DEMOCRACY IN DANGER! An Address By Rev. R. A. Holland. Delivered In Christ Church, St. Louis, Missouri. July 4th, 1876
A note from me: It is truly interesting how history continues to repeat itself, “to the victor belong the spoils” indeed. This concept has no place in America, American politics, nor American society. Too many times we have seen the president being given the crooks he wants to aid in his plundering, pilfering, binding and blinding of WE the American People! Too many times congress votes to confirm a presidential nominee, simply because that is the way it is normally done, and the president gets what he wants. It is time for our Senators in the Senate Chamber and Representatives in the House look at what aids in the liberty, prosperity and happiness of We The American People, than at what the president, the special interest groups, the celebrities, and the lobbyist want. It is time for them to finally listen to what We The American People, the heirs of the American Republic, the Sovereigns of the Nation are telling them.
There are two kinds of patriotism—one of instinct, the other of reason. Patriotism of instinct is attachment to a spot of ground, familiar scenes, inherited customs, a geographical name. It is the love of the fox for his hole, the fowl for her nest. In war a sort of magic, mobilizing men into instant armies reckless of death, in peace it encourages abuses and invites usurpations by defending every evil that may be done in the sacred name of country. “My country, right or wrong,” is its confession of faith, and for fetish it worships a flag.
Not in this spirit have we assembled to-day to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of our republic, but rather in the spirit of that more rational patriotism which loving truth, right, humanity first, loves country only in so far as these supreme ideas are or may be organized and administered in its policy. For governments are not an end to themselves, but means for achieving an end which is higher, broader, more enduring. They exist for man, not man for them. The method by which he attempts to realize social aims, they change in form as one form after another fails of its task. Even if the form should be perfect in its adaptation to a particular stage of national growth.
The continuance of such a growth would by and by require a change to suit its enlarging needs. And whatever may be the fate of individual nations, whether or not their law is to mature and decay, the growth of the race is constant and imparts its gains of experience to all institutions that are vital enough to assimilate them. Accordingly, experiments in government have not been without an order of succession and a certain utility of failure. Failure warns against exact repetition. Men are not likely to go back to feudalism or despotism, the reign of one or of a few, for the models of future society. When only the few had knowledge and wealth, it was well that the few should govern; but knowledge has now become common, and wealth diffuse. There are no longer in our civilization lord and vassal separated by an impassable gulf. The gulf has been closed by a middle class nobler in intelligence and richer in estate than baronage. The rabble, as it was once called, has by co-operation, risen likewise in consciousness of power and stands before wealth and rank, with bare arms that on provocation might toss them both out of its way. One would have to bind one’s eyes with fold on fold of prejudice not to see that the tendency of these changes is towards democracy; that, indeed, by peoples who have graduated from a state of pupilage and know their manhood, no other kind of government will be tolerated long unless in evident transition towards democracy.
Within the present century we have seen Great Britain admit multitudes to a partnership in her crown, Spain elect a monarch who rules by popular consent, Italy unite under a scepter wrought of suffrage and stronger than the keys of St. Peter, Russia emancipate her serfs, and France stunned by the horror of the first revolution and reeling between throne and tribune as if unable to collect her senses, finally ascend the latter with firm step and proclaim the republic of peace.
And still the tendency of governments sets in the same direction, and gains impetuosity as it goes. Men have not to be harangued any more about liberty, equality, fraternity. These ere-while abstractions are household words defined by the heart. Liberty—the right of every man to be himself so far as his self-hood does not trench upon the same right in others; equality—the level on which all men stand before the law, none born to rank or rule, each exercising the authority he obeys, sovereign that he may be subject, and subject that he may be sovereign; and fraternity, which is identity of interest, abolition of caste, every man being as jealous of the rights of every other as of his own, and the strongest and wisest willing to bear vexation or hardship that the weak and ignorant may qualify themselves for self-government by the use of rights which, even when least understood, foster self-respect, independence and a lively concern in affairs of state, and thus serve for a moral education.
The question is not whether democracy be the cheapest form of government, or the shrewdest, or the most facile, or the stoutest against inner or outer foes—in all which qualities superiority may be conceded to despotism; but whether in spite of extravagance, blunders, caprice, it is not the best for man as man, worth its excess of cost in money and toil and sense of danger.
Did monarchy impose small taxes, stimulate trade, render speedy and sure the process of law and lighten every load of government, the government would still weigh heavy on a shoulder that felt itself the bearer of a compulsory benefit. There is nothing in the power of government to bestow so precious as man’s right to rule himself—a right which democracy simply admits and leaves free to take whatever form it will. Better manhood with liberty, though liberty run risk of license; better manhood with equality, though equality sway to transient rule of ignorance and vice; better manhood with fraternity, though fraternity may run for awhile into the clannish hate and envy of the commune; better universal suffrage with all its drawbacks and dangers than any limitation of it that bars the birthright of the soul.
Sooner or later, by the very discipline which their errors, with right of the the consequent sufferings, enforce, men will learn the art of self-government; and the secret of that are when learned, will be little else than the wiser head and warmer heart and more helpful hand of a developed manhood.
Nor is it mere moony vision or spread-eagle rapture to anticipate a democracy as vast as civilization. Be it for good or evil, the peoples will not rest until they have tried the experiment and tried it more than once. The might is theirs and they will exert it; theirs is the right and it will justify the utmost exertion to throw off the yoke of titled accidents; and if progress be the law of humanity, as it is of all things else, might and right must grow with time into graces of unity, peace and concord. Otherwise humanity is a predestined failure, and the ethics of its hope a lie.
For what else is democracy in the purest notion of it but the religion of politics. It means faith in man and in his destiny; it means that there is more of good than of evil in his nature, and that in the conflict between them the good shall triumph at last; it means the supremacy of conscience over force, and of reason over prejudice and passion; it means that men shall love their neighbors as themselves, and so adopts the golden rule for a civil constitution and charters the brotherhood of the race.
This, I say, is the ideal state of society. Perhaps not to be attained for ages, it will yet be steadily approached by the advance of civilization. The possibility of its attainment is bound up with no particular form of administration. Different forms may be wanted for different people, all forms will change with changing epochs ; but throughout differences and changes the spirit of democracy shall live and wax strong, healing whatever suspicions, discords, strifes afflict the body that grows meanwhile towards the fulness of the stature of a perfect man.
But why these truisms about democracy? For truisms they appear to the American mind. Is it necessary after a hundred years of democratic government to argue its utility and prophesy its permanence? Yes, and therein is the saddest reflection of our Centennial holiday. Time was when the American people believed in their institutions as an article of religion. To doubt their beneficence was heresy, as to fear for their perpetuity was treason. Such faith may have been child-like, but it was the substance of things hoped for. Its simplicity was justified by the rare auspices under which the experiment of free government began. There were no old customs and traditions to cast away. The nation was new-born. No enemies threatened its young life. Oceans made a moat between it and foreign harm. A continent gave it room and its forthgoings of enterprise were but an athlete’s pastime. It had a presentiment of high destiny, of some august mission to the world, and was exalted by that day-dream above everything mean and sordid. Here, it said, in this new world of nature, there shall be a new world of society. The old world is faint under oppression. The heaped up evil of a thousand years lies upon its breast, like Aetna on Enceladus, and the Titan’s unrest only heaves the mountain it cannot remove. Let us begin afresh. Let the oppressed of every land come hither for asylum. There is room enough and to spare. There shall be no distinction of class, no alienage of race, no barrier of religion. As one people equal and free, we will enact our own laws, elect our own officers to administer them in trust and call no man master. The old world looking hither shall see our glory and wonder as at a sunrise in the west.
It was the invitation of youth, but there were many young hearts that heeded it. They flocked hither on the winds. Cities were extemporized to shelter them, states multiplied by a kind of segmentation, habitations sprang up in the desert, and the wilderness and the solitary places were glad with surprise. Rough, perhaps, the people were, unsophisticated and grotesquely proud of their prerogative, but they had virtues which more than offset these defects. They were as devoted to the principles of their government as the Parsee to his sacred fire. These principles they talked over by fireside and church door, on the road, behind the plough, in the smithy and across the counter. With heads bowed over the published reports of Congress, they listened to every word of its debates attentively enough to learn them almost by heart. By their very rights they were apprenticed to statesmanship, and the statesmanship they studied was that of Hamilton, of Jefferson, of Adams, of Madison, of Webster, of Calhoun—prophets whose mantle caught by no worthy successor, has fallen in the dust Those were the poetic days of our politics; bribery, stock-jobbing and embezzlement were unknown in high places; the least suspicion soiled a public name; official honor was as delicate and sensitive as virginity. Then the benefits of democracy were a truism, and only discoursed of in panegyric.
But those days are no more. What contributed most to preserve their purity was the freshness of the ideas which engaged the minds of the people and which the people were striving to embody in their institutions. A great idea transfigures whatever it informs, whether an individual, a state or a church, and turns the coarsest tissue of organism through which it shines into radiance “exceeding white as snow.” And such ideas are involved in the questions that engrossed the first thought of the nation. Was it to be a mere fasces of states, bound about an axe of common defence, or a nation indeed? Was it to be self-blockaded for the protection of a guild, or open in trade to the world that its citizens might have .the benefit of the world’s competition in its markets?
Was it to be restricted or universal in suffrage? The answers to these questions created parties, but they were parties breathed into by earnest thought and by such breath of life made living souls. They had a faith and a purpose, and sought to fix that faith and purpose in the framework of the republic. But the issues that divided them are now settled or ignored; the great ideas that organized them have passed from thought into fact, or oblivion; still the parties remain—remain without a soul. How can they be other than corrupt when they are but the carcasses of themselves. They use the old names for purposes wholly strange to their significance. They contend without hostility of opinion. They present the same statement of principles, each trying, however, in the artifice of it to construct the more tempting trap for votes. Both are in favor of economical government, of low tariff, of correcting abuses, of kindness to widows and orphans of dead soldiers, and of putting everybody in a good humor. Both avoid any declaration of belief that might cause a change of lines and the disruption of their compact and subservient organizations—organizations so compact and subservient as to belong to a set of men called bosses, who make a business of driving and trading their herded souls, which are too dull to hear the crack of the caucus whip or too tame to bolt from under it.
Every honest man must feel, even if he does not acknowledge, the dishonesty of such organizations, and whenever felt, and not renounced, that dishonesty is tainting his character. Hence the prevalent compromise between partisanship and virtue—a partition put into the conscience that one side may be kept clean for the ordinary duties of life, while the other is fouled by the use of party. Violation of the ballot is condemned in the abstract as an assault on the republic’s life, but covered up or excused when done for the sake of one’s party. Fraud is an abomination, and ought to be tied hand and foot and thrown into jail, but may be given a softer name and treated more tenderly—possibly allowed to escape and honored for its zeal when acting as the agent of one’s party.
Nevertheless, dishonesty is dishonesty; dishonesty with one’s self glides easily into dishonesty with others—dishonesty of allegiance into dishonesty of broken trusts. It is no worse to steal the people’s money than to steal their votes. If party can connive at one, party may apologize for the other and defend it. Hence theft with arms elbow-deep in the treasury of cities; theft shaking empty the overturned coffers of states; theft of hard-earned savings from freedmen; theft of dole from half-naked and half starved Indians; theft of wages from soldiers on the frontier; theft from the graves of the nation’s heroic dead; theft of revenue, of customs, of appropriations to lay out public grounds, erect public edifices, build ships of war, carry mails, pave iron thoroughfares across the continent; theft promoted in the name of civil-service reform, and given charge of the nation’s exchequer. And why not? Who cares but the opposite party, itself as slow to discover and as quick to condone the sins of its own adherents. No tremendous shock, no vast flaming up of indignation follows the exposure of the wholesale roguery. Certainly not; the roughs are high-toned rogues.
Gentlemen of the first class, eminent respectabilities—judges, are they, and governors and generals, and chairmen of congressional committees and senators, and ambassadors to foreign courts, and advisers of the president’s council, who have stolen handsomely by tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, and not like a low-bred felon. Let them off, your excellency, for the sake of their wives who have not hoarded the ill-gotten gain selfishly. but turned it into diamonds to decorate the drawing-rooms of the capital. Mollify their sentence, your honor, in consideration of their wealth, which should have kept them above temptation; their age, which, sinned not from impulse, but with veteran deliberation; their influence, which spreads all the further the corruption of a bad example. Has not justice ever demanded that punishment should be severe according to the distress, inexperience and obscurity of the culprit? And you, gentlemen of the jury, acquit, by all means acquit; innocent or guilty, still acquit any whom to convict would be to graze, if not to pierce, the head of the nation.
I trust that those who hear me will not think that in these words I wish to aid one party by branding the other. I am not a partisan. I have never cast a partisan vote. I have uo preference for Democrat or Republican, as such. I have no reason to believe that the party now out of power would withstand the temptations of fifteen years of absolute sway more successfully than the party has done which still controls the emoluments of the administration. Both parties seem to me notionless, without aim beyond the getting or keeping of power by any sort of clap-trap, and therefore, morally dead, their activity being the activity of rot. What boots the promise of reform from men who, to fulfill that promise, must padlock their own hands? The pledges of a national convention, are they worth any more than the pledges of such men? Is not the convention itself a huge trick? Pretending to represent the people, it represents, with few exceptions, a class whom the people ought to detest as mountebanks. The primary meetings which elect the delegates are packed by bummers, who take their cue from local bosses, and the delegates nearly all are office-holders or office-seekers, who in turn are wire-pulled by a clique that prepares their work in advance, and prompts every detail of it. Before the convention assembles, traffic has been going on between aspirants and those who have part in the privilege of nomination; if not traffic in coin, traffic in promises of office, for promises of support, which is bribery as real and as gross. Whew the convention organizes, it organizes for any other object than to> deliberate and choose as becomes the pretending representatives of half a nation ; deliberation is confounded by hired shouts and’ hisses of clans that strive for their respective favorites, and’ choice waits impatient on a signal to desert its real favorite for the ranks of the winning chief. And this body of politicians who hope by electing their candidate for the presidency to elect themselves to a share of his patronage, this body which is spurious from its earliest conception in a ward-meeting to its expiring resolve, would cozen the people again and again with oaths of reform. Reform, indeed! Will it reform itself out of existence? When votes are not sought for the maintenance of a principle, what other motive can explain the zeal, the expense, the labor with which they are solicited? Not the excellence of candidates, since candidates are never chosen for their excellence, but for their availability in pushing the ends of party; not the enthusiasm of the party’s rank and file, which are apathetic until up-roused by the appeals of interested leaders who urge on the canvass. What then but greed for place, power, perquisites?—the fenris wolf whose jaws it is the first duty of reform to gag and split asunder! Reform, therefore, is impossible by parties so long as they exist in their present organizations, and the civil service of the country is labelled with the motto: “To the victors belong the spoils.”
In this service are thousands of offices that have no relation to questions of civil polity. The assessment and collection of taxes, the stamping of money, award of patents, distribution of mails, arrest, prosecution and punishment of criminals, are simply wheels and bands in the machinery of government, and should move the same under all changes of administration. As well dismiss all notaries public, or teachers of public schools, or officers of the army with every turn of an election as the persons engaged in this equally routine work. Yet, however faithful and expert, they must retire when another party than that to which they belong marches into possession of the nation’s offices, for “to the victors belong the spoils.” Even while in office they hang there on the pleasure of their patron, and may be cut off at any hour; competency counts for nothing unless it be competency to further his schemes. Flunkeyism is the most profitable type of character. Salaries are paid less for service to the country than for service against it. These salaries are then docked by the dispensers of patronage, who chastise complaint with forfeiture of the office itself; and so the nation’s work is neglected, her interests betrayed, her revenues squandered, her industry stricken prone that “to the victors may belong the spoils.”
Said one high in position, who lost his official hand by thrusting it into this soul-grinding machine to check some of its operations: “No sooner is a man in place than his rivals or enemies are on his track, ready to prove that he was the most unfit person that could be chosen, and that the party will be utterly demoralized if he is not instantly removed and his place given to another. If a month or two were all that is wasted in this employment it would be bad enough; but the truth is, that by far the larger part of the time of the president and all the members of his cabinet is occupied by this worse than useless drudgery during the whole term of his office, and it forms literally and absolutely the staple of their work. It is, therefore, no figure of speech to say that administering the government means the distribution of its offices, and that its diplomacy, finance, military, naval and internal administration are the minor affairs which the settled policy of the country has relegated to such odds and ends )f time as may be snatched from the greater cares of office.” —Hon. J. D. Cox.
Think you then that a party, of its own free will and accord, will surrender the hope of these spoils so dear, which hope alone holds it together from commander-in-chief down to the corporal of the curbstone who drums up recruits with a dram of whiskey? No. Never will that hope be surrendered except at, the demand of the people breaking loose from party and bent on deliverance from wrongs which have been suffered until they become insufferable. And the man who leads that uprising to victory, will save the republic from a greater peril than threatened its life in civil war. Has the hour come, and the man?
But there is another danger to Democracy. The country has grown rich with almost magic suddenness. Its great extent of soil, inexhaustible mineral resources, universal opportunity of profitable labor, together with the rapid influx of population which these attract, have made the pursuit of wealth a mania.
It is as if money had been showering from the sky, and men had postponed all other thought than to pick up a fortune before the miracle was over. Thus, the very ease with which the republic prospered has been an injury to its permanent welfare; since that ease gave quiet to patriotism and excited avarice. As a result avarice is to-day the ruling passion of Americans. More with us than with any other nation does money regulate the scale of society. Money is our rank, our morality; in the hand hushes all inquest as to how it was got—commands like omnipotence. In our haste to be rich honest work for moderate wages is despised. Speculation runs mad. The activity of commerce exceeds its material. Values are fictitious and fluctuate every hour. Business gambles in contingencies and banks heavily on the future. Mutual sense of risk in all transactions tenders off-hand compromise to debt, and, debt freed from its awe of obligation rushes into extravagance; and extravagance is the quicksand where through contracts made not to be kept, mendacity, disregard of the rights of others, manhood, sinks towards utter loss of self-respect, at once its death and burial. But self-respect is the very spirit of democracy, and the spirit gone, nothing remains but the rule of the mob; insanest of tyrannies! Again, out of our haste to be rich have risen numerous corporations which mass the capital of many in one giant stock with a giant’s grasp. By such combinations the evils of individual avarice are aggravated. Division of responsibility among the members of a board and the impersonal nature of their operations renders them more unscrupulous and fearless than they each would be in a solitary enterprise. Having no existence but for money-making, the corporation regards all other existence from that stand-point. Soulless itself, it is without faculty to recognize the soul. It looks upon laws as commodities and those who enact and execute them as commission-brokers. Life, labor, commerce, art, politics and religion seem to it various phases of a melee whose prizes are for the strongest, and the corporation is the strongest. Individuals must die, corporations may be perpetual. Individual estates must dissolve and mingle again with the current wealth; the estates of corporations may stay entire and increase age after age. Already among us are some of these giants, yet in their youth, that own cities, hold liens on States, step off their acreage to the width of a continent and wear county-courts, common councils, legislatures and congress on their ring fingers. Compare their bold predatory course with the halt and blind policy of the parties which have charge of our institutions and answer if their continued aggrandizement does not bode ill to democracy.
But there is a more serious danger yet. Old parties may corrupt, but their corruption is decay, and from that decay new parties will spring into life; corporations, while buying special legislation, aid in developing the wealth of the country and are sure to incur popular wrath whenever their exorbitancies gall—provided the ballot remains pure and efficient. It is by the ballot that the people think, repent, resolve, and carry their, mind into conduct. They may think slowly, but by errors they will at last learn truth; they may repent late, but the later the repentance the sorer the conscious need of reform; they may hesitate long to act, but the hesitation sharpens the exigency that will spur them to swifter and more irresistible action when they start. Thus the ballot may educate them through evil into habits of forethought, of vigilance, of prompt exertion. But without purity and efficiency the ballot is worse than useless—it is an imposition. The people do not govern themselves, but are governed by unknown usurpers. Safer a Caesar crowned for services to the state, or the weak heir of a name constrained by the glare of a kingdom’s eyes—
“That fierce light which beats upon a throne,
And blackens every blot—”
Than these despots of the dark. What the ark was to Israel the ballot should be to the American people, and their love of liberty should act like a divine presence to palsy the hand that profanes it. Nor is such profanation menaced, as some apprehend, chiefly by ignorance. Ignorance may be reverent and cautious as well as rash. Besides, who are the ignorant of a nation? Capitalists are ignorant as well as workingmen. Students of one branch of knowledge are ignorant of many other branches. The most learned think of themselves as learners still. There are no standard textbooks of government, acquaintance with which may be demanded as a necessary qualification for suffrage, nor is any distinction valid between those who hold different theories of government and those who hold no theory at all. It was Milton who rebuked the grammarian, and said: “Whosoever he be, though from among the dregs of the common people, that you are so keen upon, whosoever, I say, has sucked in this principle, that he was not born for his prince but for God and his country—he deserves the reputation of a learned and an honest and a wise man more, and is of greater use in the world, than yourself.” Moreover in the people wise and unwise are mixed together, and the difference between them melts away with time. The philosophy of one generation is the proverb of the next. Before Adam Smith had been dead a century there was a realm of Adam Smiths. A word of fire went forth from a private citizen of Boston, and a score of years afterwards, he heard its effect in the cannonade of armies and the clank of a million falling chains.
No, the danger to democracy is not so much in ignorance as in indifference. The poor man loves his franchise for the sense of equality with the richest which it confers, and the villain is as sure to vote as a hawker to cry his wares. It is the men of culture who least esteem the privilege and therefore are most apt to neglect it. They feel degraded in an occupation which cheapens their culture to a par with boorishness and venality. Considering themselves the few, and the base and unlettered the many, they think of the rule of the majority as inevitably a rule of ignorance and vice— the inversion of social order. And their despondency would be reasonable, their indifference blameless, if the functions and duties of the ballot were confined to the mere depositing of votes. But the ballot includes all the mental and moral forces that enlighten the judgment and influence the will of the voters. In that work the few are not necessarily a minority; intelligence has sway equal to its worth, and character is more than a multitude. Howbeit, character needs time to count itself. The fool can say his folly in a minute, but the speech of understanding is slow. By acting on these principles in certain crises of state, character has demonstrated its supremacy. But why wait for crises to do what might be better done and with less fatigue by steady work? Is it because such work seems a disproportionate task for the few? Nature everywhere joins rare responsibility to rare endowments. The most favored citizens are by their very condition detailed to stand guard for the rest. They must watch while others sleep. Tyranny is an insidious thing, and it is for them to detect its crawl in the slightest abuse and transfix the snake before it raises its head to strike.
When majorities begin to corrupt, they should be the first to revolt, and by concerted action baffle the hope of plunder and confuse the discipline of party. The wretch who interferes with the ballot they should lynch with their scorn as one who had attempted to garrote Liberty herself for debauchment.
Gentlemen, churchmen, does your conscience acknowledge the high obligation? Then, as men of conscience, to your duty. The dilettantism that pleads refinement in a neglect of duty is cowardice, as mean a vice as any that begrimes the riff-raff it would shun. “Wherever citizens meet to discuss public interests, you should be seen and heard and felt. Wherever place-hunters plot in caucus against the commonwealth you should not shrink from going to spy out their mischief that it may be brought to judgment. Least of all can you afford to countenance or even seem to wink at the pettiest falsehood, or fraud, or meddling with the perfect candor of the people’s choice. And when the hour of darkness falls and men’s hearts are failing them for fear—who, if not you, shall be the forlorn hope of the republic and rally its discouraged forces? Liberty has many sons and loves them all; but some know her only by the look of cheer that blesses their toil, and others by the hand-clasp that has led them into opportunities of wealth and honor; and others by her sentinel step around the altar-places of the soul, its love of truth and freedom of worship; while to a few she has confided her whole heart, her good intentions to men, and anxiety lest men should mar their fulfillment by distrust, and all her lifelong dream of a perfect race. Who of these sons should love her most? And if these who should love most because most trusted with love, betray, is there any treason that can be likened to their treachery?
Such are some of the most serious dangers that confront American democracy in its hundredth year. Doubtless they have been precipitated and made worse by the war through which it has recently passed. All war is savagery, and to prosecute war, civilization must forget its moral achievements and return to the instincts of the forest and jungle. However righteous the aim of a war, in the fury of strife, it is remembered only to license these instincts which, as soon as let slip, speed to havoc. Since, not the army only, but the whole people fight, we may expect, if the fight is protracted, that the savage instincts of the people will run so wild that morality cannot readily call them back into leash. Ferocity, deceit and lust of pillage having survived the occasion that allowed them, will henceforth seek their prey by the stratagems of peace. Defects of government they will take to for cover and follow the scent of an evil tendency as a jackal noses out distant carrion. Thus, while the late war revealed the nation’s strength, it likewise revealed or prepared the revelation of the nation’s weakness. That strength is the devotion of the masses to the great ideas embodied in our constitution; that weakness is the ease with which the masses are duped by a catch-word of party to intrust their government to men who filch its treasures or waste them in subsidizing corporations which grow fat only to want more, and which in order to get all they want would rob the people of their last liberty, a state of things already so bad that the better class of citizens have begun to lose heart, and by despondency are abetting the evil they deplore. Nevertheless, melancholy as the situation is, I see no cause to despair. The weakness of Democracy seems to me the weakness of strength. Dangers beset all governments and will beset them until men are perfect, and then government shall no longer be needed.
We are not in the millennium that we should throw up our hands at sight of wrong and marvel how it chanced here. Our world is thick with wrongs, and out of them government is to be built the best it may, so placing the tendency of one wrong against the tendency of another as to make, if possible, a fair proportion and a staunch support like the stones of an arch. The only question is, have we the architect in Democracy? I believe we have. I believe that the pressure of abuses will render the people more compact. Resistance, even now, is getting dense among us; parties do not hold the elements of it apart as hitherto. There are enough who desire reform to compel it if they were only pressed into unity of action. The pressure will come, and, with it, the reform.
Moreover a new power has just appeared among the people and reinforced their wisdom and will. It is the independent press. Until yesterday the daily press was the mouthpiece of party. Living on patronage it had to fawn. But wealth gives independence, and thus it happens that the ablest and most extensively read newspapers are those which have broken their alliance with party. They stand apart, unsparing critics of mischievous legislation and malfeasance of office. Parties dread their censure, and to corrupt politicians it is worse than indictment. Their eye is everywhere and their voice fills the land. Many an official whose crime is still secret, sleeps uncomfortably in the fear that some morning he will wake up to hear them shouting his name from city to city with a curse. They may yet prove the people’s trump of doom.
All in all, the republic has reason to be proud of its hundred years. For a hundred years the test of democracy, in spite of drawbacks and dangers, has been favorable. For a hundred years it has shown as much discretion as have contemporary monarchies in dealing with social problems. For a hundred years, with now and then a financial famine such as visits all governments alike, it has rivaled the richest empires in prosperity. And should the outward form of it perish at sunset of this anniversary, the example of democracy working out a hundred years of such order, energy, accumulation of wealth, and union of diverse interests in fealty to a sublime moral sentiment, has spoiled the race for any other form of government. It has insured beyond doubt that though in the end it should fail here, the experiment will be tried elsewhere, and until by an education of trials men have learned to maintain their own and respect each other’s rights.
But I cannot suffer myself to think of failure. The day forbids it, and points to good omens under the cloud. The republic is more closely knit than ever before. The wound of sectional war is well nigh healed. The flowers that fall on graves every spring from hands impartial to the blue and the gray, are flowers of a common hope that our country’s springtime may abound more and more to a far summer. Side by side, the North and South face the future and look into it with the same desire, and shall march against its dangers, and I trust through them with linked pace.
Best sign of all, as it were horses and chariots of fire round about, are the schools of every rural precinct and village and city where the children of rich and poor, cultured and ignorant meet together and by associations as well as by study learn to rule themselves as equal and free and one. Self-preserved by thus training her generations ever to purer and wiser patriotism, may the republic live to celebrate her Century of Centuries.See also: The Consequence of Bad Legal Precedent in American Legislation Wide Spread And Growing Corruption In The Public Service Of The States And Nation Open letter to Speaker Boehner and Republican party Tea Party Crimes & Sins? Open Letter to ALL Politicians and Bureaucrats, we’re coming for you A message for our elected representatives Liberals and celebrity endorsements THE COST OF POPULAR LIBERTY by Brooks Adams July 4th 1876 THE POWER OF HISTORY by Horatio Seymour (1810–1886) DANIEL WEBSTER AND OUR AMERICAN FLAG WHAT HISTORY TEACHES US ABOUT AMERICAN DIPLOMACY Addressed in 1876 BENEFITS OF THE REPUBLICAN EXPERIMENT IN AMERICA by Thomas G. Alvord 1810- 1897 THE HAND OF GOD IN AMERICAN HISTORY by Rev Morgan Dix July 4th 1876 NYC THE DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC by Lewis W. Clark 1876 New Hampshire The Practical Advance Of Human Freedom Under The Trumpet Call Made In 1776 by Charles F Adams THE SOURCE AND SECURITY OF AMERICAN FREEDOM AND PROGRESS by Courtlandt Parker 1876