, and the natural and necessary effect of democracy, or the universal suffrage arrangement of society, I think we must expect a general development of such doctrines among the masses, and that the influence of these tendencies may possibly become so wide-spread and potent as to subject our system of government and the structure of society in this country to a very considerable strain. We shall not understand the causes, direction, or power of these ideas while we regard their development and career among us as accidental or anomalous. Their appearance and growth result from causes adequate to produce them. The phenomena attending their operation are not likely to be so transitory as to make examination difficult. We shall probably have time to study them.
Our friends appear to think that men of wealth and culture are of a nature essentially different from that of “ the people.” They always speak of them as belonging to a different class, and as being inspired by motives, passions, and principles entirely unlike those of the people. They think that the circumstances and position of men of property and culture, and the effect of the system of social and political organization under which they have so much power, necessarily make them selfish, grasping, unjust, and oppressive. They are convinced that there is no reason to hope, for the improvement of society while the men of wealth and culture retain control, and are therefore determined to displace them. I am obliged to say that, while our fellow-citizens thus contemn culture, many of them have about as much of what now goes by that name as is possessed by most of those who belong to the “ cultivated classes.” So in regard to their ideas of wealth: they think it dangerous under the existing system and order of things,—likely to produce extreme selfishness, and alienation from the cause and interests of the people; yet some of them are themselves capitalists, and possess the means of enjoying what they denounce as luxury when it is exhibited by those who are not “ of the people.”
It is curious and interesting to note the frequent resemblances between the doctrines which I am now examining and the fundamental ideas and assumptions of much of the best literature which our country has produced. That part of our national literature which contains the direct expression of opinions in regard to the nature of man, the principles of social and political order, the genius of our institutions, and the true meaning and mission of America is almost all intensely optimistic, and it supplies great store of maxims and arguments of the highest dignity and respectability, which would serve as most convenient weapons in the hands of our friends against many features of the existing order of things.
One of the most important and characteristic elements of influence in the movement which I am describing is to be found in the ideas regarding science which are held by this class of our people, and propagated by their teachers. They expect a millennium of universal plenty and happiness, a golden age, under the dominion of science. No imaginable invention for producing food, dispensing with labor, or creating wealth appears to them impossible. If a great inventor should announce that he had discovered a method by which he could evolve from a pail of water power sufficient to drive a freight-train from New York to San Francisco, or that by establishing connections between the opposite corners of a square league of desert and the poles of a powerful electrical battery he could in a few hours change the barren sands to soil of matchless fertility, many of these friends of ours would say, truthfully, that they had long expected such achievements. Their faith in “ positive and negative electricity ” would scarcely be staggered by any possible story of miraculous power or performance. They know of no reason why anything which they would like to have done for them should not be accomplished by means of this wonderful natural force; or, indeed, why any human want should remain unsupplied. Their ideas and methods of thought in regard to science, and the expectations which they cherish respecting the deliverance of mankind from the necessity of toil by means of scientific invention and discovery, are becoming important factors in our political and social conditions.
I have observed that the men in comfortable circumstances, who hold these doctrines, usually appear to feel but little personal enmity or bitterness against the classes whom they denounce. They say it is the system which is to be condemned, rather than the persons who sustain or administer it. But many of the poorer men and laborers seem to feel a degree of exultation in the prospect of the overthrow of the classes who, as they declare, have so long oppressed the people. All classes of believers in these doctrines are convinced that if the people are much longer thwarted and oppressed; if the ballot, which would enable them to right all their wrongs by peaceful means, is kept out of their hands, or its effect neutralized by the machinations of the money power, then the masses will rise in their might, and crush at once the system which is the source of their adversity. Most of them appear to feel a kind of sadness in view of the terrible suffering that may necessarily precede the coronation of the people, but they think it is all fated and inevitable. This mood, now becoming so common, is one in which many things are possible.
I see nothing to prevent the rise of a leader of this class, — of a man who, despising culture, shall possess as much of it as most of his antagonists, and, while denouncing wealth as the chief source of danger to the liberties of the people, shall himself be rich; who, holding these political and social doctrines in sincerity, shall advocate them with enthusiasm. If such a man should appear, and should add to these means of influence the potency of attractive social qualities, great kindness of heart, readiness of resource, commanding eloquence, and a stainless personal character, it may be that under such circumstances these ideas would attract more serious attention than they have yet received from our teachers and leaders.
Some of the opinions and sentiments here described appear to me erroneous and untrustworthy. The fundamental doctrine of the divine right of the people, for instance, as taught by our friends, is but the old doctrine of the divine right of kings in a new form. Its essence is unchanged. Under the new conditions of national life which accompany democracy, or result from it, the doctrine means the divine right of the majority. And as the believers in the divinely appointed rule of kings hold that the king can do no wrong, we are witnessing the development, under democratic forms of government, of the doctrine that the people—that is, the majority — can do no wrong; that the people are always unselfish, patriotic, and incorruptible, and possessed of wisdom adequate for every emergency, rendering injustice and serious error impossible under their sway. Now this doctrine of the divine right of a ruling class, and its supernatural equipment with all needed virtues, is a crude and barbarous conception, belonging naturally to the prehistoric or savage conditions of society under which it had its rise and development. It does not appear to have been improved by presenting it in its modern form, in association with democracy, nor can I learn that any new reasons or arguments have been brought forward in its support.
If this doctrine is true, then in a state composed of one million citizens, divided into two parties by their political opinions, live hundred and ten thousand men might constitute the party of the people. They would of course be in the utmost degree wise and just, and the four hundred and ninety thousand opposed to them would be unwise, and misled by dangerous error, if they were not selfish and corrupt. If the people are wise and right, those opposed to them must be foolish and wrong. But as a matter of fact it frequently happens that the foolish minority is able to convince and win over a small portion of the majority; and then the minority, without any change of principles, character, or aims, itself becomes the divinely authorized majority. That is, those who were last year the enemies of the people are now, though cherishing the same purposes which so recently made them dangerous enemies to liberty, themselves the people, and the only true friends of freedom. At the same time, some hundreds of thousands of men, who were last year members of the wise and virtuous majority, though still battling as earnestly as ever in support of the ideas which were then the perfection of wisdom and virtue, now constitute a deluded minority, and are the only “ enemies of the people.” No, friends, majorities are often wrong. The people are sometimes in error in regard to very important practical matters. They are sometimes ill informed and influenced by prejudice and passion, and are consequently unjust. There was a time when the people believed that the sun went around the earth every day. It is most probable that for ages the whole human race believed human sacrifices to be right. If the people, are right today, they must often have been wrong in the past, for they have changed their beliefs again and again under the influence of advancing culture. Though they may be wiser than ever before, there is nothing to support the assumption that they have become infallible. The theory that the dominion of the people will secure mankind against all dangerous error, and abolish the evils which now afflict society and imperil civilization, is a convenient, fiction.
Is it true that “ any ten thousand men always know more than any one man ”? If one man were instructed in navigation, would he not know more about it than ten thousand men who had never seen a boat, or water enough to float it? A similar question might be asked in regard to the art of printing, the science of chemistry, the profession of law, and many other things. Does not any one man who can speak, write, and teach the German language correctly know more about it than any million of men who have never heard or seen a word of it? The art of government, of organizing the life of a nation and administering its affairs, is not the simple and easy task which our friends assume it to be; it must rather be one of the most complex and difficult of human achievements. To persuade the persons who are intrusted with the government of a country like ours that their work requires no serious preparation or sense of responsibility is to propagate a most dangerous delusion.
Our friends regard the production and perpetuation of wealth as being due almost entirely to labor. They often say that laboring men — as distinct from the class of capitalists and cultivated people — have created the wealth of the country, and it is sometimes added that it justly belongs to them. The working people do not generally understand how much the production and existence of wealth depend upon other elements than mere muscular exertion. They do not appreciate the part which is performed by cultivated men and capitalists in organizing and equipping business enterprises, in adapting production to the markets of the world, and in so directing the labor of multitudes of men and the use of costly machinery as not to impair the capital invested. They do not even understand clearly that the destruction of capital ruins the laborers of the country by destroying the business which gives them employment. Many laborers think they are in some way benefited by all the losses sustained by capitalists. Wealth is not so stable or permanent as our friends believe. It is of a sensitive nature, and does not bear rough handling. Tt is easy to destroy the value of any kind of property or investment by injurious legislation or mischievous municipal administration. But many men believe that by means of legislation “ in the interests of labor,” and by severe taxation, most of the wealth now in the possession of rich men and corporations can be transferred, without impairment, to the hands of the working people. I think the actual result, if their plans could be carried out, would be the gradual annihilation and expulsion of the wealth of the country. There would no longer be any disparity of conditions between rich and poor, because all would be poor alike. Our organized industries would be destroyed. All machinery which requires the cooperation of many laborers would be disused, and we should be obliged to return to the conditions and methods of life of the days before the introduction of improved labor - saving machinery, when the people of our country depended almost wholly upon agriculture and such manufactures as could be carried on in their homes. The world’s wealth will not be perpetuated or reproduced if the essential conditions under which it has been created are destroyed.
Might does not make right or justice on the side of the people, any more than on that of the tyrannical few who are regarded as their oppressors. Excessive taxation is robbery, though the guilt and dishonor of it may be distributed among millions of voters. When the people make a law which compels the capitalists of a city to deliver up their wealth at the doors of the city treasury, for distribution among the laborers of the municipality, in the form of unnecessary and dishonest appropriations for improvements, the act is not more honest because committed by the people under the forms of law. It is not wise to teach the people of our country that nothing in their political action can be wrong or unjust; that robbery and injustice are to be accounted right when perpetrated by the majority by means of the ballot.
The beliefs of our friends regarding nature or providence, and the attainable objects and ideals of human life, are natural in the earlier stages of mental and social development. They are the products of subjective conditions, of what people call their own intuitions. Strong and passionate desires, unchastened by reason or experience, are regarded as evidence that whatever they crave has been specially erealed for their gratification. It is held that “ men have a right to be happy, have a right to the possession of whatever will satisfy their nature.” Here, again, our friends are in error in regarding the order of human life, or the system of universal being, as something extremely simple and transparent. It is not so easily explicable. We are of such a nature that we want many things, but I cannot find that there is any provision or arrangement in the order or laws of nature for our having whatever we want. Mach of the popular teaching about the wise and beneficent adaptation of everything to everything else in the universe, the relation between all natural wants and the means for satisfying them, and the wonderful economies of nature rendering waste and failure impossible in her domain is pure assumption, and will not bear examination. We do not really know so much about these matters as many people suppose. Whether we talk of the bounty of nature or the wisdom and goodness of God, the difficulties are the same. The subject is too deep for us. It is pleasant and comfortable to believe that everything is made for our happiness, and that the universe is pervaded and controlled by a wise and omnipotent tenderness. But as a matter of experience and fact, there is measureless pain in the world, failure and cruelty, hideous and uncompensated wrong and suffering. Life is a stern, hard service, and the wisest and noblest have learned to think little about happiness, and to give their strength to the work of the day, because “the night Cometh, when no man can work.” I have myself tried living for happiness, and have found that the effort, even when successful, tends to disintegration and chaos. My observation of the lives of others convinces me that these doctrines which lead men to feel that they have a right to be happy, and that they are wronged and oppressed unless they have everything they want, are the result of defective analysis. The people who hold this philosophy of life are sincere, but their thinking is erroneous. It does not follow that we are to make no effort for the deliverance of mankind from injustice and oppression. To right what is wrong, and improve the conditions of human life, is the noblest work to which we can give our hearts in this world. But our friends of whom I am now writing fail in large measure, and injure their own work, because they have not given sufficient attention or patience to the endeavor to understand the difficulties that lie in our way. It is not so easy as they think to know what are the best means for bringing about the changes which all good men should desire to see accomplished. Our friends especially need more knowledge, in order to be able to discriminate truly between objects that are really desirable and attainable and those which human passion naturally craves in its early, “unchartered freedom,” but which are either impossible of attainment, or of a nature to cause injury and loss when attained.
This brings me to the error of our friends in rejecting and denouncing culture. They might do good by exposing what is crude, superficial, and unpractical in what goes by the name of culture, and by expressing their sense of the need of something better. If the working people would thoughtfully try to understand what is defective in the education of their class, and would give their countrymen their judgment regarding what is most needed for the equipment of their own children for their place and work in life, it would be a valuable service. If the state undertakes the education of the children of the people, as it does in this country, I think the workingmen have a right to claim for their children the best, education the state can give; that is, such an education as will in the largest measure possible fit them for the work and experience of their life. The people of our country, without exception or distinction of classes, need more knowledge and better education. The people of wealth and culture have much to learn and to do. They do not yet understand how insecure is their own position. They have little real knowledge of the new conditions of society in this country. The people of whom I have here written are not wholly wrong. They have some measure of truth and right on their side, some reason for discontent. Our politics are deficient in patriotism, and our partisan leaders have too little interest in the welfare and guidance of the people. The people of wealth and culture need a closer acquaintance and association with the working people and the poor. They generally lack something of the fraternal spirit which they should feel, but they are especially wanting in the manifestation or expression of such kindly and fraternal feelings as they really have in their hearts. The workingmen misapprehend the people of wealth and culture. There is, indeed, mutual misapprehension and want of acquaintance between the working people and their employers. If the opinions of the masses are wrong and their aims impracticable, it is worth while to do far more than has yet been done in this country to show them how they are wrong, and to teach them whatever fundamental principles are available for their guidance. There is too much impatience shown by many of our writers and leaders because the masses do not learn more rapidly, are so persistently wrong-headed, etc. What is the value, after all, of the culture which qualifies us to dispute learnedly regarding the chief social and political tendencies of the people of ancient Greece and Rome at every period of their history, but does not equip us for any real study of the life of our own time and country, nor enable us to understand the growth of destructive tendencies in the society of which we are members ? It is most mischievous to assume, as is constantly done on both sides, that some of the different classes of our people are already so completely separate and distinct that it is next to impossible for them to understand or influence one another. It is the assumption of those who are too indolent to study the facts of our condition. The cultivated people have not yet made a tithe of the effort to teach the working classes which is necessary to prove whether they can be taught or not. There is great unteachableness, not only among the working people, but in the cultivated classes; yet no large class in this country is hopelessly inaccessible to teaching, or insusceptible of guidance. (Could not something be done in the way of increased publicity on the part of their managers regarding the essential features, methods, and conditions of the great business and manufacturing enterprises of the country, so that workmen could better understand the justice and necessity of the course of action pursued by their employers? )
It is somewhat strange and ominous that so many cultivated people should insist, apparently with a degree of pride, that they are themselves incapable of addressing the working people so as to be understood by them; that they have no power to establish such relations with them as would enable them to influence their opinions. When, a few months ago, I suggested — with other measures for producing a better understanding between the different classes in our country— the publication, by those who believe in property and in culture, of small, low-priced newspapers for circulation among workingmen, there were emphatic protests from prominent journalists, who assured me that a newspaper dealing with the life and wants of operatives, if edited by capitalists, manufacturers, and cultivated people, would certainly fail of influence among the class whom it would he designed to benefit, for the reason that their inevitable aversion to everything bearing the stamp of capital would strangle the well-meant enterprise at its birth. This indicates want of acquaintance, on the part of such writers, with the feelings, spirit, and character of our working people. There is not yet any such incurable alienation and hostility between the workingmen and them employers, the capitalists of the country. There is much misunderstanding, and some of the facts of our condition are gravely unfavorable; but they do not by any means sustain the despairing conclusion that no direct effort to enlighten and convince the workingmen would be of any avail. My own opinion is that the workingmen are, as a class, quite as accessible to teaching or enlightenment as our cultivated optimist.
In endeavoring to understand the spread of false and hurtful ideas among the workingmen, we observe, first, that these beliefs arise naturally and legitimately in many minds under such conditions as have prevailed here during the last eighteen years. In the next place, we should recognize the fact that many persons have devoted themselves with remarkable zeal, energy, and success to the propagation and inculcation of these opinions and sentiments. The chief remaining feature in the matter is the entire absence of corresponding or adequate activity on the part of those who should feel most interest in preserving and extending whatever is valuable in the results of our civilization. In this inaction, this want of cooperation and of direct effort for the propagation of their own Convictions, on the part of those who believe in property and culture, and in the value and necessity of constitutional government, is the chief source of danger for our country. All these interests are seriously imperiled, not alone by the ideas of the working class, but by the general operation of disintegrating influences in our society, and by the want of better training and principles, and higher character, among all classes of our population. The dainty and querulous tone of many who should be among the teachers and leaders of our time shows that the disorganizing influences of the age are already affecting the cultivated classes, and diminishing our national vitality.
There is great need of wise and effective resistance to the attack upon constitutional government. Most of our people need a better understanding of the necessity of some accepted principles and system of national organization and administration, which shall not be subject to change at every election. Some of the strongest tendencies of the time lead in the direction of the absolute empire of the majority, without restriction or limitation from any source whatever, — the rule of the caprice of the hour, and the entire repudiation of all precedents, pledges, charters, and constitutional regulations and provisions. We have adopted universal suffrage to begin with, and now we must prepare for it afterward. The essential and distinguishing feature of our system is that it is government by the people. But the mere adoption of this system of government does not Confer upon the people the wisdom which they need for its administration. That must be obtained by other means. Our system was not devised by its founders to introduce and maintain the absolute and tyrannical rule of mere majorities, though this view of its purpose and character is now urged with great vehemence. It was meant that changes in our political methods should be made slowly, and that they should not extend so far as to destroy the organic character of the national government.
If the people who do not approve the doctrines I have here described are in earnest, it is necessary that they should learn to address the masses. Those who believe that property and culture are essential to our civilization must present their case. They and their interests are on trial, and it is time for them to plead the cause of what they most value. It is not a matter of extreme difficulty. Surely our cultivated men should be able to speak intelligibly to the whole nation and to every class it contains. To admit that capitalists and cultivated men cannot gain the attention and confidence of the workingmen implies distrust of the justice and reasonableness of the principles and position of the conservative class. Americans who feel that their cause is a righteous one should not fear to speak for it before their own countrymen. I have had considerable experience in writing for the working people to read, and have found that they can understand plain speaking and sincerity. If I had the money required for such an enterprise, I should at once proceed to establish such a newspaper as I have recommended. What we most need cannot be accomplished by ordinary political journalism, though political parties are necessary and useful. The need of the time is the education of the people in the principles and duties of American citizenship and fraternity. I have not attempted a complete examination of these subjects, — that is a work for the people of our country; but I have hoped to bring about a more general and thorough discussion of these questions of the time. I am not devoted to any particular plans or measures for improvement. I should be glad to see each of my suggestions set aside for something better.