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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/279

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

A TEST OF NATIONAL MORALITY.

THE forgery of documents for the purpose of giving fictitious support to doctrines or to territorial claims was a device not unknown to antiquity; and very severe has been the condemnation bestowed upon it by virtuous moderns. The fame of the "false decretals" still lingers in the world; and respectable citizens of our own favored time and country are found wondering how a high spiritual authority could ever have consented to rest its claims, even partially, upon so thoroughly delusive a foundation. Circumstances, however, as has been wisely remarked, alter cases; and that which was very shocking when resorted to for the establishment of principles in which one does not believe, may assume a very different character when found available for promoting the success of the political party that has the honor of commanding the same individual's vote. The "campaign lie" has long been known as a favorite political weapon; but nowadays political mendacity seems, in a peculiar manner, to affect the ancient trick of forgery. The last two or three presidential elections have each had their distinguishing forgeries; but the one just concluded brought the forger's art into a greater prominence than ever before. Men made lies and loved them; and other men loved to see the lies in circulation; and others loved to delude themselves with the lies so made and circulated; until it really seemed as if, throughout a considerable portion of the community, the one thing that everybody hated and feared was truth.

And we are a Christian nation! We hold our heads very high in the world. Our morality is not like that of the decaying states of the Old World, but of a much superior type. We have no royal courts among us to spread servility and corruption; our working-classes are taught to look down with infinite contempt on the "pauper labor" of even such a country as England; our political institutions give every man an interest in the state; and such government as we have is "of the people, for the people, by the people." The theory of our institutions, indeed, is very fine, but we are constrained to say that the practice is very miserable. To have political power in our hands, and then to resort, on a large scale, to falsehood—deliberate, unblushing, reiterated falsehood—as a means of influencing elections, is about as shameful a thing, in our opinion, as the sun shines upon. But, can a thing be politically shameful and yet not dangerous? Fraud and violence are close companions. A quarrel over marked cards is very apt to be settled with the pistol or the knife; and, some day, if political fraud should happen to be just a little too triumphant, we might find ourselves precipitated into another civil war.

Why have we such tolerance for campaign lies and liars? Why do respectable gentlemen, prominent in church circles, either help in the invention of such lies or smile complacently at their circulation? Why is the national conscience so dead on this subject? Has it anything to do with the fact that as yet the morality of science—the morality that consists in the strenuous pursuit and conscientious utterance of truth—is so feebly recognized? We have powerful church organizations; the whole land is honey-combed, we may say, with societies for the promotion of a certain type of conventional moral excellence; but what is being done—this, after all, is the question on which the permanence and prosperity of the republic depend—