It is especially in the history of European peoples that we learn how customs gradually harden into institutions. We perceive that in all ages the power of one class over another has grown in ways for which the political system of the country failed to provide. The European to-day finds himself facing all sorts of institutions and relics of institutions, and learns from their peculiarities the method of their growth. With this background of knowledge and customary thought, he is prepared to consider the future and its difficult problems in quite a different spirit from that of the average American. The man of American birth and descent does not readily conceive the idea that the forms of our society and government may become radically altered through the slow force of action, which is unintentionally unharmonious with them. He is used to think of institutions, not as the unpremeditated product of social growth, but as the deliberate result of resolutions, declarations, and enactments, suddenly affirming the faith of the people. He falls into this habit of thought because this was the way of the republic in its inception. It is a proof, moreover, of the high temper of his mind that he does not fearfully search about for tendencies that may be inimical to the social order of the nation. He believes so fully in the power of an idea—particularly if it be the American idea—that he thinks that it needed only to be incarnated once into words, as in the Declaration of independence, to be endowed with ability to go on forever, and to clothe itself fittingly in garments of law and custom.
Political revolution is a thing we understand, in this country, much better than political evolution. We expect people who have new views to do something about them with foresight and purpose. We look to have a convention called and resolutions proclaimed. Deliberate words and deeds tending to a definite end, — these are things which the American mind comprehends. The Northerner understood secession, a political word and blow, just as the Southerner instantly perceived the revolutionary significance of John Brown’s raid. So now the people have quite generally taken in the fact that something hinges upon the sudden birth among them of an autocratic organization like the Knights of Labor, with its manifestoes and its circulars, open and secret. On the other hand, it is not readily understood that men without ideas except those that appertain to ordinary life, men without intentions except to get their living and to please their fancies, may by their aggregate action evolve customs and develop institutions which shall have power to change the current of national life. It is not supposed that they may effect this while pursuing the common ends of business and of social life, and that they may do it by use of very simple methods, without the aid of resolutions or enactments.