We do not think or speak of the War for Independence as if we were aged men who, amidst alien scenes of change, comfort themselves with talk of great things done in days long gone by, the like of which they may never hope to see again. The spirit of the old days is not dead. If it were, who amongst us would care for its memory and distant, ghostly voice? It is the distinguishing mark, nay the very principle of life in a nation alive and quick in every fibre, as ours is, that all its days are great days,—are to its thought single and of a piece. Its past it feels to have been but the prelude and earnest of its present. It is from its memories of days old and new that it gets its sense of identity, takes its spirit of action, assures itself of its power and its capacity, and knows its place in the world. Old colony days, and those sudden days of revolution when debate turned to action and heady winds as if of destiny blew with mighty breath the long continent through, were our own days, the days of our childhood and our headstrong youth. We have not forgotten. Our memories make no effort to recall the time. The battle of Trenton is as real to us as the battle of San Juan hill.
We remember the chill, and the ardor too, of that gray morning when we came upon the startled outposts of the town, the driving sleet beating at our backs; the cries and hurrying of men in the street, the confused muster at our front, the sweeping fire of our guns and the rush of our men, Sullivan coming up by the road from the river, Washington at the north, where the road to Princeton is; the showy Hessian colonel shot from his horse amidst his bewildered men; the surrender; the unceasing storm. And then the anxious days that followed the recrossing of the icy river before even we had rested; the troop of surly prisoners to be cared for and sent forward to Philadelphia; the enemy all the while to be thought of, and the way to use our advantage.
How much it meant a third time to cross the river, and wait here in the town for the regiments Sir William Howe should send against us! How sharp and clear the night was when we gave Cornwallis the slip and took the silent, frosty road to Allentown and Princeton! Those eighteen miles between bedtime and morning are not easily forgot, nor that sharp brush with the redcoats at Princeton: the moving fight upon the sloping hillside, the cannon planted in the streets, the gray old building where the last rally was made,—and then the road to Brunswick, Cornwallis at our heels!
How the face of things was changed in those brief days! There had been despair till then. It was but a few short weeks since the men of the Jersey towns and farms had seen us driven south across the river like fugitives; now we came back an army again, the Hessians who had but the other day harried and despoiled that countryside beaten and scattered before us, and they knew not whether to believe their eyes or not. As we pushed forward to the heights at Morristown we drew in the British hues behind us, and New Jersey was free of the redcoats again. The Revolution had had its turning point. It was easy then to believe that General Washington could hold his own against any adversary in that terrible game of war. A new heart was in everything!
And yet what differences of opinion there were, and how hot and emphatic every turn of the war made them among men who really spoke their minds and dissembled nothing! It was but six months since the Congress had ventured its Declaration of Independence, and the brave words of that defiance halted on many lips that read them. There were men enough and to spare who would not speak them at all; who deemed the whole thing madness and deep folly, and even black treason. Men whose names all the colonies knew held off and would take no part in armed resistance to the ancient crown whose immemorial sovereignty kept a great empire together. Men of substance at the ports of trade were almost all against the Revolution; and where men of means and principle led, base men who played for their own interest were sure to follow. Every movement of the patriotic leaders was spied upon and betrayed; everywhere the army moved there were men of the very countryside it occupied to be kept close watch against.
Those were indeed "times that tried men's souls"! It was no light matter to put the footing as of a nation into those scattered settlements: to bring the high-spirited planters of the Carolinas, who thought for themselves, or their humble neighbors on the upland farms, who ordered their lives as they pleased, to the same principles and point of view that the leaders of Virginia and Massachusetts professed and occupied,—this point of view from which everything wore so obvious an aspect of hopeful revolt, where men planned the war at the north. There were great families at Philadelphia and in Boston itself who were as hard to win, and plain men without number in New York and the Jerseys who would not come for the beckoning. Opinion was always making and to be made, and the campaign of mind was as hard as that of arms.
To think of those days of doubt and stress, of the swaying of opinion this way and that, of counsels distracted and plans to be made anew at every turn of the arduous business, takes one's thoughts forward to those other days, as full of doubt, when the war had at last been fought out and a government was to be made. No doubt that crisis was the greatest of all. Opinion will form for a war, in the face of manifest provocation and of precious rights called into question. But the making of a government is another matter. And the government to be made then was to take the place of the government cast off: there was the rub. It was difficult to want any common government at all after fighting to be quit of restraint and overlordship altogether; and it went infinitely hard to be obliged to make it strong, with a right to command and a power to rule. Then it was that we knew that even the long war, with its bitter training of the thoughts and its hard discipline of union, had not made a nation, but only freed a group of colonies. The debt is the more incalculable which we owe to the little band of sagacious men who labored the summer through, in that far year 1787, to give us a constitution that those heady little commonwealths could be persuaded to accept, and which should yet be a framework within which the real powers of a nation might grow in the fullness of time, and gather head with the growth of a mighty people.
They gave us but the outline, the formula, the broad and general programme of our life, and left us to fill it in with such rich store of achievement and sober experience as we should be able to gather in the days to come. Not battles or any stirring scene of days of action, but the slow processes by which we grew and made our thought and formed our purpose in quiet days of peace, are what we find it hard to make real to our minds again, now that we are mature and have fared far upon the road. Our life is so broad and various now, and was so simple then; the thoughts of those first days seem crude to us now and unreal. We smile upon the simple dreams of our youth a bit incredulously, and seem cut off from them by a great space. And yet it was by those dreams we were formed. The lineage of our thoughts is unbroken. The nation that was making then was the nation which yesterday intervened in the affairs of Cuba, and to-day troubles the trade and the diplomacy of the world.
It was clear to us even then, in those first days when we were at the outset of our life, with what spirit and mission we had come into the world. Clear-sighted men over sea saw it too, whose eyes were not holden by passion or dimmed by looking steadfastly only upon things near at hand. We shall not forget those deathless passages of great speech, compact of music and high sense, in which Edmund Burke justified us and gave us out of his riches our philosophy of right action in affairs of state. Chatham rejoiced that we had resisted. Fox clapped his hands when he heard that Cornwallis had been trapped and taken at Yorktown. Dull men without vision, small men who stood upon no place of elevation in their thoughts, once cried treason against these men,—though no man dared speak such a taunt to the passionate Chatham's face; but now all men speak as Fox spoke, and our Washington is become one of the heroes of the English race. What did it mean that the greatest Englishmen should thus cheer us to revolt at the very moment of our rebellion? What is it that has brought us at last the verdict of the world?
It means that in our stroke for independence we struck a blow for all the world. Some men saw it then; all men see it now. The very generation of Englishmen who stood against us in that day of our struggling birth lived to see the liberating light of that day shine about their own path before they made an end and were gone. They had deep reason before their own day was out to know what it was that Burke had meant when he said, "We cannot falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade them that they are not sprung from a nation in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates. The language in which they would hear you tell them this tale would detect the imposition, your speech would betray you. An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery." ... "For, in order to prove that the Americans have no right to their liberties, we are every day endeavoring to subvert the maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our own. To prove that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to depreciate the value of freedom itself; and we never seem to gain a paltry advantage over them in debate without attacking some of those principles, or deriding some of those feelings, for which our ancestors have shed their blood."
It turned out that the long struggle in America had been the first act in the drama whose end and culmination should be the final establishment of constitutional government for England and for English communities everywhere. It is easy now, at this quiet distance, for the closeted student to be puzzled how to set up the legal case of the colonists against the authority of Parliament. It is possible now to respect the scruples of the better loyalists, and even to give all honor to the sober ardor of self-sacrifice with which they stood four-square against the Revolution. We no longer challenge their right. Neither do we search out the motives of the mass of common men who acted the one side or the other. Like men in all ages and at every crisis of affairs, they acted each according to his sentiment, his fear, his interest, or his lust. We ask, rather, why did the noble gentlemen to whom it fell to lead America seek great action and embark all their honor in such a cause? What was it they fought for?
A lawyer is puzzled to frame the answer; but no statesman need be. "If I were sure," said Burke, "that the colonists had, at their leaving this country, sealed a regular compact of servitude, that they had solemnly abjured all the rights of citizens, that they had made a vow to renounce all ideas of liberty for them and their posterity to all generations, yet I should hold myself obliged to conform to the temper I found universally prevalent in my own day, and to govern two millions of men, impatient of servitude, on the principles of freedom. I am not determining a point of law; ... the general character and situation of a people must determine what sort of government is fit for them." It was no abstract point of governmental theory the leaders of the colonies took the field to expound. Washington, Henry, Adams, Hancock, Franklin, Morris, Boudinot, Livingston, Ruledge, Pinckney,—these were men of affairs, who thought less of books than of principles of action. They fought for the plain right of self-government, which any man could understand. The government over sea had broken faith with them,—not the faith of law, but the faith that is in precedents and ancient understandings, though they be tacit and nowhere spoken in any charter. Hitherto the colonies had been let live their own lives according to their own genius, and vote their own supplies to the crown as if their assemblies were so many parliaments. Now, of a sudden, the Parliament in England was to thrust their assemblies aside and itself pay their taxes. Here was too new a thing. Government without precedent was government without license or limit. It was government by innovation, not government by agreement. Old ways were the only ways acceptable to English feet. The revolutionists stood for no revolution at all, but for the maintenance of accepted practices, for the inviolable understandings of precedent,—in brief, for Constitutional government.
That sinister change which filled the air of America with storm darkened the skies of England too. Not in America only did George, the king, and his counselors make light of and willfully set aside the ancient understandings which were the very stuff of liberty in English eyes. That unrepresentative Parliament, full of place-men, which had taxed America, contained majorities which the king could bestow at his will upon this minister or that; and the men who set America by the ears came or went from their places at his bidding. It was he, not the Parliament, that made and unmade ministries. Behind the nominal ministers of the crown stood men whom Parliament did not deal with, and the nation did not see who were the king's favorites, and therefore the actual rulers of England. There was here the real revolution. America, with her sensitive make-up, her assemblies that were the real representatives of her people, had but felt sooner than the mass of Englishmen at home, the unhappy change of air which seemed about to corrupt the constitution itself. Burke felt it in England, and Fox, and every man whose thoughts looked soberly forth upon the signs of the times. And presently, when the American war was over, the nation itself began to see what light the notable thing done in America shed upon its own affairs. The king was to be grappled with at home, the Parliament was to be freed from his power, and the ministers who ruled England were to be made the real servants of the people. Constitutional government was to be made a reality again. We had begun the work of freeing England when we completed the work of freeing ourselves.
The great contest which followed over sea, and which was nothing less than the capital and last process of making and confirming the constitution of England, kept covert beneath the surface of affairs while the wars of the French Revolution swept the world. Not until 1832 was representation in Parliament at last reformed, and the Commons made a veritable instrument of the nation's will. Days of revolution, when ancient kingdoms seemed tottering to their fall, were no days in which to be tinkering the constitution of old England. Her statesmen grew slow and circumspect and moved in all things with infinite prudence, and even with a novel timidity. But when the times fell quiet again, opinion, gathering head for a generation, moved forward at last to its object; and government was once more by consent in England. The Parliament spoke the real mind of the nation, and the leaders whom the Commons approved were of necessity also the ministers of the crown. Men could then look back and see that America had given England the shock, and the crown the opportune defeat, which had awakened her to save her constitution from corruption.
Meanwhile, what of America herself? How had she used the independence she had demanded and won? For a little while she had found it a grievous thing to be free, with no common power set over her to hold her to a settled course of life which should give her energy and bring her peace and honor and increase of wealth. Even when the convention at Philadelphia had given her the admirable framework of a definite constitution, she found it infinitely hard to hit upon a common way of progress under a mere printed law which had no sanction of custom or affection, which no ease of old habit sustained, and no familiar light of old tradition made plain to follow. This new law had yet to be filled with its meanings, had yet to be given its texture of life. Our whole history, from that day of our youth to this day of our glad immaturity, has been filled with the process.
It took the war of 1812 to give its spirit and full consciousness and pride of station as a nation. That was the real war of independence for our political parties. It was then we cut our parties and our passions loose from politics over sea, and set ourselves to make a career which should be indeed our own. That accomplished, and our weak youth turned to callow manhood, we stretched our hand forth again to the West, set forth with a new zest and energy upon the western rivers amid the rough trails that led across the mountains and down to the waters of the Mississippi. There lay a commitment to be possessed. In the very day of first union Virginia and her sister states had ceded to the common government all the great stretches of western land that lay between the mountains and that mighty river into which all the western waters gathered head. While we were yet weak and struggling for our place among the nations, Mr. Jefferson had added the vast bulk of Louisiana, beyond the river, whose boundaries no man certainly knew. All the great spaces of the continent from Canada round about by the great Rockies to the warm waters of the southern Gulf lay open to the feet of our young men. The forests rang with their noisy march. What seemed a new race deployed into those broad valleys and out upon those long, unending plains which were the common domain, where no man knew any government but the government of the whole people. That was to be the real making of the nation.
There sprang up the lusty status which now, in these days of our full stature, outnumber almost threefold the thirteen commonwealths which formed the Union. Their growth set the pace of our life; forced the slavery question to a final issue; gave us the civil war with its stupendous upheaval and its resettlement of the very foundations of the government; spread our strength from sea to sea; created us a free and mighty people, whose destinies daunt the imagination of the Old World looking on. That increase, that endless accretion, that rolling, restless tide, incalculable in its strength, infinite in its variety, has made us what we are, has put the resources of a huge continent at our disposal; has provoked us to invention and given us mighty captains of industry. This great pressure of a people moving always to new frontiers, in search of new lands, new power, the full freedom of a virgin world, has ruled our course and formed our policies like a Fate. It gave us, not Louisiana alone, but Florida also. It forced war with Mexico upon us, and gave us the coasts of the Pacific. It swept Texas into the Union. It made far Alaska a territory of the United States. Who shall say where it will end?
The census takers of 1890 informed us, when their task was done, that they could no longer find any frontier upon this continent; that they must draw their maps as if the mighty process of settlement that had gone on, ceaseless, dramatic, the century through, were now ended and complete, the nation made from sea to sea. We had not pondered their report a single decade before we made new frontiers for ourselves beyond the seas, accounting the seven thousand miles of ocean that lie between us and the Philippine Islands no more than the three thousand which once lay between us and the coasts of the Pacific. No doubt there is here a great revolution in our lives. No war ever transformed us quite as the war with Spain transformed us. No previous years ever ran with so swift a change as the years since 1898. We have witnessed a new revolution. We have seen the transformation of America completed. That little group of states, which one hundred and twenty-five years ago cast the sovereignty of Britain off, is now grown into a mighty power. That little confederation has now massed and organized its energies. A confederacy is transformed into a nation. The battle of Trenton was not more significant than the battle of Manila. The nation that was one hundred and twenty-five years in the making has now stepped forth into the open arena of the world.
I ask you to stand with me at this new turning-point of our life, that we may look before and after, and judge ourselves alike in the light of that old battle fought here in these streets, and in the light of all the mighty processes of our history that have followed. We cannot too often give ourselves such challenge of self-examination. It will hearten, it will steady, it will moralize us to reassess our hopes, restate our ideals, and make manifest to ourselves again the principles and the purposes upon which we act. We are else without chart upon a novel voyage.
What are our thoughts now, as we look back from this altered age to the Revolution which to-day we celebrate? How do we think of its principles and of its example? Do they seem remote and of a time not our own, or do they still seem stuff of our thinking, principles near and intimate, and woven into the very texture of our institutions? What say we now of liberty and of self-government, its embodiment? What lessons have we read of it on our journey hither to this high point of outlook at the beginning of a new century? Do those old conceptions seem to us now an ideal modified, of altered face, and of a mien not shown in the simple days when the government was formed?
Of course forms have changed. The form of the Union itself is altered, to the model that was in Hamilton's thought rather than to that which Jefferson once held before us, adorned, transfigured, in words that led the mind captive. Our ways of life are profoundly changed since that dawn. The balance of the states against the Federal government, however it may strike us now as of capital convenience in the distribution of powers and the quick and various exercise of the energies of the people, no longer seems central to our conceptions of governmental structure, no longer seems of the essence of the people's liberty. We are no longer strenuous about the niceties of constitutional law; no longer dream that a written law shall save us, or that by ceremonial cleanliness we may lift our lives above corruption. But has the substance of things changed with us, also? Wherein now do we deem the life and very vital principle of self-government to be? Where is that point of principle at which we should wish to make our stand and take again the final risk of revolution? What other crisis do we dream of that might bring in its train another battle of Trenton?
These are intensely practical questions. We fought but the other day to give Cuba self-government. It is a point of conscience with us that the Philippines shall have it, too, when our work there is done and they are ready. But when will our work there be done, and how shall we know when they are ready? How, when our hand is withdrawn from her capitals and site plays her game of destiny apart and for herself, shall we be sure that Cuba has this blessing of liberty and self-government, for which battles are justly fought and revolutions righteously set afoot? If we be apostles of liberty and of self-government, surely we know what they are, in their essence and without disguise of form, and shall not be deceived in the principles of their application by mere differences between this race and that. We have given pledges to the world and must redeem them as we can.
Some nice tests of theory are before us, —are even now at hand. There are those amongst us who have spoken of the Filipinos as standing where we stood when we were in the throes of that great war which was turned from fear to hope again in that battle here in the streets of Trenton which we are met to speak of, and who have called Aguinaldo, the winning, subtle youth now a prisoner in our hands at Manila, a second Washington. Have they, then, forgot that tragic contrast upon which the world gazed in the days when our Washington was President on the one side of the sea, in America, an ordered government, a people busy with the tasks of mart and home, a group of commonwealths bound together by strong cords of their own weaving, institutions sealed and confirmed by debate and the suffrages of free men, but not by the pouring out of blood in civil strife,—on the other, in France, a nation frenzied, distempered, seeking it knew not what, a nation which poured its best blood out in a vain sacrifice, which cried of liberty and self-government until the heavens rang and yet ran straight and swift to anarchy, to give itself at last, with an almost glad relief, to the masterful tyranny of a soldier? "I should suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France," said Burke, the master who had known our liberty for what it was, and knew this set up in France to be spurious,—"I should suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with social and civil manners." Has it not taken France a century to effect the combination; and are all men sure that she has found it even now? And yet were not these things combined with liberty amongst us from the very first?
How interesting a light shines upon the matter of our thought out of that sentence of Burke's! How liberty had been combined with government! Is there here a difficulty, then? Are the two things not kindly disposed toward one another? Does it require any nice art and adjustment to unite and reconcile them? Is there here some cardinal test which those amiable persons have overlooked, who have dared to cheer the Filipino rebels on in their stubborn resistance to the very government they themselves live under and owe fealty to? Think of Washington's passion for order, for authority, for some righteous public force which should teach individuals their place under government, for the solidity of property, for morality and sober counsel. It was plain that he cared not a whit for liberty without these things to sustain and give it dignity. "You talk, my good sir," he exclaimed, writing to Henry Lee in Congress, '' you talk of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is no government. Let us have one by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once." In brief, the fact is this, that liberty is the privilege of maturity, of self-control, of self-mastery and a thoughtful care for righteous dealings,—that some peoples may have it, therefore, and others may not.
We look back to the great men who made our government as to a generation, not of revolutionists, but of statesmen. They fought, not to pull down, but to preserve,—not for some fair and far-off thing they wished for, but for a familiar thing they had and meant to keep. Ask any candid student of the history of English liberty, and he will tell you that these men were of the lineage of Pym and Hampden, of Pitt and Fox; that they were men who consecrated their lives to the preservation intact of what had been wrought out in blood and sweat by the countless generations of sturdy freemen who had gone before them.
Look for a moment at what self-government really meant in their time. Take English history for your test. I know not where else you may find an answer to the question. We speak, all the world speaks, of England as the mother of liberty and self-government, and the beginning of her liberty we place in the great year that saw Magna Charta signed, that immortal document whose phrases ring again in all our own Bills of Rights. Her liberty is in fact older than that signal year; but 1215 we set up as a shining mark to hold the eye. And yet we know, for all we boast the date so early, for how many a long generation after that the monarch ruled and the commons cringed; haughty Plantagenets had their way, and indomitable Tudors played the master to all men's fear, till the fated Stuarts went their stupid way to exile and the scaffold. Kings were none the less kings because their subjects were free men.
Local self-government in England consisted until 1888 of government by almost omnipotent Justices of the Peace appointed by the Lord Chancellor. They were laymen, however. They were country gentlemen and served without pay. They were of the neighborhood and used their power for its benefit as their lights served them; but no man had a vote or choice as to which of the country gentlemen of his county should be set over him; and the power of the Justices sitting in Quarter Sessions covered almost every point of justice and administration not directly undertaken by the officers of the crown itself. "Long ago," laughs an English writer, "lawyers abandoned the hope of describing the duties of a Justice in any methodic fashion, and the alphabet has become the only possible connecting thread. A Justice must have something to do with 'Railroads, Rape, Rates, Recognizances, Records, and Recreation Grounds with Perjury, Petroleum, Piracy, and Playhouses;' with 'Disorderly Houses, Dissentions, Dogs, and Drainage.'" And yet Englishmen themselves called their life under those lay masters self-government.
The English House of Commons was for many a generation, many a century even, no House of the Commons at all, but a house full of country gentlemen and rich burghers, the aristocracy of the English counties and the English towns and yet it was from this House, and not from that reformed since 1832, that the world drew, through Montesquieu, its models of representative self-government in the days when our own Union was set up.
In America, and in America alone, did self-government mean an organization self-originated, and of the stuff of the people themselves. America had gone a stop beyond her mother country. Her people were for the most part picked men; such men as have the energy and the initiative to leave old homes and old friends, and go to far frontiers to make a new life for themselves. They were men of a certain initiative, to take the world into their own hands. The king had given them their charters, but within the broad definitions of those charters they had built as they pleased, and common men were partners in the government of their little commonwealths. At home, in the old country, there was need, no doubt, that the hand of the king's government should keep men within its reach. The countrysides were full of yokels who would have been brutes to deal with else. The counties were in fact represented very well by the country gentlemen who ruled them, for they were full of broad estates where men were tenants, not freehold farmers, and the interests of masters were generally enough the interests of their men. The towns had charters of their own. There was here no democratic community, and no one said or thought that the only self-government was democratic self-government. In America the whole constitution of society was democratic, inevitably and of course. Men lay close to their simple governments, and the new life brought to a new expression the immemorial English principle, that the intimate affairs of local administration and the common interests that were to be served in the making of laws should be committed to laymen, who would look at the government critically and from without, and not to the king's agents, who would look at it professionally and from within. England had had self-government time out of mind; but in America English self-government had become popular self-government.
"Almost all the civilized states derive their national unity," says a great English writer of our generation, "from common subjection, past or present, to royal power; the Americans of the United States, for example, are a nation because they once obeyed a king." That example in such a passage comes upon us with a shock: it is very unexpected,—"the Americans of the United States, for example, are a nation because they once obeyed a king!" And yet, upon reflection, can we deny the example? It is plain enough that the reason why the English in America got self-government and knew how to use it, and the French in America did not, was that the English had had a training under the kings of England and the French under the kings of France. In the one country men did all things at the bidding of officers of the crown; in the other, officers of the crown listened, were constrained to listen, to the counsels of laymen drawn out of the general body of the nation. And yet the kings of England were no less kings than the kings of France. Obedience is everywhere the basis of government, and the English were not ready either in their life or in their thought for a free regime under which they should choose their kings by ballot. For that regime they could be made ready only by the long drill which should make them respect above all things the law and the authority of governors. Discipline—discipline generations deep—had first to give them all ineradicable love of order, the poise of men self-commanded, the spirit of men who obey and yet speak their minds and are free, before they could be Americans.
No doubt a king did hold us together until we learned how to hold together of ourselves. No doubt our unity as a nation does come from the fact that we once obeyed a king. No one can look at the processes of English history and doubt that the throne has been its centre of poise, though not in our days its centre of force. Steadied by the throne, the effective part of the nation has, at every stage of its development, dealt with and controlled the government in the name of the whole. The king and his subjects have been partners in the great undertaking. At last, in our country, in this best trained portion of the nation, set off by itself, the whole became fit to act for itself, by veritable popular representation, without the makeweight of a throne. That is the history of our liberty. You have the spirit of English history, and of English royalty, from King Harry's mouth upon the field of Agincourt:—
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
It is thus the spirit of English life has made comrades of us all to be a nation. This is what Burke meant by combining government with liberty,—the spirit of obedience with the spirit of free election. Liberty is not itself government. In the wrong hands,—in hands unpracticed, undisciplined,—it is incompatible with government. Discipline must precede it,—if necessary, the discipline of being under masters. Then will self-control make it a thing of life and not a thing of tumult, a tonic, not an insurgent madness in the blood. Shall we doubt, then, what the conditions precedent to liberty and self-government are, and what their invariable support and accompaniment must be, in the countries whose administration we have taken over in trust, and particularly in those far Philippine Islands whose government is our chief anxiety? We cannot give them any quittance of the debt ourselves have paid. They can have liberty no cheaper than we got it. They must first take the discipline of law, must first love order and instinctively yield to it. It is the heathen, not the free citizen of a self-governed country, who "in his blindness bows down to wood and stone, and don't obey no orders unless they is his own." We are old in this learning and must be their tutors.
But we may set them upon the way with an advantage we did not have until our hard journey was more than half made. We can see to it that the law which teaches them obedience is just law and even-handed. We can see to it that justice be free and unpurchasable among them. We can make order lovely by making it the friend of every man and not merely the shield of some. We can teach them by our fairness in administration that there may be a power in government which, though imperative and irresistible by those who would cross or thwart it, does not act for its own aggrandizement, but is the guarantee that all shall fare alike. That will infinitely shorten their painful tutelage. Our pride, our conscience will not suffer us to give them less.
And, if we are indeed bent upon service and not mastery, we shall give them more. We shall take them into our confidence and suffer them to teach us, as our critics. No man can deem himself free from whom the government hides its action, or who is forbidden to speak his mind about affairs, as if government were a private thing which concerned the governors alone. Whatever the power of government, if it is just, there may be publicity of governmental action and freedom of opinion and public opinion gathers head effectively only by concerted public agitation. Those are the things—knowledge of what the government is doing and liberty to speak of it—that have made Englishmen feel like free men, whether they liked their governors or not: the right to know and the right to speak out,—to speak out in plain words and in open counsel. Privacy, official reticence, governors hedged about and inaccessible, —these are the marks of arbitrary government, under which spirited men grow restive and resentful. The mere right to criticise and to have matters explained to them cools men's tempers and gives them understanding in affairs. This is what we seek among our new subjects: that they shall understand us, and after free conference shall trust us: that they shall perceive that we are not afraid of criticism, and that we are ready to explain and to take suggestions from all who are ready, when the conference is over, to obey.
There will be a. wrong done, not if we govern and govern as we will, govern with a strong hand that will brook no resistance, and according to principles of might gathered from our own experience, not from theirs, which has never yet touched the vital matter we are concerned with; but only if we govern in the spirit of autocrats and of those who serve themselves, not their subjects. The whole solution lies less in our methods than in our temper. We must govern as those who learn and they must obey as those who are in tutelage. They are children and we are men in these deep matters of government and justice. If we have not learned the substance of these things, no nation is ever likely to learn it, for it is taken from life, and not from books. But though children must be foolish, impulsive, headstrong, unreasonable, men may be arbitrary, self-opinionated, impervious, impossible, as the English were in their Oriental colonies until they learned. We should be inexcusable to repeat their blunders and wait as long as they waited to learn how to serve the peoples whom we govern. It is plain we shall have a great deal to learn: it is to be hoped we shall learn it fast.
There are, unhappily, some indications that we have ourselves yet to learn the things we would teach. You have but to think of the large number of persons of your own kith and acquaintance who have for the past two years been demanding, in print and out of it, with moderation and the air of reason and without it, that we give the Philippines independence and self-government now, at once, out of hand. It were easy enough to give them independence, if by independence you mean only disconnection with any government outside the islands, the independence of a rudderless boat adrift. But self-government? How is that "given"? Can it be given? Is it not gained, earned, graduated into from the hard school of life? We have reason to think so. I have just now been trying to give the reasons we have for thinking so.
There are many things, things slow and difficult to come at, which we have found to be conditions precedent to liberty,—to the liberty which can be combined with government; and we cannot, in our present situation, too often remind ourselves of these things, in order that we may look steadily and wisely upon liberty, not in the uncertain light of theory, but in the broad, sun-like, disillusioning light of experience. We know, for one thing, that it rests at bottom upon a clear experimental knowledge of what are in fact the just rights of individuals, of what is the equal and profitable balance to be maintained between the right of the individual to serve himself and the duty of government to serve society. I say, not merely a clear knowledge of these, but a clear experimental knowledge of them as well. We hold it, for example, an indisputable principle of law in a free state that there should be freedom of speech, and yet we have a law of libel. No man, we say, may speak that which wounds his neighbor's reputation unless there be public need to speak it. Moreover we will judge of that need in a rough and ready fashion. Let twelve ordinary men, empaneled as a jury, say whether the wound was justly given and of necessity. "The truth of the matter is very simple when stripped of all ornaments of speech,'' says an eminent English judge. "It is neither more nor less than this that a man may publish anything which twelve of his fellow countrymen think is not blamable." It is plain, therefore, that in this case at least we do not inquire curiously concerning the Rights of Man, which do not seem susceptible of being stated in terms of social obligation, but content ourselves with asking, "What are the rights of men living together, amongst whom there must be order and fair give and take?" And our law of libel is only one instance out of many. We treat all rights in like practical fashion. But a people must obviously have had experience to treat them so. You have here one image in the mirror of self-government.
Do not leave the mirror before you see another. You cannot call a miscellaneous people, unknit, scattered, diverse of race and speech and habit, a nation, a community. That, at least, we got by serving under kings: we got the feeling and the organic structure of a community. No people can form a community or be wisely subjected to common forms of government who are as diverse and as heterogeneous as the people of the Philippine Islands. They are in no wise knit together. They are of many races, of many stages of development, economically, socially, politically disintegrate, without community of feeling because without community of life, contrasted alike in experience and in habit, having nothing in common except that they have lived for hundreds of years together under a government which held them always where they were when it first arrested their development. You may imagine the problem of self-government and of growth for such a people,—if so be you have an imagination and are no doctrinaire. If there is difficulty in our own government here at home because the several sections of our own country are disparate and at different stages of development, what shall we expect, and what patience shall we not demand of ourselves, with regard to our belated wards beyond the Pacific? We have here among ourselves hardly sufficient equality of social and economic conditions to breed full community of feeling. We have learned of our own experience what the problem of self-government is in such a case.
That liberty and self-government are things of infinite difficulty and nice accommodation we above all other peoples ought to know who have had every adventure in their practice. Our very discontent with the means we have taken to keep our people clear-eyed and steady in the use of their institutions is evidence of our appreciation of what is required to sustain them. We have set up an elaborate system of popular education, and have made the maintenance of that system a function of government, upon the theory that only systematic training can give the quick intelligence, the "variety of information and excellence of discretion" needed by a self-governed people. We expect as much from schoolteachers as from governors in the Philippines and in Porto Rico we expect from them the morale that is to sustain our work there. And yet, when teachers have done their utmost and the school bills are paid, we doubt, and know that we have reason to doubt, the efficacy of what we have done. Books can but set the mind free, can but give it the freedom of the world of thought. The world of affairs has yet to be attempted, and the schooling of action must supplement the schooling of the written page. Men who have an actual hand in government, men who vote and sustain by their thoughts the whole movementof affairs, men who have the making or the confirming of policies, must have reasonable hopes, must act within the reasonable bounds set by hard experience.
By education, no doubt, you acquaint men, while they are yet young and quick to take impressions, with the character and spirit of the polity they live under: give them some sentiment of respect for it, put them in the air that has always lain about it, and prepare them to take the experience that awaits them. But it is from the polity itself and their own contact with it that they must get their actual usefulness in affairs, and only that contact, intelligently made use of, makes good citizens. We would not have them remain children always and act always on the preconceptions taken out of the books they have studied. Life is their real master and tutor in affairs.
And so the character of the polity men live under has always had a deep significance in our thoughts. Our greater statesmen have been men steeped in a thoughtful philosophy of polities, men who pondered the effect of this institution and that upon morals and the life of society, and thought of character when they spoke of affairs. They have taught us that the best polity is that which most certainly produces the habit and the spirit of civic duty, and which calls with the most stirring and persuasive voice to the leading characters of the nation to come forth and give it direction. It must be a polity which shall stimulate, which shall breed emulation, which shall make men seek honor by seeking service. Those are the ideals which have formed our institutions, and which shall mend them when they need reform. We need good leaders more than an excellent mechanism of action in charters and constitutions. We need men of devotion as much as we need good laws. The two cannot be divorced and self-government survive.
It is this thought that distresses us when we look upon our cities and our states and see them ruled by bosses. Our methods of party organization have produced bosses, and they are as natural and inevitable a product of our politics, no doubt, at any rate for the time being and until we can see our way to better things, as the walking delegate and the union president are of the contest between capital and federated labor, Both the masters of strikes and the masters of caucuses are able men, too, with whom we must needs deal with our best wits about us. But they are not, if they will pardon me for saying so, the leading characters I had in mind when I said that the excellence of a polity might be judged by the success with which it calls the leading characters of a nation forth to its posts of command. The polity which breeds bosses breeds managing talents rather than leading characters,—very excellent things in themselves, but not the highest flower of politics. The power to govern and direct primaries, combine primaries for the control of conventions, and use conventions for the nomination of candidates and the formulation of platforms agreed upon beforehand is an eminently useful thing in itself, and cannot be dispensed with, it may be, in democratic countries, where men must act, not helter skelter, but in parties, and with a certain party discipline, not easily thrown off; but it is not the first product of our politics we should wish to export to Porto Rico and the Philippines.
No doubt our study of these things which lie at the front of our own lives, and which must be handled in our own progress, will teach us how to be better masters and tutors to those whom we govern. We have come to full maturity with this new century of our national existence and to full self-consciousness as a nation. And the day of our isolation is past. We shall learn much ourselves now that we stand closer to other nations and compare ourselves first with one and again with another. Moreover, the centre of gravity has shifted in the action of our Federal government. It has shifted back to where it was at the opening of the last century, in that early day when we were passing from the gristle to the bone of our growth. For the first twenty-six years that we lived under our Federal constitution foreign affairs, the sentiment and policy of nations over sea, dominated our politics, and our Presidents were our leaders. And now the same thing has come about again. Once more it is our place among the nations that we think of; once more our Presidents are our leaders.
The centre of our party management shifts accordingly. We no longer stop upon questions of what this state wants or that, what this section will demand of the other, what this boss or that may do to attach his machine to the government. The scale of our thought is rational again. We are sensitive to airs that come to us from off the seas. The President and his advisers stand upon our chief coign of observation, and we mark their words as we did not till this change came. And this centring of our thoughts, this looking for guidance in things which mere managing talents cannot handle, this union of our hopes, will not leave us what we were when first it came. Here is a new world for us. Here is a new life to which to adjust our ideals.
It is by the widening of vision that nations, as men, grow and are made great. We need not fear the expanding scene. It was plain destiny that we should come to this, and if we have kept our ideals clean, unmarred, commanding through the great century and the moving scenes that made us a nation, we may keep them also through the century that shall see us a great power in the world. Let us put our leading characters at the front; let us pray that vision may come with power; let us ponder our duties like men of conscience and temper our ambitions like men who seek to serve, not to subdue, the world; let us lift our thoughts to the level of the great tasks that await us, and bring a great age in with the coming of our day of strength.