Why Not on Boston Common?
IT must be confessed that Boston is not what she used to be. Her literary primacy is passing to
Indianapolis, while her commercial enterprise no longer keeps pace with that of Omaha. But the saddest symptom of her decline is the fact that she has abdicated higher functions still. She has allowed mushroom towns, of which no one had heard a few years ago, to usurp her historic position of moral and political influence. For instance, until quite recently, who was aware of the existence of Pierce City, Missouri ? But to-day, among those who keep in touch with the latest ethical and philanthropic developments, that hitherto obscure place has gained a reputation which it will take Boston some effort to rival. The city associated with the names of Garrison and Phillips and Lowell must look to her laurels.
There is one simple expedient that would do more than anything else to restore this lost prestige, — the burning of a live negro on Boston Common. To the superficial observer, such an incident might appear inconsistent with the distinctive note of Bostonian history ; just as, superficially, peace appears to be a more desirable condition than war. But as the more profound philosophy of our own time has discerned that war is, in its essence and ultimate intention, humane, so the truly penetrating mind is aware that torture and lynching, while abhorrent to the conventional and sentimental, really indicate a high order of spirituality, inasmuch as they exhibit the supremacy of that stoical view of life which regards physical sensations as indifferent.
From a political as well as a moral point of view, there is urgent need of such an object lesson as I have suggested above. At the time of the Revolution, what Boston did was certain to be expressive of characteristic Americanism. It was in Boston, as everybody knows, that the national protest against the injustice of the British government came to a head. But as the principle of evolution carries on its fruitful work, the type of characteristic Americanism is modified with every succeeding generation. To-day it is represented in forms to which slowly moving New England is as yet a stranger. A few years ago, the combustion of negroes was not regularized to the point of becoming a normal indication of the enlightened public opinion of the country at large. The practice was local and provincial: like other minority judgments, it was slowly fighting its way to national recognition. But when an innovating custom of this seriousness has taken root in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana, as well as in Georgia and Tennessee, it is evidently . too late to pooh-pooh it as of merely sectional application. Indeed, it has acquired, in a sort, official sanction ; for did not a Texas sheriff, the other day, issue a formal certificate testifying that the best people in the United States had been present at the festival of which he was a patron ?
If, then, Massachusetts means to vindicate her right to be included in the up-to-date American commonwealth, it is high time for her to make up for her past deficiencies. Mere declarations of sympathy with her more progressive sister states will not suffice: what is needed is a conspicuous object lesson. For this, Boston offers exceptional advantages. There is Faneuil Hall ready at hand as a meeting place for the committee that makes the preliminary arrangements, and the head of the Common, just below the Shaw monument, as an unrivaled scene for the actual celebration. It may be urged that there will be some difficulty in supplying a corpus vile, as the negroes of the neighborhood are not sufficiently numerous or turbulent for it to be easy to discover among them one worthy of serving as the sport of the power that is greater than the law. But the study of precedent suggests a practicable way of escape. From the statistics collected by the Chicago Tribune, it appears that only sixteen per cent of the persons lynched during 1900 were thus punished for rape. The list is completed by a remarkable variety of offenses, including arson, suspicion of arson, threats to kill, and suspected robbery. In one instance the alleged crime was “ unpopularity.” Surely, if this is a sufficient gravamen, it will be possible to find a suitable victim, when the honor of the state is, in a double sense, at stake !
Pusillanimous counsels will most likely be heard in opposition to my suggestion. But the question is, Shall Boston prove herself to be in the advance line of civilization, or shall she, faint-hearted, cower in the rear of the onward march of progress ?