The Making of the Nation
“The past has made the present, and will make the future. It has made us a nation, despite a variety of life that threatened to keep us at odds amongst ourselves. ... It has taught us how to become strong, and will teach us, if we heed its moral, how to become wise, also, and single-minded.”
The making of our own nation seems to have taken place under our very eyes, so recent and so familiar is the story. The great process was worked out in the plain and open day of the modern world, statesmen and historians standing by to superintend, criticise, make record of what was done. The stirring narrative runs quickly into the day in which we live; we can say that our grandfathers builded the government which now holds so large a place in the world; the story seems of yesterday, and yet seems entire, as if the making of the republic had hastened to complete itself within a single hundred years. We are elated to see so great a thing done upon so great a scale, and to feel ourselves in so intimate a way actors in the moving scene.
Yet we should deceive ourselves were we to suppose the work done, the nation made. We have been told by a certain group of our historians that a nation was made when the federal Constitution was adopted; that the strong sentences of the law sufficed to transform us from a league of States into a people single and inseparable. Some tell us, however, that it was not till the war of 1812 that we grew fully conscious of a single purpose and destiny, and began to form policies as if for a nation. Others see the process complete only when the civil war struck slavery away, and gave North and South a common way of life that should make common ideals and common endeavors at last possible. Then, when all have had their say, there comes a great movement like the one which we call Populism, to remind us how the country still lies apart in sections: some at one stage of development, some at another; some with one hope and purpose for America, some with another. And we ask ourselves, Is the history of our making as a nation indeed over, or do we still wait upon the forces that shall at last unite us? Are we even now, in fact, a nation?
Clearly, it is not a question of sentiment, but a question of fact. If it be true that the country, taken as a whole, is at one and the same time in several stages of development, — not a great commercial and manufacturing nation, with here and there its broad pastures and the quiet farms from which it draws its food; not a vast agricultural community, with here and there its ports of shipment and its necessary marts of exchange; nor yet a country of mines, merely, pouring their products forth into the markets of the world, to take thence whatever it may need for its comfort and convenience in living, — we still wait for its economic and spiritual union. It is many things at once. Sections big enough for kingdoms live by agriculture, and farm the wide stretches of a new land by the aid of money borrowed from other sections which seem almost like another nation, with their teeming cities, dark with the smoke of factories, quick with the movements ,of trade, as sensitive to the variations of exchange on London as to the variations in the crops raised by their distant fellow countrymen on the plains within the continent. Upon other great spaces of the vast continent, communities, millions strong, live the distinctive life of the miner; have all their fortune bound up and centred in a single group of industries, feel in their utmost concentration the power of economic forces elsewhere dispersed, and chafe under the unequal yoke that unites them with communities so unlike themselves as those which lend and trade and manufacture, and those which follow the plough and reap the grain that is to feed the world.
Such contrasts are nothing new in our history, and our system of government is admirably adapted to relieve the strain and soften the antagonism they might entail. All our national history through our country has lain apart in sections, each marking a stage of settlement, a stage of wealth, a stage of development, as population has advanced, as if by successive journeyings and encampments, from east to west; and always new regions have been suffered to become new States, form their own life under their own law, plan their own economy, adjust their own domestic relations, and legalize their own methods of business. States have, indeed, often been whimsically enough formed. We have left the matter of boundaries to surveyors rather than to statesmen, and have by no means managed to construct economic units in the making of States. We have joined mining communities with agricultural, the mountain with the plain, the ranch with the farm, and have left the making of uniform rules to the sagacity and practical habit of neighbors ill at ease with one another. But on the whole, the scheme, though a bit haphazard, has worked itself out with singularly little friction and no disaster, and the strains of the great structure we have erected have been greatly eased and dissipated.
Elastic as the system is, however, it stiffens at every point of national policy. The federal government can make but one rule, and that a rule for the whole country, in each act of its legislation. Its very constitution withholds it from discrimination as between State and State, section and section; and yet its chief powers touch just those subjects of economic interest in which the several sections of the country feel themselves most unlike. Currency questions do not affect them equally or in the same way. Some need an elastic currency to serve their uses; others can fill their coffers more readily with a currency that is inelastic. Some can build up manufactures under a tariff law; others cannot, and must submit to pay more without earning more. Some have one interest in a principle of interstate commerce; others, another. It would be difficult to find even a question of foreign policy which would touch all parts of the country alike. A foreign fleet would mean much more to the merchants of Boston and New York than to the merchants of Illinois and the farmers of the Dakotas.
The conviction is becoming painfully distinct among us, moreover, that these contrasts of condition and differences of interest between the several sections of the country are now more marked and emphasized than they ever were before. The country has been transformed within a generation, not by any creations in a new kind, but by stupendous changes in degree. Every interest has increased its scale and its individual significance. The “East” is transformed by the vast accumulations of wealth made since the civil war, — transformed from a simple to a complex civilization, more like the Old World than like the New. The “West” has so magnified its characteristics by sheer growth, every economic interest which its life represents has become so gigantic in its proportions, that it seems to Eastern men, and to its own people also, more than ever a region apart. It is true that the “West” is not, as a matter of fact, a region at all, but, in Professor Turner’s admirable phrase, a stage of development, nowhere set apart and isolated, but spread abroad through all the far interior of the continent. But it is now a stage of development with a difference, as Professor Turner has shown, which makes it practically a new thing in our history. The “West” was once a series of States and settlements beyond which lay free lands not yet occupied, into which the restless and all who could not thrive by mere steady industry, all who had come too late and all who had stayed too long, could pass on, and, it might be, better their fortunes. Now it lies without outlet. The free lands are gone. New communities must make their life sufficient without this easy escape, — must study economy, find their fortunes in what lies at hand, intensify effort, increase capital, build up a future out of details. It is as if they were caught in a fixed order of life and forced into a new competition, and both their self-consciousness and their keenness to observe every point of self-interest are enlarged beyond former example.
That there are currents of national life, both strong and definite, running in full tide through all the continent from sea to sea, no observant person can fail to perceive, — currents which have long been gathering force, and which cannot now be withstood. There need be no fear in any sane man’s mind that we shall ever again see our national government threatened with overthrow by any power which our own growth has bred. The temporary danger is that, not being of a common mind, because not living under common conditions, the several sections of the country, which a various economic development has for the time being set apart and contrasted, may struggle for supremacy in the control of the government, and that we may learn by some sad experience that there is not even yet any common standard, either of opinion or of policy, underlying our national life. The country is of one mind in its allegiance to the government and in its attachment to the national idea; but it is not yet of one mind in respect of that fundamental question, What policies will best serve us in giving strength and development to our life? Not the least noteworthy of the incidents that preceded and foretokened the civil war was, if I may so call it, the sectionalization of the national idea. Southern merchants bestirred themselves to get conventions together for the discussion, not of the issues of polities, but of the economic interests of the country. Their thought and hope were of the nation. They spoke no word of antagonism against any section or interest. Yet it was plain in every resolution they uttered that for them the nation was one thing and centred in the South, while for the rest of the country the nation was another thing and lay in the North and Northwest. They were arguing the needs of the nation from the needs of their own section. The same thing had happened in the days of the embargo and the war of 1812. The Hartford Convention thought of New England when it spoke of the country. So must it ever be when section differs from section in the very basis and method of its life. The nation is to-day one thing in Kansas, and quite another in Massachusetts.
There is no longer any danger of a civil war. There was war between the South and the rest of the nation because their differences were removable in no other way. There was no prospect that slavery, the root of those differences, would ever disappear in the mere process of growth. It was to be apprehended, on the contrary, that the very processes of growth would inevitably lead to the extension of slavery and the perpetuation of radical social and economic contrasts and antagonisms between State and State, between region and region. An heroic remedy was the only remedy. Slavery being removed, the South is now joined with the West, joined with it in a stage of development, as a region chiefly agricultural, without diversified industries, without a multifarious trade, without those subtle extended nerves which come with all-round economic development, and which make men keenly sensible of the interests that link the world together, as it were into a single community. But these are lines of difference which will be effaced by mere growth, which time will calmly ignore. They make no boundaries for armies to cross. Tide-water Virginia was thus separated once from her own population within the Alleghany valleys, — held two jealous sections within her own limits. Massachusetts once knew the sharp divergences of interest and design which separated the coast settlements upon the Bay from the restless pioneers who had taken up the free lands of her own western counties. North Carolina was once a comfortable and indifferent “East” to the uneasy “West” that was to become Tennessee. Virginia once seemed old and effete to Kentucky. The “great West” once lay upon the Ohio, but has since disappeared there, overlaid by the changes which have carried the conditions of the “East” to the Great Lakes and beyond. There has never yet been a time in our history when we were without an “East” and a “West,” but the novel day when we shall be without them is now in sight. As the country grows it will inevitably grow homogeneous. Population will not henceforth spread, but compact; for there is no new land between the seas where the West can find another lodgment. The conditions which prevail in the ever widening East will sooner or later cover the continent, and we shall at last be one people. The process will not be a short one. It will doubtless run through many generations and involve many a critical question of statesmanship. But it cannot be stayed, and its working out will bring the nation to its final character and rôle in the world.
In the meantime, shall we not constantly recall our reassuring past, reminding one another again and again, as our memories fail us, of the significant incidents of the long journey we have already come, in order that we may be cheered and guided upon the road we have yet to choose and follow? It is only by thus attempting, and attempting again and again, some sufficient analysis of our past experiences that we can form any adequate image of our life as a nation, or acquire any intelligent purpose to guide us amidst the rushing movement of affairs. It is no doubt in part by reviewing our lives that we shape and determine them. The future will not, indeed, be like the past; of that we may rest assured. It cannot be like it in detail; it cannot even resemble it in the large. It is one thing to fill a fertile continent with a vigorous people and take first possession of its treasures; it is quite another to complete the work of occupation and civilization in detail. Big plans, thought out only in the rough, will suffice for the one, but not for the other. A provident leadership, a patient tolerance of temporary but unavoidable evils, a just temper of compromise and accommodation, a hopeful industry in the face of small returns, mutual understandings, and a cordial spirit of coöperation are needed for the slow intensive task, which were not demanded amidst the free advances of an unhampered people from settlement to settlement. And yet the past has made the present, and will make the future. It has made us a nation, despite a variety of life that threatened to keep us at odds amongst ourselves. It has shown us the processes by which differences have been obliterated and antagonisms softened. It has taught us how to become strong, and will teach us, if we heed its moral, how to become wise, also, and single-minded.
The colonies which formed the Union were brought together, let us first remind ourselves, not merely because they were neighbors and kinsmen, but because they were forced to see that they had common interests which they could serve in no other way. “There is nothing which binds one country or one State to another but interest,” said Washington. “Without this cement the Western inhabitants can have no predilection for us.” Without that cement the colonies could have had no predilection for one another. But it is one thing to have common interests, and quite another to perceive them and act upon them. The colonies were first thrust together by the pressure of external danger. They needed one another, as well as aid from oversea, as any fool could perceive, if they were going to keep their frontiers against the Indians, and their outlets upon the Western waters from the French. The French and Indian war over, that pressure was relieved, and they might have fallen apart again, indifferent to any common aim, unconscious of any common interest, had not the government that was their common master set itself to make them wince under common wrongs. Then it was that they saw how like they were in polity and life and interest in the great field of politics, studied their common liberty, and became aware of their common ambitions. It was then that they became aware, too, that their common ambitions could be realized only by union; not single-handed, but united against a common enemy. Had they been let alone, it would have taken many a long generation of slowly increased acquaintance with one another to apprise them of their kinship in life and interests and institutions; but England drove them into immediate sympathy and combination, unwittingly founding a nation by suggestion.
The war for freedom over, the new-fledged States entered at once upon a very practical course of education which thrust its lessons upon them without regard to taste or predilection. The Articles of Confederation had been formulated and proposed to the States for their acceptance in 1777, as a legalization of the arrangements that had grown up under the informal guidance of the Continental Congress, in order that law might confirm and strengthen practice, and because an actual continental war commanded a continental organization. But the war was virtually over by the time all the reluctant States had accepted the Articles; and the new government had hardly been put into formal operation before it became evident that only the war had made such an arrangement workable. Not compacts, but the compulsions of a common danger, had drawn the States into an irregular coöperation, and it was even harder to obtain obedience to the definite Articles than it had been to get the requisitions of the unchartered Congress heeded while the war lasted. Peace had rendered the makeshift common government uninteresting, and had given each State leave to withdraw from common undertakings, and to think once more, as of old, only of itself. Their own affairs again isolated and restored to their former separate importance, the States could no longer spare their chief men for what was considered the minor work of the general Congress. The best men had been gradually withdrawn from Congress before the war ended, and now there seemed less reason than ever why they should be sent to talk at Philadelphia, when they were needed for the actual work of administration at home. Politics fell back into their old localization, and every public man found his chief tasks at home. There were still, as a matter of fact, common needs and dangers scarcely less imperative and menacing than those which had drawn the colonies together against the mother country; but they were needs and perils of peace, and ordinary men did not see them; only the most thoughtful and observant were conscious of them: extraordinary events were required to lift them to the general view.
Happily, there were thoughtful and observant men who were already the chief figures of the country, — men whose leadership the people had long since come to look for and accept, and it was through them that the States were brought to a new common consciousness, and at last to a real union. It was not possible for the several States to live self-sufficient and apart, as they had done when they were colonies. They had then had a common government, little as they liked to submit to it, and their foreign affairs had been taken care of. They were now to learn how ill they could dispense with a common providence. Instead of France, they now had England for neighbor in Canada and on the Western waters, where they had themselves but the other day fought so hard to set her power up. She was their rival and enemy, too, on the seas; refused to come to any treaty terms with them in regard to commerce; and laughed to see them unable to concert any policy against her because they had no common political authority among themselves. She had promised, in the treaty of peace, to withdraw her garrisons from the Western posts which lay within the territory belonging to the Confederation; but Congress had promised that British creditors should be paid what was due them, only to find that the States would make no laws to fulfill the promise, and were determined to leave their federal representatives without power to make them; and England kept her troops where they were. Spain had taken Frances place upon the further bank of the Mississippi and at the great river’s mouth. Grave questions of foreign policy pressed on every side, as of old, and no State could settle them unaided and for herself alone.
Here was a group of commonwealths which would have lived separately and for themselves, and could not; which had thought to make shift with merely a league of friendship between them and a Congress for consultation, and found that it was impossible. There were common debts to pay, but there was no common system of taxation by which to meet them, nor any authority to devise and enforce such a system. There were common enemies and rivals to deal with, but no one was authorized to carry out a common policy against them. There was a common domain to settle and administer, but no one knew how a Congress without the power to command was to manage so great a property. The Ordinance of 1787 was indeed bravely framed, after a method of real statesmanship; but there was no warrant for it to be found in the Articles, and no one could say how Congress would execute a law it had had no authority to enact. It was not merely the hopeless confusion and sinister signs of anarchy which abounded in their own affairs—a rebellion of debtors in Massachusetts, tariff wars among the States that lay upon New York Bay and on the Sound, North Carolina’s doubtful supremacy among her settlers in the Tennessee country, Virginia’s questionable authority in Kentucky—that brought the States at last to attempt a better union and set up a real government for the whole country. It was the inevitable continental outlook of affairs as well; if nothing more, the sheer necessity to grow and touch their neighbors at close quarters.
Washington had been among the first to see the necessity of living, not by a local, but by a continental policy. Of course he had a direct pecuniary interest in the development of the Western lands, — had himself preëmpted many a broad acre lying upon the far Ohio, as well as upon the nearer western slopes of the mountains, — and it is open to any one who likes the sinister suggestion to say that his ardor for the occupancy of the Western country was that of the land speculator, not that of the statesman. Everybody knows that it was a conference between delegates from Maryland and Virginia about Washington’s favorite scheme of joining the upper waters of the Potomac with the upper waters of the streams which made their way to the Mississippi—a conference held at his suggestion and at his house—that led to the convening of that larger conference at Annapolis, which called for the appointment of the body that met at Philadelphia and framed the Constitution under which he was to become the first President of the United States. It is open to any one who chooses to recall how keen old Governor Dinwiddie had been, when he came to Virginia, to watch those same Western waters in the interest of the first Ohio Company, in which he had bought stock; how promptly he called the attention of the ministers in England to the aggressions of the French in that quarter, sent Washington out as his agent to warn the intruders off, and pushed the business from stage to stage, till the French and Indian war was ablaze, and nations were in deadly conflict on both sides of the sea. It ought to be nothing new and nothing strange to those who have read the history of the English race the world over to learn that conquests have a thousand times sprung out of the initiative of men who have first followed private interest into new lands like speculators, and then planned their occupation and government like statesmen. Dinwiddie was no statesman, but Washington was; and the circumstance which it is worth while to note about him is, not that he went prospecting upon the Ohio when the French war was over, but that he saw more than fertile lands there, — saw the “seat of a rising empire,” and, first among the men of his day, perceived by what means its settlers could be bound to the older communities in the East alike in interest and in polity. Here were the first “West” and the first “East,” and Washington’s thought mediating between them.
The formation of the Union brought a real government into existence, and that government set about its work with an energy, a dignity, a thoroughness of plan, which made the whole country aware of it from the outset, and aware, consequently, of the national scheme of political life it had been devised to promote. Hamilton saw to it that the new government should have a definite party and body of interests at its back. It had been fostered in the making by the commercial classes at the ports and along the routes of commerce, and opposed in the rural districts which lay away from the centres of population. Those who knew the forces that played from State to State, and made America a partner in the life of the world, had earnestly wanted a government that should preside and choose in the making of the nation; but those who saw only the daily round of the countryside had been indifferent or hostile, consulting their pride and their prejudices. Hamilton sought a policy which should serve the men who had set the government up, and found it in the funding of the debt, both national and domestic, the assumption of the Revolutionary obligations of the States, and the establishment of a national bank. This was what the friends of the new plan had wanted, the rehabilitation of credit, and the government set out with a programme meant to commend it to men with money and vested interests.
It was just such a government that the men of an opposite interest and temperament had dreaded, and Washington was not out of office before the issue began to be clearly drawn between those who wanted a strong government, with a great establishment, a system of finance which should dominate the markets, an authority in the field of law which should restrain the States and make the Union, through its courts, the sole and final judge of its own powers, and those who dreaded nothing else so much, wished a government which should hold the country together with as little thought as possible of its own aggrandizement, went all the way with Jefferson in his jealousy of the commercial interest, accepted his ideal of a dispersed power put into commission among the States, — even among the local units within the States, and looked to see liberty discredited amidst a display of federal power. When the first party had had their day in the setting up of the government and the inauguration of a policy which should make it authoritative, the party of Jefferson came in to purify it. They began by attacking the federal courts, which had angered every man of their faith by a steady maintenance and elaboration of the federal power; they ended by using that power just as their opponents had used it. In the first place, it was necessary to buy Louisiana, and with it the control of the Mississippi, notwithstanding Mr. Jefferson’s solemn conviction that such an act was utterly without constitutional warrant; in the second place, they had to enforce an arbitrary embargo in order to try their hand at reprisal upon foreign rivals in trade; in the end, they had to recharter the national bank, create a national debt and a sinking fund, impose an excise upon whiskey, lay direct taxes, devise a protective tariff, use coercion upon those who would not aid them in a great war, — play the rôle of masters and tax-gatherers as the Federalists had played it, — on a greater scale, even, and with equal gusto. Everybody knows the familiar story: it has new significance from day to day only as it illustrates the invariable process of nation-making which has gone on from generation to generation, from the first until now.
Opposition to the exercise and expansion of the federal power only made it the more inevitable by making it the more deliberate. The passionate protests, the plain speech, the sinister forecasts, of such men as John Randolph aided the process by making it self-conscious. What Randolph meant as an accusation, those who chose the policy of the government presently accepted as a prophecy. It was true, as he said, that a nation was in the making, and a government under which the privileges of the States would count for less than the compulsions of the common interest. Few had seen it so at first; the men who were old when the government was born refused to see it so to the last; but the young men and those who came fresh upon the stage from decade to decade presently found the scarecrow look like a thing they might love. Their ideal took form with the reiterated suggestion; they began to hope for what they had been bidden to dread. No party could long use the federal authority without coming to feel it national, — without forming some ideal of the common interest, and of the use of power by which it should be fostered.
When they adopted the tariff of 1816, the Jeffersonians themselves formulated a policy which should endow the federal government with a greater economic power than even Hamilton had planned when he sought to win the support of the merchants and the lenders of money; and when they bought something like a third of the continent beyond the Mississippi, they made it certain the nation should grow upon a continental scale which no provincial notions about state powers and a common government kept within strait bounds could possibly survive. Here were the two forces which were to dominate us till the present day, and make the present issues of our politics: an open “West” into which a frontier population was to be thrust from generation to generation, and a protective tariff which should build up special interests the while in the “East,” and make the contrast ever sharper and sharper between section and section. What the “West” is doing now is simply to note more deliberately than ever before, and with a keener distaste, this striking contrast between her own development and that of the “East.” That was a true instinct of statesmanship which led Henry Clay to couple a policy of internal improvements with a policy of protection. Internal improvements meant in that day great roads leading into the West, and every means taken to open the country to use and settlement. While a protective tariff was building up special industries in the East, public works should make an outlet into new lands for all who were not getting the benefit of the system. The plan worked admirably for many a day, and was justly called “American,” so well did it match the circumstances of a set of communities, half old, half new: the old waiting to be developed, the new setting the easy scale of living. The other side of the policy was left for us. There is no longer any outlet for those who are not the beneficiaries of the protective system, and nothing but the contrasts it has created remains to mark its triumphs. Internal improvements no longer relieve the strain; they have become merely a means of largess.
The history of the United States has been one continuous story of rapid, stupendous growth, and all its great questions have been questions of growth. It was proposed in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that a limit should be set to the number of new members to be admitted to the House of Representatives from States formed beyond the Alleghanies; and the suggestion was conceived with a true instinct of prophecy. The old States were not only to be shaken out of their self-centred life, but were even to see their very government changed over their heads by the rise of States in the Western country. John Randolph voted against the admission of Ohio into the Union, because he held that no new partner should be admitted to the federal arrangement except by unanimous consent. It was the very next year that Louisiana was purchased, and a million square miles were added to the territory out of which new States were to be made. Had the original States been able to live to themselves, keeping their own people, elaborating their own life, without a common property to manage, unvexed by a vacant continent, national questions might have been kept within modest limits. They might even have made shift to digest Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and the great commonwealths carved out of the Northwest Territory, for which the Congress of the Confederation had already made provision. But the Louisiana purchase opened the continent to the planting of States, and took the processes of nationalization out of the hands of the original “partners.” Questions of politics were henceforth to be questions of growth.
For a while the question of slavery dominated all the rest. The Northwest Territory was closed to slavery by the Ordinance of 1787. Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, took slavery almost without question from the States from which they were sprung. But Missouri gave the whole country view of the matter which must be settled in the making of every State founded beyond the Mississippi. The slavery struggle, which seems to us who are near it to occupy so great a space in the field of our affairs, was, of course, a struggle for and against the extension of slavery, not for or against its existence in the States where it had taken root from of old, — a question of growth, not of law. It will some day be seen to have been, for all it was so stupendous, a mere episode of development. Its result was to remove a ground of economic and social difference as between section and section which threatened to become permanent, standing forever in the way of a homogeneous national life. The passionate struggle to prevent its extension inevitably led to its total abolition; and the way was cleared for the South, as well as the, “West,” to become like its neighbor sections in every element of its life.
It had also a further, almost incalculable effect in its stimulation of a national sentiment. It created throughout the North and Northwest a passion of devotion to the Union which really gave the Union a new character. The nation was fused into a single body in the fervent heat of the time. At the beginning of the war the South had seemed like a section pitted against a section; at its close it seemed a territory conquered by a neighbor nation. That nation is now, take it roughly, that “East” which we contrast with the “West” of our day. The economic conditions once centred at New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburg, and the other commercial and industrial cities of the coast States are now to be found, hardly less clearly marked, in Chicago, in Minneapolis, in Detroit, through all the great States that lie upon the Lakes, in all the old “Northwest.” The South has fallen into a new economic classification. In respect of its stage of development it belongs with the West, though in sentiment, in traditional ways of life, in many a point of practice and detail, it keeps its old individuality, and though it has in its peculiar labor problem a hindrance to progress at once unique and ominous.
It is to this point we have come in the making of the nation. The old sort of growth is at an end, — the growth by mere expansion. We have now to look more closely to internal conditions, and study the means by which a various people is to be bound together in a single interest. Many differences will pass away of themselves. “East” and “West” will come together by a slow approach, as capital accumulates where now it is only borrowed, as industrial development makes its way westward in a new variety, as life gets its final elaboration and detail throughout all the great spaces of the continent, until all the scattered parts of the nation are drawn into real community of interest. Even the race problem of the South will no doubt work itself out in the slowness of time, as blacks and whites pass from generation to generation, gaining with each remove from the memories of the war a surer self-possession, an easier view of the division of labor and of social function to be arranged between them. Time is the only legislator in such a matter. But not everything can be left to drift and slow accommodation. The nation which has grown to the proportions almost of the continent within the century lies under our eyes, unfinished, unharmonized, waiting still to have its parts adjusted, lacking its last lesson in the ways of peace and concert. It required statesmanship of no mean sort to bring us to our present growth and lusty strength. It will require leadership of a much higher order to teach us the triumphs of coöperation, the self-possession and calm choices of maturity.
Much may be brought about by a mere knowledge of the situation. It is not simply the existence of facts that governs us, but consciousness and comprehension of the facts. The whole process of statesmanship consists in bringing facts to light, and shaping law to suit, or, if need be, mould them. It is part of our present danger that men of the “East” listen only to their own public men, men of the “West” only to theirs. We speak of the “West” as out of sympathy with the “East:” it would be instructive once and again to reverse the terms, and admit that the “East” neither understands nor sympathizes with the “West,” — and thorough nationalization depends upon mutual understandings and sympathies. There is an unpleasant significance in the fact that the “East” has made no serious attempt to understand the desire for the free coinage of silver in the “West” and the South. If it were once really probed and comprehended, we should know that it is necessary to reform our currency at once, and we should know in what way it is, necessary to reform it; we should know that a new protective tariff only marks with a new emphasis the contrast in economic interest between the “East” and the “West,” and that nothing but currency reform can touch the cause of the present discontents.
Ignorance and indifference as between section and section no man need wonder at who knows the habitual courses of history; and no one who comprehends the essential soundness of our people’s life can mistrust the future of the nation. He may confidently expect a safe nationalization of interest and policy in the end, whatever folly of experiment and fitful change he may fear in the meanwhile. He can only wonder that we should continue to leave ourselves so utterly without adequate means of formulating a national policy. Certainly Providence has presided over our affairs with a strange indulgence, if it is true that Providence helps only those who first seek to help themselves. The making of a nation has never been a thing deliberately planned and consummated by the counsel and authority of leaders, but the daily conduct and policy of a nation which has won its place must be so planned. So far we have had the hopefulness, the readiness, and the hardihood of youth in these matters, and have never become fully conscious of the position into which our peculiar frame of government has brought us. We have waited a whole century to observe that we have made no provision for authoritative national leadership in matters of policy. The President does not always speak with authority, because he is not always a man picked out and tested by any processes in which the people have been participants, and has often nothing but his office to render him influential. Even when the country does know and trust him, he can carry his views no further than to recommend them to the attention of Congress in a written message which the Houses would deem themselves subservient to give too much heed to. Within the Houses there is no man, except the Vice-President, to whose choice the whole country gives heed; and he is chosen, not to be a Senator, but only to wait upon the disability of the President, and preside meanwhile over a body of which he is not a member. The House of Representatives has in these latter days made its Speaker its political leader as well as its parliamentary moderator; but the country is, of course, never consulted about that beforehand, and his leadership is not the open leadership of discussion, but the undebatable leadership of the parliamentary autocrat.
This singular leaderless structure of our government never stood fully revealed until the present generation, and even now awaits general recognition. Peculiar circumstances and the practical political habit and sagacity of our people for long concealed it. The framers of the Constitution no doubt expected the President and his advisers to exercise a real leadership in affairs, and for more than a generation after the setting up of the government their expectation was fulfilled. Washington was accepted as leader no less by Congress than by the people. Hamilton, from the Treasury, really gave the government both its policy and its administrative structure. If John Adams had less authority than Washington, it was because the party he represented was losing its hold upon the country. Jefferson was the most consummate party chief, the most unchecked master of legislative policy, we have had in America, and his dynasty was continued in Madison and Monroe. But Madison’s terms saw Clay and Calhoun come to the front in the House, and many another man of the new generation, ready to guide and coach the President rather than to be absolutely controlled by him. Monroe was not of the calibre of his predecessors, and no party could rally about so stiff a man, so cool a partisan, as John Quincy Adams. And so the old political function of the presidency came to an end, and it was left for Jackson to give it a new one, — instead of a leadership of counsel, a leadership and discipline by rewards and punishments. Then the slavery issue began to dominate politics, and a long season of concentrated passion brought individual men of force into power in Congress, — natural leaders of men like Clay, trained and eloquent advocates like Webster, keen debaters with a logic whose thrusts were as sharp as those of cold steel like Calhoun. The war made the Executive of necessity the nation’s leader again, with the great Lincoln at its head, who seemed to embody, with a touch of genius, the very character of the race itself. Then reconstruction came, — under whose leadership who could say? — and we were left to wonder what, henceforth, in the days of ordinary peace and industry, we were to make of a government which could in humdrum times yield us no leadership at all. The tasks which confront us now are not like those which centred in the war, in which passion made men run together to a common work. Heaven forbid that we should admit any element of passion into the delicate matters in which national policy must mediate between the differing economic interests of sections which a wise moderation will assuredly unite in the ways of harmony and peace! We shall need, not the mere compromises of Clay, but a constructive leadership of which Clay hardly showed himself capable.
There are few things more disconcerting to the thought, in any effort to forecast the future of our affairs, than the fact that we must continue to take our executive policy from presidents given us by nominating conventions, and our legislation from conference committees of the House and Senate. Evidently it is a purely providential form of government. We should never have had Lincoln for President had not the Republican convention of 1860 sat in Chicago, and felt the weight of the galleries in its work, — and one does not like to think what might have happened had Mr. Seward been nominated. We might have had Mr. Bryan for President, because of the impression which may be made upon an excited assembly by a good voice and a few ringing sentences flung forth just after a cold man who gave unpalatable counsel has sat down. The country knew absolutely nothing about Mr. Bryan before his nomination, and it would not have known anything about him afterward had he not chosen to make speeches. It was not Mr. McKinley, but Mr. Reed, who was the real leader of the Republican party. It has become a commonplace amongst us that conventions prefer dark horses, — prefer those who are not tested leaders with well-known records to those who are. It has become a commonplace amongst all nations which have tried popular institutions that the actions of such bodies as our nominating conventions are subject to the play of passion and of chance. They meet to do a single thing, — for the platform is really left to a committee, — and upon that one thing all intrigue centres. Who that has witnessed them will ever forget the intense night scenes, the feverish recesses, of our nominating conventions, when there is a running to and fro of agents from delegation to delegation, and every candidate has his busy headquarters, — can ever forget the shouting and almost frenzied masses on the floor of the hail when the convention is in session, swept this way and that by every wind of sudden feeling, impatient of debate, incapable of deliberation? When a convention’s brief work is over, its own members can scarcely remember the plan and order of it. They go home unmarked, and sink into the general body of those who have nothing to do with the conduct of government. They cannot be held responsible if their candidate fails in his attempt to carry on the Executive.
It has not often happened that candidates for, the presidency have been chosen from outside the ranks of those who have seen service in national politics. Congress is apt to be peculiarly sensitive to the exercise of executive authority by men who have not at some time been members of the one House or the other, and so learned to sympathize with members views as to the relations that ought to exist between the President and the federal legislature. No doubt a good deal of the dislike which the Houses early conceived for Mr. Cleveland was due to the feeling that he was an “outsider,” a man without congressional sympathies and points of view, — a sort of irregular and amateur at the delicate game of national politics as played at Washington; most of the men whom he chose as advisers were of the same kind, without Washington credentials. Mr. McKinley, though of the congressional circle himself, has repeated the experiment in respect of his cabinet in the appointment of such men as Mr. Gage and Mr. Bliss and Mr. Gary. Members resent such appointments; they seem to drive the two branches of the government further apart than ever, and yet they grow more common from administration to administration.
These appointments make coöperation between Congress and the Executive more difficult, not because the men thus appointed lack respect for the Houses or seek to gain any advantage over them, but because they do not know how to deal with them, — through what persons and by what courtesies of approach. To the uninitiated Congress is simply a mass of individuals. It has no responsible leaders known to the system of government, and the leaders recognized by its rules are one set of individuals for one sort of legislation, another for another. The Secretaries cannot address or approach either House as a whole; in dealing with committees they are dealing only with groups of individuals; neither party has its leader, — there are only influential men here and there who know how to manage its caucuses and take advantage of parliamentary openings on the floor. There is a master in the House, as every member very well knows, and even the easy-going public are beginning to observe. The Speaker appoints the committees; the committees practically frame all legislation; the Speaker, accordingly, gives or withholds legislative power and opportunity, and members are granted influence or deprived of it much as he pleases. He of course administers the rules, and the rules are framed to prevent debate and individual initiative. He can refuse recognition for the introduction of measures he disapproves of as party chief; he may make way for those he desires to see passed. He is chairman of the Committee on Rules, by which the House submits to be governed (for fear of helplessness and chaos) in the arrangement of its business and the apportionment of its time. In brief, he is not only its moderator, but its master. New members protest and write to the newspapers; but old members submit, — and indeed the Speakers power is inevitable. You must have leaders in a numerous body, — leaders with authority; and you cannot give authority in the House except through the rules. The man who administers the rules must be master, and you must put this mastery into the hands of your best party leader. The legislature being separated from the executive branch of the government, the only rewards and punishments by which you can secure party discipline are those within the gift of the rules, — the committee appointments and preferences: you cannot administer these by election; party government would break down in the midst of personal exchanges of electoral favors. Here again you must trust the Speaker to organize and choose, and your only party leader is your moderator. He does not lead by debate; he explains, he proposes nothing to the country; you learn his will in his rulings.
It is with such machinery that we are to face the future, find a wise and moderate policy, bring the nation to a common, a cordial understanding, a real unity of life. The President can lead only as he can command the ear of both Congress and the country, — only as any other individual might who could secure a like general hearing and acquiescence. Policy must come always from the deliberations of the House committees, the debates, both secret and open, of the Senate, the compromises of committee conference between the Houses; no one man, no group of men, leading; no man, no group of men, responsible for the outcome. Unquestionably we believe in a guardian destiny! No other race could have accomplished so much with such a system; no other race would have dared risk such an experiment. We shall work out a remedy, for work it out we must. We must find or make, somewhere in our system, a group of men to lead us, who represent the nation in the origin and responsibility of their power; who shall draw the Executive, which makes choice of foreign policy and upon whose ability and good faith the honorable execution of the laws depends, into cordial coöperation with the legislature, which, under whatever form of government, must sanction law and policy. Only under a national leadership, by a national selection of leaders, and by a method of constructive choice rather than of compromise and barter, can a various nation be peacefully led. Once more is our problem of nation-making the problem of a form of government. Shall we show the sagacity, the open-mindedness, the moderation, in our task of modification, that were shown under Washington and Madison and Sherman and Franklin and Wilson, in the task of construction?