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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/281

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SKETCH OF WILLIAM GRAHAM SUMNER.

the conception of society according to which it is the seat of forces, and its phenomena are subject to laws, which it is the business of science to investigate. He denies that there is anything arbitrary or accidental in social phenomena, or that there is any field in them for the arbitrary intervention of man. He therefore allows but very limited field for legislation. He holds that men must do with social laws what they do with physical laws—learn them, obey them, and conform to them. Hence he is opposed to state interference and socialism, and he advocates individualism and liberty. He has declared that bimetallism is an absurdity, involving a contradiction of economic laws, and his attacks on protectionism have been directed against it as a philosophy of wealth and prosperity for the nation.

As to politics, he says:

"My only excursion into active politics has been a term as alderman. In 1872 I was one of the voters who watched with interest and hope the movement which led up to the 'Liberal' Convention at Cincinnati, that ended by nominating Greeley and Brown. The platform of that convention was very outspoken in its declarations about the policy to be pursued toward the South. I did not approve of the reconstruction policy. I wanted the South let alone and treated with patience. I lost my vote by moving to New Haven, and was contented to let it go that way. In 1876 I was of the same opinion about the South. If I had been asked what I wanted done, I should have tried to describe just what Mr. Hayes did do after he got in. I therefore voted for Mr. Tilden. In 1880 I did not vote. In 1884 I voted as a Mugwump for Mr. Cleveland. In 1888 I voted for him on the tariff issue."

A distingushed American economist, who is well acquainted with Prof. Sumner's work, has kindly given us the following estimate of his method and of his position and influence as a public teacher: "For exact and comprehensive knowledge Prof. Sumner is entitled to take the first place in the ranks of American economists; and as a teacher he has no superior. His leading mental characteristic he has himself well stated in describing the characteristics of his former teachers at Göttingen; namely, as 'bent on seeking a clear and comprehensive conception of the matter" or truth "under study, without regard to any consequences whatever,' and further, when in his own mind Prof. Sumner is fully satisfied as to what the truth is he has no hesitation in boldly declaring it, on every fitting occasion, without regard to consequences. If the theory is a 'spade,' he calls it a spade, and not an implement of husbandry. Sentimentalists, followers of precedent because it is precedent, and superficial reasoners find little favor, therefore, with Prof, Sumner; and this trait of character has given him a reputation for coldness and lack of what may be