Studies in Temperament
WHEN the Great Trump sounds and the Last Tribunal is set up, it is my belief that, amongst all the sectaries, Friends will have the best right to rejoice. Truly they are excellent folk. ‘When I came to eleven years of age,’ wrote the original Charles Fox, ‘I knew pureness and righteousness, for while I was a child I was taught how to walk to be kept pure.’ When was Quaker ever in trouble of his own making? He walks discreetly and soberly, injuring none. If a Quaker does get into trouble, it is because orderly processes go awry in this disorderly world.
Herbert Hoover has received the Friends’ inheritance of righteousness, or at least has been taught it since he too came to eleven years of age. But how different from that righteousness which Colonel Roosevelt so vehemently preferred to truth! The militant Mr. Moses, to be sure, did call on him to conduct a crusade. But the soldierly symbolism was misplaced. Never since Saint Louis was a more pacific leader named to a crusade. Armageddon is no place for him. His battlecry to his followers is to be as sober, as sensible, as industrious as he. Mr. Hoover’s real difficulty is that he is a reasonable man in a very unreasonable cosmos.
Another major inheritance Mr. Hoover has. By temper and training alike he is a Man of Science. He has the scientist’s passion for perfection, his impatience with mistakes, his love of order, his need for lonely intercourse with a few kindred spirits. The market place is an abomination to him, and even the club is something of a nuisance. His idea of a social hour is one or two choice friends talking perfectibility. He likes to foretell how the expert is to ‘hook up’ the world’s industries, how kilowatts and horsepower are to supplant sweat and backache, how after six hours’ work, or maybe five, the future operative will drive his highpowered car to the home where breakfast porch and sun parlor are symbols of a world’s progress. At such times his eye lights up, his utterance becomes sure and rapid, he speaks like a prophet visioning the future. For the material progress of mankind, new conquests over nature, new comforts, new foods, new bathrooms, are to him more than a philosophy, more than a passion. They are a religion.
Far be it from me to suggest improvements in the structure of this best possible of worlds. With my fellows I accept the universe and merely state the observable fact that nature may be tractable, but human nature is certainly intractable. For the engineer the world is a garden where wastes can be turned into flower beds; but, as Aristotle pointed out some centuries ago, politics, being the organized governance of human nature, is more t roublesome stuff. To mould and bend and shape politics transcends difficulties in the natural world. Perhaps Plato divined more surely than Aristotle comprehended it. If you would rule the perfect state, he said, you must find your philosopher-king. And Quakers are hardly the stuff that kings are made of. With them philosophy and kingship are not on friendly terms.
Among Mr. Hoover’s followers, two out of three will tell you they are voting for him because he is not a politician. But when you come to think of it, that is a curiously unscientific reason to advance. Politics is the real social science, and the amateur politician is neither better nor worse than the amateur scientist or the amateur plumber. A professional politician watches men as Maeterlinck watches bees or Coolidge a ball game. He is intensely interested in goings and comings, business and pleasure. He studies men because he likes them. That Mr. Hoover is not a politician must be reckoned among his liabilities.
These two, Hoover and Smith, are Plutarch’s men. Oh, for a Plutarch to contrast them! What a contradiction they are: Hoover with his quiet, orderly ways, Smith with his rough-and-ready ones; Hoover giving orders with his flat, low voice, Smith grunting them out with varying degrees of emphasis. Both are head and shoulders above the men about them, both really great administrators, one by reason, the other by instinct and the cogent power of proving by words what this instinct has taught him to be right.
Give me his pleasures and I’ll give you the man. The lonelier the stream, the happier Hoover as he whips it. Better it were that men went about their business like fishes, for in a silent world Hoover could accomplish still more. Smith could concentrate while his secretary ran a riveting machine. He can knock men’s heads together without losing his temper, fight the long day out at his desk, always struggling forward, edging a little nearer his objective; and when time’s up he goes to rest himself on the beach at Coney with a hundred thousand yelling, cavorting fellow creatures. Always the human scene. From Oliver Street to Albany it has been crowds, crowds, all the way, and if he trudges on to Washington he will go by the road where men are thickest.
Smith loves his fellows and understands them. The eccentricities and absurdities and unreasonableness which mark men from animals irritate Hoover. To Smith they are like the dyer’s hand, subdued to what it works in. Humor, of course, tempers his soul and lends its quaint enveloping charm to the ugly picture of struggle forever before him. Hoover’s humor is more like the trout’s, or at most the silverling’s — neat and shiny, but hardly comic. They take a joke in differing ways, these men. The newspaper ‘boys’ who traveled from New York to Palo Alto for the candidate’s daily story found him about as gossipy as the multiplication table. They spoiled his fun, of course, but they reflected that he spoiled theirs; and when this noisy crowd had driven every fish from the pools of his favorite brook, it was n’t very honorable, to be sure, but it was natural t hat one of the talented photographers should have snapped a small whale at the end of Hoover’s delicate line, and sent the fake to his paper. It was not funny to Hoover. It was simply dishonest, as it undoubtedly was, and he was mad clear through. But when the boys at Albany tried to photograph the governor as if he were laying bricks, Smith merely grunted his refusal. ‘That’s boloney, boys,’ he said. And the photographer, who knew that bologna ought n’t really to be made of cat’s meat, stopped dead.
Here are two honest men, fairminded, free-minded. But when Hoover speaks, the tenets of Republicanism are forever in his thoughts. It is not many years that he has known them by heart, and the party leaders behind him are watchful lest he forget. They know that seven years ago the direful League numbered Hoover among its advocates. They have not forgotten that he has had a friendly word to say for the workingman’s beer. Even the economics of the Home Market Club have not always had his sympathy. Misunderstandings might arise, and prudence is the watchword. Hoover is absolutely honest, but he counts the cost. He prefers to speak of the Eighteenth Amendment without mentioning the Volstead Act, or of coöperative marketing without reference to the McNary-Haugen Bill.
But with Smith honesty means courage, and truth means candor. Candidates habitually tell the truth, but the whole truth is a more awkward matter. It is long since we heard Cleveland blurting it curtly out, and now Smith speaks in a way that makes the politicians whistle. How many candidates have we known who would be content to stand up and be asked questions by a bumptious evangelist who has sought notoriety and found it? Vile names they call him, and leave to innuendo what they dare not speak in words. They say he has favored the saloon, flouted decency, protected prostitutes. Another running for high office would hide behind his own self-respect and pass this by in superior silence; but Smith, with all his masterfulness, is in elemental things humble-minded. Decency, friendship, religion, the things near his soul — when you flout these his sincerity is outraged; he comes from a school where a man cannot be called a liar and hold his peace.
How far are we from the days of Roosevelt and Wilson! The heroes are silent. No passionate voice tolls us to do our duty. Doubtless the preachers fretted us with their chiding, but something in us misses them st ill: Roosevelt with his gospel of never-ending struggle, and Wilson with his eyes on a land fairer than men have known. Neither of these protagonists to-day turns the American eye inward. Neither makes us feel our shortcomings. We are come into a more practical world. There are more coupons to cut, more motors to drive, and the duty of statesmen is to multiply our possessions. But in the hurlyburly you can hear Hoover’s voice asking for order and quiet, a larger leisure and freedom from material ills; and Smith’s reminding us that the struggle is common, that the Haves must help the Have-nots, and that sharing the other fellow’s load is the first duty of citizenship.
Smith is at once the victim and the beneficiary of the most popular of American fallacies. His education is a political asset, simply because, in the conventional sense of the term, education he has had none. Because a President of matchless genius triumphed over poverty and the want of most desirable things, the public has ever since decided that, whatever a man may wish for his own children, he should prefer for his President’s childhood the advantage of no advantages. This is the reverse side of Lincoln’s legacy to his country. His successors have advertised it. What did Garfield not owe to the dramatization of the towpath, or Coolidge to that unlovely New England parlor, or Hoover to t he tiny cottage with which he never sought an association until he ran for office?
Smith has struggled up from a boyhood of city hardship and city ignorance. The countryside is a friendly foster mother to the poor. In the city, poverty is greedier. It takes all. The reeking gutter and the steaming sidewalk, the forlorn tenement, the hot crowded rooms, full of a congeries of odors blended into the stench of poverty. A background like this stifles and smothers. Here the child sees, smells, and listens to things evil for all, but terrible for youth. Smith is the first of our national leaders who knows in his marrowbones what these things are. Wonderful it is that he has come through with power and with vision.
Then of his training. How little they know of human nature who point at him because he once did what was asked of him by Tammany Hall! Tammany, which, for all its sins, has seen poverty and treated it as human. The charges that Smith voted aga inst decency under orders have been destroyed charge by charge, but that his association with Tammany was long and intimate is fixed in the record. Do you suppose that William Allen White remembers those comfortable days of his evangelistic youth when in his new tie and Sunday suit he took himself away with his book to spend a loving hour with Robin Hood — Robin, the shameless robber who befriended the poor folk the fat Abbot did not care for? Well, forty years ago Tammany Hall was Al Smith’s Robin Hood. It was Tammany Hall that brought his mother coal and gave her boy a chance. And in that pitiless East Side young Al learned that a man’s chiefest virtue is not in the cardinal Seven, and that without loyalty even a dog is a yellow cur.
To men like White — good men, honest men, even human men — I commend the story of Lincoln entering politics which the unresting genius of Beveridge has just fully brought to light. How about the society of the Clary Grove boys, Mr. White? Should a hero keep such smirching company? Later, at Springfield, Lincoln served first of all his boss. He voted as he was told, and the votes he cast are not mentioned in the eulogies. Only gradually was that great tragic head lifted up so that he could see first beyond his gang, then beyond his party, and at the end beyond his nation far into the future, where self-interest is the interest of all, and where enemies bind up one another’s wounds.
So in Smith’s career you see him running errands for the ward boss, then as the unquestioning lieutenant of the party leader, then as the governor, grown to self-reliance and responsibility, using the party, but seeking the people’s good.
No, Mr. White, the story that Athene sprang from the godhead into the world, perfect and full-panoplied, is a pretty tale, but it is fiction and should not be believed in Kansas. Even in Tennessee they accept the evolution of character.
White at least speaks out, and the yelping pack of the little-minded — Straton and the rest — howl in the chorus. They say their silly say, but at any rate their utterance is above a whisper. For to-day decent men are asking, Shall whispering become an American habit? Secret slander is not a pretty thing. In my own youth the depths of political muck were sounded when men in little knots dropped their voices to tell some succulent scandal of that private life from which Mr. Cleveland, for the nation’s great good, was called to the White House. In my own boyhood I recall, with that lightning clearness which memory gives to things that seem symbolic, listening to a man whispering how one bitter January night Mr. Cleveland in a drunken fury had pushed his wife, in her nightdress, out of the White House door. With the maturity of my twelve years I discounted that story, and a generation later when men (it was Democrats this time) hinted to me how Roosevelt’s mind was disintegrating under orgies of alcoholism, I thought it funny, when I should have thought it tragic. But I am older now, and do not think it funny when evil lies are whispered of Governor Smith.
Never is it ‘I saw him,’ but always ‘I have a friend who positively knows.’
Oh, the base meanness of it, the renunciation of straightforward Yankee ways! In his own state they know him — or at least the masses do — well enough, but among strangers at a distance little by little sibilant scandal makes its way. Nail in your thoughts the most famous of all Lincoln stories, his reply to the talebearers of General Grant: ‘What is his brand of whiskey? I’d like to send a barrel to all my generals.’ And the glorious summary: ‘I need that man; he fights.’
We may need that man. He fights.
God made the country; man made the town. All of us feel the significance of the changes which are making the United States an urban continent. The great open spaces are narrowing. Suburbs are pushing deeper and deeper into country we thought forever safe. For generations young people have been moving from the farm to the city. Now the city itself is moving toward the farm. Go to California. All the way the houses straggle along the railway. The lonely cottager is slipping into history after the hunter and the ranger. The country is filling up. Whether we like it or not, the city mind grows dominant in politics, as for a full generation it has grown dominant in custom and in thought. It is natural that many of us are fearful as our inheritance changes. The America we have received from our fathers has gone from us, and the America we have we may not bequeath to our sons.
This is the first great challenge of Smith. The city is in his mind and heart. He is sign and symbol of a great change. Hoover, however modern, however scientific-minded, seems to us a less definite break with the traditional. He calls to mind all the sweet and peaceful generations of our rural past. Shall we hold to the traditional, or is it time perforce to meet our new destiny and to think for ourselves?
One other deep canyon divides the candidates. Smith is a New Man. He speaks for millions who have not learned all our ways; and why should they, when we will learn none of theirs? Not since Jackson torpedoed the Federalists has the stratified social consciousness of America felt the tremor that seems to precede the earthquake. The old order may close its ranks and withstand the shock. But the great forces are unchained, and in the end, sometime, they will have their way. Will the time and will the leader be so propitious as they are to-day?
A strange campaign it is. On the surface are the issues casual almost, and not exciting, but below the issues are two contrasting personalities, each strong enough to sail the ship on bold new courses. And beneath the champions themselves, far below their political convictions, plumbing depths which no American election has ever stirred, there is joined one issue at the very core of the republic and of society itself. Only bigots and fanatics bring it to debate, for it is deep beyond reason and its elements are primal. ‘Thou shalt have none other gods but me,’ spake Jehovah, but the people parodied his commandment. ‘Thou shalt have none other gods but mine’ has been the outcry of the ages.
To change the course of that red record America was peopled, and the experiment of the United States was dedicated to the proposition that a man’s religion must not be held against him. Vain and futile hope! In the human heart prejudice is deeper than reason. Hypocrisy which cloaks itself always in words and laws, in shibboleths and fair phrases, now declares everywhere that the issue is Tammany, or farm relief, or sumptuary laws, or, with a holier accent, ‘the inviolability of the Constitution.’ Keep the Constitution inviolate! Before God and the people, may we not ask why the Eighteenth Amendment should be sacred and the first of all itself ignored?
These are the written words which once summed up the best hope of the world: —
‘No RELIGIOUS TEST SHALL EVER BE REQUIRED AS A QUALIFICATION TO ANY OFFICE OR PUBLIC TRUST UNDER THE UNITED STATES.’
Let us vote as our consciences dictate. Let us vote for Hoover or for Smith as men. Let us honestly prefer the Republican promise of good business or the Democratic plea for fair dealing. Let us vote to continue our experiment in Prohibition or put mere Temperance first. Let us save the farmer by the way we prefer. But let us not try to fool our own souls by voting before the world for a secret reason which the more decent of us dare scarcely even murmur to ourselves.
When the preachers cry out that the issue of issues is the nullification of the Constitution, that Constitution established to ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, they proclaim a truth they do not understand.