Letter to the Parker Independent Clubs
To the Independent Voter
“The party that draws to its support the independent voters of the country, in addition to the full strength of the organization, is the party that wins at every national election”
An Open Letter
Printed and Distributed
THE PARKER INDEPENDENT CLUBS
38 Pine Street, N. Y.
Letter of Hon. Carl Schurz to the
Parker Independent Clubs
General Secretary Parker Independent Clubs
Dear Sir: I have received many invitations to address public meetings in the present election campaign, with which, I regret to say, I am unable to comply. But I have put on paper an expression of my views on some of the subjects at present under public discussion, and this I submit to you for such use as you may see fit to make of it.
Fifty years of political study and experience in this country have convinced me that if the American people mean to preserve the blessings of their free institutions, they must always keep in view certain truths.
The government of this Republic must be a government of law, not a government of adventure.
It must be a government for the general benefit, not a government of favor for the promotion of special interests.
It must be a government not permanently controlled by one political party, but by different parties alternating in the possession of power.
There never was a political party in a democracy, however virtuous it may have been at the start, that was not by long possession of power more or less corrupted and made arrogant and arbitrary.
The things most dangerous to this Republic are excessive party spirit, corruption and false patriotism, which is another name for national vanity, or greed under the guise of national pride.
The party spirit which regards party success not merely as a means to a higher end, but as the end itself, and which puts abject obedience to party behest above the moral law and the dictates of conscience, will, if it prevails, inevitably destroy the vitality of free institutions.
Whatever induces people to look to the Government for favors to advance their material fortunes, instead of relying upon their own independent energies, will tend to deteriorate the popular character.
Of all agencies of corruption, the farthest reaching and the most generally demoralizing is a system of policy by which the Government deals out benefits of pecuniary value to special interests, those favored interests then to support by pecuniary aid the party controlling the Government. This is corruption organized on a national scale.
A democracy working through universal suffrage cannot have too many conservative influences of high authority to guide popular sentiments and to protect it against misleading seductions. In this Republic the highest conservative influence consists in the traditional veneration by the people of the principles which justified our existence as an independent nation, and of the ideals for the gradual realization of which the Republic was founded. In the same measure that we lose this conservative influence of that tradition, the Republic will become a prey to disorderly passions, unprincipled greed and reckless demagogy.
The idea that a nation in its dealings with other nations is not bound by the moral code recognized between man and man, is in the highest degree dangerous to a democracy, because it insidiously confuses the popular conscience as to moral standards or obligations in all things.
Worship of wealth, of force, of power or of mere success, whether right or wrong, is in a democracy one of the most malignant distempers of the popular mind—one of the most prolific sources of anti-democratic tendencies.
In a democracy, not only constitutional principles, but also constitutional forms should be observed with particular conscientiousness; for laxity in the respect for constitutional forms will soon lead to disregard of constitutional principles, and then to arbitrary rule.
Nothing can be more seductive, demoralizing and perilous in a democracy than the adoption of the idea that the end justifies the means.
The degree of economy in public expenditures may be taken as the barometer of honesty in the public service. A lavish administration will always run into corruption.
These truisms—trite commonplaces you may call them—will be accepted by almost everybody in theory. They are but too recklessly overlooked in political practice, and can, therefore, not too often be recalled to popular attention. I, for one, deem it my duty as a citizen to keep them clearly in view when choosing between parties and candidates in casting my vote.
Tariff and Prosperity.
Having started out in public activity with the Republican party in the earliest days of its youth, I remained its enthusiastic adherent so long as it was the party of liberty and human rights—as it proudly called itself, “the party of moral ideas.” It is now something very different. It is more and more becoming a party owned by rich men who want to become, through it, still richer. While many of its leading men treat the principles of the Declaration of Independence—once its Magna Charta—with supercilious contempt, as antiquated nursery rhymes, the party speaks with rapture about our material prosperity and our growing wealth, boasts of them as the product of its policies and parades them as its main title to continued popular confidence and support.
The boast that the great advances of this country in wealth and prosperity were owing to the Republican policy of high protection is simply a slander on the American people. Our natural resources are so immense and the energy and ingenuity of American labor so exceptionally productive, that owing to the combination of these two tremendous factors the American people were bound to prosper and to grow rapidly in wealth under—or in spite of—any economic policy. The more I study the history of our economic development the more I become convinced that this country would have by this time been just as rich and prosperous as it is, had that development been permitted to take its natural course without any artificial protection. It would be healthier, too, as the human body is healthier when brought up, not on medicinal stimulants, but upon natural food. The economic activities would in some respects probably have taken different directions. The distribution of the product and accumulated wealth would probably have been different, too, and very likely more wholesome. People would have relied more upon their own energies and less upon the Government to make them rich. But, in my opinion at least, the aggregate production of wealth and the general state of popular prosperity would not have been less.
But, whether you agree with me in this academic view or not, upon one point, I am sure, I cannot fail to have the assent of every candid man: The idea that this country, of all known countries, the richest in natural resources, with its labor, the most intelligent, energetic and productive labor in the world, should need the highest protective tariff ever enacted in any civilized country to make our industries go and to save our people from ruin and starvation, is so wildly preposterous that I do not understand how any self-respecting man can utter it. And yet that is what we have the highest protective tariff of any civilized country a tariff which would have made Hamilton and Henry Clay stare in blank amazement. And this mere statement brands as equally preposterous the other audacious pretence—to the iteration of which, I regret to say, the President has recently again lent himself—that this tariff is needed, or that it is one of its main purposes, simply to offset, in favor of the American laboring man, the difference between American and foreign wages. No subterfuge could be more shameless. I will not go into detail. Let any intelligent man study the schedules of our tariff, and what will he find? He will look in vain for many protected industries that were satisfied with the comparative pittance of an offset for the difference between American and foreign wage scales, or, which is another thing, between American and foreign labor cost in manufactured goods. But he will find many a tariff rate that makes out of a method of raising revenue a monstrous machinery of extortion. He will find plenty of evidence to show him that when a large part of our tariff is denounced as “robbery,” the word may be rude, but not unjust, and that the tariff, by levying tribute upon the people, is promoting the unwholesome fungus growth of colossal private fortunes. And yet the economic aspect of the tariff question seems to me less ominous than its moral and political bearing.
Tariff and Corruption.
It is indeed time that the American people should open their eyes to the meaning of these notorious facts: “A large number of manufacturing establishments, as well as their allied interests, receive from the Government favors or benefits of great money value in the shape of protective tariff legislation. The political party which, when in power, confers those benefits of great money value, turns to the interests so benefited for pecuniary aid to support it in its efforts to keep itself in power, or to regain power if it had temporarily lost it. The protected interests give to the political party that pecuniary aid, of course, on the understanding that they continue to receive the old or greater favors of money value from the Government through the instrumentality of the political party in question. I know there are people who find this reciprocal arrangement perfectly natural and unobjectionable. They ask whether it is not quite proper that they should contribute money to keep in power the party which gives them laws enabling them to make more money, or that the party which they thus support with money should give them legislation to reimburse them with a profit. The question so put carries its answer with it. The very fact that some people call such a proceeding natural and unobjectionable only shows how that practice has confounded their moral principles. For what else is it than purchasing with money legislation that will give the purchaser more money? What else is it than corruption in the grossest and largest form? What else than a system of government based upon corruption? John Bright, one of the warmest friends this Republic ever had in England, and one of the best of men, once wisely said: “There is nothing in public affairs that tends more to make men dishonest than the system of protection. It was so in this country before our free trade era; it is so now in the United States.”
This political lewdness has already so much debauched the public mind that the corrupt business is done openly, without shame. The fact is notorious that the Republican party organization before every National election “fries the fat” out of its beneficiaries, with the understanding that the beneficiaries will be protected in the enjoyment of their benefits, if the yield of the frying process is satisfactory, and if not, not. The upshot is a combination of bribery and blackmail, carried on with hardly any concealment. In this very election campaign it has been the common talk how the protected interests and their affiliations—such as some of the Trusts and rich financial firms—are urged to make another money investment in the Republican party, with the prospect of a lucrative return.
The effect of such practices, raised to the dignity of a system, upon our public life is obvious. The “use of money in elections” is an old complaint which has troubled many a patriotic heart. But a generation ago the evil was a trifle compared with what it is now. The amount of money now needed by the Republican party for running a National campaign is enormous, and constantly increasing. I say “needed,” for as the constituencies have become accustomed to a lavish flow of money in the political market, and as the appetite grows with eating, the baneful evil grows in virulence from election to election. And this appalling spreading of the old abuse is distinctly owing to that economic policy which required a national system of corruption, methodically organized on the grandest of scales, to enable the beneficiaries of government favor to secure themselves in the enjoyment of their benefits. Nor is it hazardous to predict that this evil will grow and grow, and bring forth still more direful results, unless we put a stop to that economic policy.
Here I may be asked whether there is not also corruption in places where the Opposition, the Democratic party, rules. Unquestionably there is altogether too much of it. But that corruption is local, sporadic, subject to be attacked and put down by the action of local sentiment. But as it must be recognized to be, it is not inherent in a system of national policy. It is not entrenched in immensely powerful interests upheld by the Government. It has brought forth nothing like the condition of things existing in that state in which the worship of the fetich of the protective tariff seems almost to have altogether overruled the moral law, and which by an observant writer of great ability has with terrible force been described as “corrupt and contented.” Thus Democratic corruption, however noxious, can be reached and overcome by local forces. The Republican corruption, as organized by the combination of protected interests on a national scale, can never be overcome so long as the policy of high protection prevails.
This corruption will be all the more firmly rooted as the protective policy more and more develops its tendency to strengthen on the political field the power of wealth as such. We all have observed that of late years the appearance of very rich men in political positions has become strikingly frequent. Nothing could be farther from me than to object to the participation of rich men in politics if their wealth is coupled with strong public spirit and ability. On the contrary, I heartily welcome it. But what I do observe with apprehension is the preference given by political organizations to rich men for no other reason than that they are rich; to the money “barrel” because it can feed a machine or float a candidate; to the filling of places of influence and authority with rich men (or their agents) who are naturally bent upon serving first of all their own interests. This is the way to build up a plutocracy—as it would be in our case, not a plutocracy of old and settled wealth possibly sharing with the true aristocracy a sense of honorable obligation to the community, but the worst sort of plutocrats—a plutocracy sharply looking to the profitableness of its political investments—a plutocracy “on the make.” Of this kind of plutocracy our protective tariff policy has already given us a smart beginning, and may a kind fate save us from the full development of it!
Do I expect the Democratic party, if successful, promptly to repress the evils of the protective policy? I see at present no other instrumentality by which that work can be put in practical motion, and I do, indeed, expect the Democratic party in partial possession of the Government—the Republican Senate being in any event for a season in a position to obstruct changes in the tariff laws—to uncover to the eyes of the whole people the iniquities of the system, to avail itself of every legal possibility to relieve its rigors, and thus to start the reformatory movement with vigor and in an enlightened spirit—in one word, to prepare the field for the final overthrow of that stronghold of corruption and tyrannical rapacity. Do not the Republicans by implication admit the wrongfulness of the system by holding out a vague promise of reform? Yes, partial reform “by its friends.” What does that mean? Do we not know that every revision of the tariff “by its friends” has resulted, if in anything, not in a reduction, but in a raising of tariff duties, thus increasing the evil instead of lessening it? Let us not deceive ourselves. If this abuse is to be undone, the power must be put into the hands of those who mean to undo it, not in the hands of its beneficiaries or their agents, who mean to preserve it. To this end the Republican party must be defeated.
It deserves defeat for another reason no less weighty. The Republican party stands no longer, as it once did, for the great ideal of a democracy embodying the principles of the Declaration of Independence and presenting the example of a mighty people under a government not only free and peaceable at home, but also true to its principles in the just and generous treatment of other peoples, great and small—an example inspiring others with love of liberty, respect for human rights and confidence in democratic institutions. Its ideal is now a great “world power,” governing foreign lands and alien populations by arbitrary rule, and asserting its position among the other powers of the world by the number of its battleships. In the world abroad those struggling for free government no longer look to this Republic for encouragement by sympathy, example and teaching; the question asked, not without misgiving, is rather, how far the lust of conquest and the impulse of adventurous ambition will carry this great American Republic in its new career. Should not true American patriotism grieve to witness the degradation?
Not many years ago the American people enjoyed a proud and inestimable privilege which enabled us to look down upon the greatest nations of the world with condescending sympathy. It was that while those nations were groaning under the burden of vast and costly armaments, believed by them to be indispensable for their safety, the American people was the only one happily exempt from such a necessity—the only one that could, and did, employ its resources of men and means with a sense of full security for the physical, mental and moral betterment of its country and the inhabitants thereof, instead of sinking them in the building up and maintenance of enormous and unproductive war establishments. We were, indeed, the envy of the whole world.
The best minds of other nations exerted—and still exert—themselves to discover ways to bring about gradually a general disarmament, but are met by the objection that while disarmament would indeed be a blessing devoutly to be wished, England must have the biggest war-fleet in the world to prevent the calamity of being blockaded and starved in her insular position; that France must maintain the largest possible armament on account of the possible hostility of her neighbor, Germany, and that Germany must have the same because of her being hedged in by powerful and possibly hostile neighbors. But for these and other similarly plausible reasons, the demand for an effectual reduction of burdens caused by the great armaments would become soon so overwhelming in the Old World that no government could resist it.
And now, while European nations moan under their burdens, and vainly sigh to lighten them, we, who for the better part of a century have been the envy of the world for enjoying the blessed privilege of not bearing such a burden, throw away that inestimable blessing as if it were not worth consideration. Nobody objects to our keeping a little army, with its appurtenances, as a nucleus for larger organizations in case of necessity, and a smart and efficient little navy to perform our part of the police of the seas. But we are told that we must have a much larger army than we had twenty years ago, and especially a much bigger navy—aye, as the present Secretary of the Navy tells us, we must have the biggest navy in the world. Indeed, we are actually engaged in building a navy which, if the building goes on at the present rate, will soon burden the American people with a load of naval expenses heavier than that under which any other nation is groaning. Our navy cost us this year and last year about one hundred millions. Considering that, owing to the rapid progress of invention in our days, the modern ship of war, originally built at enormous cost, is apt to become antiquated before it is long in service, and that the navy to be good for anything must be kept “up to date,” the annual expense, even in time of peace, is more liable to increase than to grow less. Our expenditures in times of peace for war armaments actually threaten to become larger and the pecuniary burdens heavier than those of any European state.
What reason is there for this? The United States are not, like England, a little island that might be starved by a blockade, and require, therefore, a large navy for defence. We have not, like Germany and France, powerful neighbors whose hostility might become dangerous. In both these respects we are perfectly safe. Or is there lurking anywhere else in the world a hostile power whose attack we might have to fear? Where is it? Where is the cloud of possible war that might oblige us to watch for our safety armed to the teeth? Where is the danger that forces us to shoulder the fearful burdens under which the backs of European nations are bending, and which nobody but a fool would bear unless constrained by necessity?
But we are told that we must have a large armament to protect our foreign commerce. Must we? When and where was it that our foreign commerce ever suffered for want of a large navy? Before our civil war we had a merchant fleet, and an ocean carrying-trade rivaling that of any nation of the world, while our fleet of war-ships was infinitesimal. Was our foreign commerce ever seriously molested for want of armed protection? Our export trade is constantly growing. We are successfully competing in foreign markets with other nations—notably with England. England is very largely our superior in battleships and guns. Is it our war-fleet that enables us to compete with her so successfully in the foreign market, or is it not rather the fact that our peaceable industries furnish some articles cheaper and better than hers?
Or is it true, as we are told, that we need a great armament to “uphold the Monroe Doctrine”? The Monroe Doctrine is now more than three-quarters of a century old. Has it ever been violated because we did not defend it with big guns? The only attempt against it was the invasion of Mexico by the French Emperor, Louis Napoleon, during our civil war. Nothing can be more certain than that but for our civil war Louis Napoleon would never have dared to touch the American continent, and that, when from that civil war our Union issued with confirmed assurance of its permanence, it required not the army we had at that time, but a mere nod of Uncle Sam's head, to make the French Emperor take to his heels. Does any one doubt it? The close of our civil war and the disbandment of our forces were followed by a long revival of peace, during which we were substantially without army and navy. Did any Old-World power make any attempt to break through the Monroe Doctrine, although they were armed and we were not? Nay, it was during that very period when the strongest and proudest sea power of the world, Great Britain, submitted to that terrible humiliation of her pride, the Alabama settlement, rather than run into a serious quarrel with the restored Union. Nor did any other power show the least disposition to risk such a quarrel, although some of them may have disliked our Monroe Doctrine, or this Republic generally, ever so much.
And why did they not? For the simple reason, among others, that, although they were armed and we were not, they all knew that they—not one of them—could afford to risk a serious quarrel with the United States. They all knew, and know now, that this is a country of very great wealth, and practically inexhaustible resources in men and means; that the Americans are a people not only strong in numbers, but of exceptional ingenuity, energy and enterprise, and of a patriotic spirit that shuns no sacrifice; that this Republic, on its continental fastness, is impregnable, if not substantially unassailable; that a strong and daring enemy might perhaps, at the beginning of a war, at best succeed in scratching our edges, but no more; that such a war, in the worst case for us, would be a long one, but, owing to our immense staying power, at last a hopeless one for our enemy, as to the final result; that by such a war the resources of our Old-World enemy would be taxed to the utmost, and that meanwhile he would, being to his whole capacity engaged with us, be at the mercy of his possibly hostile neighbors at home. This, leaving all other considerations aside, is the reason why no Old-World power will think of going to war with us, unless kicked into it by some absolutely unendurable provocation on our part. They will, on the contrary, readily, even with alacrity, concede to us every right that we can justly claim, every demand that we can decently make, to secure our good-will. Have we not of late years, at times with some astonishment, witnessed the spectacle of some of them fairly running a race for our friendship? And now we must have no end of battleships, at whatever cost, to protect the Monroe Doctrine against them!
But—as we are told without ceasing—we are now a great world-power, and as a great world-power we are bound to have a great navy. Of all the humbugs of the day—and there are many—the aberration that this Republic has but recently issued as a great world-power from our Spanish war is perhaps the most audacious. What is a world-power? A power whose voice is listened to in the councils of nations with respect and deference, and which by word or act exercises an important influence in the development of the great affairs of mankind. It was perhaps half a hundred years ago when Richard Cobden called this Republic the greatest power on earth. At that time we did not think of having a great army or navy. This power was not first revealed by the fights around Santiago. By its very birth this Republic gave a mighty impulse to liberal movements in the old world. In its early childhood it put its strong hand upon the piratical practices of the Barbary States, although our war-fleet hardly counted among the navies of Europe. About the middle of the last century it took a leading part in the abolition of the Danish Sound dues. In the second half of the last century it opened Japan to the world. Throughout all this time it made very valuable additions to the recognized rules of international law. All this with only a few regiments on land and a few frigates on the sea. Have we given worthier evidence of being a great world-power since?
Surely I want this Republic to be a great world-power—a greater world-power than it is now, or than it can be made by armies and navies ever so gigantic. The way to accomplish this is simple: Let this Republic present to the world the most encouraging example of a great people governing themselves in liberty, justice and peace, and let its dealings with all other nations, great and small, strong and weak, be so obviously just and fair, so patient and forbearing, so mindful not only of their rights, but also of their self-respect, so free from all arrogance or humiliating assertion of superior strength, that nobody can doubt its generous unselfishness, and that, whenever a mediator is wanted for the adjustment of international differences, this Republic will be looked up to as the natural arbiter. Then it will be in the noblest sense a great world-power—indeed, the grandest world-power mankind has ever known.
How ignoble, how unspeakably vulgar, appears by the side of this conception the idea that the American Republic should assert its position as a great power by swaggering about among the nations of the earth as the big battleship bully, carrying a chip on his shoulder and demanding his rights on the strength of the fist which he shakes under everybody's nose!
The ideal of the great world-power which this Republic should be, as I have described it, is no mere figment of fancy, no mere dream impossible of realization. To accomplish it we have only to return with full sincerity to the principles and ideals to which this Republic owed its origin. We have only to take again as our guide that solemn admonition—nowadays so thoughtlessly slighted by giddy youths—Washington's Farewell Address, the wisest counsel ever left to his people by a great patriot. We have only to stop thinking of the conquest of other peoples lands and goods, and aim instead at the conquest of their esteem and confidence, which will be not only a more honorable, but, even commercially speaking, a much more valuable asset in the long run. We have only to convince the world that we do not worship at the shrine of physical force, that barbarous relic of the past; but that we cherish only the moral power of genuine civilization and true progress, which are to open to mankind a happier future. I say this at a moment when the newspapers are filled with reports of the conflict going on in the Far East—one of the most horrible butcheries recorded in history, which, instead of inflaming by its horrors the fighting spirit among nations, should—and, I trust, will—demonstrate to them the downright atrocity, the hideous criminality of war, and the absolute necessity of preventing any resort to it by every means the humane spirit of our civilization can suggest.
No, this ideal I have described is not impossible of realization. Indeed, we actually approached that realization when, in putting an end to Spanish rule in Cuba, we promised that Cuba should not be our conquest, but a self-governing republic, and when, in a great measure at least, we fulfilled that promise. The outside world, which had cynically doubted the sincerity of that promise, pricked up its ears and came very near believing that such an act on our part might really have been inspired by a generous, self-sacrificing desire to liberate another people from despotic rule, without any selfish scheme in the background. How glorious would it have been had this incipient belief in our disinterested magnanimity been sustained and strengthened by what followed! What a pity that while we kept our promise in point of form by not seizing Cuba, we straightway violated it in spirit by making that Spanish war a war of conquest after all, in which, excepting Cuba, we grabbed for ourselves pretty much everything we could lay our hands on! We went even so far as to present to the world the appalling spectacle of shooting down in the Philippines those who had been our allies in the war against Spain, in order to get possession of their country and to subject them to our arbitrary rule, and we called the process in unctuous phrase “benevolent assimilation.” In the war we made upon these late allies hundreds of thousands of them lost their lives, and their homes were burnt and their lands devastated far and wide; and this we pretended to be necessary to keep them from hurting one another in anarchical convulsions which would—as we said, and now say—certainly follow if they were left free. And then we established our colonial system, in which we govern alien and subjected populations by our autocratical rule—foreign rule to them—regulating for them “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as it may please us, their foreign conquerors, their sovereign lords and masters. And all this while we know, and hardly any one disputes, that almost every man, woman and child in the Philippines at heart hates the foreign ruler and yearns for independence.
Thus the Republican party, which owed its existence to its belief in the Declaration of Independence, has before all the world hauled down that banner of our faith and has hoisted in its stead the flag of conquest and arbitrary dominion over subject populations. I am well aware of the philanthropic cloak in which this autocratic rule is wrapped—how it is all for the benefit of our subjects, how we intend to make them free and rich and contented, if they behave themselves. It is the talk of autocrats from time immemorial. I will not question the good faith of the rulers of to-day. But the rulers of to-day will not be the rulers of to-morrow or the day after. The fact remains that this is autocracy, that this autocracy is to determine how much freedom and what kind of government the subject is to have, and that it will determine this according to its own changing pleasure and its temporary conception of its own interests. And when the strugglers for free government—or for “government by the consent of the governed,” which is the same thing—look from their fields of endeavor throughout the world to this Republic for example, guidance and encouragement, our Republican leaders will tell them that we have bravely got over that baby talk about the “consent of the governed,” and that we are lustily engaged in exercising arbitrary government, the powers of which are derived from musketry and cannon.
Some time ago a most imposing array of the intelligence and moral sense of the country coming from the universities, the churches, the bench, the bar, the learned professions and other honorable callings petitioned the Republican National Convention that it should declare itself in favor of an early promise of independence to the people of the Philippines. The petition was not deemed worthy of respectful consideration. Ever since the spokesmen of the Republican party, the President at their head, have been busy hunting up reasons for not making that promise. Had they been equally intent upon finding reasons for making it, they would have discovered that it would be no less easy to recognize the independence of the Philippines than it was to recognize the independence of Cuba; that the cry that the American flag must never be hauled down is a vain and foolish cry, and that the flag was never more glorious than when it was hauled down from Morro Castle at Havana.
Here, then, is what has become of the great Republican party—once the party of liberty and human rights, the party of moral ideas: It has become the advocate and servant of a combination of pecuniary interests, in maintaining a high protective tariff going far beyond its professed objects, despoiling the many for the benefit of a few, and striving to keep itself in power by a system of corruption organized on a national scale. It has by a policy of adventure, conquest and arbitrary rule over subject nations set aside the fundamental principles upon which this Republic was founded, and thus dangerously weakened in our democracy the highest conservative influence—the popular adherence to our traditional doctrines and ideals. It has robbed the American people of the inestimable privilege of being exempt from the burden of enormous armaments under which other nations are groaning, by imposing, without the slightest necessity, similar burdens on our backs. It has thereby not only ceased to countenance and inspirit the efforts made in favor of the direction of general disarmament, but, disquieting other powers by our building a great war-fleet quite superfluous except for aggressive purposes, it is inciting them to follow suit, thus speeding the ruinous race and ranging the American republic among the instigators of a retrogressive tendency hostile to true civilization.
We may now ask ourselves whether the character of the Republican candidate for the Presidency redeems the character of the party. I know President Roosevelt well. I have known him well since, as a very young man, he entered public life, and I have watched his career, not only with the concern of an interested citizen, but also with the warm sympathy of a personal friend. His exuberant spirits, his bright intelligence, his generous impulses, his gay combativeness and the bubbling vivacity of his contempts and his enthusiasms made him an exceedingly attractive personality; and those who observed the courage and ability with which, as a young member of the New York legislature, he plunged into the fight against existing abuses in the public service and in party management, might well have hoped that he would develop into a dauntless and unselfish, and at the same time a wise, champion of the highest ideals of public morals and of practical statesmanship, whose lead every patriotic citizen could follow with unreserved confidence. And when, after an examination of his later career, conducted with the sympathetic desire to view everything in the most favorable light, I have now to form, for myself, the conclusion that in very important respects those high expectations have been disappointed, and that implicit confidence would be dangerously misplaced, I make that confession with genuine sorrow.
There are two Roosevelt's in the field—the ideal, the legendary Roosevelt, as he once appeared, and as many people imagine him still to be; and the real Roosevelt, as he has since developed. There are no doubt many good citizens who think of voting for Roosevelt, having the legendary Roosevelt in mind; but they will do well to consider that, if elected, the real Roosevelt will be President. The legendary Roosevelt was he who not only abhorred and denounced immoral practices in the public concerns, but would never condone them or compromise with them; who from the bottom of his heart hated and despised spoils-politics and spoils politicians, party machines and party bosses; who would have scorned to countenance them and to associate his interests or endeavors with theirs for his party's advantage; who rather bid defiance to them, and would strain every nerve to fight and utterly annihilate their influence upon our public life—a sort of second St. George, killing the dragon of corruption and other iniquities with his mighty lance. It was, by the way, the same legendary Roosevelt who in his writings rejected the protective tariff system as unjust and injurious, and who condemned a colonial policy involving the acquisition of distant lands and alien populations to be governed by arbitrary rule as incompatible with our fundamental principles and un-American.
After his election to the governorship of New York, and, later, after his accession to the Presidency of the United States, the legendary Roosevelt appeared in strong phrase in his frequent addresses to the public. No governor, and, certainly, no President, has ever more earnestly admonished the people in numberless discourses with untiring iteration and in more emphatic language that, to be good and useful citizens, we must, above all things, conduct ourselves with “honesty, courage and good sense.” There never was a more demonstrative advocate, in speech, of that “militant honesty” which will not only carefully abstain from wrongdoing but will mercilessly denounce and stamp out dishonesty wherever it can be reached. Nobody ever condemned with holier scorn and abhorrence the self-seekers in politics, “those sinister beings who batten on the evils of our political system,” and “the corrupt politician who is the real and dangerous foe,” and that “dreadful thing which consists in condoning misconduct in a public man,” and that “shame” in our politics which “deifies mere success with out regard to the moral qualities lying behind it.”
It might surely have been expected of the man whose righteous impulses were so strong that he could hardly find language emphatic enough to express them—that he would, when in places of authority, never think of countenancing those mean and dangerous creatures, and that he would use his whole power to crush their influence for mischief; that when governor of New York he would leave no rightful means untried to uproot the iniquitous and demoralizing bossdom of Platt in his State; that he would lose no proper opportunity to discountenance Boss Quay of Pennsylvania, who stood for everything that was iniquitous, demoralizing and tyrannical in politics; that he would be anxious to demonstrate his utter disgust with such a creature as Addicks, who has openly invaded a State with his corruption fund to buy a seat in the Senate; that he would at least keep his Cabinet clear of men of questionable political character, and so on.
This might confidently have been expected; but what did we see? As governor of New York Mr. Roosevelt indeed promised a good civil service law and made many good appointments, but he consulted Boss Platt about public matters with a regularity which amounted to a recognition of bossdom as a legitimate institution. Whatever he may have granted or denied to the boss, nothing can be more certain than the fact that when Mr. Roosevelt ceased to be governor of his State, the power of the boss was not shaken in the least, but rather strengthened by Mr. Roosevelt's implied recognition. And this continued while he was President. And there was Quay, the most unscrupulous and despotic boss of them all—called by President Roosevelt his “stanch and loyal friend,” but who was also his influential friend, for if Quay did not wholly control under President Roosevelt the whole federal patronage in Pennsylvania, he controlled enough to maintain his absolute boss rule over that State entirely unimpaired—indeed, rather fortified by the prestige of President Roosevelt's friendship.
And there is the unspeakable Addicks, the would-be purchaser of the State of Delaware, whom the legendary Roosevelt would have spewed out of his mouth with such energy that all the world would have been thrilled with his loathing of the unclean thing, but now treated by the real Roosevelt with the gentleness of friendly neutrality, giving his heelers some patronage and his opponents some, so that either may pretend to have his countenance, and that President Roosevelt's apologists have hard work to prove that he is not Addicks' active ally.
And there is Postmaster-General Payne, whose only distinction in public life was that of a lobbyist and a skillful and not over-nice political pipelayer and wire-puller, whose appointment to the control of the great patronage department of the Government, which has the largest field for political dicker, would have fitted the Cabinet of a political schemer in the Presidential chair, but not the Cabinet of the legendary Roosevelt. Mr. Payne showed his true colors when he tried at the start to discredit and to whistle down the inquiry into the corruption festering in his department.
And there is Mr. J. M. Clarkson, whom the legendary Roosevelt once denounced as one of the most obnoxious of spoils politicians in office, and whom the real Roosevelt, when President, made surveyor of the port of New York, an officer having much to do with patronage.
And there is Mr. “Lou” Payn, whom Governor Roosevelt once, for good reason, thrust out of the office of State insurance commissioner, and whom Mr. Elihu Root characterized as a man who for many years had been a stench in the nostrils of the people of the State of New York, and who was recently called to the White House as President Roosevelt's enemy, but issued from the White House as President Roosevelt's friend and supporter, praising President Roosevelt as a “great politician who had changed wonderfully,” and who must and will be reflected.
Here I will stop. The most notorious instances suffice for illustration. It was said of President Cleveland that good citizens “loved him for the enemies he had made.” I apprehend it may be said of President Roosevelt that we have to distrust him for the friends he has made. It is an experience as old as the world, that the friendship of good men is freely given when deserved, but that the friendship of the wicked has its price. When we find President Roosevelt in the company of such men we are far from suspecting that he loves such company, and we must not forget that characters of this kind will hang on the skirts of every Administration and offer their services while pursuing their own selfish aims. But I cannot admit what Secretary Taft offers in defence of President Roosevelt, that “were he to ostracize, so far as conference with him is concerned, the members of his party whom the Mugwumps do not approve, he would divide his party, tie his hands and destroy utterly his power for usefulness to the country.”
In the first place I must protest against the injustice Mr. Taft does the President by suggesting that only the Mugwumps possess the honesty to disapprove of the Platts and Quays and Paynes, leaving it to be inferred that Mr. Roosevelt does not disapprove of them. In the second place the question is whether the price he pays for the service they render is, as to the public good, not larger than the value of the service he received from them.
Machines and Bosses.
Ours being to a large extent a government by party, it is of the highest importance that our party organizations should as such be true representatives of the principles and opinions cherished by their members, and not mere machines composed in the main of mercenaries, and commanded by bosses for such purposes as they may entertain. The development of the party organization into the machine and of the party leader into the boss has become one of the most dangerous evils threatening the working of our free institutions of government. Just here lies one of the most portentous problems of our political life—a problem from the solution of which it may depend whether this is to remain a democracy of real freemen governing themselves according to their intelligence and moral sense, or a mere battlefield for the contests of various unprincipled and rapacious party despotisms fighting for spoil. Every clear-sighted man knows this, and, no doubt, Mr. Roosevelt does.
To attack this machine-and-boss system in official position requires moral courage. Such courage an ordinary politician in the Presidency may not be expected to possess. But Mr. Roosevelt cannot object if he is judged by the standards he has set up for himself. When a champion enters the lists with so proud a flourish of trumpets about his courage and “militant honesty,” it may well be hoped that he will boldly, and at some risk, undertake the task of using the best of his power to stem the growth of an evil which, unless checked, will become fatal to the very life of our democratic government.
Now, what do we see? It is not the slightest exaggeration to say that in boss-and-machine-ridden States the boss-and-machine system flourishes to-day as if Theodore Roosevelt had never been governor of New York or President of the United States. In New York, by a sort of palace revolution, a new boss has displaced the old one, and it is still a question whether the new boss is not the worse of the two. In Pennsylvania, the old boss having died, the filling of his place by a successor of the same kind is a matter of course. The system itself is exactly the same; it is steadily spreading over other States, and it is growing intrinsically stronger by President Roosevelt's recognition of its power. Pointing at him, the ordinary machine politician may now say, “You talk about the boss and the machine with great disrespect. You want to abolish them. Look at this President. He was the loudest of reformers. He did no end of preaching about ‘courage’ and ‘militant honesty’ as the cardinal virtues. No sooner does he get into positions of power than he acts very much like other people in trading with the bosses and the machines. He needs their aid and cooperation, and, instead of fighting their power, he admits and recognizes it. Now, what have you to say?” Yes, what have we to say?
President Roosevelt has done many good things, but certainly none through the aid and cooperation of the bosses and the machines that could compensate for the injury he has done to democratic institutions and good government by the encouragement given by him to the most pernicious element in our political life. It is a serious setback to a reform movement when a conspicuous reformer, placed in a position of power, in any important point fails to conform his action to his professed principles.
Roosevelt and the Trusts.
We observe a similar lack of mettle in Mr. Roosevelt's attitude concerning the tariff and the Trusts. Whether the early opinions expressed by him adverse to protection were well matured or not, he was, when he became President, undoubtedly and naturally, struck by the idea that it was time to reduce the most exorbitant rates of the Dingley tariff, and, especially, that the aid given by the protective tariff to the Trusts in perfecting their respective monopolies must be withdrawn. He repeatedly gave expression to such sentiments, and discussed various methods to accomplish such ends. Indeed, it might have been thought that a bold and unyielding attack upon the monster of monopoly would particularly tempt his chivalrous courage. His Administration did indeed institute legal proceedings, in one case successfully, against monopolistic combinations, but it has, so far, accomplished nothing tangible as to the stopping of the extortions practiced upon the people by the Trusts which—especially the manufacturing Trusts—touch the general public most nearly. These Trusts are not very much afraid of restrictive laws and legal proceedings, for they have almost boundless ingenuity of evasion at their command. What most of them, and indeed the worst of them, really fear is to be deprived of the benefit the tariff gives them in protecting them against foreign competition; and thus aiding them in establishing and maintaining their home monopoly. That firm protectionist, the late John Sherman, freely admitted this, and, although he was a rather timid statesman, he pronounced himself in favor of withdrawing tariff protection from Trust-made articles.
When President Roosevelt publicly professed similar sentiments a significant spectacle presented itself. At once, as the newspapers elaborately reported, political magnates, champions of the high-protective system, swooped down upon him, as was generally believed, to convince him of the politically and otherwise perilous character of such heresy. Whether the stories told were true or not, certain it is that President Roosevelt has become a convert to protectionism of the highest kind, “standing pat” on the tariff as it is, to be revised only “by its friends.” The surrender is complete, and this surrender has led Mr. Roosevelt to abandon—no, not only to abandon, but positively to oppose and to denounce— the policy which of all policies proposed would be surest to hurt the Trusts in their really vulnerable point. And he covers this surrender with an argument which, I regret to say, looks like a subterfuge.
He says in substance that if we withdraw tariff protection from Trust-made articles we shall, indeed, by making their production less profitable, hurt the Trusts, but we shall at the same time hurt, and probably ruin, the smaller establishments which manufacture the same articles in competition with the Trusts; and this must not be done.
But Mr. Roosevelt leaves out of due consideration that the Trust and the small competitor are not the only parties concerned in this business. There is a third party whose interests are infinitely more important. This third party is the general public. The general public suffer from the extortions to which the Trusts have subjected them, and justly demand to be relieved of those extortions. The withdrawal of tariff protection from the Trust-made goods would inevitably force down the extortionate prices, and thus afford that relief, and it is cruelly unjust to deny this boon to the people on the singular ground that by depriving the Trusts of their tyrannical power we might also possibly hurt a comparatively small number of persons competing with them. Thus, by opposing the policy which would be most sure effectually to weaken the Trusts, President Roosevelt has actually arrayed himself on the side of monopoly against the people. He may yet have to learn that in serving high protection he serves a set of hard, grasping, merciless taskmasters, who will make him do things which the legendary Roosevelt never would have dreamed of. I do not think it impossible that even the present Roosevelt, if kept in power, will be driven to rebel against their exactions, and that he may then return to the views and purposes of earlier and better days.
Roosevelt and War Spirit.
Indeed, I have such faith in the original goodness of his impulses that I deem him capable of abandoning again any of the wrong ways he has lately taken, except one. And there something stands in the way for which he is not responsible: his temperament, which is altogether too strong for his reason. He is a born fighter in the extremest sense. Nobody ever delighted in the joy of the conflict more heartily than he—not only the conflict of mind against mind, but also—and perhaps even more—the conflict of physical force against physical force. Nobody has ever been more earnest and eloquent than he in extolling the glories, the enthusiasm and the morally elevating influences of war. His demand for “strenuosity” was never quite satisfied with the peaceable achievements by the American people in transforming this vast continent from a wilderness into an abode of civilization. Neither would a strenuous but peaceable application of the mental, moral and physical forces of the American people to the solution of their home problems quite content him. No, in the background of his strenuous dreams there lurk always great conflicts somewhere, conflicts of great armies and navies, in which we are to take part and for which we must be prepared. He apprehends that “if we ever grow to regard peace as a permanent condition” the “keen, fearless, virile qualities of heart, mind and body will sink into disuse.” His constant tongue-lashings of the “coward,” the “craven” and the “weakling,” that is, persons who would not fight unless it was quite necessary, had a somewhat boyish sound, but came from his heart. He dropped them only when by too frequent iteration they had fallen into ridicule. Most characteristic was the utterance which as Assistant Secretary of the Navy he addressed to the Naval War College in which he said: “No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumph of war”; and, “Scant attention is paid to the coward or weakling who babbles for peace.” And quite in keeping with such warcries, unprecedented in the mouth of a President of the United States, was, at the equally unprecedented review of the navy near President Roosevelt's country house, the no less unprecedented Presidential utterance: “There are many public servants whom I hold in high esteem, but there are no others whom I hold in quite the esteem I do the officers and enlisted men of the army and navy of the United States.” There is an abounding record of similar deliverances made by him when President.
I know that, on the other hand, President Roosevelt has frequently assured us that he is really a friend of peace and that he wants a larger army and a very large navy merely to make peace more secure by their formidable appearance. We are told that, while President, he has, in point of fact, not precipitated us into a war, and that in the Venezuela case—which, however, was not our quarrel—he favored a reference to the Hague Tribunal, thereby strengthening that court of peace—which is true, and for which he recently received from a distinguished foreign statesman a deserved, very proper and very handsome compliment. And meanwhile members of the President's Cabinet go about the country picturing before wondering audiences Mr. Roosevelt as a person as meek and gentle as Mary's little lamb.
It behooves us as American citizens, before performing the solemn duty of giving the republic a new President, to evolve from such conflicting evidence, most of which is given by Mr. Roosevelt himself, a calm and conscientious judgment. In expressing my own opinion, I am sure I do so with a sincere desire not to be unjust to a man possessing so many estimable and attractive qualities, but with the equally sincere desire to serve the best interests of the country. I do not deem President Roosevelt capable of seeking an opportunity for plunging the country into a foreign war merely to gratify his ambition or to give play to his fighting spirit. But I do think that whenever there are two ways of deciding a matter of controversy—one the slow, patient, diplomatic, peaceable way, and the other the short cut by the use of force—Mr. Roosevelt will be temperamentally inclined to choose the short cut, and it will require with him an uncommonly strong effort of self-restraint to resist that inclination, which effort, if made at all, is not always successful.
The Panama affair is a case in point. Well-nigh everybody in this country desired the building of an inter-oceanic canal. Congress passed an act, the so-called Spooner act of June 28, 1902, authorizing the President to negotiate for the acquisition of the property of the Panama Canal Company and for the control of the necessary territory of the republic of Colombia on which that property was situated, and directing the President, if he should fail in making the desired arrangements upon reasonable terms, then to negotiate for the acquisition of the necessary territory in Costa Rica and Nicaragua for the building of the so-called Nicaragua Canal. The President accordingly made a treaty with the republic of Colombia, the so-called Hay-Herran Treaty, which was subject to the approval of the Senate of the republic of Colombia, as well as of our own. Our Senate approved but the Senate of Colombia rejected that treaty. Thereupon, President Roosevelt did not, as the law expressly commanded him, enter into negotiations for the building of the Nicaragua Canal, but, when a so-called “revolution” broke out in the state of Panama, declaring its secession from the republic of Colombia, of which it formed constitutionally a part, just as the States of New York and Pennsylvania form parts of the United States, President Roosevelt promptly recognized the independence of Panama, not only without waiting to see whether the republic of Colombia was able to suppress the rebellion, but actually preventing her from making the attempt by forbidding her to transport troops to the scene of the conflict in Panama, and enforcing his command by the presence of some of our warships and landing troops. He then made a treaty with the “republic of Panama,” providing for the building of the Panama Canal by the United States.
By so acting, President Roosevelt in the first place violated the law directing him, in case of the failure of the negotiation with the republic of Colombia, to negotiate for the building of the Nicaragua Canal. In the second place he trampled under foot the principle for the maintenance of which we sacrificed in four years of bloody civil war nearly a million of human lives and many thousands of millions of dollars—namely, that principle that under a federal constitution like ours—and the existing constitution of Colombia is in this respect very much like ours, perhaps even a little stronger—a State has no right to secede from the Union. Let us hope that the precedent thus recklessly set by President Roosevelt may never come home to roost. In the third place, he not only recognized the right of secession, but he recognized also the independence of the seceded state without giving the federal government the slightest chance to enforce its lawful authority in the rebellious community—in fact, he interfered with a mailed hand to prevent it from doing so, thus committing what was practically an act of war against Colombia. Again, it is worth while to remember that during our civil war we desperately protested against any such conduct on the part of any foreign state, and again we have reason devoutly to express our hope that this precedent so recklessly set by President Roosevelt may not come home to roost.
In the fourth place, in doing all this he flagrantly violated the provisions of a solemn treaty, the treaty of 1846, in which Colombia guarantees to the Government and citizens of the United States free transit across the isthmus from sea to sea, and as compensation for the favors and advantages received, “The United States guarantee, in the same manner, the rights of sovereignty and property which New Granada now has and possesses over the said territory.” “Guarantee” is a strong word, and there can be no doubt as to what was “guaranteed” by the United States in this treaty; it was “the rights of sovereignty and property possessed by Colombia over the territory of Panama.” This guarantee was glaringly violated by President Roosevelt's cooperation with the rebels of Panama in destroying the sovereignty of Colombia over that territory.
His principal excuse is that we had to keep open the transit across the isthmus, which might easily have been done without excluding Colombian troops from Panama; that the civilization of the age demanded the building of the canal; that the rejection of the Hay-Herran Treaty by Colombia obstructed this work of civilization; that if President Roosevelt had not acted as he did our chances of building the canal “would have been deferred certainly for years, perhaps for a generation or more,” for there would have been “ceaseless guerilla warfare and possibly foreign complications.” President Roosevelt has a way of picturing to a credulous public horrible things which would have inevitably happened if he had not done what he did, or that certainly will happen unless we let him do what he wishes to do. (So also in the case of the Philippines.)
But this excuse for his conduct in the Panama case is lamentably futile. In the first place, the cause of civilization is not promoted but hurt when a great Republic like ours breaks its solemn treaties and adopts the nefarious doctrine that the end justifies the means. And secondly, what right has President Roosevelt to say that the building of the canal would have been deferred “perhaps for a generation” if he had not acted as he did? Let us suppose it is true, as has been said, that the republic of Colombia tried to extort from us a higher price for what was asked of her—that she tried to blackmail us by rejecting the Hay-Herran Treaty. Was it not reasonable to expect that after a little further haggling she would yield, if with some more patience we had continued our diplomatic talks with her, convincing her that under no circumstances she would ever get more than we had offered, and especially if we had actually and ostentatiously begun negotiations, in obedience to existing law, about the Nicaragua Canal, thus letting Colombia know that she would have to yield quickly because there was danger for her in delay? Such yielding would, no doubt, have before long been the result. We might thus have had our canal without contemning our own law; without treading under foot principles we had maintained and fought for at a tremendous cost; without setting precedents which we pray may not come back to plague us; without the scandal of breaking a treaty—had we had a President possessing more patience and discretion, and a temperament less given to dramatic vehemence.
We should then have also avoided some other consequences. The governments of other nations have, indeed, promptly recognized the independence of the new republic of Panama after we had substantially created it and stamped it with our authority. Of course, out of deference to this great Republic, they accepted an accomplished fact fathered by it. But we should not flatter ourselves that so high-handed a proceeding as President Roosevelt's has raised us in their esteem and confidence. They may regard it as smart, very smart, but they will be impressed with the fact that when such a thing is possible similar or even worse things are not impossible. And when President Roosevelt tells the world that in this business “the Administration behaved throughout not only with good faith, but with extraordinary patience and large generosity toward those with whom it dealt,” there is undoubtedly much shaking of heads throughout civilized mankind as to American standards of good faith, patience and generosity. In our further dealings with foreign governments we shall no doubt be met with profuse politeness, but also with a watchful eye for good faith, patience and generosity of the same kind.
Our Southern Neighbors.
There is another effect of the President's willful performance which we have serious reason to deplore. It could hardly fail to inflame the distrust of our southern neighbors with regard to our possible designs with regard to them, to such a degree as to create an almost grotesque situation. The Monroe Doctrine, as we desire it to be understood, constitutes this Republic as the protector of their territorial integrity against any aggression on the part of Old-World powers. But now we have made them think that we ourselves are more dangerous to them than any of those powers are ever likely to be, and that they rather need protection against us than against them. “El peligro del Norte”—the Northern peril—has become among our southern neighbors a current phrase. The dismemberment of the republic of Colombia and the slicing off from it of a territory which really has become a dependency of the United States serve to them as proof of our sinister schemes, and we must not be surprised if on occasion they should be more inclined to enter into a combination of foreign powers against us than a combination with us; and if in the matter of commerce their outraged feelings should move them, other things being equal, to trade with any other country more willingly than with the United States.
This apprehension, and the consequent unfriendly sentiment, which comes near making them our bitter enemies at heart, has naturally been intensified by another imprudence of President Roosevelt which in recklessness stands unparalleled in our history. I mean his public pronouncement that this Republic is to be the paramount policeman of the whole American continent. Incredible as it may seem, in a public letter he actually said this:
It is not true that the United States have any land-hunger or entertain any projects as regards any other nations, save such as are for their welfare. All that we desire is to see all neighboring countries stable, orderly and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with decency in industrial and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Brutal wrongdoing or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society may finally require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the United States cannot ignore this duty, but it remains true that our interests and those of our southern neighbors are in reality identical. All that we ask of them is that they shall govern themselves well and be prosperous and orderly. Where this is the case they will find only helpfulness from us.
This can mean only that if our southern neighbors act with decency in political and industrial matters, and pay their debts, and keep good order, and are prosperous, and abstain from brutal wrongdoing and other things loosening the ties of civilized society, we shall let them alone; but if not, we must deem it the duty of this Republic to “interfere” to the end of regulating their conduct. Of course, this Republic is to be the judge as to whether their conduct is sufficiently proper or not. When making this pronouncement, Mr. Roosevelt probably did not remember that there had been States in this Union which repudiated their debts, and that, even while he wrote his letter, there was one, Colorado, in a condition of seriously loosened ties of civilized society, and other States in which the most brutal form of lynching had become a confirmed habit. If President Roosevelt were asked to “interfere” there with a strong hand, he would say that he had no Constitutional power to do so. What power has he to “interfere” in the South American republics when they fail to pay their debts due to other people, or do or permit things loosening the ties of civilized society? And what would he say if a foreign nation presumed to “interfere” with us, if we should so misconduct ourselves, as in some parts of our country has actually been done? He may say that there is a vast difference between our Republic and the South American republics with whom disorder has become the rule, while we may be expected to correct our conduct ourselves. But among those South American republics there are some—such as Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil—which not a great many years ago seemed to be hopelessly given over to unending turbulence, but which since by their own effort have become very respectable and respected members of the family of nations, and which permit us to hope that others may to some extent follow that example without our interference. Indeed, the task thus mapped out for us by Mr. Roosevelt is so unreasonable in itself, so adventurous, fraught with such arbitrary assumptions of power, with so many complications and with responsibilities so incalculable, that the statesmanship which proposes it may well be thought capable of any eccentricity ever so extravagant. This is felt even by some of the President's political friends, who are heard to say that this letter was really nothing but one of the explosions of “Teddy Roosevelt's bumptiousness,” and should not be taken seriously. I wish I could think so. But it was not a private gentleman who uttered these things in harmless badinage; it was the President of the United States who uttered them, deliberately wrote them down over his signature, to have them communicated to the world on a public occasion. Such public utterances by the President of the United States are very serious business, especially when they touch our relations with foreign nations.
No, this strange letter was not a mere unguarded slip of tongue or pen, portraying only a momentary impulse, a fleeting fancy. It was rather a manifestation of Mr. Roosevelt's real nature. He sees an object which appears to him good or desirable. His impetuous temperament urges him forward to attain this object, and in the rush he is apt to despise anything standing in the way, to forget laws, and treaties, and precedents, and adverse rights and interests, and to regard everybody opposing him as an enemy of the public welfare, if not as his own. He considers the Panama Canal a good thing, and to get it he rushes forward regardless of other obligations and of consequences. He thinks it desirable that the South American republics should be honest, and orderly, and prosperous, and forthwith he proclaims it to be our duty to make them so, in a manner insulting to them and discreditable to his own common-sense. He thinks that the pensions should be raised, and straight way he snatches the matter out of the hands of Congress, which was then considering it, and disposes of it himself in a manner which many of the best lawyers of the country hold to be flagrantly unconstitutional. Thus he joins to a naturally good heart a “lawless mind,” as Professor Nelson has properly called it. Sometimes very little or ill-digested knowledge suffices him to reach the conclusions he desires. In the speeches he delivered in his campaign for the Vice-Presidency he likened the Filipinos fighting for the independence of their country to savage Apaches on the warpath, to be treated accordingly. He is now quite sure that we did not take the Philippines “at will,” in face of the historic fact that we might have treated them just as we treated Cuba. He positively asserts that “the voice of the United States would now count for nothing in the Far East if we had abandoned the Philippines and refused to do what was done in China,” while even superficial study of American history would have taught him that the United States opened Japan to the world, and exercised, in Secretary Marcy's, and Caleb Cushing's, and Burlingame's time, great influence in China many decades before the possession of the Philippines was dreamed of. And so I might go on ad infinitum.
He is quite sure that in all these things he has been perfectly right. Whoever doubts this may read his letter of acceptance, the most extraordinary document of that kind ever presented to the American people. In self-glorification it is immense. According to it President Roosevelt's Administration has been positively perfect. Those who find fault with it are simply insincere or lamentably deluded. He does not hesitate to attack the motives of his opponents. He is firmly convinced that his policies were the only ones effectively to serve the interests and the honor of the country, which interests and honor absolutely demand that these policies be continued. To prove this his letter here and there twists facts in a manner which would lead us to call those statements disingenuous, did we not think that he believes them to be true. He stops little short of proclaiming himself the necessary man. There seems to be reason for apprehending that the excessive flattery which has so mercilessly pursued him may have created or strengthened in him the impression that, wielding the powers of the Presidency, he is destined to do something wonderful in the history of the world, that no greater calamity could befall mankind than his defeat in the coming election, that everything apt to promote his chances is good and every adverse influence wicked, and that, therefore, those who decide to vote against him—about one-half of the voters of the United States, more or less—are unpatriotic citizens and bad Americans.
And behind all this there is at work in him his fighting joy, and that worship of force in the concerns of mankind which makes him not only an advocate, but the very embodiment of that gospel of mastery by main strength, which is doing so much to blunt our moral sense, to lower our ethical standards and to disfigure the civilization of our days. Of that tendency which exalts armies and navies as the most potent factors in human affairs, Mr. Roosevelt gives a very characteristic exhibition in his letter of acceptance. Seeking to prove that the rights of American citizens in foreign countries would be safest when entrusted to the care of the Republican party, he said:
It is a striking evidence of our opponents' insincerity in this matter that with their demand for radical action by the State Department they couple a demand for a reduction in our small military establishment. Yet they must know that the heed paid to our protests against ill-treatment of our citizens will be exactly proportionate to the belief in our ability to make these protests effective should the need arise.
This is most startling. Did it never occur to President Roosevelt that by expressing it, he offers a burning insult to the civilized governments of the world? Does he really think that they will respect the rights of our citizens in their dominions only in “exact proportion” to the number of our soldiers and war-ships? Does he think that American citizens abroad would be oppressed without scruple if we had no army and navy? Does he think that foreign governments have no sense of law and justice and humanity in dealing with them? Will they, indeed, listen to our appeals for justice and right only “in proportion” to the number of guns we have ready for action? Or is not this rather another instance showing how in such things not the moral forces of our civilization, but the army and navy, are always uppermost in President Roosevelt's mind?
Here is again his temperament, stronger than his reason. It puts itself irrepressibly in evidence throughout this latest of his public utterances. In it speaks a sovereign contempt of adverse opinion, a dictatorial impatience of restraint, a vehemence of self-assertion, a war-lord tone of assumed authority to which in this Republic we have so far not been accustomed. If this spirit should be encouraged in the coming Presidential election by apparent popular approval, it may bring us some novel experiences of controversy and excitement which it would be eminently wise to avoid.
I do not overlook President Roosevelt's action regarding the reassembling of the Peace Conference at The Hague. It is to be commended and welcomed. But it would be infinitely more valuable and reassuring had he at the same time advocated a reduction of our own armament for war, the magnitude of which is far beyond our requirements for defensive purposes. It is useless to say that “if you would have peace, prepare for war,” when at an enormous cost you prepare for war while there is not the slightest danger to your peace. What are we to think of a professed peace apostle who constantly clamors for more and more unnecessary war-ships, which look like a threat to the world instead of setting the good example of a reduction of armaments to the actual needs of the country? No wonder some European papers see in his recent action only a clever electioneering play.
President Roosevelt is an exceedingly interesting, picturesque and forcible character, who would have found a most congenial and glorious field of action at the time of the Crusades, but sometimes strangely fails to appreciate the higher moral aims of modern civilization. He is a patriotic man who has done very good service in several ways, and, being still young, is capable of doing much more in various important positions aside from the Presidency. His is a master nature, but this Republic does not want in the Presidency a master—least of all one who cannot master himself. To reëlect him, and thereby to make him understand, as he most certainly would understand it, that the American people are immensely delighted with all he has said and done under the inspiration of his strenuous tendencies, that they simply yearn to have more of it, and that to this end they put into his hand the great power of the Presidency, including the supreme command of the army and a big navy, with all the temptations and possibilities of such power, so that his ambition to regulate the world according to his notions may have full swing—this, I humbly submit, would be so hazardous a venture that clear headed and sober-minded Americans may well, for their country's sake, shrink from the risk.
The Democratic Party.
The alternative is the election of the Democratic candidate, Judge Parker. I do not indulge in the slightest delusion as to the Democratic party. I know its faults and shortcomings very well, and I have opposed it often. But I believe that, if put in power, under present circumstances, it can do the country a very important service, partly of a negative, partly of a positive kind. Of course, I do not expect the millennium; but I think we may well expect that it will put a stop to the strenuous pyrotechnics which for some years have distracted us, and bring the Republic back to the sober ways of conscientiously constitutional and legal government; that it will arrest the existing lavishness of public expenditures and introduce a wholesome economy into our government household; that it will thoroughly overhaul the various government departments, which is all the more necessary as the recent investigation of corrupt practices in the postal service have only scratched the surface, and as further investigations by the Republican party “in its own time and its own way” are not promising substantial results; that it will scale down our enormous and unnecessary expenditures for the army and navy to a figure answering the real needs of the country; that it will start a vigorous movement against the extortions and corruptions of our tariff system; and that it will do away with our utterly undemocratic, financially wasteful and politically demoralizing colonial policy, thus restoring to their old dignity the principles upon which this Republic was founded, and reviving the popular reverence for our great traditions which forms the conservative influence so much needed by our democracy—in short, that it will reverse in all these things the principal tendencies of the present Administration. I do not mention the gold question, for the movement against the gold standard, which practically died in the Presidential election of 1896, is now so dead that the desperate and disreputable Republican partisanship, which seeks to frighten timid people, tries in vain to give it a fictitious appearance of life. I hardly know anything more unscrupulous and shameful than this effort to disturb the confidence of the business world merely for party advantage.
The things I have mentioned the Democratic party in power may reasonably be expected to do; and in doing them it will render a most urgently needed and immensely valuable service to the Republic. I believe also that, in view of the peculiar requirements of the time, the Democrats have chosen an eminently proper man for their candidate. Mr. Parker evidently is by temperament and mental habit, as well as by acquisition of knowledge par excellence, a judge; and it seems to me that just now, after all the confusing experiences we have gone through, it is peculiarly desirable that we should have a true judge in the Presidential chair—a man who knows the law; who reveres the law; who will never permit his emotions to make him overlook the law; who will never presume that his will is law, and who will constantly keep in mind that a democracy will drift into chaos as soon as its government ceases to be a government of law.
His conduct has also shown that he is a man of high self-respect. A nomination for the Presidency is a very great honor. But while Mr. Parker may have strongly desired it, he did not run after it. With quiet dignity he waited for it to come to him, and when it came under questionable circumstances, he would not take it at a sacrifice of his conception of duty. His famous dispatch to the St. Louis Convention extorted at first a general shout of admiration even from his political enemies. Only when they perceived the moral prestige it gave him, they began their mean and pitiable partisan efforts to drag that noble deed down to the level of a shabby campaign trick. More highly even than that dispatch I esteem a letter written by Judge Parker previous to his nomination in answer to the urgent request of some influential friends that he should break his silence. It has been recently published by its recipient, and runs thus:
Dear Sir: You may be right in thinking that an expression of my views is necessary to secure the nomination. If so, let the nomination go. I took the position that I have maintained, first, because I thought it my duty to the court; second, because I do not think the nomination for such an office should be sought. I still believe that I am right, and therefore expect to remain steadfast. Very truly yours,
The modest gentleman who wrote this can be trusted. He will be no man's man. He has the courage not only to resist his opponents, but the higher courage, much more valuable in a President, in obedience to his sense of duty to resist his friends.
The reasons I have here candidly given compel me to believe that the American people will act wisely in making Alton B. Parker their President. I have spoken not as a partisan, but as an independent citizen, who has long been accustomed to regard the good of the country as infinitely more important than the advantage of any party, and who has no interest in political life other than the honor and welfare of the Republic, to which he is profoundly and gratefully devoted. Very truly yours,
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.