Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/365

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THE GREAT BRIDGE AND ITS LESSONS.

to a generous rivalry in perfecting each its own government, recognizing the truth that there is no true liberty without law, and that eternal vigilance, which is the only safeguard of liberty, can best be exercised within limited areas.

It would be a most fortunate conclusion if the completion of this bridge should arouse public attention to the absolute necessity of good municipal government, and recall the only principle upon which it can ever be successfully founded. There is reason to hope that this result will follow, because the erection of this structure shows how a problem, analogous to that which confronts us in regard to the city government, has been met and solved in the domain of physical science.

The men who controlled this enterprise at the outset were not all of the best type; some of them, as we have seen, were public jobbers. But they knew that they could not build a bridge, although they had no doubt of their ability to govern a city. They thereupon proceeded to organize the knowledge which existed as to the construction of bridges, and they held the organization thus created responsible for results. Now, we know that it is at least as difficult to govern a city as to build a bridge, and yet, as citizens, we have deliberately allowed the ignorance of the community to be organized for its government, and we then complain that it is a failure. Until we imitate the example of the ring, and organize the intelligence of the community for its government, our complaint is childish and unreasonable. But we shall be told that there is no analogy between building a bridge and governing a city. Let us examine this objection. A city is made up of infinite interests. They vary from hour to hour, and conflict is the law of their being. Many of the elements of social life are what mathematicians term "variables of the independent order." The problem is to reconcile these conflicting interests and variable elements into one organization which shall work without jar, and allow each citizen to pursue his calling, if it be an honest one, in peace and quiet.

Now, turn to the bridge. It looks like a motionless mass of masonry and metal: but, as a matter of fact, it is instinct with motion. There is not a particle of matter in it which is at rest even for the minutest portion of time. It is an aggregation of unstable elements, changing with every change in the temperature and every movement of the heavenly bodies. The problem was, out of these unstable elements to produce absolute stability; and it was this problem which the engineers, the organized intelligence, had to solve, or confess to inglorious failure. The problem has been solved. In the first construction of suspension-bridges it was attempted to check, repress, and overcome their motion, and failure resulted. It was then seen that motion is the law of existence for suspension-bridges, and provision was made for its free play. Then they became a success. The bridge before us elongates and contracts between the extremes of temperature from fourteen to sixteen inches: the vertical rise and fall in the center of