Character of Democracy in the United States

“Successful democracy differs from unsuccessful in being a product of history, — a product of forces not suddenly become operative, but slowly working upon whole peoples for generations together.”

There is one thought which must have been common to all serious minds during the past few months, namely, that it is a long time since 1789, —  if time is to be measured by change. Everything apprises us of the fact that we are not the same nation now that we were then. For one thing, in looking back to the time when our government was formed, the impression is inevitable that we started with sundry wrong ideas about ourselves. We thought ourselves rank democrats, whereas we were in fact only progressive Englishmen. Turn the leaves of that sage manual of constitutional interpretation and advocacy, the Federalist, and note the perverse tendency of its writers to refer to Greece and Rome for precedents, — that Greece and Rome which haunted all our earlier and even some of our more mature years. Recall, too, that familiar story of Daniel Webster which tells of his coming home exhausted from an interview with the first President elect Harrison, whose Secretary of State he was to be, and explaining that he had been obliged, in the course of the conference, which concerned the inaugural address about to be delivered, to kill nine Roman consuls, whom it had been the intention of the good conqueror of Tippecanoe publicly to take into office with him. The truth is that we long imagined ourselves related in some unexplained way to all ancient republicans. Strangely enough, too, at the same time we accepted the quite incompatible theory that we were related also to the French philosophical radicals. We claimed kinship with democrats everywhere, — with all democrats. We can now scarcely realize the atmosphere of those thoughts. We are not wont to refer to the ancients or to the French for sanction of what we do. We have had abundant experience of our own by which to reckon.

“Hardly any fact in history,” says Mr. Bagehot, writing about the middle of the century, “is so incredible as that forty and a few years ago England was ruled by Mr. Perceval. It seems almost the same as being ruled by the Record newspaper.” (Mr. Bagehot would now probably say the Standard newspaper.) “He had the same poorness of thought, the same petty conservatism, the same dark and narrow superstition.” “The mere fact of such a premier being endured shows how deeply the whole national spirit and interest was absorbed in the contest with Napoleon, how little we understood the sort of man who should regulate its conduct, — ‘in the crisis of Europe,’ as Sydney Smith said, ‘he safely brought the Curates’ Salaries Improvement Bill to a hearing;’ and it still more shows time horror of all innovation which the recent events of French history had impressed on our wealthy and comfortable classes. They were afraid of catching revolution, as old women of catching cold. Sir Archibald Alison to this day holds that revolution is an infectious disease, beginning no one knows how, and going on no one knows where. There is but one rule of escape, explains the great historian: ‘Stay still; don’t move; do what you have been accustomed to do; and consult your grandmother on everything.’”

Almost equally incredible to us is the ardor of revolution that then filled the world, — the fact that one of the rulers of the world’s mind in that generation was Rousseau, the apostle of all that is fanciful, unreal, and misleading in politics. To be ruled by him was like taking an account of life from Mr. Rider Haggard. And yet there is still much sympathy in this timid world for the dull people who felt safe in the hands of Mr. Perceval, and, happily, much sympathy still among those who can conceive ideals for such as caught a generous elevation of spirit from the speculative enthusiasm of Rousseau.

Indeed, for us who stand in the dusty, matter-of-fact world of to-day, there is even a touch of pathos in recollections of the ardor for democratic liberty that filled the air of Europe and America a century ago with such quickening influences. We may even catch ourselves regretting that the inoculations of experience have closed our systems against the infections of hopeful revolution.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven! O times
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress, to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favored spots alone, but the whole earth,
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
(As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of paradise itself)
The budding rose above the rose full blown.

Such was the inspiration which not Wordsworth alone, but Coleridge also, and many another generous spirit whom we love caught in that day of hope.

It is common to say, in explanation of our regret that the dawn and youth of democracy’s day are past, that our principles are cooler now and more circumspect, with the coolness and circumspection of advanced years. It seems to some that as our sinews have hardened our enthusiasms have become tamer and more decorous; that as experience has grown idealism has declined. But to speak thus is to speak with the old self-deception as to the character of our politics. If we are suffering disappointment, it is the disappointment of an awakening; we were dreaming. For we never had any business hearkening to Rousseau or consorting with Europe in revolutionary sentiment. Our government, founded one hundred years ago, was no type of an experiment in advanced democracy, as we allowed Europe and even ourselves to suppose; it was simply an adaptation of English constitutional government. If we suffered Europe to study our institutions as instances in point touching experimentation in politics, she was the more deceived. If we began the first century of our national existence under a similar impression ourselves, there is the greater reason why we should start out upon a new century of national life with accurate conceptions about our place in history.

To this end it is important that the following, among other things, should be kept prominently in mind: —

1. That there are certain influences astir in this century which make for democracy the world over, and that these influences owe their origin in part to the radical thought of the last century; but that it was not such forces that made us democratic, nor are we responsible for them.

2. That, so far from owing our governments to these general influences, we began, not by carrying out any theory, but by simply carrying out a history, — inventing nothing, only establishing a specialized species of English government; that we founded, not democracy, but constitutional government in America.

3. That the government which we set up thus in a quite normal manner has nevertheless changed greatly under our hands by reason both of growth and of the operation of the general democratic forces—the European, or rather world-wide democratic forces—of which I have spoken.

4. That the very size to which our governmental organism has attained, and more particularly this new connection of its character and destiny with the character and destiny of the common democratic forces of the age of steam and electricity, have created new problems of organization, which it behooves us to meet in the old spirit, but with new measures.


First, then, for the forces which are bringing in democratic temper and method the world over. It is matter of familiar knowledge what these forces are, but it will be profitable to our thought to pass them once more in review. They are freedom of thought and the diffusion of enlightenment among the people. Steam and electricity have coöperated with systematic popular education to accomplish this diffusion. The progress of popular education and the progress of democracy have been inseparable. The publication of their great encyclopedia by Diderot and his associates in France in the last century was the sure sign of the change that was setting in. Learning was turning its face away from the studious few to the curious many. The intellectual movement of the modern time was emerging from the narrow courses of scholastic thought, and beginning to spread itself abroad over the extended, if shallow, levels of the common mind. The serious forces of democracy will be found, upon analysis, to reside, not in the disturbing doctrines of eloquent revolutionary writers, not in the turbulent discontent of the pauperized and oppressed, but in the educational forces of the last hundred and forty years, which have elevated the masses in many countries to a plane of understanding and of orderly, intelligent purpose more nearly on a level with the average man of the hitherto governing classes. The movements toward democracy which have mastered all the other political tendencies of our own day are not older than the middle of the last century; and that is just the age of the now ascendant movement toward systematic popular education.

Yet organized popular education is only one of the quickening influences that have been producing the general enlightenment which is everywhere becoming the promise of general liberty; or, rather, it is only part of a great whole vastly larger than itself. Schools are but separated seed-beds, in which only the staple thoughts of the steady and stay-at-home people are prepared and nursed. Not much of the world, after all, goes to school in the school-house. But through the mighty influences of commerce and the press the world itself has become a school. The air is alive with the multitudinous voices of information. Steady trade-winds of intercommunication have sprung up which carry the seeds of education and enlightenment, wheresoever planted, to every quarter of the globe. No scrap of new thought can escape being borne away from its place of birth by these all-absorbing currents. No idea can be kept exclusively at home, but is taken up by the trader, the reporter, the traveler, the missionary, the explorer, and is given to all the world, in the newspaper, the novel, the memoir, the poem, the treatise, till every community may know, not only itself, but all the world as well, for the small price of learning to read and keeping its ears open. All the world, so far as its news and its stronger thought are concerned, is fast being made every man’s neighbor.

Carlyle unquestionably touched one of the greater truths concerning modern democracy when he declared it to be the result of printing. In the newspaper press a whole population is made critic of all human affairs; democracy is “virtually extant,” and “democracy virtually extant will insist on becoming palpably extant.” Looked at in the large, the newspaper press is a type of democracy, bringing all men without distinction under comment made by any man without distinction; every topic is reduced to a common standard of news; everything noted and argued about by everybody. Nothing could give surer promise of popular power than the activity and alertness of thought which are made through such agencies to accompany the training of the public schools. The activity may often be misdirected or unwholesome, may sometimes be only feverish and mischievous, a grievous product of narrow information and hasty conclusion; but it is none the less a growing and potent activity. It at least marks the initial stages of effective thought. It makes men conscious of the existence and interest of affairs lying outside of the dull round of their own daily lives. It gives them nations, instead of neighborhoods, to look upon and think about. They catch glimpses of the international connections of their trades, of the universal application of law, of the endless variety of life, of diversities of race, of a world teeming with men like themselves, and yet full of strange customs, puzzled by dim omens, stained by crime, ringing with voices familiar and unfamiliar.

And all this a man can get nowadays without stirring from home, by merely spelling out the print that covers every piece of paper about him. If men throw themselves, for any reason, into the swift and easy currents of travel, they find themselves brought daily face to face with persons native of every clime, with practices suggestive of whole histories, with a thousand things which challenge curiosity to satisfy itself with inquiries which enlarge knowledge of life and shake one imperatively loose from old preconceptions.

These are the forces which have established the drift towards democracy. When all sources of information are accessible to all men alike, when the world’s thought and the world’s news are scattered broadcast where the poorest may find them, the non-democratic forms of government find life a desperate venture. Exclusive privilege needs privacy, but cannot have it. Kingship of the elder patterns needs sanctity, but can find it nowhere obtainable in a world of news items and satisfied curiosity. The many will no longer receive submissively the thought of a ruling few, but insist upon having opinions of their own. The reaches of public opinion have been infinitely extended; the number of voices that must be heeded in legislation and in executive policy has been infinitely multiplied. Modern influences have inclined every man to clear his throat for a word in the worlds debates. They have popularized everything they have touched.

In the newspapers, it is true, there is but little concert between the writers; little but piecemeal opinion is created by their comment and argument; there is no common voice amidst their counselings. But the aggregate voice thunders with tremendous volume; and that aggregate voice is “public opinion.” Popular education and cheap printing and travel vastly thicken the ranks of thinkers everywhere that their influence is felt, and by rousing the multitude to take knowledge of the affairs of government directly prepare the time when the multitude will, so far as possible, take charge of the affairs of government, — the time when, to repeat Carlyle’s phase, democracy will become palpably extant.

But mighty as such forces are, democratic as they are, no one can fail to perceive that they are inadequate to produce of themselves such a government as ours. There is little in them of constructive efficacy. They could not of themselves build any government at all. They are critical, analytical, questioning, quizzing forces; but not architectural, not powers that devise and build. The influences of popular education, of the press, of travel, of commerce, of the innumerable agencies which nowadays send knowledge and thought in quick pulsations through every part and member of society, do not necessarily mould men for effective endeavor. They may only confuse and paralyze the mind with their myriad stinging lashes of excitement. They may only strengthen the impression that “the world’s a stage,” and that no one need do more than sit and look on through his ready glass, the newspaper. They overwhelm one with impressions, but do they give stalwartness to his manhood; do they make his hand any steadier on the plough, or his purpose any clearer with reference to the duties of the moment? They stream light about him, it may be, but do they clear his vision? Is he better able to see because they give him countless things to look at? Is he better able to judge because they fill him with a delusive sense of knowing everything? Activity of mind is not necessarily strength of mind. It may manifest itself in mere dumb show; it may run into jigs as well as into strenuous work at noble tasks. A man’s farm does not yield its fruit the more abundantly in its season because he reads the world’s news in the papers. A merchant’s shipments do not multiply because he studies history. Banking is none the less hazardous to the banker’s capital or taxing to his powers because the best writing of the best essayists is to be bought cheap.


Very different were the forces behind us. Nothing establishes the republican state save trained capacity for self-government, practical aptitude for public affairs, habitual soberness and temperateness of united action. When we look back to the moderate sagacity and steadfast, self-contained habit in self-government of the men to whom we owe the establishment of our institutions in the United States, we at once are made aware that there is no communion between their democracy and the radical thought and restless spirit called by that name in Europe. There is almost nothing in common between popular outbreaks such as took place in France at her great Revolution and the establishment of a government like our own. Our memories of the year 1789 are as far as possible removed from the memories which Europe retains of that pregnant year. We manifested one hundred years ago what Europe lost, namely, self-command, self-possession. Democracy in Europe, outside of closeted Switzerland, has acted always in rebellion as a destructive force: it can scarcely be said to have had, even yet, any period of organic development. It has built such temporary governments as it has had opportunity to erect on the old foundations and out of the discredited materials of centralized rule, elevating the people’s representatives for a season to the throne, but securing almost as little as ever of that every-day local self-government which lies so near to the heart of liberty. Democracy in America, on the other hand, and in the English colonies has had, almost from the first, a truly organic growth. There was nothing revolutionary in its movements; it had not to overthrow other polities; it had only to organize itself. It had not to create, but only to expand self-government. It did not need to spread propaganda: it needed nothing but to methodize its ways of living.

In brief, we were doing nothing essentially new a century ago. Our strength and our facility alike inhered in our traditions; those traditions made our character and shaped our institutions. Liberty is not something that can be created by a document; neither is it something which, when created, can be laid away in a document, a completed work. It is an organic principle, — a principle of life, renewing and being renewed. Democratic institutions are never done; they are like living tissue, always a-making. It is a strenuous thing, this of living the life of a free people; and our success in it depends upon training, not upon clever invention.

Our democracy, plainly, was not a body of doctrine; it was a stage of development. Our democratic state was not a piece of developed theory, but a piece of developed habit. It was not created by mere aspirations or by new faith; it was built up by slow custom. Its process was experience, its basis old wont, its meaning national organic one-ness and effective life. It came, like manhood, as the fruit of youth. An immature people could not have had it, and the maturity to which it was vouchsafed was the maturity of freedom and self-control. Such government as ours is a form of conduct, and its only stable foundation is character. A particular form of government may no more be adopted than a particular type of character may be adopted: both institutions and character must be developed by conscious effort and through transmitted aptitudes.

Governments such as ours are founded upon discussion, and government by discussion comes as late in political as scientific thought in intellectual development. It is a habit of state life created by long-established circumstance, and is possible for a nation only in the adult age of its political life. The people which successfully maintain such a government must have gone through a period of political training which shall have prepared them by gradual steps of acquired privilege for assuming the entire control of their affairs. Long and slowly widening experience in local self-direction must have prepared them for national self-direction. They must have acquired adult self-reliance, self-knowledge, and self-control, adult soberness and deliberateness of judgment, adult sagacity in self-government, adult vigilance of thought and quickness of insight. When practiced, not by small communities, but by wide nations, democracy, far from being a crude form of government, is possible only amongst peoples of the highest and steadiest political habit. It is the heritage of races purged alike of hasty barbaric passions and of patient servility to rulers, and schooled in temperate common counsel. It is an institution of political noonday, not of the half light of political dawn. It can never be made to sit easily or safely on first generations, but strengthens through long heredity. It is poison to the infant, but tonic to the man. Monarchies may be made, but democracies must grow.

It is a deeply significant fact, therefore, again and again to be called to mind, that only in the United States, in a few other governments begotten of the English race, and in Switzerland, where old Teutonic habit has had the same persistency as in England, have examples yet been furnished of successful democracy of the modern type. England herself is close upon democracy. Her backwardness in entering upon its full practice is no less instructive as to the conditions prerequisite to democracy than is the forwardness of her offspring. She sent out to all her colonies, which escaped the luckless beginning of being made penal settlements, comparatively small, homogeneous populations of pioneers with strong instincts of self-government, and with no social materials out of which to build government otherwise than democratically. She herself, meanwhile, retained masses of population never habituated to participation in government, untaught in political principle either by the teachers of the hustings or of the school-house. She has had to approach democracy, therefore, by slow and cautious extensions of the franchise to those prepared for it; while her better colonies, born into democracy, have had to receive all comers within its pale. She has been paring down exclusive privileges and leveling classes; the colonies have from the first been asylums of civil equality. They have assimilated new, she has prepared old populations.

Erroneous as it is to represent government as only a commonplace sort of business, little elevated in method above merchandising, and to be regulated by counting-house principles, the favor easily won for such views among our own people is very significant. It means self-reliance in government. It gives voice to the eminently modern democratic feeling that government is no hidden cult, to be left to a few specially prepared individuals, but a common, every-day concern of life, even if the biggest such concern. It is this self-confidence, in many cases mistaken, which is gradually spreading among other peoples, less justified in it than are our own.

One cannot help marveling that facts so obvious as these should have escaped the perception of some of the sagest thinkers and most thorough historical scholars of our day. Yet so it is. Sir Henry Maine, even, the great interpreter to Englishmen of the historical forces operative in law and social institutions, has utterly failed, in his plausible work on Popular Government, to distinguish the democracy, or rather the popular government, of the English race, which is bred by slow circumstance and founded upon habit, from the democracy of other peoples, which is bred by discontent and founded upon revolution. He has missed that most obvious teaching of events, that successful democracy differs from unsuccessful in being a product of history, — a product of forces not suddenly become operative, but slowly working upon whole peoples for generations together. The level of democracy is the level of every-day habit, the level of common national experiences, and lies far below the elevations of ecstasy to which the revolutionist climbs.


While there can be no doubt about the derivation of our government from habit rather than from doctrine, from English experience rather than from European thought; that our institutions were originally but products of a long, unbroken, unperverted constitutional history; and that we shall preserve our institutions in their integrity and efficiency only so long as we keep true in our practice to the traditions from which our strength is derived, there is little doubt that the forces peculiar to the new civilization of our day, and not only these, but also the restless forces of European democratic thought and anarchic turbulence brought to us in such alarming masses by immigration, have deeply affected and may deeply modify the forms and habits of our politics.

All vital governments, — and by vital governments I mean those which have life in their outlying members as well as life in their heads, — all systems in which self-government lives and retains its self-possession, must be governments by neighbors, by peoples not only homogeneous, but characterized within by the existence of easy neighborly knowledge of each other among their members. Not foreseeing steam and electricity or the diffusion of news and knowledge which we have witnessed, our fathers were right in thinking it impossible for the government which they had founded to spread without strain or break over the whole of the continent. Were not California now as near neighbor to the Atlantic States as Massachusetts once was to New York, national self-government on our present scale would assuredly hardly be possible, or conceivable even. Modern science, scarcely less than our pliancy and steadiness in political habit, may be said to have created the United States of to-day.

Upon some aspects of this growth it is very pleasant to dwell, and very profitable. It is significant of a strength which it is even inspiring to contemplate. The advantages of bigness accompanied by abounding life are many and invaluable. It is impossible among us to hatch in a corner any plot which will affect more than a corner. With life everywhere throughout the continent, it is impossible to seize illicit power over the whole people by seizing any central offices. To hold Washington would be as useless to a usurper as to hold Duluth. Self-government cannot be usurped.

It has been said by a French writer that the autocratic ascendency of Andrew Jackson illustrated anew the long-credited tendency of democracies to give themselves over to one hero. The country is older now than it was when Andrew Jackson delighted in his power, and few can believe that it would again approve or applaud childish arrogance and ignorant arbitrariness like his; but even in his case, striking and ominous as it was, it must not be overlooked that he was suffered only to strain the Constitution, not to break it. He held his office by orderly election; he exercised its functions within the letter of the law; he could silence not one word of hostile criticism; and, his second term expired, he passed into private life as harmlessly as did James Monroe. A nation that can quietly reabsorb a vast victorious army is no more safely free and healthy than is a nation that could reabsorb such a President as Andrew Jackson, sending him into seclusion at the Hermitage to live without power, and die after having been almost forgotten.

A huge, stalwart organism like our nation, with quick life in every individual limb and sinew, is apt, too, to have the strength of variety of judgment. Thoughts which in one quarter kindle enthusiasm may in another meet coolness or arouse antagonism. Events which are fuel to the passions of one section may be but as a passing wind to the minds of another section. No single moment of indiscretion, surely, can easily betray the whole country at once. There will be entire populations still cool, self-reliant, unaffected. Generous emotions sometimes sweep whole peoples, but happily, evil passions, sinister views, base purposes, do not and cannot. Sedition cannot surge through the hearts of a wakeful nation as patriotism can. In such organisms poisons diffuse themselves slowly; only healthful life has unbroken course. The sweep of agitations set afoot for purposes unfamiliar or uncongenial to the customary popular thought is broken by a thousand obstacles. It may be easy to reawaken old enthusiasms, but it must be infinitely hard to create new ones, and impossible to surprise the people into unpremeditated action.

It is well to give full weight to these great advantages of our big and strenuous and yet familiar way of conducting affairs; but it is imperative at the same time to make very plain the influences which are pointing towards impending changes in our politics, — changes which threaten loss of organic wholeness and soundness in carrying on an efficient and honest government. The union of strength with bigness depends upon the maintenance of character, and it is just the character of the nation which is being most deeply affected and modified by the enormous immigration which, year after year, pours into the country from Europe. Our own temperate blood, schooled to self-possession and to the measured conduct of self-government, is receiving a constant infusion and yearly experiencing a partial corruption of foreign blood. Our own equable habits have been crossed with the feverish habits of the restless Old World. We are unquestionably facing an ever-increasing difficulty of self-command with ever-deteriorating materials, possibly with degenerating fibre. We have so far succeeded in retaining

Some sense of duty, something of a faith,
Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made,
Some patient force to change them when we will,
Some civic manhood firm against the crowd.

But we must reckon our power to continue to do so with a people made up of “minds cast in every mould of race, — minds inheriting every bias of environment, warped by the diverse histories of a score of different nations, warmed or chilled, closed or expanded, by almost every climate on the globe.”

What was true of our early circumstances is not true of our present. We are not now simply carrying out under normal conditions the principles and habits of English constitutional history. Our tasks of construction are not done. We have not simply to conduct, but also to preserve and freshly adjust our government. Europe has sent her habits to us, and she has sent also her political philosophy, — that philosophy which has never been purged by the cold bath of practical politics. The communion which we did not have at first with her heated and mistaken ambitions, with her radical, speculative habit in politics, with her readiness to experiment in forms of government, we may possibly have to suffer now that we are receiving her populations. Not only printing and steam and electricity have gotten hold of us to expand our English civilization, but also those general, and yet to us alien, forces of democracy of which mention has already been made; and these are apt to tell disastrously upon our Saxon habits in government.


It is thus that we are brought to our fourth and last point. We have noted (1) the general forces of democracy which have been sapping old forms of government in all parts of the world; (2) the error of supposing ourselves indebted to those forces for the creation of our government, or in any way connected with them in our origins; and (3) the effect they have nevertheless had upon us as parts of the general influences of the age, as well as by reason of our vast immigration from Europe, an immigration which brings to us European ideas and European habits. What, now, are the new problems which have been prepared for our solution by reason of our growth and of the effects of immigration? They may require as much political capacity for their proper solution as any that faced the architects of our government.

These problems are chiefly problems of organization and leadership. Were the nation homogeneous, were it composed simply of later generations of the same stock by which our institutions were planted, few adjustments of the old machinery of our politics would, perhaps, be necessary to meet the exigencies of growth. But every added element of variety, particularly every added element of foreign variety, complicates even the simpler questions of politics. The dangers attending that variety which is heterogeneity in so vast an organism as ours are, of course, the dangers of disintegration, nothing less; and it is unwise to think these dangers remote and merely contingent because they are not as yet pressing. We are conscious of oneness as a nation, of vitality, of strength, of progress, but are we often conscious of common thought in the concrete things of national policy? Does not our legislation wear the features of a vast conglomerate? Are we conscious of any national leadership? Are we not, rather, dimly conscious of being pulled in a score of directions by a score of crossing influences and contending forces?

This vast and miscellaneous democracy of ours must be led; its giant faculties must be schooled and directed. Leadership cannot belong to the multitude; masses of men cannot be self-directed, neither can groups of communities. We speak of the sovereignty of the people, but that sovereignty, we know very well, is of a peculiar sort; quite unlike the sovereignty of a king or of a small easily concerting group of confident men. It is judicial, merely, not creative. It passes judgment or gives sanction, but it cannot direct or suggest. It furnishes standards, not policies. Questions of government are infinitely complex questions, and no multitude can of themselves form clear-cut, comprehensive, consistent conclusions touching them. Yet without such conclusions, without single and prompt purposes, government cannot be carried on. Neither legislation nor administration can be done at the ballot-box. The people can only accept the governing act of representatives. But the size of the modern democracy necessitates the exercise of persuasive power by dominant minds in the shaping of popular judgments in a very different way from that in which it was exercised in former times. “It is said by eminent censors of the press,” said Mr. Bright on one occasion in the House of Commons, “that this debate will yield about thirty hours of talk, and will end in no result. I have observed that all great questions in this country require thirty hours of talk many times repeated before they are settled. There is much shower and much sunshine between the sowing of the seed and the reaping of the harvest, but the harvest is generally reaped after all.” So it must be in all self-governing nations of to-day. They are not a single audience within sound of an orator’s voice, but a thousand audiences. Their actions do not spring from a single thrill of feeling, but from slow conclusions following upon much talk. The talk must gradually percolate through the whole mass. It cannot be sent straight though them so that they are electrified as the pulse is stirred by the call of a trumpet. A score of platforms in every neighborhood must ring with the insistent voice of controversy; and for a few hundreds who hear what is said by the public speakers, many thousands must read of the matter in the newspapers, discuss it interjectionally at the breakfast-table, desultorily in the street-cars, laconically on the streets, dogmatically at dinner; all this with a certain advantage, of course. Through so many stages of consideration passion cannot possibly hold out. It gets chilled by over-exposure. It finds the modern popular state organized for giving and hearing counsel in such a way that those who give it must be careful that it is such counsel as will wear well; and those who hear it handle and examine it enough to test its wearing qualities to the utmost. All this, however, when looked at from another point of view, but illustrates an infinite difficulty of achieving energy and organization. There is a certain peril almost of disintegration attending such phenomena.

Every one now knows familiarly enough how we accomplished the wide aggregations of self-government characteristic of the modern time, how we have articulated governments as vast and yet as whole as continents like our own. The instrumentality has been representation, of which the ancient world knew nothing, and lacking which it always lacked national integration. Because of representation and the railroads to carry representatives to distant capitals, we have been able to rear colossal structures like the government of the United States as easily as the ancients gave political organization to a city, and our great building is as stout as was their little one.

But not until recently have we been able to see the full effects of thus sending men to legislate for us at capitals distant the breadth of a continent. It makes the leaders of our politics, many of them, mere names to our consciousness instead of real persons, whom we have seen and heard, and whom we know. We have to accept rumors concerning them, we have to know them through the variously colored accounts of others; we can seldom test our impressions of their sincerity by standing with them face to face. Here certainly the ancient pocket republics had much the advantage of us: in them citizens and leaders were always neighbors; they stood constantly in each other’s presence. Every Athenian knew Themistocles’ manner, and gait, and address, and felt directly the just influence of Aristides. No Athenian of a later period needed to be told of the vanities and fopperies of Alcibiades, any more than the elder generation needed to have described to them the personality of Pericles.

Our separation from our leaders is the greater peril because democratic government more than any other needs organization in order to escape disintegration; and it can have organization only by full knowledge of its leaders and full confidence in them. Just because it is a vast body to be persuaded, it must know its persuaders; in order to be effective, it must always have choice of men who are impersonated policies. Just because none but the finest mental batteries, with pure metals and unadulterated acids, can send a current through so huge and yet so rare a medium as democratic opinion, it is the more necessary to look to the excellence of these instrumentalities. There is no permanent place in democratic leadership except for him who hath clean hands and a pure heart. If other men come temporarily into power among us, it is because we cut our leadership up into so many little parts, and do not subject any one man to the purifying influences of centred responsibility. Never before was consistent leadership so necessary; never before was it necessary to concert measures over so vast areas, to adjust laws to so many interests, to make a compact and intelligible unit out of so many fractions, to maintain a central and dominant force where there are so many forces.

It is a noteworthy fact that the admiration for our institutions which has during the past few years so suddenly grown to large proportions among publicists abroad is almost all of it directed to the restraints we have effected upon the action of government. Sir Henry Maine thought our federal Constitution an admirable reservoir, in which the mighty waters of democracy are held at rest, kept back from free destructive course. Lord Rosebery has wondering praise for the security of our Senate against usurpation of its functions by the House of Representatives. Mr. Goldwin Smith supposes the saving act of organization for a democracy to be the drafting and adoption of a written constitution. Thus it is always the static, never the dynamic, forces of our government which are praised. The greater part of our foreign admirers find our success to consist in the achievement of stable safeguards against hasty or retrogressive action: we are asked to believe that we have succeeded because we have taken Sir Archibald Allison’s advice, and have resisted the infection of revolution by staying quite still.

But, after all, progress is motion, government is action. The waters of democracy are useless in their reservoirs unless they may be used to drive the wheels of policy and administration. Though we be the most law-abiding and law-directed nation in the world, law has not yet attained to such efficacy among us as to frame, or adjust, or administer itself. It may restrain, but it cannot lead us; and I believe that unless we concentrate legislative leadership, — leadership, that is, in progressive policy, — unless we give leave to our nationality and practice to it by such concentration, we shall sooner or later suffer something like national paralysis in the face of emergencies. We have no one in Congress who stands for the nation. Each man stands but for his part of the nation; and so management and combination, which may be effected in the dark, are given the place that should be held by centred and responsible leadership, which would of necessity work in the focus of the national gaze.

What is the valuable element in monarchy which causes men constantly to turn to it as to an ideal form of government, could it but be kept pure and wise? It is its cohesion, its readiness and power to act, its abounding loyalty to certain concrete things, to certain visible persons, its concerted organization, its perfect model of progressive order. Democracy abounds with vitality; but how shall it combine with its other elements of life and strength this power of the governments that know their own minds and their own aims? We have not yet reached the age when government may be made impersonal.

The only way in which we can preserve our nationality in its integrity and its old-time originative force in the face of growth and imported change is by concentrating it; by putting leaders forward, vested with abundant authority in the conception and execution of policy. There is plenty of the old vitality in our national character to tell, if we will but give it leave. Give it leave, and it will the more impress and mould those who come to us from abroad. I believe that we have not made enough of leadership.

A people is but the attempt of many
To rise to the completer life of one;
And those who live as models for the mass
Are singly of more value than they all.

We shall not again have a true national life until we compact it by such legislative leadership as other nations have. But once thus compacted and embodied, our nationality is safe. An acute English historical scholar has said that “the Americans of the United States are a nation because they once obeyed a king;” we shall remain a nation only by obeying leaders.

Keep but the model safe,
New men will rise to study it.