The Nation Under God
( Originally Published 1912 )
IN the very opening words of that address whose sentences, few in number but tremendous in power, gleam in letters of light from a dark and troubled page of our history, Abraham Lincoln said that our fathers had brought forth on this continent a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
There had come a great test, he said, a mighty ordeal to try out the question whether that nation, or any other nation so conceived and dedicated, could endure. His closing words were an exhortation to the American people to resolve that the huge sacrifice of patriot life should not be made a vain and fruitless sacrifice, "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
"Under God !" When a great man greatly expresses a great truth, he sets a stumbling-block in the path of every falsehood that ever was or ever will be. When that clear, simple, sublime mind contemplated what was, what had been, and what was to be-a nation sundered by a great bleeding wound, a nation animated from its birth by the spirit of freedom and no more capable of growth and power with any other spirit than would one man be with the soul of another, a nation which was painfully but completely to cut out the cancerous growth that threatened its life—he uttered the protest I have quoted against the lie that in a free nation any man can be the chattel of another.
The moral evils that were in front of him, that he could see and touch, were human slavery and fratricidal war. But the truth he erected as a shield for the nation against them is to serve also as a shield for the nation against another and a deadlier peril that has come in another generation.
What was this conception of liberty and this dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal? It was a new thing in the world. There had been other governments conceived in liberty, but in all the history of the world there had been no government dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
The Greek and Roman democracies are, when they are closely examined, very narrow indeed. Under the society which exercised the power of government was a great menial class, a servile foundation upon which society was builded. There were artisans and trades-men who were free, but labor as such was shackled, a huge bondsman that builded and delved, and that had no rights—that was, in the dominant opinion of the day, on the level of the brutes.
And this servile class, this great mass of human labor, was greater than all the rest in bulk—among the Greeks the slave class at one time constituted nine-tenths of the population.
For centuries, however, even the approach to democracy that the Greeks and Romans knew had been but a memory. The world lived according to the opposing political principle. The thought that lay back of social organization was that men had been created unequal, that some were born to govern and some to slave; the former were the select few, the latter the great mass. The aristocracy was entitled by right to the profit of the fields, to preference before the courts and in the halls of government; the mass was just a beast of burden, base, ignoble, unworthy of consideration by the superior men.
Among all the peoples of the world the principle of government was the principle of privilege. There had been something to temper all this—the humanity of those in power, and, more important than all else, the influences of the Church of Christ; for the justice of God, unlike the justice of man, held all men created equal.
It was a divine ideal, then, that our fathers put into the new nation. It was to a divine purpose that they dedicated this republic. Men were to be free and equal. Not equal in material things, but in moral things. The vote of every man was to be equal to that of every other man in the governing of the state. The cause of every man was to be as sacred in the courts of the land as that of every other man.
Not equal in physical strength, nor yet in intellectual strength, nor yet in circumstances of material wealth, but as a moral being, as an entity before the law of the land as before the justice of heaven, as a unit in government, each man was born with the right of equality. For this was a nation "under God," as Lincoln said.
There was another conception in liberty, another dedication to equality, which, however, was not "under God." It was under rationalism, under the philosophy that takes human reason out of a man's noddle and sets it on his altar, that ceases to use it because worshiping it, that deifies it, substituting it for the living God.
There were two revolutions. Almost as if it were designed as a lesson to humanity, they are set side by side. So close are they in time that some of the principal actors in the one great drama are principal actors in the other.
They are set down in history's page like two sums in mathematics side by side, so that we can see the factors and contrast the products. It is as if God said to us, "Here is the demonstration. See how, these factors chosen, this is the result, and these other factors chosen, that is the result."
What is the most significant thing we see as we look at those two portentous examples in political arithmetic? Why, this—America has no Voltaire! There is no sneering, brilliant, God-denying mind to dominate completely the mind of the nation. America has no Encyclopedists, no Intellectuals to interpose their cheap hand-made philosophy between a suffering people crushed down and brutalized by cruel privilege and the light of heaven; to substitute their joke-books and epigrams for the commandments of God.
If France before the Revolution was "a despotism tempered by epigrams," during the Revolution it was a mobocracy distempered by epigrams.
Here, then, is a difference between the moving factors. In France there was infidelity; in America there was a belief in God. France was a nation under Voltairism; America was a nation "under God."
See how these two factors worked as the problem became involved. In America a Congress assembled, as in France a parliament of the Three Estates. In America this Congress, sane, sober, stern, governs the nation in revolt until the work is done, and the marvellous new government dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal is a vital fact in the world.
In that Congress statesmen and patriots are developed, men of the common people who can devise an instrument of government that has stood the test of time. Not superior men, not sneerers at faith in God, not Intellectuals, but men out of the ranks, wise, practical and inspired makers of a nation, whose every official declaration is a profession of faith in the wisdom and justice of the Most High.
But in that French parliament is such a gathering of self-seeking demagogues as never before the world has seen; cheap, rabid, hating and hate-inspiring politicians, rats that struggle and gnaw and squeal in the recesses of that rotting body which they are tearing down. Wit against wit, vanity against vanity, ambition against ambition, selfishness against selfishness, it was a government gone completely mad, shifting and veering at each noisy gust from the lungs of a bar-room statesman inspired of a sudden with a plan for making all men happy. Under rationalism, Liberty has gone insane.
These two huge dramas have each its principal human character, its man of whom all the world thinks when the world thinks of the drama. The nation under God had Washington, patriot and statesman, whose name was a glory even among his enemies. The nation under rationalism had Napoleon, conqueror and despot, bloodied to his boot-tops, filling Europe with fire and slaughter until his red and drip-ping star sank forever behind the lurid cannon smoke of Waterloo.
And now let us consider the products, the two answers worked out by these two examples in political arithmetic. The nation under philosophy ended its huge struggle in a despotism not even tempered by epigrams. Drained of its best blood, weakened in heart and in limbs, foreign kings riding at the head of their squadrons into its capital at will, the mass crushed down again and privilege enthroned again, nothing left of that great hope that raised it in revolution except the insanity, the Voltairism which is still at work.
But the nation "under God" has kept democracy alive, has advanced all the time, standing up against that bloody back-wash of the French Revolution that rocked every other government; attracting to itself the oppressed of all the world, destroying human slavery when that evil, grown strong, conflicted with the very purpose of its being; crushing out bigotry so that now Protestant and Catholic and Jew sit down at the same board to do honor to their brother American who has been elevated to the cardinalate of his church. This is the fruit of a conception in liberty and a dedication to equality of a nation "under God."
These two things are side by side, as I have said, and yet there is a philosophy that cannot read the lesson as it is written. Little by little that philosophy has made headway in this country. It is not indigenous. The Irish potato is an American vegetable, you know, but rationalism is not. It is something that has been transplanted from the old world, where it grows rank in the shadow of privilege. Free men are rarely "free thinkers." You will always find tyranny and Voltairism close together. And this modern rationalism is nothing but warmed-over Voltairism, although its political manifestation is not in precisely the same form. Analysis was the social cure-all of the Voltaire period. They were going to make all men happy by taking things apart.
And, truly, they went the full logical length of the formula. Not satisfied with the stage at which Intellectualism would pause—the taking apart of aristocracy—the mob took the aristocrats apart also; and having taken monarchy apart, they must also take a monarch apart.
And what then? Why, then the discovery by the hungry millions that "Victorious Analysis," as Carlyle puts it, "bakes no bread."
This formula having been found of no fruit, there-fore, rationalism sets up another, a new make-believe for victims of social injustice, which it calls Socialism. It carne out of the sick thought of atheists who looked into themselves and thought they saw a universe. Its fundamental assertion is that there is no God.
This is what is meant by the "materialistic conception of history," this is what they mean by their "economic determinism." "God is a reflex of economic conditions," they say; that is, a ruling class invented him and preached him to keep a servile class in subjection.
A child may laugh at the absurdity of such a statement. Think of it! Back in the dim past, when, they would make us believe, men were just beginning to be men and leaving off being monkeys, some particularly wise anthropoid ape, some J. P. Morgan among the "missing links," conceived this vast deception in order that he might get the milk in the cocoanut, and his tailed, or rather recently detailed, brethren might be satisfied with the husks !
The men who say their illuminated reason cannot accept the idea of a God ask us to believe that; and ask us to believe that the thing was kept up through all the intervening ages, and that it is a huge, hoary imposture. Why, if it were an imposture, it was one so vast, so tremendous, so obviously beyond human cunning, that none but a God could create or sustain it.
With as broad a lie as that for a foundation, they had room to build anything. And they have builded a weird thing: Karl Marx has evolved from his inner consciousness some shadow of a shadow which he calls a labor-hour. What is it? Perhaps—although I doubt it—Marx knew, but Marx is dead.
We only know that it is not an hour of continuous labor by a skilled mechanic—any skilled mechanic; for labor, as he uses the term, means unskilled labor. That leaves us at sea again, for unskilled labor is but an arbitrary term to differentiate between those who are in what we call the handicrafts and those who are not; in philosophy there is no such thing as unskilled labor. If I were called on to-night to go dig in a ditch, I should have to learn how to use a spade. The monkey and the millionaire are alike in this—neither of them knows how to use a spade. What, then, is an hour of unskilled labor? However, why worry about it? Our foundation, you know, is that there is no God. Whatever it is, it is to be the measure of value in the Socialist world.
All men have it; that is, all men who are not weak, or old, or too young. But never mind them; never mind anything that is sensible and true. How can a fact stand on the foundation that there is no God? If you are going to introduce facts here, they will sink right through our broad but unsubstantial base, because, while many men have seen a fog upon a mountain, no man but a Socialist has ever seen a mountain upon a fog.
Let us, then, take at its face value this labor-hour. It is to be the currency of the cooperative common-wealth that is to follow the revolution. Money is to be abolished because money is capital, and capital is a vicious oppression-serving reflex of economic conditions, devised long ago, doubtless, by that same monkey-man who invented God. It is just like religion, marriage, and patriotism, and that contemptible bourgeois weakness—morality.
They are all at war with the philosophy of Social-ism, there will be no room for any of them in the co-operative commonwealth. Probably frost and snow, and birth and death also, are economic reflexes; one of these at least the rationalistic science of eugenics pro-poses to abolish in part; doubtless in the glad new time they will all be abolished, somehow. For that is the way all these reforms are to be accomplished—just somehow.
I have been for twenty years reading Socialist literature and attending Socialist meetings and talking to Socialist orators, in the hope that there might be something for humanity in all this, some pot of gold at the rainbow's end, and always the answer to my "How?" has been the same—first, let us have revolution, and the reconstruction will be managed some-how. The old Voltairisrn, the old analysis, the taking of things apart ! Under God men build up, they construct; under rationalism they tear down, they destroy.
I have said this thing is of foreign origin and foreign growth. How comes it, then, that we find it here, in a nation "under God"? Because similar causes will, everywhere and forever, produce similar effects. We thrust out privilege in our Revolution, and set the face of the new nation forever against it. But it found its way in again until its recognition by the people in the form of slave-ownership led to its expulsion once more.
And now it is manifesting itself in industry, and we have labor ground down and oppressed, we have babies working in mills, we have vast populations that do not speak our language, do not understand our laws, do not live our life, but do out of their deep misery send up class hatred, flames that privilege has enkindled and that Socialism fans. In this nation, dedicated to equality, there is not equality before the law.
Some men, who fear Socialism not because it is a bad thing, but because it may hurt them, will say that this is preaching class hatred. It isn't—it is telling the truth. You cannot kill this thing with a lie. You must kill it with the truth. And when we tell this truth, when we say that in this country men are not always equal before the law, we must also say that if the courts are sometimes respecters of persons here, they are here less respecters of persons than anywhere else in the world of God—for that also is true. Nowhere in the wide world has the man, naked of all rank and power and wealth, more chance of obtaining pure justice than under this flag, which Socialism would tear down and replace with its red international banner—and that is also true.
In this nation under God, of all nations, the fundamental law prescribes absolute equality; and where there is aberration from that principle, the fault is not with the nation or its fundamental law, but with the weakness of human nature, to cure which does not lie in Socialism, but in the religion of God.
But it is true that privilege has done some evil in the courts—as, indeed, where has it not done evil? And it has done much evil in our political life. And worse still, because here it cannot claim the right to rob as an open and a legal right, it has had to accomplish its ends by stealth, by falsehood, and by bribery; and so it has weakened our morality and so affected many of us that we cannot longer bear the thought of a just and righteous God. Some divinity we must have, because privilege—wiser in its generation than Intellectualism—knows that the bare lie of a no-God will not go down with the world; but let it be a vague and far-away divinity. Let us subsidize agnosticism in the colleges by endowments made up of bonds of that corporation that has imported its thousands upon thousands of laborers whose ignorance of our language and our laws makes possible their employment for seven days a week with twenty-four-hour shifts to vary the monotony. Let us forget that "wops" are human beings made in the image of God, just as the nobility of France forgot that its "canaille" were human beings whom also God had made in his image.
Do you suppose privilege, that so forgets, wants to believe in a Christ? No—it isn't possible, comfortable. Real obligations with sharp edges are too in-convenient; a real God is too terrible. Better accept the Darwinian theory of evolution from science, now that science is getting rid of it, having found it not only unproven but unprovable; better level down all creeds so that they are all alike, which will be when they are all whittled away; better dabble in this Intellectualism of Europe, where privilege is ancient and legal and fashionable, if not respectable.
And so we create a great fund for such colleges as shall abandon Christ, having been founded in his name. We say to college presidents and college professors, "You shall have a pension in your old age, provided you have not taught as truth that Jehovah of the Jews was God, and Christ, who walked on earth, was his divine Son."
And our public schools! The pity of it! We could leave the colleges to materialism, to nothingism, if it had to be so, but are we going to sit silent by while the little children of whom Christ said, "Suffer them to come unto me," are turned over to the Intellectuals, to the teachers of cast-off science, to the materialism and nothingism whose political manifestation is Socialism?
Not if we are men with sanity left in our heads! Not if we are still a nation "under God," "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
To pass the plastic years in a godless school, to leave it with no faith to enlighten them, with no belief in their accountability to God to hold them true, with a false notion of life and its meaning; to find the struggle for subsistence hard, and on the corner or in the club the Socialist with his gospel of hatred which he calls "class-consciousness," his sneer at God, his easy plan of conduct, and his somehow political programme of making life easy to live—what results?
What have we to oppose to all this? The truth, the American ideal of a "nation under God," conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality, which is always new because always true.
We must regain for God the children of the nation. If we were all of one creed, it might be done through our present public-school system. But we are of many creeds, so that the only practicable plan, and the only just plan, is to let each creed teach its own, and let the state pay, out of the taxes collected from all, a just compensation to such educational agency, secular or religious, for the educational work it shall perform.
In this way will we best meet this new peril; in this way will we best destroy, on the one hand, the privilege that generates class hatred, and, on the other, the false philosophy that would transmute that hatred into Socialism.
It is an evil thing we have to conquer. If it were only the Intellectuals, we might let them babble away in their own little insane asylums, while the rest of us go on with the work of the world. But here is this vast army suffering from real social injustice, and here are those Intellectuals telling this army to over-turn the government, break up and throw away the Constitution, close the churches, abandon their families, and they shall have bread without sweating for it.
It is the cruellest lie that ever came out of hell. But how is the sufferer to know it is a lie? He must toil to keep breath in his body; what time has he to measure and to weigh? He knows, because the weight of it bends down his back, that life is hard, and the Intellectuals tell him they have a plan to give him life and ease and food and luxuries. "The whole wealth of the world is yours, and yet you toil and starve," they say to him. "Strike, and be—rich !" Not free, but rich.
Think of the effect of this on a man who is toiling, and who has not too much food. How can one know that their system is a dream of madmen—up there in the region above him, the Intellectuals, the smart men, the college professors, say it will be all right, and they must know.
Even high privilege says, with a propitiating smile, that "Socialism has no terrors for him"; and quite true it is too, because if privilege doesn't believe in a hereafter for its spiritual self, what need it care for the hereafter of the Republic?
Some few years ago our American Socialism spoke softly of a peaceful revolution and a ballot-box campaign and conquest. But as it grows stronger it grows bolder, and now we hear less of the peaceful revolution.
They are feeling their strength, they grow bold. The talk now is of "direct action." That means that the brute is getting thirsty for blood. That is the essential barbarism growling out a little impatiently in this philosophy that boasts that it is the next step in civilization.
In Los Angeles they take as a candidate a lawyer who has been counsel for dynamiters, just because of the significant association. Their labor organization is the Industrial Workers of the World, their cry is for the general strike.
Listen to their editor who has hurried from New York into Massachusetts, as he cries out to the poor mill-hands, who think he is leading them for their sakes, "No arbitration, no compromise !"
They do not want better wages for labor, they do not want peace—they want wide-spread industrial war, dynamiting and bloodshed, and a crashing fall of this Republic Lincoln loved, so that in their beloved revolution they may strut and gabble, cheap little warmed-over Robespierres and second-hand Mira-beaus, and try to set up their crazy government on the wreckage of a nation under God, conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality.
Blind to anything like a fact, they cannot see that this isn't France of one hundred and fifty years ago. There isn't here the depth of misery that was there, although there is more than there should be and more than there shall be. This union isn't founded on privilege, as was the tyranny of old France.
And, more than all, the faith in God still holds in America, and it is strongest and purest right on the battle-line—in the very ranks of labor from which this Socialism hopes to draw its strength. Democracy lives here still, and her strength is undiminished.
And justice—when we have made America see what justice is—will allow Religion to resume her in-_ spiring function in the education of the child. Labor shall not drink this cup that Socialism holds to its lips and find the dregs bitter with blasted hope.
But in our coming ordeal—and he is blind who can-not see it coming—sanity and sobriety and the spirit of justice must rule our councils, as they did in that other great ordeal half a century ago.
The people's leaders must be, not demagogues, not babblers, not new-idea-every-minute reformers, not gusty mock-Mirabeaus, but men of courage and conscience and sanity and sympathy and truth. Marx must not become, but Lincoln continue to be, our ideal statesman. Not rationalism, but God, must be our guide.
And as the hope of Lincoln will come true, the dead of Gettysburg and every other field where patriots fell under the flag for which Socialism would substitute its banner of blood, shall not have died in vain—"government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth," but shall live, blessing more and more with the fruit of justice a nation under God.