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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/475

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471
THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY

THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES
VI
By Professor CHARLES F. EMERICK

SMITH COLLEGE, NORTHAMPTON, MASS.

The Courts and Property. III

The framers of the constitution were fearful of democracy and entertained serious misgivings concerning the essential goodness of man. In theology, many of them accepted the doctrine of original sin, total depravity, infant damnation and the final perseverance of the saints. In politics, they distrusted the masses, favored a restricted suffrage, provided an electoral college for the choice of president, left the election of United States senators to the legislatures of the several states, contrived the system of checks and balances and established an appointive judiciary with power to set aside an act of Congress. The constitution was the work of the "solid, conservative, commercial and financial interests of the country" who feared legislative tyranny and whose solicitude never lost sight of the safety of property. For a long time, however, the guaranties of property in the constitution were never seriously put to the test. The one noteworthy exception was property in slaves which the constitution failed to protect. Until recently the ownership of property was widely diffused, and because of the abundance of fertile land the man without property to-day stood an excellent chance of becoming an owner to-morrow. There was no wage-earning class destined to remain such to the end of its life. For a time the scarcity of men willing to work for hire handicapped the development of manufactures. It has not been the distinctive features of our form of government so much as our environment that has given us peace with plenty.

It does not follow consequently that our governmental and economic systems, under the conditions which obtain to-day, are proof against socialism. The institution of private property depends upon the general consensus of opinion which varies from age to age. It is a common error to suppose that whatever is always will be. Take the right of a man to interfere with the business of another by normal competition, by way of illustration. This is regarded as a matter of course to-day, but there was a time when the right to engage in a given trade was restricted to the members of a certain guild, and a man was not at liberty to enter any pursuit be might elect. The individual's position in the social order