The Arena Part 8

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The disposition to give due attention to the spirit of American inst.i.tutions is one which needs cultivation. Government, looked upon only as machinery, may easily become a means for the accomplishment of ends very different from those intended by its designers. In this connection some recent utterances by Dr. Lyman Abbott are worthy of serious thought:

It is sometimes said that the majority rules in America, and it would be unfortunate if it were true. The French Revolution shows that no despotism of the individual is so cruel as the despotism of the majority. When the decisions of the majority or minority are supported by the whole people that is Americanism. Our democracy is not founded on the idea that our people make mistakes, but that the decision of all the people is better than that of one cla.s.s, and that all the men are better judges than priests and kings and their instruments. Fraternal government is what we are trying to establish, and whoever strikes against the spirit of fraternalism strikes against the foundation of our government. We can get along with anything bad in our laws and correct it in our progress, but we can never live and prosper with the East arrayed against the West, the North against the South, rich against the poor, and labor against capital.


Whatever other meaning may attach to the word Americanism, Dr. Abbott points to its best definition. But what he has in mind cannot be expected in the absence of a spirit which is made manifest in real fraternalism conjoined with faithful devotion to intelligent convictions of duty. This spirit will take patriotism out of the realm of mere sentiment into that of n.o.ble pa.s.sion. It will give to citizenship so high a meaning that failures in civic duty will take on--as they clearly ought to do--the character of sins against one's own manhood and against the brotherhood of which the citizen is a member. If this spirit be underneath our laws and manifest in their administration, we need have little anxiety as to their statutory form. Political as well as scriptural wisdom expresses itself in the statement that the "letter" of the law kills, the "spirit" alone gives life.


How the spirit of genuine citizenship is to be made ascendant is a question of increasing concern. It may nevertheless be doubted whether organized forces for its suppression do not, in the matter of painstaking and persistent energy and adroit management, excel the organized elements specially devoted to its cultivation. Citizenship activities, politically considered, for the most part are merged in the machinery of parties; and this machinery, instead of representing in its tenets the will of great bodies of independent and well-intentioned suffragists, is too often so manipulated by a few skilful and unprincipled political machinists as to represent their will instead. It is obvious that in so far as these clever machinists are able to run our politics to suit themselves, the very machinery through which the right spirit in citizenship must come to power, if at all, is turned into a means for its own suppression. It thus comes to pa.s.s that we have the pitiable spectacle of great party organizations through which ma.s.ses of honest and patriotic citizens farcically--nay, tragically--cooperate for the accomplishment of results, which, while secured through their votes and in their name, are in reality results of the clandestine and sinister work of a few men.


Plainly, if the right spirit in citizenship is to be ascendant, it must find some means of doing away with the boss system in politics. This system is made possible only by the ease with which primary elections are controlled by coteries of designing men. Here is a battlefield where the best and worst elements in our politics need to be brought into immediate and conclusive conflict. A system which foists upon the people as its candidates for office those whom they have had no real voice in choosing, and who are not worthy, represents an actual subversion of popular government, and calls for such a manifestation of the spirit of true Americanism as shall overthrow it once for all. This question is an overshadowing one. Pollution at the fountain means pollution everywhere.

Men elected to office through shameful methods may sometimes be better than the methods by which they have profited, but they are not to be trusted. Their responsibility is to the "bosses," not to the citizens whose machine-directed votes elected them. The only sentiment to which they bow is that expressed by the leader whose favor bestowed, and whose hostility will deprive them of, official position and emoluments. The immediate outlook is not, however, without hope. Independent movements in several States are in progress looking to the complete uprooting of the boss system. In parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California, and in some of the Southern States "the Crawford County method," which takes the choice of candidates out of the hands of the few and places it in the hands of the majority of voters, is already being tried. In Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota similar methods have been the subject of legislative action, and satisfactory results are antic.i.p.ated. This is a reform which should not be left to the advocacy of a few individuals, or to the members of a few organizations like the American Inst.i.tute of Civics and local civic reform bodies. Members of these bodies have done much and will do more to promote it, but its final success depends upon the manifestation everywhere of an aroused public spirit whose demands cannot be denied.


Much progress has recently been made in educational provisions for the instruction necessary to qualify American youth for the intelligent and efficient discharge of civic obligations. The Patria Club of New York City, a strong body organized under the auspices of the American Inst.i.tute of Civics and devoted to the objects which it represents, has offered prizes to the pupils in the schools in the vicinity of New York for the purpose of stimulating their interest in matters of government and citizenship, and has undertaken a similar work in connection with the charity industrial schools of that city. Of great importance is the action of the New York Board of Education looking to specific instruction in civics in all the city schools, and its later action in giving to this subject an important place in the curriculum of the high schools which are to be established the coming year. Another organization which contributes to the same results, the American Guards, is represented by battalions in several New York schools. This movement, which has already extended into many schools in different States, is under the fostering care of Col. H. H. Adams, an officer of the Inst.i.tute of Civics. The guards are composed of boys who voluntarily devote a certain amount of time, out of school hours, to exercises promotive of a virile and intelligent patriotism. These exercises include military drill, and the youthful guards, in their becoming uniforms, develop a marked degree of manliness and self-respect. Two of the battalions are under the leadership of public-school princ.i.p.als, E.

H. Boyer and D. E. Gaddes, councillors of the Inst.i.tute of Civics. The guards partic.i.p.ated in the ceremonies at the dedication of the Grant monument, and no organization in line attracted more favorable attention.


It cannot be denied that the hitherto controlling power of voters in rural districts has frequently been used to the prejudice of city interests. Representatives from country regions have lent their aid in effecting vicious as well as wholesome changes in legislation affecting munic.i.p.alities, and this aid has sometimes been secured by corrupt methods. It is nevertheless true that the average country voter and the average legislator who represents him sincerely desire to promote only such legislation as will be of highest advantage to urban communities.

If their votes fail to secure this result it is more often because of insufficient knowledge of urban conditions and needs, than of indifference or corrupt influences.

It is, therefore, a matter of the very highest importance that citizens remote from our great cities be made sufficiently familiar with munic.i.p.al needs to enable them to reach wiser conclusions as to the desirability or undesirability of special measures affecting their political, social, and industrial interests. Opinions based, as now, chiefly upon the statements of a partisan press, too often represent the interests of a party regardless of those of the munic.i.p.alities directly concerned.

With the steady growth of our great cities in population and political power, the question of wholesome State legislation in matters affecting their civic and moral wellbeing, is one of no less importance to rural communities than to the cities themselves. Controlling power is already drifting cityward in many States, and rural voters who have not contributed to the creation of right civic conditions in our great munic.i.p.alities may soon find this power used to their own serious injury. In this connection the New York _Christian Advocate_, referring to the possibilities of good and evil in the Greater New York, justly says:

The only balancing force in preventing the evil from triumphing over the good, will be the influence of the remainder of the Empire State. The morale of cities differs from that of rural regions in that the evil-minded can consort and conceal their deeds, can obtain great political power; and large cities are p.r.o.ne to legalize vice and admit of organized political corruption. Whereas elsewhere the laws are generally in harmony with morality, and the difficulty of concealment impedes the growth and the increase of the arrogance of vice.

The force of Greater New York in legislation and the administration of law, is something appalling to contemplate. Permanent antagonism between the Metropolis and the rest of the State will in itself be a demoralizing element. Yet unless the State watches this immense aggregation of heterogeneous peoples and cities, Greater New York may become a pervading source of corruption. If there be one tendency confirmed by history, it is that smaller cities imitate the greater, that towns imitate the smaller cities, and villages, the towns. Thus for good or ill the most populous centres become the controlling force.


The growth of organizations which are directed by women, wholly or chiefly devoted to reforms in civic conditions, has been paralleled by hardly any popular movement of recent years. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, although hardly more than a juvenile among other great organizations, is second to few of them in its potentiality for good.

Women's clubs are found everywhere, and, wherever found, for the most part represent a serious purpose to find and apply right remedies to existing civic and social evils. The Federation of Women's Clubs brings all of these local movements into harmonious efforts for the upbuilding of unselfish patriotism in the community and the highest virtue in the home. The National Health Protective a.s.sociation, whose second annual meeting was recently held in Philadelphia, has already made a record for itself, through its branches in many cities, which evidences not only a reason for its existence, but the capacity and success which women have brought to the solution of some of the most important problems of city life, such as protection from contagious diseases, the supply of pure water and pure milk, the prevention of food adulterations, improvements in tenement conditions, provisions affecting the health of working people, attention to the sick children of the very poor, and a score of equally important matters. The chairman of this organization is Mrs.

Etta Osgood of Portland, Maine, and its leading members include Dr.

Lozier of New York, Mrs. A. J. Perry of Brooklyn, Mrs. Theo. F. Seward of Orange, N. J., Mrs. Henry Birkenbine of Wayne, Pa., Mrs. L. E. Harvey of Dayton, O., Miss Florence Parsons of Yonkers, N. Y., Mrs. J. E Weiks of Buffalo, and Mrs. John H. Scribner of Philadelphia.

In the same city was also held, shortly after the meeting of the Health Protective a.s.sociation, the Triennial Convention of Working Women's Societies. This gathering of earnest women was notable for the keenness which its members brought to the discussion of questions affecting the interests of working women, and the equal sincerity of their desire to reach only just conclusions. Here is an opportunity for the bright women who are at the head of the Federation of Women's Clubs to establish reciprocal relations which will be fruitful in great good.


The third year of the National Reform League has been completed with results full of encouragement to the members of the various social organizations of which it is composed. Its annual meeting at Louisville, Ky., was attended by one hundred and fifty delegates. Much of the success of the widely extended work represented by this national organization is due to the persistent and unselfish activities of its able secretary, Mr. Clinton Rogers Woodruff, of the Philadelphia bar, who closed his address before the convention with these encouraging words:

In every direction the outlook is bright and promising, not of the immediate fulfilment of all the hopes and desires of those who are most deeply interested perhaps, but of substantial progress and steady growth. The sentiment for better government is gaining day by day. It is not a movement for a particular form of local government or of specific panaceas for munic.i.p.al evils, but rather one to bring the citizens, those who are primarily responsible, to a fuller appreciation and a more general discharge of the duties of citizenship--in short, a movement for citizenship reform. The indifference and apathy of the average voter have been a matter of general comment. To overcome this, and to replace it with that interest and that action without which no permanent reform can be accomplished, the realization that good government depends for its very existence upon good men, is the fundamental basis of munic.i.p.al reform. Charter revision, civil-service rules and regulations, fair elections, and an honest count and return are all important; but they depend for their success upon sound public opinion, and that depends upon good citizenship. Good laws are important; good citizenship is essential.

The Good Citizenship League of Minneapolis adds to the means of its increasingly useful work by the publication of a carefully edited little periodical under the t.i.tle of _Facts_, in which information that might not otherwise reach them in proper form is placed before all citizens.

E. F. Waite is President, and Alfred Sherlock, Secretary, with offices at 254 Hennepin Avenue.


Mr. Charles Richardson, vice-president of the National Munic.i.p.al League, in seeking the causes for the non-partic.i.p.ation of large taxpayers in efforts to secure good government in cities, finds the following among other reasons:

1st. Because they fear that their opposition to influential politicians may be punished by an increase in their a.s.sessments for taxation, or by a loss of custom or employment, or by some other action injurious to their personal or business interests.

2nd. Because as investors, employees, or otherwise, they have or hope to have some pecuniary interests in corporations, contracts, or offices, which would be much less profitable under a government too pure to be corrupted, and too intelligent to be outwitted.

3rd. Because they believe that it pays better in dollars and cents to submit to existing abuses than to expend the time and money required for a long and difficult series of political contests.

4th. Because they consider that national legislation affects their personal interests far more than any probable action of their local government, and that their national party must therefore be supported in its efforts to strengthen itself by securing complete control of local affairs.

5th. Because they believe the local machine of the opposition party is still worse than their own, and that to promote its success by wasting their votes on a third ticket would only be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

6th. Because they have no faith in the possibility of subjecting politics to the principles of common honesty, or public affairs to the methods of intelligent business.

This list is not complete, but it is sufficiently formidable to show that the progress of reform principles among the taxpayers must continue to be slow and difficult, unless city government can be made to appear much more important and interesting than it has. .h.i.therto seemed to be.


A writer in _Christian Work_, urging the importance of action such as the American Inst.i.tute of Civics is devoted to, says:

With the new way of looking at Government, and with new tasks imposed upon it, must come preparation for the grave responsibilities of the present and future. Old ideas linger after they have subserved their purposes. We are living in an industrial age. Especially is it true in a country like the United States that the ordinary pursuits of peace outweigh a hundredfold the interests of war. Nevertheless, we have our well-equipped academy at West Point to prepare young men for the army, and our excellent academy at Annapolis to prepare young men for the navy; but we have no civil academy to give men careful preparation for the civil service, which is of inestimably more importance to us than either the army or navy so far as ordinary, everyday life is concerned.

Even in his day, Washington saw the importance of a national university which should fulfil many of the purposes of such an academy. As a part of the remedy for trusts and combinations, and an important part, the writer would mention inst.i.tutions designed to give the most careful training in preparation for every branch of the civil service. This should go hand in hand with the enlargement of this service. The progress which has already been made in the reformation of our civil service is gratifying, but something far more than has yet been advocated by any civil-service-reform a.s.sociation is needed. As part of the general programme of the solution of the problem of monopoly, the development of the State universities of the country along the line of civics may be mentioned. Each State university should, in addition to other things, be a civil academy.


These are the words applied to an act of the Republican Governor of New York by one of the ablest and stanchest Republican journals of that State, the _Mail and Express_ of New York City. It goes on to say:

Gov. Black's approval of the bill to place the civil service of this State at the mercy of machine politics is a perversion of Republican principle and a betrayal of reform. There is not one legitimate public interest that this measure will benefit; not a single purpose of honest administration that it will strengthen, nor an object of sound party policy that it will help to accomplish.

The Governor's bill is a step backward from the advanced position of the party on the civil-service issue. It is a trick to nullify the merit principle in appointments to public office, and it opens the way for a full restoration of the spoils system. There is not a boss nor a machine politician in the State who does not indorse it.

There is not an intelligent supporter of honest civil service who will not denounce it.

The rank and file of the Republican party repudiate the Governor's bill and disclaim all responsibility for it. Party sentiment has spoken against it in unmistakable terms. The Governor's reflections upon those who opposed the bill are neither well grounded nor in good taste. They mean nothing save that he is sensitive to the criticism which his ill-advised measure has provoked--criticism which, it may truthfully be said, is abundantly warranted by the character of the bill itself as well as by his own amazing advocacy of the spoils system in the public service.

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The Arena Part 8 summary

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