The Dull Season in Politics
IT is a notable journey that President McKinley has undertaken, and there are none of his fellow citizens who will grudge him a holiday. He has carried his great responsibilities cheerfully, and, as he passes from state to state in his triumphal progress, he is certain to diffuse a comfortable glow of equanimity and optimism. Generations have passed since we have enjoyed, in our national politics, a similar “ era of good feeling.” The President will naturally make the most of it. His personal amiability is beyond dispute ; he is supreme in a victorious party; and, with a political skill which those who fail to agree with him are the first to recognize, he has disarmed and disconcerted the opposition. He will receive everywhere a cordial welcome, as befits the President of the republic, and he will utilize with his accustomed sagacity his opportunities for ascertaining and following the drift of public opinion. He is anxious to please, and wants to be the kind of President we want him to be.
It is the dull season in politics, or he could not have planned so extensive a tour of inspection. For the first time since the war with Spain, there is a little breathing space in our foreign struggles. The establishment of civil government in the Philippines seems at last to have begun in good earnest. The Taft Commission is performing effective service. The political consequences of Aguinaldo’s capture can scarcely fail to be advantageous to us, though it is to be regretted that the brave officer who trapped him resorted to methods which were apparently forbidden by our own rules of warfare, and which, if practiced upon American troops, would have been denounced as Malay perfidy. However, the ethics of war are puzzling at best, and the country has already forgotten the details of Aguinaldo’s capture in its satisfaction with the fact that the Philippines are passing into a new and more orderly phase of political existence. Those of us who believe in their permanent retention, and those who still doubt both the righteousness and the wisdom of such a policy, may now join in sincere efforts for the tranquillity and reorganization of the islands. The swifter the establishment of civil order, of commerce and law and education, the sooner will both Filipinos and Americans be able to decide what shall be their future relations.
Cuba, too, is quiet at present. Much will turn upon the unheralded and unknown development of opinion there in the next few months. In refusing assent to the terms of the Platt Amendment, the Constitutional Convention did what was to be expected. The LatinAmerican mind, agile as it is, seems to have difficulty in reconciling the Teller Resolution with the Platt Amendment, though this task is easy for some of our native sleight-of-hand performers, particularly those of the religious press. The plain truth is that there was some hysteria in Washington in the spring of 1898, together with much generosity of feeling toward the struggling Cubans ; and that now we are in a very different mood, and are bent more upon safeguarding our own interests than upon preserving the Cubans’ self-respect. Their amour-propre has of course been wounded ; but the Anglo-Saxon has never been very lucky in dealing with the feelings of weaker peoples, and there is a reasonable hope that time and the exercise of mutual courtesy will allay all serious misunderstanding, and bring Cuba into still more amicable relations with the United States.
It is said that the State Department is taking advantage of the dull season to renew its efforts for a treaty with Great Britain, along the line of the HayPauncefote convention. The importance of an Isthmian canal is obvious ; the importance of keeping our national faith, as expressed in the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, is less obvious, in the opinion of many of our public men. But we believe that the business sense of the country will, in this instance, strengthen the moral force of our treaty obligations, and that we shall ultimately have an unfortified canal, whose neutrality will be strictly guaranteed. Such is the recommendation of our army and navy experts, and a neutral canal will be one more step toward the goal of international good will.
Unless disquieting news comes from China, where our diplomacy and our soldiers have made such an admirable record, the summer opens with the foreign political horizon fairly clear, as far as we are directly concerned. At home, the reorganization of the Democratic party is still an affair of the future. Congress is not in session. The President is touring the country. Private citizens are engrossed in making and spending the incomes that prosperous times have made possible. And yet a great deal is silently happening, to shape our political destiny.
In this season of apathy toward the issues of partisan politics, and of freedom from the immediate stress of foreign complications, the real life of the American people is going steadily forward. Regrettable, on many grounds, as is our present temper of extreme reaction against theory, — particularly against those theories of democratic self-government to which we owe our very existence as a nation, — we are nevertheless learning long lessons in the school of fact. The vast mechanism of our social and industrial life is ceaselessly active. We are beginning to reach an understanding of the question of the trusts, not through heated congressional debate, but by actual experience with the good and the evil results of these gigantic combinations. While authors and editors are writing books and articles to prove that the negro will never fit himself for citizenship, Booker Washington and thousands of less distinguished men of his race are quietly demonstrating that the negro is already an excellent citizen. While politicians in high office are suavely treacherous to the cause of civil service reform, the business interests of practical men are every day insisting upon and securing a better civil service. Whenever the excitement of national party politics subsides, in a thousand municipalities men are chosen to office on their merits, and recent municipal elections have illustrated anew the preference of the American voter for honest candidates, with opinions of their own and the courage of their convictions. We have not yet outgrown the evil of class legislation, — the very next Congress may pass a shipping subsidy measure as indefensible in principle as the recent bill, though more adroitly drawn, — but with each year the education of the masses and the wider distribution of political power are making class legislation more difficult.
In short, it is in the dull season of politics that the underlying structure of our self-governing, industrial democracy can most readily be perceived. Americans who are thrown into daily contact with wage-earners, with the normal life of our hard-working, peace-loving people, are seldom tempted to despair of the republic. They can see everywhere the growth of a more healthy municipal conscience, a greater willingness to test theory by fact, the evolution of a more real freedom for the individual. Doubtless there will always be blunders to confess, disasters to record, particularly when our institutions are confronted by foreign conditions and forces, undreamed of by the founders of the republic. But our mistakes may well teach us a little wholesome humility, without lessening our loyalty to American ideals and our faith in American character.