The Promise of American Life/Chapter VI

The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly
Chapter VI


Sensible and patriotic Americans have not, of course, tamely and ignobly submitted to the obvious evils of their political and economic condition. There was, indeed, a season when the average good American refused to take these evils seriously. He was possessed by the idea that American life was a stream, which purified itself in the running, and that reformers and critics were merely men who prevented the stream from running free. He looked upon the first spasmodic and ineffective protests with something like contempt. Reformers he appraised as busybodies, who were protesting against the conditions of success in business and politics. He nicknamed them "mugwumps" and continued to vote the regular tickets of his party. There succeeded to this phase of contemptuous dislike a few years, in which he was somewhat bewildered by the increasing evidences of corruption in American politics and lawlessness in American business methods, and during which he occasionally supported some favorite among the several reforming movements. Then a habit of criticism and reform increased with the sense that the evils were both more flagrant and more stubborn than he imagined, until at the present time average well-intentioned Americans are likely to be reformers of one kind or another, while the more intelligent and disinterested of them are pretty sure to vote a "reform" ticket. To stand for a programme of reform has become one of the recognized roads to popularity. The political leaders with the largest personal followings are some kind of reformers. They sit in presidential chairs; they occupy executive mansions; they extort legislation from unwilling politicians; they regulate and abuse the erring corporations; they are coming to control the press; and they are the most aggressive force in American public opinion. The supporters and beneficiaries of existing abuses still control much of the official and practically all the unofficial political and business machinery; but they are less domineering and self-confident than they were. The reformers have both scared and bewildered them. They begin to realize that reform has come to stay, and perhaps even to conquer, while reform itself is beginning to pay the penalty of success by being threatened with deterioration. It has had not only its hero in Theodore Roosevelt, but its specter in William R. Hearst.

In studying the course of the reforming movement during the last twenty-five years, it appears that, while reform has had a history, this history is only beginning. Since 1880, or even 1895 or 1900, it has been transformed in many significant ways. In the beginning it was spasmodic in its outbursts, innocent in its purposes, and narrow in its outlook. It sprang up almost spontaneously in a number of different places and in a number of different detached movements; and its adherents did not look much beyond a victory at a particular election, or the passage of a few remedial laws. Gradually, however, it increased in definiteness, persistence, and comprehensiveness of purpose. The reformers found the need of permanent organization, of constant work, and even within limits, of a positive programme. Their success and their influence upon public opinion increased just in proportion as they began to take their job seriously. Indeed, they have become extremely self-conscious in relation to their present standing and their future responsibilities. They are beginning to predict the most abundant results from the "uplift" movement, of which they are the leaders. They confidently anticipate that they are destined to make a much more salient and significant contribution to the history of their country than has been made by any group of political leaders since the Civil War.

It is in a sense a misnomer to write of "Reform" as a single thing. Reform is, as a matter of fact, all sorts of things. The name has been applied to a number of separate political agitations, which have been started by different people at different times in different parts of the country, and these separate movements have secured very different kinds of support, and have run very different courses. Tariff reform, for instance, was an early and popular agitation whose peculiarity has consisted in securing the support of one of the two national parties, but which in spite of that support has so far made little substantial progress. Civil service reform, on the other hand, was the first agitation looking in the direction of political purification. The early reformers believed that the eradication of the spoils system would deal a deadly blow at political corruption and professional politics. But although they have been fairly successful in establishing the "merit" system in the various public offices, the results of the reform have not equaled the promises of its advocates. While it is still an important part of the programme of reform from the point of view of many reformers, it has recently been over-shadowed by other issues. It does not provoke either as much interest as it did or as much opposition. Municipal reform has, of course, almost as many centers of agitation as there are centers of corruption—that is, large municipalities in the United States. It began as a series of local non-partisan movements for the enforcement of the laws, the dispossession of the "rascals," and the businesslike, efficient administration of municipal affairs; but the reformers discovered in many cases that municipal corruption could not be eradicated without the reform of state politics, and without some drastic purging of the local public service corporations. They have consequently in many cases enlarged the area of their agitation; but in so doing they have become divided among themselves, and their agitation has usually lost its non-partisan character. Finally the agitation against the trusts has developed a confused hodge-podge of harmless and deadly, overlapping and mutually exclusive, remedies, which are the cause of endless disagreements. Of course they are all for the People and against the Octopus, but beyond this precise and comprehensive statement of the issue, the reformers have endlessly different views about the nature of the disease and the severity of the necessary remedy.

If reform is an ambiguous and many-headed thing, the leading reformers are as far as possible from being a body of men capable of mutual coöperation. They differ almost as widely among themselves as they do from the beneficiaries or supporters of the existing abuses. William R. Hearst, William Travers Jerome, Seth Low, and George B. McClellan are all in their different ways reformers; but they would not constitute precisely a happy family. Indeed, Mr. Hearst, who in his own opinion is the only immaculate reformer, is, in the eyes of his fellow-reformers, as dangerous a public enemy as the most corrupt politician or the most unscrupulous millionaire. Any reformer who, like Mr. William Jennings Bryan, proclaims views which are in some respects more than usually radical, comes in for heartier denunciation from his brothers in reform than he does from the conservatives. Each of our leading reformers is more or less a man on horseback, who is seeking to popularize a particular brand of reform, and who is inclined to doubt whether the other brands are available for public consumption without rigid inspection. Consequently, the party of reform is broken up into a number of insurgent personalities. "The typical reformer," says the late Alfred Hodder in a book written in praise of Mr. William Travers Jerome, "The typical reformer is a 'star,' and a typical reform administration is usually a company of stars," and a most amusing piece of special pleading is the reasoning whereby the same author seeks to prove that Mr. Jerome himself is or was not a "star" performer. The preference which individual performers have shown for leading parts is in itself far from being a bad thing, but the lack of "team play" has none the less diminished the efficiency of reform as a practical and prosperous political agitation.

These disagreements are the more significant, because the different "star" reformers are sufficiently united upon their statement of fundamental principles. They all of them agree to conceive of reform as at bottom a moral protest and awakening, which seeks to enforce the violated laws and to restore the American political and economic system to its pristine purity and vigor. From their point of view certain abuses have become unwholesomely conspicuous, because the average American citizen has been a little lethargic, and allowed a few of his more energetic and unscrupulous fellow-citizens to exploit for selfish purposes the opportunities of American business and politics. The function of reform, consequently, is to deprive these parasites of their peculiar opportunities. Few reformers anticipate now that this task will be easily or quickly accomplished. They are coming to realize that the abuses are firmly intrenched, and a prolonged siege as well as constant assaults are necessary for final success. Some reformers are even tending to the opinion that a tradition of reform and succession of reformers will be demanded for the vigilant protection of the American political and economic system against abuse. But the point is the agreement among practical reformers that reform means at bottom no more than moral and political purification. It may, indeed, bring with it the necessity of a certain amount of reorganization; but such reorganization will aim merely at the improvement of the existing political and economic machinery. Present and future reformers must cleanse, oil, and patch a piece of economic and political machinery, which in all essentials is adequate to its purpose. The millionaire and the trust have appropriated too many of the economic opportunities formerly enjoyed by the people. The corrupt politician has usurped too much of the power which should be exercised by the people. Reform must restore to the people the opportunities and power of which they have been deprived.

An agitation of this kind, deriving as it does its principles and purposes from the very source of American democracy, would seem to deserve the support of all good Americans: and such support was in the beginning expected. Reformers have always tended to believe that their agitation ought to be and essentially was non-partisan. They considered it inconceivable either that patriotic American citizens should hesitate about restoring the purity and vigor of American institutions, or such an object should not appeal to every disinterested man, irrespective of party. It was a fight between the law and its violators, between the Faithful and the Heretic, between the Good and the Wicked. In such a fight there was, of course, only one aide to take. It was not to be doubted that the honest men, who constitute, of course, an enormous majority of the "plain people," would rally to the banners of reform. The rascals would be turned out; the people would regain their economic opportunities and political rights; and the American democracy would pursue undefiled its triumphant career of legalized prosperity.

These hopes have never been realized. Reform has rarely been non-partisan—except in the minds of its more innocent advocates. Now and then an agitation for municipal reform in a particular city will suffer a spasm of non-partisanship; but the reformers soon develop such lively differences among themselves, that they separate into special groups or else resume their regular party ties. Their common conception of reform as fundamentally a moral awakening, which seeks to restore the American, political and economic system to its early purity and vigor, does not help them to unity of action or to unity in the framing of a remedial policy. Different reformers really mean something very different by the traditional system, from which American practice has departed and which they propose to restore. Some of them mean thereby a condition of spiritual excellence, which will be restored by a sort of politico-moral revivalism and which will somehow make the results of divine and popular election coincide. Others mean nothing more than the rigid enforcement of existing laws. Still others mean a new legal expression of the traditional democratic principle, framed to meet the new political and social conditions; but the reformers who agree upon this last conception of reform disagree radically as to what the new legal expression should be. The traditional system, which they seek to restore, assumes almost as many shapes as there are leading reformers; and as the reforming movement develops, the disagreements among the reformers become more instead of less definite and acute.

The inability of the reformers to coöperate in action or to agree as to the application of their principles is in part merely a natural result of their essential work. Reformers are primarily protestants; and protestants are naturally insubordinate. They have been protesting against the established order in American business and politics. Their protest implies a certain degree of moral and intellectual independence, which makes them dislike to surrender or subordinate their own personal opinions and manner of action. Such independence is a new and refreshing thing, which has suddenly made American politics much more interesting and significant than it has been at any time since the Civil War. It has a high value wholly apart from its immediate political results. It means that the American people are beginning a new phase of their political experience,—a phase in which there will be room for a much freer play of individual ability and character. Inevitably the sudden realization by certain exceptional politicians that they have a right to be individuals, and that they can take a strong line of their own in politics without being disqualified for practical political association with their fellow-countrymen—such a new light could hardly break without tempting the performers to over-play the part. The fact that they have over-played their parts, and have wasted time and energy over meaningless and unnecessary disagreements is not in itself a matter of much importance. The great majority of them are disinterested and patriotic men, who will not allow in the long run either personal ambition or political crotchets to prevent them from coöperating for the good of the cause.

Unfortunately, however, neither public spirit nor patriotism will be sufficient to bring them effectively together—any more than genuine excellence of intention and real public spirit enabled patriotic Americans to coöperate upon a remedial policy during the years immediately preceding the Civil War. The plain fact is that the traditional American political system, which so many good reformers wish to restore by some sort of reforming revivalism, is just as much responsible for the existing political and economic abuses as the Constitution was responsible for the evil of slavery. As long, consequently, as reform is considered to be a species of higher conservatism, the existing abuses can no more be frankly faced and fully understood than the Whig leaders were able to face and understand the full meaning and consequences of any attempt on the part of a democracy to keep house with slavery. The first condition of a better understanding and a more efficient coöperation among the reforming leaders is a better understanding of the meaning of reform and the function of reformers. They will never be united on the basis of allegiance to the traditional American political creed, because that creed itself is overflowing with inconsistencies and ambiguities, which afford a footing for almost every extreme of radicalism and conservatism; and in case they persist in the attempt to reform political and economic abuses merely by a restoration of earlier conditions and methods, they will be compromising much that is good in the present economic and political organization without recovering that which was good in the past.


The prevailing preconception of the reformers, that the existing evils and abuses have been due chiefly to the energy and lack of scruple with which business men and politicians have taken advantage of the good but easy-going American, and that a general increase of moral energy, assisted by some minor legal changes, will restore the balance,—such a conception of the situation is less than half true. No doubt, the "plain people" of the United States have been morally indifferent, and have allowed unscrupulous special interests to usurp too much power; but that is far from being the whole story. The unscrupulous energy of the "Boss" or the "tainted" millionaire is vitally related to the moral indifference of the "plain people." Both of them have been encouraged to believe by the nature of our traditional ideas and institutions that a man could be patriotic without being either public-spirited or disinterested. The democratic state has been conceived as a piece of political machinery, which existed for the purpose of securing certain individual rights and opportunities—the expectation being that the greatest individual happiness would be thereby promoted, and one which harmonized with the public interest. Consequently when the "Boss" and the "tainted" millionaire took advantage of this situation to secure for themselves an unusually large amount of political and economic power, they were putting into practice an idea which traditionally had been entirely respectable, and which during the pioneer period had not worked badly. On the other hand, when, the mass of American voters failed to detect the danger of such usurpation until it had gone altogether too far, they, too, were not without warrant for their lethargy and callousness. They, too, in a smaller way had considered the American political and economic system chiefly as a system framed for their individual benefit, and it did not seem sportsmanlike to turn and rend their more successful competitors, until they were told that the "trusts" and the "Bosses" were violating the sacred principle of equal rights. Thus the abuses of which we are complaining are not weeds which have been allowed to spring up from neglect, and which can be eradicated by a man with a hoe. They are cultivated plants, which, if not precisely specified in the plan of the American political and economic garden, have at least been encouraged by traditional methods of cultivation.

The fact that this dangerous usurpation of power has been accomplished partly by illegal methods has blinded many reformers to two considerations, which have a vital relation to both the theory and the practice of reform. Violation of the law was itself partly the result of conflicting and unwise state legislation, and for this reason did not seem very heinous either to its perpetrators or to public opinion. But even if the law had not been violated, similar results would have followed. Under the traditional American system, with the freedom permitted to the individual, with the restriction placed on the central authority, and with its assumption of a substantial identity between the individual and the public interest—under such a system unusually energetic and unscrupulous men were bound to seize a kind and an amount of political and economic power which was not entirely wholesome. They had a license to do so; and if they had failed to take advantage thereof, their failure would have been an indication, not of disinterestedness or moral impeccability, but of sheer weakness and inefficiency.

How utterly confusing it is, consequently, to consider reform as equivalent merely to the restoration of the American democracy to a former condition of purity and excellence! Our earlier political and economic condition was not at its best a fit subject for any great amount of complacency. It cannot be restored, even if we would; and the public interest has nothing to gain by its restoration. The usurpation of power by "trusts" and "Bosses" is more than anything else an expression of a desirable individual initiative and organizing ability—which have been allowed to become dangerous and partly corrupt, because of the incoherence and the lack of purpose and responsibility in the traditional American political and economic system. A "purification" might well destroy the good with the evil; and even if it were successful in eradicating certain abuses, would only prepare the way for the outbreak in another form of the tendency towards individual aggrandizement and social classification. No amount of moral energy, directed merely towards the enforcement of the laws, can possibly avail to accomplish any genuine or lasting reform. It is the laws themselves which are partly at fault, and still more at fault is the group of ideas and traditional practices behind the laws.

Reformers have failed for the most part to reach a correct diagnosis of existing political and economic abuses, because they are almost as much the victim of perverted, confused, and routine habits of political thought as is the ordinary politician. They have eschewed the tradition of partisan conformity in reference to controverted political questions, but they have not eschewed a still more insidious tradition of conformity—the tradition that a patriotic American citizen must not in his political thinking go beyond the formulas consecrated in the sacred American writings. They adhere to the stupefying rule that the good Fathers of the Republic relieved their children from the necessity of vigorous, independent, or consistent thinking in political matters,—that it is the duty of their loyal children to repeat the sacred words and then await a miraculous consummation of individual and social prosperity. Accordingly, all the leading reformers begin by piously reiterating certain phrases about equal rights for all and special privileges for none, and of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Having in this way proved their fundamental political orthodoxy, they proceed to interpret the phrases according to their personal, class, local, and partisan preconceptions and interests. They have never stopped to inquire whether the principle of equal rights in its actual embodiment in American institutional and political practice has not been partly responsible for some of the existing abuses, whether it is either a safe or sufficient platform for a reforming movement, and whether its continued proclamation as the fundamental political principle of a democracy will help or hinder the higher democratic consummation. Their unquestioning orthodoxy in this respect has made them faithless both to their own personal interest as reformers and to the cause of reform. Reform exclusively as a moral protest and awakening is condemned to sterility. Reformers exclusively as moral protestants and purifiers are condemned to misdirected effort, to an illiberal puritanism, and to personal self-stultification. Reform must necessarily mean an intellectual as well as a moral challenge; and its higher purposes will never be accomplished unless it is accompanied by a masterful and jubilant intellectual awakening.

All Americans, whether they are professional politicians or reformer, "predatory" millionaires or common people, political philosophers or schoolboys, accept the principle of "equal rights for all and special privileges for none" as the absolutely sufficient rule of an American democratic political system. The platforms of both parties testify on its behalf. Corporation lawyers and their clients appear frequently to believe in it. Tammany offers tribute to it during every local political campaign in New York. A Democratic Senator, in the intervals between his votes for increased duties on the products of his state, declares it to be the summary of all political wisdom. The fact that Mr. Bryan incorporates it in most of his speeches does not prevent Mr. Hearst from keeping it standing in type for the purpose of showing how very American the American can be. The fact that Mr. Hearst has appropriated it with the American flag as belonging peculiarly to himself has not prevented Mr. Roosevelt from explaining the whole of his policy of reform as at the bottom an attempt to restore a "Square Deal"—that is, a condition of equal rights and non-existing privileges. More radical reformers find the same principle equally useful for their own purposes. Mr. Frederic C. Howe, in his "Hope of Democracy," bases an elaborate scheme of municipal socialism exclusively upon it. Mr. William Smythe, in his "Constructive Democracy," finds warrant in the same principle for the immediate purchase by the central government of the railway and "trust" franchises. Mr. Henry George, Jr., in his "Menace of Privilege," asserts that the plain American citizen can never enjoy equality of rights as long as land, mines, railroad rights of way and terminals, and the like remain in the hands of private owners. The collectivist socialists are no less certain that the institution of private property necessarily gives some men an unjust advantage over others. There is no extreme of radicalism or conservatism, of individualism or socialism, of Republicanism or Democracy, which does not rest its argument on this one consummate principle.

In this respect, the good American finds himself in a situation similar to that with which he was confronted before the Civil War. At that time, also, Abolitionist and slave-holder, Republican and pioneer Democrat, each of them declared himself to be the interpreter of the true democratic doctrine; and no substantial progress could be made towards the settlement of the question, until public opinion had been instructed as to the real meaning of democracy in relation to the double-headed problem of slavery and states' rights. It required the utmost intellectual courage and ability to emancipate the conception of democracy from the illusions and confusions of thought which enabled Davis, Douglas, and Garrison all to pose as impeccable democrats; and at the present time reformers need to devote as much ability and more courage to the task of framing a fitting creed for a reformed and reforming American democracy.

The political lessons of the anti-slavery and states' rights discussions may not be of much obvious assistance in thinking out such a creed; but they should at least help the reformers to understand the methods whereby the purposes of a reformed democracy can be achieved. No progress was made towards the solution of the slavery question until the question itself was admitted to be national in scope, and its solution a national responsibility. No substantial progress had been made in the direction of reform until it began to be understood that here, also, a national responsibility existed, which demanded an exercise of the powers of the central government. Reform is both meaningless and powerless unless the Jeffersonian principle of non-interference is abandoned. The experience of the last generation plainly shows that the American economic and social system cannot be allowed to take care of itself, and that the automatic harmony of the individual and the public interest, which is the essence of the Jeffersonian democratic creed, has proved to be an illusion. Interference with the natural course of individual and popular action there must be in the public interest; and such interference must at least be sufficient to accomplish its purposes. The house of the American democracy is again by way of being divided against itself, because the national interest has not been consistently asserted as against special and local interests; and again, also, it can be reunited only by being partly reconstructed on better foundations. If reform does not and cannot mean restoration, it is bound to mean reconstruction.

The reformers have come partly to realize that the Jeffersonian policy of drift must be abandoned. They no longer expect the American ship of state by virtue of its own righteous framework to sail away to a safe harbor in the Promised Land. They understand that there must be a vigorous and conscious assertion of the public as opposed to private and special interests, and that the American people must to a greater extent than they have in the past subordinate the latter to the former. They behave as if the American ship of state will hereafter require careful steering; and a turn or two at the wheel has given them some idea of the course they must set. On the other hand, even the best of them have not learned the name of its ultimate destination, the full difficulties of the navigation, or the stern discipline which may eventually be imposed upon the ship's crew. They do not realize, that is, how thoroughly Jeffersonian individualism must be abandoned for the benefit of a genuinely individual and social consummation; and they do not realize how dangerous and fallacious a chart their cherished principle of equal rights may well become. In reviving the practice of vigorous national action for the achievement of a national purpose, the better reformers have, if they only knew it, been looking in the direction of a much more trustworthy and serviceable political principle. The assumption of such a responsibility implies the rejection of a large part of the Jeffersonian creed, and a renewed attempt to establish in its place the popularity of its Hamiltonian rival. On the other hand, it involves no less surely the transformation of Hamiltonianism into a thoroughly democratic political principle. None of these inferences have, however, as yet been generally drawn, and no leading reformer has sought to give reform its necessary foundation of positive, political principle.

Only a very innocent person will expect reformers to be convinced of such a novel notion of reform by mere assertion, no matter how emphatic, or by argument, no matter how conclusive. But if, as I have said, reform actually implies a criticism of traditional American ideas, and a more responsible and more positive conception of democracy, these implications will necessarily be revealed in the future history of the reforming agitation. The reformers who understand will be assisted by the logic of events, whereas those who cannot and will not understand will be thwarted by the logic of events. Gradually (it may be anticipated) reformers, who dare to criticise and who are not afraid to reconstruct will be sharply distinguished from reformers who believe reform to be a species of higher conservatism. The latter will be forced where they belong into the ranks of the supporters and beneficiaries of the existing system; and the party of genuine reform will be strengthened by their departure. On the other hand, the sincere and thorough-going reformers can hardly avoid a division into two divergent groups. One of these groups will stick faithfully to the principle of equal rights and to the spirit of the true Jeffersonian faith. It will seek still further to undermine the representative character of American institutions, to deprive official leadership of any genuine responsibility, and to cultivate individualism at the expense of individual and national integrity. The second group, on the other hand, may learn from experience that the principle of equal rights is a dangerous weapon in the hands of factious and merely revolutionary agitators, and even that such a principle is only a partial and poverty-stricken statement of the purpose of a democratic polity. The logic of its purposes will compel it to favor the principle of responsible representative government, and it will seek to forge institutions which will endow responsible political government with renewed life. Above all, it may discover that the attempt to unite the Hamiltonian principle of national political responsibility and efficiency with a frank democratic purpose will give a new meaning to the Hamiltonian system of political ideas and a new power to democracy.


One would hardly dare to assert that such a future for the reforming agitation is already prophesied by the history of reform; but the divergence between different classes of the reformers is certainly widening, and some such alignment can already be distinguished. Hitherto I have been classing reformers together and have been occupied in pointing out the merits and failings which they possess in common. Such a method of treatment hardly does justice to the significance of their mutual disagreements, or to the individual value of their several personalities and points of view. In many instances their disagreements are meaningless, and are not the result of any genuine conviction; but in other instances they do represent a relevant and significant conflict of ideas. It remains to be seen, consequently, what can be made out of their differences of opinion and policy, and whether they point in the direction of a gradual transformation of the agitation for reform. For this purpose I shall select a number of leading reformers whose work has been most important, and whose individual opinions are most significant, and seek some sort of an appraisal both of the comparative value of their work and of the promise of their characteristic ideas. The men who naturally suggest themselves for this purpose are William J. Bryan, William Travers Jerome, William Randolph Hearst, and Theodore Roosevelt. Each of these gentlemen throughout his public life has consistently stood for reform of one kind or another; and together they include almost every popular brand or phase thereof. Reform as a practical agitation is pretty well exhausted by the points of view of these four gentlemen. They exhibit its weakness and its strength, its illusions and its good intentions, its dangerous and its salutary tendencies.

Be it remarked at the outset that three of these gentlemen call themselves Democrats, while the fourth has been the official leader of the Republican party. The distinction to be made on this ground is sufficiently obvious, but it is also extremely important. The three Democrats differ among themselves in certain very important respects, and these differences will receive their full share of attention. Nevertheless the fact that under ordinary circumstances they affiliate with the Democratic party and accept its traditions gives them certain common characteristics, and (it must be added) subjects them to certain common disabilities. On the other hand the fact that Theodore Roosevelt, although a reformer from the very beginning of his public life, has resolutely adhered to the Republican partisan organization and has accepted its peculiar traditions,—this fact, also, has largely determined the character and the limits of his work. These limits are plainly revealed in the opinions, the public policy, and the public action of the four typical reformers; and attempt to appraise the value of their individual opinions and their personalities must be constantly checked by a careful consideration of the advantages or disadvantages which they have enjoyed or suffered from their partisan ties.

Mr. William J. Bryan is a fine figure of a man—amiable, winning, disinterested, courageous, enthusiastic, genuinely patriotic, and after a fashion liberal in spirit. Although he hails from Nebraska, he is in temperament a Democrat of the Middle Period—a Democrat of the days when organization in business and politics did not count for as much as it does to-day, and when excellent intentions and noble sentiments embodied in big flowing words were the popular currency of American democracy. But while an old-fashioned Democrat in temperament, he has become in ideas a curious mixture of traditional democracy and modern Western radicalism; and he can, perhaps, be best understood as a Democrat of both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian tendencies, who has been born a few generations too late. He is honestly seeking to deal with contemporary American political problems in the spirit, if not according to the letter, of traditional democracy; but though he is making a gallant fight and a brave show, his efforts are not being rewarded with any conspicuous measure of success.

Mr. Bryan has always been a reformer, but his programme of reform has always been ill conceived. His first conspicuous appearance in public life in the Democratic Convention of 1806 was occasioned by the acute and widespread economic distress among his own people west of the Mississippi; and the means whereby he sought to remedy that distress, viz. by a change in the currency system, which would enable the Western debtors partly to repudiate their debts, was a genuine result of Jacksonian economic ideas. The Jacksonian Democracy, being the product of agricultural life, and being inexperienced in the complicated business of finance, has always relished financial heresies. Bryan's first campaign was, consequently, a new assertion of a time-honored tendency of his party; and in other respects, also, he exhibited a lingering fealty to its older traditions. Reformer though he be, he has never been much interested in civil service reform, or in any agitations looking in the direction of the diminution of the influence of the professional politician. The reforms for which he has stood have been economic, and he has had little sympathy with any thorough-going attempt to disturb even such an equivocally Democratic institution as the spoils system. Yet his lack of sympathy with this aspect of reform was not due to any preference for corruption. It must be traced to a persistence of the old Democratic prejudice that administrative specialization, like other kinds of expert service, implied a discrimination against the average Democrat.

After the revival of prosperity among his own people had shown that partial repudiation was not the only cure for poverty, Mr. Bryan fought his second campaign chiefly on the issue of imperialism, and again met with defeat. But in this instance his platform was influenced more by Jeffersonian than Jacksonian ideas. The Jacksonian Democracy had always been expansionist in disposition and policy, and under the influence of their nationalism they had lost interest in Jefferson's humanitarianism. In this matter, however, Mr. Bryan has shown more sympathy with the first than with the second phase of the Democratic tradition; and in making this choice he was undoubtedly more faithful to the spirit and the letter of the Democratic creed than were the expansionist Democrats of the Middle Period. The traditional American democracy has frequently been national in feeling, but it has never been national in idea and purpose. In the campaign of 1900 Mr. Bryan committed himself and his party to an anti-national point of view; and no matter how well intentioned and consistent he was in so doing, he made a second mistake, even more disastrous than the first. In seeking to prevent his countrymen from asserting their national interest beyond their own continent, he was also opposing in effect the resolute assertion of the national interest in domestic affairs. He stamped himself, that is, as an anti-nationalist, and his anti-nationalism has disqualified him for effective leadership of the party of reform.

Mr. Bryan's anti-nationalism is peculiarly embarrassing to his political efficiency just because he is, as I have indicated, in many of his ideas an advanced contemporary radical. He is, indeed, more of a radical than any other political leader of similar prominence; and his radicalism is the result of a sincere and a candid attempt to think out a satisfactory solution of the contemporary economic and political problems. As a result of these reflections he dared to advocate openly and unequivocally the public ownership of the railway system of the country; and he has proposed, also, a measure of Federal regulation of corporations, conducting an inter-state business, much more drastic than that of Mr. Roosevelt. These proposed increases of Federal responsibility and power would have been considered outrageous by an old-fashioned Democrat; and they indicate on the part of Mr. Bryan an unusually liberal and courageous mind. But the value and effect of his radicalism is seriously impaired by the manner in which it is qualified. He proposes in one breath enormous increases of Federal power and responsibility, and in the next betrays the old Democratic distrust of effective national organization. He is willing to grant power to the Federal authorities, but he denies them any confidence, because of the democratic tradition of an essential conflict between political authority, particularly so far as it is centralized, and the popular interest. He is incapable of adapting his general political theories to his actual political programme; and, consequently, the utmost personal enthusiasm on his part and great power of effective political agitation cannot give essential coherence, substantial integrity, or triumphant effect to his campaigns.

The incoherence of his political thinking is best exemplified by the way in which he proposed to nationalize the American railway system. His advocacy of public ownership was the most courageous act of his political career; but he soon showed that he was prepared neither to insist upon such a policy nor even to carry it to a logical conclusion. Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he became horrified at his own audacity and sought to mitigate its effects. He admitted that the centralization of so much power was dangerous, and he sought to make these dangers less by proposing that the states appropriate the railroads operating within the boundaries of one state, and the central government, only the large inter-state systems. But this qualification destroyed the effect of his Federalist audacity. The inter-state railroads constitute such an enormous percentage of the total mileage of the country that if centralized governmental control was dangerous for all the railroads of the country, it would be almost equally dangerous for that proportion of the railway mileage operated as part of inter-state systems. In the one and the same speech, that is, Mr. Bryan placed himself on record as a radical centralizer of economic and political power and as a man who was on general principles afraid of centralization and opposed to it. No wonder public opinion did not take his proposal seriously, and no wonder he himself has gradually dropped it out of his practical programme.

The confusion and inconsistency of Mr. Bryan's own thinking is merely the reflection of the confusion and inconsistency resident in the creed of his party. It is particularly conspicuous in his case, because he is, as I have intimated, a sincere and within limits a candid thinker; but Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democrats alike have always distrusted and condemned the means whereby alone the underlying purposes of democracy can be fulfilled. Mr. Bryan is in no respect more genuinely Democratic than in his incoherence. The remedial policy which he proposes for the ills of the American political body are meaningless, unless sustained by faith in the ability of the national political organization to promote the national welfare. His needs for the success and integrity of his own policy a conviction which his traditions prevent him from entertaining. He is possessed by the time-honored Democratic dislike of organization and of the faith in expert skill, in specialized training, and in large personal opportunities and responsibilities which are implied by a trust in organization. Of course he himself would deny that he was the enemy of anything which made towards human betterment, for it is characteristic of the old-fashioned Democrats verbally to side with the angels, but at the same time to insist on clipping their wings. His fundamental prejudice against efficient organization and personal independence is plainly betrayed by his opinions in relation to institutional reform—which are absolutely those of a Democrat of the Middle Period. He is on record in favor of destroying the independence of the Federal judiciary by making it elective, of diminishing the authority of the President by allowing him only a suspensive veto on legislation, and of converting representative assemblies into a machinery, like that of the old French Parliaments, for merely registering the Sovereign will. Faith in the people and confidence in popular government means to Mr. Bryan an utter lack of faith in those personal instruments whereby such rule can be endowed with foresight, moderation, and direction. Confidence in the average man, that is, means to him distrust in the exceptional man, or in any sort of organization which bestows on the exceptional man an opportunity equal to his ability and equipment. He stands for the sacrifice of the individual to the popular average; and the perpetuation of such a sacrifice would mean ultimate democratic degeneration.


Mr. William Travers Jerome has not so assured a rank in the hierarchy of reformers as he had a few years ago, but his work and his point of view remain typical and significant. Unlike Mr. Bryan, he is in temperament and sympathies far from being an old-fashioned Democrat. He is, as his official expositor, the late Mr. Alfred Hodder, says, "a typical American of the new time." No old-fashioned Democrat would have smoked cigarettes, tossed dice in public for drinks, and "handed out" slang to his constituents; and his unconventionally in these respects is merely an occasional expression of a novel, individual, and refreshing point of view. Mr. Jerome alone among American politicians has made a specialty of plain speaking. He has revolted against the tradition in our politics which seeks to stop every leak with a good intention and plaster every sore with a "decorative phrase." He has, says Mr. Hodder, "a partly Gallic passion for intellectual veracity, for a clear recognition of the facts before him, however ugly, and a wholly Gallic hatred of hypocrisy." It is Mr. Jerome's intellectual veracity, his somewhat conscious and strenuous ideal of plain speaking, which has been his personal contribution to the cause of reform; and he is right in believing it to be a very important contribution. The effective work of reform, as has already been pointed out, demands on the part of its leaders the intellectual virtues of candor, consistency, and a clear recognition of facts. In Mr. Jerome's own case his candor and his clear recognition of facts have been used almost exclusively in the field of municipal reform. He has vigorously protested against existing laws which have been passed in obedience to a rigorous puritanism, which, because of their defiance of stubborn facts, can scarcely be enforced, and whose statutory existence merely provides an opportunity for the "grafter." He has clearly discerned that in seeking the amendment of such laws he is obliged to fight, not merely an unwise statute, but an erroneous, superficial, and hypocritical state of mind. Although it may have been his own official duty as district attorney to see that certain laws are enforced and to prosecute the law breakers, he fully realizes that municipal reform at least will never attain its ends until the public—the respectable, well-to-do, church-going public—is converted to an abandonment of what Mr. Hodder calls administrative lying. Consequently his intellectual candor is more than a personal peculiarity—more even than an extremely effective method of popular agitation. It is the expression of a deeper aspect of reform, which many respectable reformers, not merely ignore, but fear and reprobate,—an aspect of reform which can never prevail until the reformers themselves are subjected to a process of purgation and education.

It has happened, however, that Mr. Jerome's reputation and successes have been won in the field of local politics; and, unfortunately, as soon as he transgressed the boundaries of that field, he lost his efficiency, his insight, and, to my mind, his interest. Only a year after he was elected to the district attorneyship of New York County, in spite of the opposition both of Tammany and William R. Hearst, he offered himself as a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination of New York on the comprehensive platform of his oath of office; but in the larger arena his tactics proved to be ineffective, and his recent popularity of small avail. He cut no figure at all in the convention, and a very insignificant one outside. Neither was there any reason to be surprised at this result. In municipal politics he stood for an ideal and a method of agitation which was both individual and of great value. In state and national politics he stood for nothing individual, for nothing of peculiar value, for no specific group of ideas or scheme of policy. The announcement that a candidate's platform consists of his oath of office doubtless has a full persuasive sound to many Americans; but it was none the less on Mr. Jerome's part an inept and meaningless performance. He was bidding for support merely on the ground that he was an honest man who proposed to keep his word; but honesty and good faith are qualities which the public have a right to take for granted in their officials, and no candidate can lay peculiar claim to them without becoming politically sanctimonious. Mr. Hearst's strength consisted in the fact that he had for years stood for a particular group of ideas and a particular attitude of mind towards the problems of state and national politics, while Mr. Jerome's weakness consisted in the fact that he had never really tried to lead public opinion in relation to state and national political problems, and that he was obliged to claim support on the score of personal moral superiority to his opponent. The moral superiority may be admitted; but alone it never would and never should contribute to his election. In times like these a reformer must identify a particular group of remedial measures with his public personality. The public has a right to know in what definite ways a reformer's righteousness is to be made effective; and Mr. Jerome has never taken any vigorous and novel line in relation to the problems of state and national politics. When he speaks on those subjects, he loses his vivacity, and betrays in his thinking a tendency to old-fashioned Democracy far beyond that of Mr. Bryan. He becomes in his opinions eminently respectable and tolerably dull, which is, as the late Mr. Alfred Hodder could have told him, quite out of keeping with the part of a "New American."

Mr. Jerome has never given the smallest evidence of having taken serious independent thought on our fundamental political problems. In certain points of detail respecting general political questions he has shown a refreshing freedom from conventional illusions; but, so far as I know, no public word has ever escaped him, which indicates that he has applied his "ideal of intellectual veracity," "his Gallic instinct for consistency," to the creed of his own party. When confronted by the fabric of traditional Jeffersonian Democracy, his mind, like that of so many other Democrats, is immediately lulled into repose. In one of his speeches, for instance, he has referred to his party as essentially the party of "liberal ideas," and he was much praised by the anti-Hearst newspapers for this consoling description; but it can hardly be considered as an illustration of Mr. Jerome's "intellectual veracity." If by "liberal ideas" one means economic and political heresies, such as nullification, "squatter" sovereignty, secession, free silver, and occasional projects of repudiation, then, indeed, the Democracy has been a party of "liberal ideas." But heresies of this kind are not the expression of liberal thought; they are the result of various phases of local political and economic discontent. When a group of Democrats become "liberal," it usually means that they are doing a bad business, or are suffering from a real or supposed injury. But if by "liberal" we mean, not merely radical and subversive, but progressive national ideas, the application of the adjective to the Democratic party is attended with certain difficulties. In the course of American history what measure of legislation expressive of a progressive national idea can be attributed to the Democratic party? At times it has been possessed by certain revolutionary tendencies; at other times it has been steeped in Bourbon conservatism. At present it is alternating between one and the other, according to the needs and opportunities of the immediate political situation. It is trying to find room within its hospitable folds for both Alton B. Parker and William J. Bryan, and it has such an appetite for inconsistencies that it may succeed. But in that event one would expect some symptoms of uneasiness on the part of a Democratic reformer with "Gallic clearness and consistency of mind, with an instinct for consistency, and a hatred of hypocrisy."


The truth is that Mr. William R. Hearst offers his countrymen a fair expression of the kind of "liberal ideas" proper to the creed of democracy. In respect to patriotism and personal character Mr. Bryan is a better example of the representative Democrat than is Mr. Hearst; but in the tendency and spirit of his agitation for reform Hearst more completely reveals the true nature of Democratic "liberalism." When Mr. Lincoln Steffens asserts on the authority of the "man of mystery" himself that one of Hearst's mysterious actions has been a profound and searching study of Jeffersonian doctrine, I can almost bring myself to believe the assertion. The radicalism of Hearst is simply an unscrupulous expression of the radical element in the Jeffersonian tradition. He bases his whole agitation upon the sacred idea of equal rights for all and special privileges for none, and he indignantly disclaims the taint of socialism. His specific remedial proposals do not differ essentially from those of Mr. Bryan. His methods of agitation and his popular catch words are an ingenious adaptation of Jefferson to the needs of political "yellow journalism." He is always an advocate of the popular fact. He always detests the unpopular word. He approves expansion, but abhors imperialism. He welcomes any opportunity for war, but execrates militarism. He wants the Federal government to crush the trusts by the most drastic legislation, but he is opposed to centralization. The institutional reforms which he favors all of them look in the direction of destroying what remains of judicial, executive, or legislative independence. The whole programme is as incoherent as is that of Mr. Bryan; but incoherence is the least of his faults. Mr. Bryan's inconsistencies are partly redeemed by his genuine patriotism. The distracting effect of Hearst's inconsistencies is intensified by his factiousness. He is more and less than a radical. He is in temper a revolutionist. The disgust and distrust which he excites is the issue of a wholesome political and social instinct, for the political instincts of the American people are often much sounder than their ideas. Hearst and Hearstism is a living menace to the orderly process of reform and to American national integrity.

Hearst is revolutionary in spirit, because the principle of equal rights itself, in the hand either of a fanatic or a demagogue, can be converted into a revolutionary principle. He considers, as do all reformers, the prevalent inequalities of economic and political power to be violations of that principle. He also believes in the truth of American political individualism, and in the adequacy, except in certain minor respects, of our systems of inherited institutions. How, then, did these inequalities come about? How did the Democratic political system of Jefferson and Jackson issue in undemocratic inequalities? The answer is obviously (and it is an answer drawn by other reformers) that these inequalities are the work of wicked and unscrupulous men. Financial or political pirates of one kind or another have been preying on the guileless public, and by means of their aggressions have perversely violated the supreme law of equal rights. These men must be exposed; they must be denounced as enemies of the people; they must be held up to public execration and scorn; they must become the objects of a righteous popular vengeance. Such are the feelings and ideas which possess the followers of Hearst, and on the basis of which Hearst himself acts and talks. An apparent justification is reached for a systematic vilification of the trusts, the "predatory" millionaires and their supporters; and such vilification has become Hearst's peculiar stock in trade. In effect he treats his opponents very much as the French revolutionary leaders treated their opponents, so that in case the conflict should become still more embittered, his "reformed" democracy may resemble the purified republic of which Robespierre and St. Just dreamed when they sent Desmoulins and Danton to the guillotine. When he embodies such ideas and betrays such a spirit, the disputed point as to Hearst's sincerity sinks into insignificance. A fanatic sincerely possessed by these ideas is a more dangerous menace to American national integrity and the Promise of American democracy than the sheerest demagogue.

The logic of Hearst's agitation is analogous to the logic of the anti-slavery agitation in 1830, and Hearstism is merely Abolitionism applied to a new material and translated into rowdy journalism. The Abolitionists, believing as they did, that the institution of slavery violated an abstract principle of political justice, felt thereby fully authorized to vilify the Southern slaveholders as far as the resources of the English language would permit. They attempted to remedy one injustice by committing another injustice; and by the violence of their methods they almost succeeded in tearing apart the good fabric of our national life. Hearst is headed in precisely the same direction. He is doing a radical injustice to a large body of respectable American citizens who, like Hearst himself, have merely shown a certain lack of scruple in taking advantage of the opportunities which the American political and economic system offers, and who have been distinguished rather by peculiar ability and energy than by peculiar selfishness. On a rigid interpretation of the principle of equal rights he may be justified in holding them up to public execration, just as the Abolitionists, on the principle that the right to freedom was a Divine law, might be justified in vilifying the Southerners. But as a matter of fact we know that personally neither the millionaire nor the slave-holder deserves such denunciation; and we ought to know that the prejudices and passions provoked by language of this kind violate the essential principle both of nationality and democracy. The foundation of nationality is mutual confidence and fair dealing, and the aim of democracy is a better quality of human nature effected by a higher type of human association. Hearstism, like Abolitionism, is the work of unbalanced and vindictive men, and increases enormously the difficulty of the wise and effective cure of the contemporary evils.

Yet Hearst, as little as the millionaires he denounces, is not entirely responsible for himself. Such a responsibility would be too heavy for the shoulders of one man. He has been given to the American people for their sins in politics and economics. His opponents may scold him as much as they please. They may call him a demagogue and a charlatan; they may accuse him of corrupting the public mind and pandering to degrading passions; they may declare that his abusive attacks on the late Mr. McKinley were at least indirectly the cause of that gentleman's assassination; they may, in short, behave and talk as if he were a much more dangerous public enemy than the most "tainted" millionaire or the most corrupt politician. Nevertheless they cannot deprive him or his imitators of the standing to be obtained from the proclamation of a rigorous interpretation of the principle of equal rights. Hearst has understood that principle better than the other reformers, or the conservatives who claim its authority. He has exhibited its disintegrating and revolutionary implications; and he has convinced a large, though fluctuating, following that he is only fighting for justice. He personally may or may not have run his course, but it is manifest that his peculiar application of the principle of equal rights to our contemporary economic and political problems has come to stay. As long as that principle keeps its present high position in the hierarchy of American political ideas, just so long will it afford authority and countenance to agitators like Hearst. He is not a passing danger, which will disappear in case the truly Herculean efforts to discredit him personally continue to be successful. Just as slavery was the ghost in the House of the American Democracy during the Middle Period, so Hearstism is and will remain the ghost in the House of Reform. And the incantation by which it will be permanently exorcised has not yet been publicly phrased.


It is fortunate, consequently, that one reformer can be named whose work has tended to give reform the dignity of a constructive mission. Mr. Theodore Roosevelt's behavior at least is not dictated by negative conception of reform. During the course of an extremely active and varied political career he has, indeed, been all kinds of a reformer. His first appearance in public life, as a member of the Legislature of New York, coincided with an outbreak of dissatisfaction over the charter of New York City; and Mr. Roosevelt's name was identified with the bills which began the revision of that very much revised instrument. Somewhat later, as one of the Federal Commissioners, Mr. Roosevelt made a most useful contribution to the more effective enforcement of the Civil Service Law. Still later, as Police Commissioner of New York City, he had his experience of reform by means of unregenerate instruments and administrative lies. Then, as Governor of the State of New York, he was instrumental in securing the passage of a law taxing franchises as real property and thus faced for the first time and in a preliminary way the many-headed problem of the trusts. Finally, when an accident placed him in the Presidential chair, he consistently used the power of the Federal government and his own influence and popularity for the purpose of regulating the corporations in what he believed to be the public interest. No other American has had anything like so varied and so intimate an acquaintance with the practical work of reform as has Mr. Roosevelt; and when, after more than twenty years of such experience, he adds to the work of administrative reform the additional task of political and economic reconstruction, his originality cannot be considered the result of innocence. Mr. Roosevelt's reconstructive policy does not go very far in purpose or achievement, but limited as it is, it does tend to give the agitation for reform the benefit of a much more positive significance and a much more dignified task.

Mr. Roosevelt has imparted a higher and more positive significance to reform, because throughout his career he has consistently stood for an idea, from which the idea of reform cannot be separated—namely, the national idea. He has, indeed, been even more of a nationalist than he has a reformer. His most important literary work was a history of the beginning of American national expansion. He has treated all public questions from a vigorous, even from an extreme, national standpoint. No American politician was more eager to assert the national interest against an actual or a possible foreign enemy; and not even William R. Hearst was more resolute to involve his country in a war with Spain. Fortunately, however, his aggressive nationalism did not, like that of so many other statesmen, faint from exhaustion as soon as there were no more foreign enemies to defy. He was the first political leader of the American people to identify the national principle with an ideal of reform. He was the first to realize that an American statesman could no longer really represent the national interest without becoming a reformer. Mr. Grover Cleveland showed a glimmering of the necessity of this affiliation; but he could not carry it far, because, as a sincere traditional Democrat, he could not reach a clear understanding of the meaning either of reform or of nationality. Mr. Roosevelt, however, divined that an American statesman who eschewed or evaded the work of reform came inevitably to represent either special and local interests or else a merely Bourbon political tradition, and in this way was disqualified for genuinely national service. He divined that the national principle involved a continual process of internal reformation; and that the reforming idea implied the necessity of more efficient national organization. Consequently, when he became President of the United States and the official representative of the national interest of the country, he attained finally his proper sphere of action. He immediately began the salutary and indispensable work of nationalizing the reform movement.

The nationalization of reform endowed the movement with new vitality and meaning. What Mr. Roosevelt really did was to revive the Hamiltonian ideal of constructive national legislation. During the whole of the nineteenth century that ideal, while by no means dead, was disabled by associations and conditions from active and efficient service. Not until the end of the Spanish War was a condition of public feeling created, which made it possible to revive Hamiltonianism. That war and its resulting policy of extra-territorial expansion, so far from hindering the process of domestic amelioration, availed, from the sheer force of the national aspirations it aroused, to give a tremendous impulse to the work of national reform. It made Americans more sensitive to a national idea and more conscious of their national responsibilities, and it indirectly helped to place in the Presidential chair the man who, as I have said, represented both the national idea and the spirit of reform. The sincere and intelligent combination of those two ideas is bound to issue in the Hamiltonian practice of constructive national legislation.

Of course Theodore Roosevelt is Hamiltonian with a difference. Hamilton's fatal error consisted in his attempt to make the Federal organization not merely the effective engine of the national interest, but also a bulwark against the rising tide of democracy. The new Federalism or rather new Nationalism is not in any way inimical to democracy. On the contrary, not only does Mr. Roosevelt believe himself to be an unimpeachable democrat in theory, but he has given his fellow-countrymen a useful example of the way in which a college-bred and a well-to-do man can become by somewhat forcible means a good practical democrat. The whole tendency of his programme is to give a democratic meaning and purpose to the Hamiltonian tradition and method. He proposes to use the power and the resources of the Federal government for the purpose of making his countrymen a more complete democracy in organization and practice; but he does not make these proposals, as Mr. Bryan does, gingerly and with a bad conscience. He makes them with a frank and full confidence in an efficient national organization as the necessary agent of the national interest and purpose. He has completely abandoned that part of the traditional democratic creed which tends to regard the assumption by the government of responsibility, and its endowment with power adequate to the responsibility as inherently dangerous and undemocratic. He realizes that any efficiency of organization and delegation of power which is necessary to the promotion of the American national interest must be helpful to democracy. More than any other American political leader, except Lincoln, his devotion both to the national and to the democratic ideas is thorough-going and absolute.

As the founder of a new national democracy, then, his influence and his work have tended to emancipate American democracy from its Jeffersonian bondage. They have tended to give a new meaning to popular government by endowing it with larger powers, more positive responsibilities, and a better faith in human excellence. Jefferson believed theoretically in human goodness, but in actual practice his faith in human nature was exceedingly restricted. Just as the older aristocratic theory had been to justify hereditary political leadership by considering the ordinary man as necessarily irresponsible and incapable, so the early French democrats, and Jefferson after them, made faith in the people equivalent to a profound suspicion of responsible official leadership. Exceptional power merely offered exceptional opportunities for abuse. He refused, as far as he could, to endow special men, even when chosen by the people, with any opportunity to promote the public welfare proportionate to their abilities. So far as his influence has prevailed the government of the country was organized on the basis of a cordial distrust of the man of exceptional competence, training, or independence as a public official. To the present day this distrust remains the sign by which the demoralizing influence of the Jeffersonian democratic creed is most plainly to be traced. So far as it continues to be influential it destroys one necessary condition of responsible and efficient government, and it is bound to paralyze any attempt to make the national organization adequate to the promotion of the national interest. Mr. Roosevelt has exhibited his genuinely national spirit in nothing so clearly as in his endeavor to give to men of special ability, training, and eminence a better opportunity to serve the public. He has not only appointed such men to office, but he has tried to supply them with an administrative machinery which would enable them to use their abilities to the best public advantage; and he has thereby shown a faith in human nature far more edifying and far more genuinely democratic than that of Jefferson or Jackson.

Mr. Roosevelt, however, has still another title to distinction among the brethren of reform. He has not only nationalized the movement, and pointed it in the direction of a better conception of democracy, but he has rallied to its hammer the ostensible, if not the very enthusiastic, support of the Republican party. He has restored that party to some sense of its historic position and purpose. As the party which before the War had insisted on making the nation answerable for the solution of the slavery problem, it has inherited the tradition of national responsibility for the national good; but it was rapidly losing all sense of its historic mission, and, like the Whigs, was constantly using its principle and its prestige as a cloak for the aggrandizement of special interests. At its worst it had, indeed, earned some claim on the allegiance of patriotic Americans by its defense of the fiscal system of the country against Mr. Bryan's well-meant but dangerous attack, and by its acceptance after the Spanish War of the responsibilities of extra-territorial expansion; but there was grave danger that its alliance with the "vested" interests would make it unfaithful to its past as the party of responsible national action. It escaped such a fate only by an extremely narrow margin; and the fact that it did escape is due chiefly to the personal influence of Theodore Roosevelt. The Republican party is still very far from being a wholly sincere agent of the national reform interest. Its official leadership is opposed to reform; and it cannot be made to take a single step in advance except under compulsion. But Mr. Roosevelt probably prevented it from drifting into the position of an anti-reform party—which if it had happened would have meant its ruin, and would have damaged the cause of national reform. A Republican party which was untrue to the principle of national responsibility would have no reason for existence; and the Democratic party, as we have seen, cannot become the party of national responsibility without being faithless to its own creed.


Before finishing this account of Mr. Roosevelt's services as a reformer, and his place in the reforming movement, a serious objection on the score of consistency must be fairly faced. Even admitting that Mr. Roosevelt has dignified reform by identifying it with a programme of constructive national legislation, does the fundamental purpose of his reforming legislation differ essentially from that of Mr. Bryan or Mr. Hearst? How can he be called the founder of a new national democracy when the purpose of democracy from his point of view remains substantially the Jeffersonian ideal of equal rights for all and special privileges for none? If, in one respect, he has been emancipating American democracy from the Jeffersonian bondage, he has in another respect been tightening the bonds, because he has continued to identify democracy with the legal constitution of a system of insurgent, ambiguous, and indiscriminate individual rights.

The validity of such a criticism from the point of view of this book cannot be disputed. The figure of the "Square Deal," which Mr. Roosevelt has flourished so vigorously in public addresses, is a translation into the American vernacular of the Jeffersonian principle of equal rights; and in Mr. Roosevelt's dissertations upon the American ideal he has expressly disclaimed the notion of any more positive definition of the purpose of American democracy. Moreover, his favorite figure gives a sinister application to his assertions that the principle of equal rights is being violated. If the American people are not getting a "Square Deal," it must mean that they are having the cards stacked against them; and in that case the questions of paramount importance are: Who are stacking the cards? And how can they be punished? These are precisely the questions which Hearst is always asking and Hearstism is seeking to answer. Neither has Mr. Roosevelt himself entirely escaped the misleading effects of his own figure. He has too frequently talked as if his opponents deserved to be treated as dishonest sharpers; and he has sometimes behaved as if his suspicions of unfair play on their part were injuring the coolness of his judgment. But at bottom and in the long run Mr. Roosevelt is too fair-minded a man and too patriotic a citizen to become much the victim of his dangerous figure of the "Square Deal." He inculcates for the most part in his political sermons a spirit, not of suspicion and hatred, but of mutual forbearance and confidence; and his programme of reform attaches more importance to a revision of the rules of the game than to the treatment of the winners under the old rules as one would treat a dishonest gambler.

In truth, Mr. Roosevelt has been building either better than he knows or better than he cares to admit. The real meaning of his programme is more novel and more radical than he himself has publicly proclaimed. It implies a conception of democracy and its purpose very different from the Jeffersonian doctrine of equal rights. Evidences of deep antagonism can be discerned between the Hamiltonian method and spirit, represented by Mr. Roosevelt, and a conception of democracy which makes it consist fundamentally in the practical realization of any system of equal rights. The distrust with which thorough-going Jeffersonians regard Mr. Roosevelt's nationalizing programme is a justifiable distrust, because efficient and responsible national organization would be dangerous either to or in the sort of democracy which the doctrine of equal rights encourages—a democracy of suspicious discontent, of selfish claims, of factious agitation, and of individual and class aggression. A thoroughly responsible and efficient national organization would be dangerous in such a democracy, because it might well be captured by some combination of local individual or class interests; and the only effective way to guard against such a danger is to substitute for the Jeffersonian democracy of individual rights a democracy of individual and social improvement. A democracy of individual rights, that is, must either suffer reconstruction by the logic of a process of efficient national organization, or else it may pervert that organization to the service of its own ambiguous, contradictory, and in the end subversive political purposes. A better justification for these statements must be reserved for the succeeding chapter; but in the meantime I will take the risk asserting that Mr. Roosevelt's nationalism really implies a democracy of individual and social improvement. His nationalizing programme has in effect questioned the value of certain fundamental American ideas, and if Mr. Roosevelt has not himself outgrown these ideas, his misreading of his own work need not be a matter of surprise. It is what one would expect from the prophet of the Strenuous Life.

Mr. Roosevelt has done little to encourage candid and consistent thinking. He has preached the doctrine that the paramount and almost the exclusive duty of the American citizen consists in being a sixty-horse-power moral motor-car. In his own career his intelligence has been the handmaid of his will; and the balance between those faculties, so finely exemplified in Abraham Lincoln, has been destroyed by sheer exuberance of moral energy. But although his intelligence is merely the servant of his will, it is at least the willing and competent servant of a single-minded master. If it has not been leavened by the rigorous routine of its work, neither has it been cheapened; and the service has constantly been growing better worth while. During the course of his public career, his original integrity of character has been intensified by the stress of his labors, his achievements, his experiences, and his exhortations. An individuality such as his—wrought with so much consistent purpose out of much variety of experience—brings with it an intellectual economy of its own and a sincere and useful sort of intellectual enlightenment. He may be figured as a Thor wielding with power and effect a sledge-hammer in the cause of national righteousness; and the sympathetic observer, who is not stunned by the noise of the hammer, may occasionally be rewarded by the sight of something more illuminating than a piece of rebellious metal beaten into shape. He may be rewarded by certain unexpected gleams of insight, as if the face of the sledge-hammer were worn bright by hard service and flashed in the sunlight. Mr. Roosevelt sees as far ahead and as much as he needs to see. He has an almost infallible sense of where to strike the next important blow, and even during the ponderous labors of the day he prudently and confidently lays out the task of to-morrow. Thus while he has contributed to the liberation of American intelligence chiefly in the sense that he has given his fellow-countrymen something to think about, he is very far from being a blind, narrow, or unenlightened leader.

Doubtless the only practical road of advance at present is laborious, slow, and not too enlightened. For the time being the hammer is a mightier weapon than the sword or the pen. Americans have the habit of action rather than of thought. Like their forbears in England, they begin to do things, because their common sense tells them that such things have to be done, and then at a later date think over the accomplished fact. A man in public life who told them that their "noble national theory" was ambiguous and distracting, and that many of their popular catchwords were false and exercised a mischievous influence on public affairs, would do so at his own personal risk and cost. The task of plain speaking must be suggested and justified by the achievement of a considerable body of national reconstructive legislation, and must even then devolve largely upon men who have from the political point of view little to gain or to lose by their apparent heresies. The fact, however, that a responsible politician like Mr. Roosevelt must be an example more of moral than of intellectual independence, increases rather than diminishes the eventual importance of consistent thinking and plain speaking as essential parts of the work of political reform. A reforming movement, whose supporters never understand its own proper meaning and purpose, is sure in the end to go astray. It is all very well for Englishmen to do their thinking after the event, because tradition lies at the basis of their national life. But Americans, as a nation, are consecrated to the realization of a group of ideas; and ideas to be fruitful must square both with the facts to which they are applied and with one another. Mr. Roosevelt and his hammer must be accepted gratefully, as the best available type of national reformer; but the day may and should come when a national reformer will appear who can be figured more in the guise of St. Michael, armed with a flaming sword and winged for flight.