Government And The People
( Originally Published 1912 )
Give the King thy judgments, O God, and he will judge thy people righteously. Hebrew Poetry.
The many successful and unsuccesful attempts at assassination of those in power and the general unrest in different nations of the earth, at frequent intervals, indicate a lack of harmony between the governments and some of the people. Within a century twenty kings and queens and presidents have been murdered. Once in an average of every five years some nation has been plunged into consternation and grief by the violent death of its ruler. When it is recalled that many unsuccessful attempts have been made upon the lives of those in power the discord seems all the more deep and permanent. Among those who are dissatisfied, there are some who are always willing to become assassins. To remedy a real or imaginary wrong, there are always a few who are ready to commit a greater wrong. Much of the world's history makes very sad reading.
For the enmity between the thrones and the people there can be no doubt that often the thrones themselves have been largely responsible. Whether in despotic Turkey and Russia or in Germany and England with their constitutional kings or in France and the United States with their presidents who are supposed to be the representatives of the people, the term "government" stands for the nation exercising its power. This power is concentrated at a few points and is in the hands of a few members of society. It is necessarily thus concentrated. Thus considered government becomes the symbol of authority. In some places its splendor has been as dazzling as its power has been great.
No reader of history would pretend that its power has always been wise and beneficient. It has often been foolish and cruel. Its splendor has sometimes been maintained while the people have been starving for bread. It has not been always careful of the wishes and needs of the multitudes. National happiness often meant only the happiness of the king and a few nobles. National prosperity meant that the king and his court had an abundance of money and food and raiment and amusement. In some kingdoms of the past the majority of the inhabitants were slaves. `In the so called golden age of Elizabeth there were bondsmen who were compelled to work for the Lord of their manor; who did not dare change their pursuit or even go a few miles from home without a written permission." At the same time in France "taxes were forced from the people three years in advance. Four millions of the richest citizens were exempt from taxation." The poor multitude had to support the expense of the government. "Sometimes the farmers had hardly a piece of furniture left. If they could not pay the tax in money, their cattle, their farm implements, their beds and even the flour and bread were taken. The doors and windows were taken from their houses and the clothes from their bodies by the merciless agents of the throne. Salt was taxed until it cost sixty cents a pound." After this came the French Revolution in which the king who, himself innocent of any intentional wrong, was beheaded. He lost his life because he was the representative of the awful oppression of the throne. In striking him the people struck the system of which they and their ancestors were the hapless victims.
But, cruel and tyrannical as government was in those old days of history, it was not as bad as that which it displaced. It was much better than barbarism and anarchy. Even a tyrannical government is not an absolute evil. Is is only an abused good. It is much better than no government. While, at times, it may have wrought some evil, it has always been a means of much good. It has made possible some of the noblest human qualities and has furnished an arena for the display of the world's greatest gifts. Greece, indeed, held slaves, but it also held philosophy and art and poetry. Had there been no Greek government, there would have been no slavery; but neither would there have been any poetry or art or philosophy. That England once treated thousands of its laborers as slaves is pitiful; but the same England that did this gave Bacon and Shakespeare and an imperishable literature. It also gave liberty to the human intellect. It built universities and fostered learning and religion. Government may often have abused its power; but with no government much of the world's greatest glory would never have appeared. Without that form of ;government called a kingdom or a state, no Shakespeare, no Plato, no Christ would have been possible. Such characters never appear in savage races. Thus, if government has sometimes been a hard master, it has in the long run, been a friend of mankind.
The probabilities are the historic despotisms and cruelties of government are gone never again to return. The basis of this expectation is that the things which made them possible are now no longer present. The Neros and Louis Fourteenths could only exist when the millions of their subjects were ignorant and superstitious. An absolute throne can only be supported by the degradation of the multitude. The claim of Herod, that he was a god and worthy of divine honors, would now be met with only ridicule or contempt. The divinity that was once thought to hedge about a king has all disappeared. The claim of the divine rights of kings is greeted with laughter. Instead of frightening, it only amuses the multitude. The King is only a piece of common humanity, temporarily occupying a prominent position and clothed with certain powers because of his office. Education of the common people has deprived the throne of much of its old-time splendor and old-time power. It has to deal, now and henceforth, not with a mind full of ignorance and superstitious dread of its power, but with a mind awakened and instructed and conscious of its own rights and powers. When the age of universal education came, the age of despotism disappeared. The power of the people balances the power of the throne.
Students of law and government discover a progressive movement toward equity. Especially is this true of English law and government. Ever since the Charter of rights was wrested from the English Sovereign at Runnymede the power of the people has been a growing force. It has diminished the power of the throne. The tendency of government has been toward friendship for the people. The problem was, how to change the throne from the career of a cruel and unreasonable master to the new career of a kind and reasonable friend. It should be the master of all who seek to do wrong, the friend of all who seek to do right.
The problem is not yet fully solved. It is in the nature of things that such a condition must come slowly. It can come only after great effort and great patience. Being human, kings and rulers of all kinds love power. They cannot be expected to rise much above common humanity in the quality of unselfishness. That which they have, they love to retain. We can only expect better government when we have better people. The mere overthrow of one kind of government can of itself bring no benefit to mankind. Benefit can only come when the new government is in the hands of wiser and kinder men than was the one destroyed. The government immediately succeeding the French Revolution was perhaps the most cruel and unjust government the world has ever seen. Compared with Robespierre, Louis Sixteenth was as a lamb to a tiger. Pretending that they were working for liberty, equality, and fraternity, the destroyers of the French Monarchy became worse than savages in their merciless cruelty. Whatever philosophical anarchy may be, practical anarchy made one of the bloodiest pages of history in all the world' s great volume. Bad as government may have become, murder is never a good remedy.
That any government is perfect, either in theory or in practice, no one would for a moment claim. Many and great changes in the administration of affairs are very desirable. But these changes must be effected by education. We must not expect the men of dynamite and pistols to effect any valuable change in the quality of the world's government. To kill a human being who is guilty of nothing but being King of Italy or President of the United States is a poor way to show love for humanity. The man who does this is not a lover of mankind; he is a criminal. He is not a patriot; he is a murderer. If the people are deprived of their rights by those who compose or control the government they are perfectly justifiable in complaining. They have the right to seek redress by petition or by the ballot. But they do not wish some fanatic to represent them with a pistol. The man who made the murderous attempt upon the President does not represent the American people. The mental freedom of the people must be permitted to express itself, but the millions wish to express it by ballots instead of by bullets. Having elected a man to be President they are not so foolish as then to elect some man to murder him. So far as is now known the assailant only represented himself. If it should be hereafter discovered that he was the agent of a small group of persons calling themselves Anarchists, the case would not be greatly changed. Our institutions would not be in danger. Among our eighty millions there are only a few who think assassination is a legitimate agent in the reform of government.
There are philosophical Anarchists who them-selves deny the use of violence as a political means. They are men of kind hearts and high ideals. The changes they desire they seek by peaceful :means, by education of the individual, and a finer public sentiment as touching human rights. As a form of social philosophy this kind of anarchy has a perfect right to exist. We must all learn to distinguish between Anarchy as a philosophy and Anarchy as an assassination. The one is to be studied by philosophers and, if wrong, refuted by argument. The other is to be hunted down by the agents of government and if guilty it is to be punished. The man who murdered Mr. McKinley will be punished, not because he is an Anarchist, but because he is an assassin. Thus it re-mains that the millions who may be desiring better conditions are seeking and will contiue to seek them by peaceful and not by violent means. They will seek them by education and not by assassination.
Our fathers sought to found a nation upon freedom and the rights of mankind at large. They thought education was a stronger force than armies in maintaining the liberty of the state; morality among the people and a regard for the natural and political rights of all citizens was mightier than a monarch upon the throne. They saw that liberty is good, but liberty is not, in itself, equal to the task of upholding a nation. The love of liberty could bring independence; but, after independence, laws must come. We were to be a free people, but a free people with high ideals. We had lost our reverence for thrones, but we were to be full of reverence for education, for religion, for a high manhood, for national honor, for a nobly constituted government that would plan for the well-being of all classes of mankind. These are the only rulers which have a divine right. Other nations might continue to believe in hereditary privileges and the long descent of their sovereigns, but our nation was to trace its authority from a past antedating all kings, making all other royalty seem to he mere up-starts and creatures of yesterday. Thinking of liberty and justice as the sovereigns of our nation we, with the noble Greek girl, might say:
"They did not come today nor yesterday.
We know not whence they came, but this we know
The only anxiety any one need experience in times of stress and tumult, such as this through which we are now passing, alone grows out of the doubt as to whether these principles of liberty and justice are as strong in our nation as they once were. There are those who honestly think that power is being misused. It may be they are mistaken; but there is enough transpiring in the management of commercial and political affairs to awaken uneasiness in the minds of many who are solicitous over the welfare of our nation. There are those who think that the institutions of our nation will break down under the tremendous pressure brought to bear upon them by commercial greed and political tyranny. It is to be hoped their fears are exaggerated. In the past liberty intelligence and justice have been powerful. Out of Chaos they once formed the nation. Nearly a hundred years later, when an awful war tempest raged over all the land between the two oceans, they preserved the nation. From the past we borrow confidence, for the future. But, if we are not disappointed in our hopes, it will be necessary to bring these principles forward and apply them to existing conditions. If this were done, many needed reforms would be set in motion. The prevalent lawlessness would be diminished The hostility between classes would be less active and less virulent. There is hardly any wrong in our financial or industrial or national or municipal life that might not be largely remedied by the application of a few fundamental principles of benevolence and justice and human rights. The only question is will we apply them? If our Republic should fail the fault will not be in those who founded it; it will be in us who have inherited it. Is our Republic on trial ? Oh no; it is we who are on trial.
Our nation is a government where, theoretically, the power is in the many and not in one. The people are the throne. This being true the remedy for evils is in their hands. They can overthrow the reign of lawlessness which tortures and burns human beings in the south; which buys legislators in the north; which robs cities of franchises all over the land; which is blind to vice as long as it pays tribute; which kills a President in the person of an anarchist and counsels lynch-of the murderer in the person of a preacher or a United States Senator. The people have it in their power to punish election frauds; to defeat political tyrants, to elect capable and honest men for lawmakers; to establish justice and bring greater honor to our beloved country. But to accomplish this there must be more and more regard for righteousness on the part of the people themselves. The trouble with our country is that much of its virtue is inactive. It slumbers when it ought to be fully awakened. If the good men of all parties would combine and resolve to work for only just ends the incapable and wicked men would be compelled either to become capable and honest or retire from public life. A few years of continuous and combined moral earnestness would produce a change al-most equal to a revolution,—a revolution, not coming by violence and bloodshed, but by the beautiful paths of wisdom and morals and the noble efforts of many millions of our citizens.
Those who come with dynamite and pistol are not needed. Their methods are not only criminal, but they are useless. They are murderers, but the government still remains. Those who would destroy the nation are not only its enemies, but the enemies of the human race. The violent and bloody-minded anarchists, in striking at our government, are striking at the welfare of their fellowmen. In its highest form it stands for order and peace and human brotherhood. It has brought learning, industry, art, science, religion, liberty, and protection to many millions of mortals. It is the duty of all to labor for its greatness and purity, not by violence nor murder, but by all intellectual and moral means with which a Divine Providence has so richly furnished the soul, Education must master ignorance. Patience must conquer passion. Reason must displace prejudice. The well-being of all must push greed and selfishness into the back-ground. Gentleness must turn rage into love. Government must, by these means, become the friend and protector of its poor and rich alike. Do such methods of civilization seem too slow? They have all the future in which to work. Do they seem too weak ? They are omnipotent.
Loving our country, may we all pray and toil on its behalf until it reaches a height of benevolence and justice which shall far surpass its past or present condition. It is not enough that it has gone far above the throne of the Pharaohs or the Cæsars or the Bourbons or the Georges. It must excel itself. Rich and powerful beyond the dreams of those who founded it, may it become as just and benevolent as it is rich and powerful.
With such a country, actual and possible, how can we be otherwise than patriots? In its presence Anarchy should be ashamed to appear. The hand of the man with murder in his mind should be self-arrested, for he would see that, in striking at its life, he would be striking at his best and most powerful friend. Such a government would be secure. It would have a title to the fast wending, but unending years. It would be a means of happiness to untold millions of mortals in their journey across the earth for its wisdom and power are like the wisdom and power of God.
To day a shadow rests upon our country. But we may not give way to untempered grief nor untempered rage nor paint the future in only dark colors. Perhaps our country needed something to remind it of neglected duties. That which to many seems a ca-calamity may prove a benefit. The universal sorrow of the nation may result in purifying its soul; it maybe made whiter when washed by a rainfall of tears. The universal sympathy expressed by the nations of Europe will quiet distrust and suspicion and exalt the interests of humanity at large above those of a single district of earth.
This is neither the time nor place to enter into a critical study of the political principles of our fallen President. The historian of the future will take up that task. As for us at this time, we can only express our profound sorrow that a genial man, a loyal friend, a loving husband has thus untimely and cruelly fallen But we will comfort ourselves with the thought that he has not fallen into darkness, but into greater light. Trusting the Divine Providence and resigning himself to the infinite will, he was not disappointed. With the prayer upon his lips,
"Nearer my God to Thee, '
without a fear he passed from the mystery of life to the mystery of death. We trust the prayer was answered and he found himself, by the change, brought nearer the source of all being, all beauty, and all joy.