Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/December 1881/Editor's Table



THE recent centennial proceedings at Yorktown, and the event they commemorated, have been so fully discussed in all quarters and in all aspects, that the topic is now pretty well exhausted. We certainly can not add anything to it in the way of novelty, but among the lessons that have been drawn from it there are some which deserve greater emphasis than they seem to have received. The orators of this occasion have expatiated much on the Yorktown surrender as a great step in the progress of human liberty: it is worth while to inquire to what extent and in what sense this is true.

The capture of Cornwallis ended a protracted war, and by the success of the insurgents turned the infamy of a rebellion into the glory of a revolution. It secured political independence, and gave origin to a new nation. Yet the revolt was against the freest constitutional government in the world, and the communities that rose against the mother-country had been nurtured in the spirit of independence under British influence and British institutions. The justifying principle of the war was simply that the people on the spot, knowing their own circumstances and wants, could govern themselves better than they could be governed through agents by a people three thousand miles away. In reconstituting the government, various things deemed useless or injurious—hereditary monarchy, hereditary aristocracy, and. a state Church—were lopped away as excrescences. But the constitution of the English law-making body was imitated, and the old common law of England, with its recognitions and guarantees of personal rights, and its machinery of justice, to which the people were accustomed, remained in substantial force. The bulwarks of civil liberty were a heritage from the parent country. In the declaration of political independence there was an affirmation of the natural and equal rights of all men. But it was little more than a "rhetorical flourish," as its reduction to living practice was scarcely thought of. There was a servile class stripped of all rights who sorely needed the benefit of this pretentious declaration, but it did not get it. In fact, the insurgent colonies were nothing less than slave holding and slave-trading communities, and, when they deliberately proceeded to form a Constitution, human slavery was fortified in its provisions, and the foreign slave-trade was guaranteed for twenty years.

But if the Constitution of the new government left a weak and defenseless class a prey to its oppressors, was nothing gained for the superior race? Much, undoubtedly. There was a relief from monarchical, aristocratic, and hierarchical burdens, a simplification of political machinery, and an experiment in the direction of popular self-government. There was a transference of power into the hands of the people more complete than ever before. It was the boldest venture in representative government that had ever been made; yet, if we are to trust the official Yorktown orator, after the retrospect of a century, the problem is not yet solved, and we can not look forward to the next hundred years without profound solicitude.

But there was one grand stroke for the promotion of human liberty made in organizing the republic, the far-reaching consequences of which were neither appreciated by those who made it nor are they yet well comprehended by our people. We here refer to the liberty of commercial transactions, to the establishment of absolute free trade between the citizens of all the States of our political Union. An immense step was here taken in the progress of liberty. All the liberties—liberty of conscience, liberty of thought and speech, and liberty of exchange—have been slow growths; but no one has grown so slowly or against such resistance, or is still so immature, as that full liberty of action that is involved in the free exchange of property. It is here, in oppressive exactions upon exchange, that the most grinding tyranny takes effect; upon this point rapacious government is the first to fasten and the last to let go. Men may think and say what they like, and go where they like, but, if they can not dispose, unhindered, of the property which they have produced, and which is their own, their liberty is a delusion. Great progress has unquestionably been made in modern times in freeing exchange from its burdens, and all that had been gained was secured by the organic law of the new republic. It was decreed that Americans within the national limits shall be let alone—shall enjoy immunity from vexatious trade restrictions—that is, shall be left free in all their industrial and commercial pursuits. Whatever may be the strength of local interests, whatever the advantages or drawbacks of States, they are for ever forbidden to interfere with the mutual liberties of exchange between citizens by tariffs, imposts, or any form of trade restrictions. No pretext of developing resources, diversifying industry, fostering weak interests, or protecting labor, could be made an excuse for commercial restrictions. It was ordained that business shall be left to voluntary enterprise, to the spontaneous impulses of private effort, and to stand upon the stable basis of its natural laws rather than upon the artificial support of regulative State legislation.

The good effects of this policy no man can now be found to question. A hundred years of experience has attested the practical wisdom and established the solid and permanent beneficence of this great constitutional measure. With trade as free as the winds, the result has been an unparalleled activity in the development of all resources, and a general prosperity such as the world has never before seen; while the open liberty of interchange, resulting in active and intimate intercourse, has favored political unity and strengthened amicable feeling between distant and diverse communities.

One has but to picture what the consequences would have been of applying protective theories to Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western States, to understand how vast has been the advantage of the free-trade policy. With the general ignorance that prevailed in regard to economical principles, the restrictive policy, if permitted at all, would have been driven to its last results. To have let State politicians loose upon our internal commerce would not only ha\c abolished it, but would have aggravated local prejudice, narrowness of feeling, rivalries and jealousies, and engendered alienations and irritations that would have made national unity impossible. The fathers built wiser than they knew, and did the noblest service to human freedom which it was in their power to render when they united the American States on the basis of free trade.

This great lesson has not been lost, though it has not yet borne its full and final fruits. The policy which has proved of such immense benefit at home has not been trusted beyond the national borders. We adopt a partial practice with immense benefit, and then repudiate the principles it involves. Internal trade is free, but external trade is still shackled. A New-Yorker trades with a Pennsylvanian without restriction under the principle that they are the best judges of their own business affairs. They are free to buy and to sell as they like, and for the sufficient reason that the thing they will do is the best for both. But if a New-Yorker undertakes to trade with a Canadian, Government declares that the transaction shall not be free, the parties shall not do as they like with their own, and this for no other reason under heaven than because the Canadian is a foreigner. If Canada were "annexed," presto! these traders would at once know their own business best, and could exchange with perfect freedom.

We have here, in this surviving prejudice about the "foreigner," an illustration of the vicious potency of militant conceptions. The foreigner is our virtual enemy, one whom it is our patriotic duty to hate and not to help. The term is redolent of international antagonism and the pursuit of war which is the curse of civilization. This spirit, identified with the love of country, and fortified in long tradition, is slow to yield to the influence of humanizing and pacific agencies; but yield it must, and it has already greatly yielded, as witness the doings at Yorktown. That demonstration commemorated a military exploit; but everybody has seen that it was awkward, anomalous, and embarrassing. There was a great daunting of military parade, suggestive of righting; but, apart from the historic reminiscences, the speeches contradicted the whole spirit of the occasion. It was by no means devoted to unalloyed rejoicing over a military triumph, but was much more a tribute to the interests of peace and international friendliness. A hundred years makes a great difference nowadays, and the Yorktown utterances were significant registers of the progress of ideas. The new President spoke with wise discretion, and gave voice to the wishes of the American people by ordering that the commemorative services close with a salute to the British flag by the assembled forces of the army and navy, "in recognition of the friendly relations so long and so happily subsisting between Great Britain and the United States, in the trust and confidence of peace and good-will between the two countries for all the centuries to come, and especially as a mark of the profound respect entertained by the American people for the illustrious sovereign and gracious lady who sits upon the British throne."

Nothing could be more significant, as showing the growth of liberal ideas with reference to our external relations. It signalized the hope that time will secure in the family of nations what we have secured in the family of States. We can not expect peace "for all the centuries to come" except by cherishing the ideas and strengthening the sentiments and confirming the practices upon which peace depends. We can not have exemption from war if we cultivate the spirit of international antagonism—antagonism that tends to war. Nations must be knit together by closer links of mutual interest if peace is to be permanent. War isolates, destroys commercial intercourse, and drives nations into the policy of producing everything for themselves; and the feeling thus engendered by military domination in time of peace maintains barriers and repulsions between nations, on the plea that "we must not be dependent upon foreigners." The curses of war thus become perpetual. Its baneful influence lives on in the so-called "protective" policy which strangles foreign commerce, and compels a nation to shape all its internal affairs with a view, not to the interests of industry which demand the widest liberty of commercial expansion, but to the future contingencies of war.


No better illustration can be desired of these views than that offered by the State of Virginia. Her citizens were certainly to be pardoned for their enthusiasm over the Yorktown pageant. The Revolution was consummated upon her soil, and she has a natural pride in all its reminiscences. But what a monument is that great State to-day of the scourge of war-ideas! Settled early as a colony, favorably situated in regard to climate, and with varied and boundless resources, she is nevertheless poor, incompetent, and backward in all the elements of public prosperity. If it be said that these calamities are due to slavery, we reply that slavery is only chronic and subdivided war. Slavery and war are kindred agencies, grown up together in a common barbarism, and both are despotisms of violence. Their one idea is the brute-force control of men—in war for the destruction of life and property, and in slavery for better ends. It was the cherishing of ideas common to slavery and war that drew Virginia with such facility into the vortex of domestic war. It was declining militancy rebelling against growing industrialism. How intense was the barbaric spirit is seen in the persistence of obsolete war-usages. Where militant ideas are ascendant, as in Germany and France, dueling is habitual. And so, at the very height of the Yorktown celebration, one of Virginia's "captains," who had got a national reputation as a candidate for an office in the United States Senate, was principal in two duels in a single day; and when he returned to Richmond the same evening, instead of being "publicly flogged by a nigger," as he ought to have been, he received an "enthusiastic reception." Will the honor of its "chivalry" save the State from the disgrace of repudiation?

Militant ideas being opposed to business ideas, Virginia presents a case of arrested development. The world's beneficent work is mainly done by private enterprise; Virginia ideas have not favored this, and so she has been left behind in the race of State development. Legislation has been invoked to bring out her splendid resources, but there has still been wanting that vigor of private effort which can alone give effect to legislative measures. This is well shown in the history of one of her great public works. The project of opening commercial communication with the West was early entertained by sagacious Virginians. The distance of the Atlantic from the Ohio River through the valleys of the James and the Kanawha, which almost connect at their head-waters in the Alleghanies, is shorter than by any other route. It was a favorite idea of Washington to open this communication, and he strongly advocated a hill, passed by the Virginia Legislature in 1784, for the improvement of the James River, with a view to developing a Western water-communication. This project was worked at in an ineffectual way for a number of years, and in 1832 the James River and Kanawha Company was chartered to construct a canal up the James Valley, and this was opened between Richmond and Lynchburg in 1840. It was further extended to Buchanan, a distance of one hundred and ninety-seven miles from Richmond, in 1851. Some further work was begun beyond this point, to secure an avenue for through Western trade, but the sections beyond were not completed. The work as far as constructed was inadequate, only very small canal-boats being available; and 60, in 1873, Congress was urged to assume, enlarge, and extend the work, which, in this era of developing railroads, it wisely declined to do. And then, after a hundred years of State efforts and the expenditure of ten million dollars, the undertaking completely broke down, and the dilapidated and useless canal property was offered to anybody gratuitously who would take it and pay its debts.

A couple of years ago a private company of Northern capitalists came forward and took the concern off the hands of the State, and proposed to see what could be done toward carrying out the original plan. They organized the Richmond and Alleghany Railroad Company, and, under the stimulus of intelligent business enterprise, and without a dollar of State aid, two hundred and fifty miles of solid road-bed, laid on the old tow-path as far as it went, with heavy steel rails and numerous iron bridges, were constructed through the valley of the James River to its head-waters in the Alleghanies in eighteen months. Seventy miles more will soon be built, connecting the new line with the Ohio Central, which terminates at Toledo—and the aspiration of Washington will be fulfilled.

While the military doings at Yorktown were at their height, absorbing the attention of Virginians, the formal opening of this railroad, replete with all modern improvements and appointments, took place. It was not so striking as the war-show, but it was of far greater moment to the prosperity of the Commonwealth. It was a foreign enterprise, made possible by free commerce, and inspired solely by the mercenary purpose of making money out of poor old Virginia; yet it was an element of now life to that community, and will be to it even a greater source of wealth and advantage than to the speculators who carried out the work. Sordid commerce creates manufactures, advances agriculture, and, by increasing the occupations and remunerations of industry, increases all the benefits of civilization. Locomotives are missionaries without moral intentions. There was no patriotism, no philanthropy, no public spirit at the bottom of this movement, yet it will promote all these ends. Millions of Northern capital were poured out solely that they might be augmented, but in doing this they will develop a vast productive region, and aid in giving Virginia a new start in a new direction; and not the least advantage will be to compel the adoption of a new order of ideas.


The letter of Secretary Blaine to Minister Lowell, of London, as to the policy of the United States in regard to the neutrality of the Panama Canal, deserves attention. Being a diplomatic document, it may not be easy to say what or how much meaning there is in it; but, as read by common-sense, it is a missive of intimidation, and contains a virtual threat of war. Mr. Blaine is, at any rate, playing with fire, and it is therefore well to watch him.

The canal, which opens a ship communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, being of vital moment to the commerce of the world, it is of the first importance to all nations that its neutrality be preserved inviolate; but as, in the rivalries and hostilities of nations, there would be danger that this neutrality might be violated, there arises the need of some strong arrangement to secure it. The United States of Colombia, across whose territory the canal passes, and which is therefore the rightful controller of it, is a weak power, and unable to protect the property from foreign interference. She consequently meets the necessity of the case and the requirements of nations by entering into treaty stipulations for guaranteeing the neutrality of the canal, or securing its equal benefits for all countries and at all times.

Mow, Mr. Blaine informs whomsoever it may concern that this country has already attended to all this. He says, "The United States recognizes a proper guarantee of neutrality as essential to the construction and successful operation of any highway across the Isthmus of Panama," and that in 1846 it entered into a treaty with Colombia for that purpose.

But that treaty was made under no immediate expectation of the construction of a canal: it was shaped in the light of history by which this country was on record as friendly to the project. Yet, when the undertaking begins first to take practical shape, and the desideratum of centuries promises to be realized, it turns out that the United States is no longer anxious about it. In fact, there was recently developed throughout the country an unmistakable hostility to it. We would neither build it ourselves nor help others to build it, and did all we could to discourage the work by trying to alarm foreign capitalists and prevent them from furnishing the funds for its construction. In this state of things—this sudden abandonment of a clearly defined historic policy—Colombia very naturally began to query as to the satisfactoriness of the guarantee of a power that had ceased to care about the legitimate objects of the work, and had, in fact, developed a feeling inimical to it. They, therefore, began to raise the question of securing the neutrality of the canal by treaty with European powers; and these, it is apprehended, entertain the idea of re-enforcing the American guarantee. Mr. Blaine says, in behalf of this Government, that such a course is inadmissible; and he instructs Mr. Lowell to inform Lord Granville, on the part of the English Government, "that any movement in the sense of supplementing the guarantee contained therein" (that is, in the treaty with Colombia) "would necessarily be regarded by this government as an uncalled-for intrusion into a field where the local and general interests of the United States of America must be considered before any other power, save those of the United States of Colombia alone"; any such movement "would be an extraordinary procedure, and would necessarily be viewed by this Government with the gravest concern"; and, moreover, "would partake of the nature of an alliance against the United States, and would be regarded by this Government as an indication of unfriendly feeling."

Now, if a guarantee in this case is the right thing, and if a valid guarantee of neutrality is really wanted, commonsense fails to see how it can be so well secured as by treaty compact on the part of all the powers from whom there may ever be danger of its violation. If desired at all, the stronger it can be made the better; and, if this strengthening is objected to, what else can it mean than that the objector has a sinister object, and does not want a bona fide guarantee? The plain import of Mr. Blaine's letter is this: There shall be no comprehensive and efficacious international guarantee of the neutrality of the interoceanic canal; the United States will give such a guarantee as it thinks "proper"; it will take exclusive possession of the canal, regardless of the nation within whose territory it is, and it will itself violate its neutrality whenever its own interests may dictate such a course.

And what are those interests? They are not the bonds of commerce. The nation has gone far to put itself outside the pale of civilization by the destruction of its outside commercial relations. It has "protected" what commerce it had to death, and insanely persists in the policy by which it can never be restored to life. As a consequence, it had no need of a Panama Canal, and has no concern about it now, except to get exclusive possession of it for use in the contingency of war.

The New York "Evening Post" undoubtedly gives us the point of Mr. Blaine's letter when it remarks, "We can not say too plainly that we mean to protect the canal ourselves exclusively." But what, then, can be Mr. Blaine's meaning, when he says to Mr. Lowell:

You will be careful, in any conversations you may have, not to represent the position of the United States as the development of a new policy, or the inauguration of any advanced aggressive steps to be taken by this Government; it is nothing more than the pronounced adherence of the United States to principles long since enunciated by the highest authority of the Government, and now, in the judgment of the President, firmly inwoven as an integral and important part of our national policy.

If not diplomatic, this is certainly strange. In the view of common-sense, which is of course our only guide in interpreting the case, what Mr. Blaine says is not true; it is squarely contradicted by all the facts; and, as Lord Granville is presumably not a fool, it would be interesting to know what kind of a time Mr. Lowell had in carrying out his very curious instructions. The policy now advocated is emphatically a "new policy"—a policy that has taken shape only when there began to be some danger that the canal would be made; and it is not merely a change in our course of action, but it is an entire inversion of the historic policy of the Government. This nation has again and again explicitly proclaimed, and is now under solemn covenant, that it will hot do exactly the thing it is now proposed to do. If the "new policy" is not in the teeth of an existing treaty, why are its advocates so frantic to have that treaty "torn up"—abrogated and got out of the way?

If it be said that our policy is that of the old "Monroe doctrine," the reply is that this doctrine does not touch the case, and the action of the Government proves it. The doctrine was proclaimed by Mr. Monroe to prevent European powers from "oppressing" or "controlling" in any way the young American republics, and it has been construed only as against the attempts of those powers to found new colonies or make territorial acquisitions on this side of the Atlantic. That it was not held by the Government to exclude foreign participation in the construction and protection of such a work as the Isthmus Canal, is attested by the fact that in 1835, long after its promulgation, the Congress of the United States resolved, and four years later the Senate of the United States re-resolved, "that the President be requested to open negotiations with other nations" for the purpose of "ascertaining the practicability of effecting a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by the construction of a ship-canal across the Isthmus, and of securing for ever, by suitable treaty stipulations, the free and equal right of navigating, such canal to all nations." This view was, moreover, embodied more than thirty years ago in a treaty of our Government with England, in which both parties agreed, with reference to any possible future ship communication across the Isthmus, that "they will guarantee the neutrality thereof so that the said canal may be for ever open and free"; that "vessels of the United States or Great Britain traversing the said canal, shall, in case of war between the contracting parties, be exempted from blockade detention or capture by either of the belligerents"; and furthermore, "that neither the one nor the other will obtain or maintain for itself any exclusive control over said ship-canal; agreeing that neither will ever erect or maintain any fortifications commanding the same or in the vicinity thereof."

Are we to understand, then, that there neither has been, nor is there intended to be, any departure from this deliberate, long-established, and honorable policy of the Government of the United States?

M. Delauney, a French savant, has been studying the problem of woman from an anthropological point of view to determine her intellectual status, which he maintains to be inferior to that of man. He intimates that "sentimental pretensions" being now made the basis of a political movement, it is necessary to deal with the subject scientifically. The investigation is of course a proper and an important one; but it has had a somewhat curious reception from the press—or those editors, perhaps, who suspect that the women may yet vote, and will remember things. These declare this article to be most horrible, but contrive, with a good deal of deprecation, to get as much of it before their readers as they seem to dare. We have had it translated for the benefit of such dauntless souls as are prepared to take their lives in their hands, and go through with it. Our own special trouble is, that in about six weeks we shall get a bushel, more or less, of answers to it, written very much alike, all in "hair-marks," and with very pale ink.