Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XXIV.

SOMETHING IN WAY OF AN APOLOGY FOR THE PEOPLE OF TODAY.

Boston, November 28, 2085

My Dear Louise:

On recommendation of Mr. De Demain I have been reading a book entitled “The Nineteenth Century in the Light of Today,” written by one of the most popular authors of the present time. I have found the work intensely interesting, and, in order to give you an idea of what it contains, I will make a few extracts.

The author says in his introduction that the people of today are much too apt to criticise the people of two centuries ago for their methods of social life. “While,” says he, “the methods were constructed, or suffered to remain, by the people, yet they should always be considered separately. The methods may be bad without qualification, but there is always something that palliates the offence of the people in using such methods. There is that in humanity, instilled by Nature, which makes it slow in adopting new methods of living. In every century there have been those-—and not a few to a generation—who have cried: ‘Try my remedy; I have the only genuine cure-all. You are sick unto death; my medicine will make you well and strong.’ With scores of these nostrum-venders, each crying a different remedy, is it strange that the people for so long did not try the medicine that their ills needed?

“There were those with free trade, with unlimited coinage of money, with restricted coinage, with absolute freedom of suffrage for both sexes, with State Socialism in infinite variety of phases, and with other ‘isms’ unlimited. Each had honest men for advocates, and each had attractions of which much could be said.

“How were the people to distinguish between these and the true remedy for their social disorders? All these would-be reformers were constantly disputing among themselves and calling each other’s schemes shams.

“When reformers disagree, who shall decide?”

Further on in the book the writer says: “The people of the nineteenth century knew that the methods governing society were unjust, unnatural, and they desired something better, but they were slow to accept any radical change. It is, perhaps, better that this was so. There were plenty of poisons with labels upon them which read ‘panacea.’ Humanity was sick. Had it been of more hasty action, it might have drunk of the poison and been made mad or have died. It found the cure at last; for that it is to be praised.”

Under the title of “Free Trade” he says: “If ‘free trade’ had meant absolute freedom of trade, and not simply an absence of tariff on imported goods, we might well call the people fools for not adopting its principles. Tariff restrictions on trade were among the least. There was a feeling that trade was not so free as it should be. The people knew that something was wrong, but they were slow in accepting the assertion of a large class of reformers who said: ‘Remove the duties from imported goods, and poverty, long hours of labor, and half a dozen other social ills will vanish.’ The people had sense enough to see that there were many other and far greater restrictions on trade than a tariff on imported goods. They realized, to be sure, that many people were amassing vast fortunes because of the protection incident to a high tariff, but they were not in any great measure inclined, for the sake of cutting off the source of wealth of a few, to make themselves poorer.

“There were those who said the dissatisfied poor laborer was so dissatisfied simply because someone had more than he himself, and that the object of agitation was to make the rich poor. Not so. The poor laborer was dissatisfied because he did not have as much as others, and the object of his agitation was to make the poor rich. A vast difference in sentiment.

“What was a high tariff as a trade restriction compared to the protection, the monopoly, given inventors and the national banks? Where a high tariff robbed the laborer of a cent, the national banks robbed him of a dollar, and the inventor robbed him of seventy-five cents.

“There was nothing that had the power to interfere with trade that the national banks had. National banks were the offspring of the government. Directly to the government can be traced all manner of trade restrictions. The government was the prime source of poverty and of wealth. The people were not so blind that they could not see this, but what were they to do? We can say today: ‘Why, they should have accepted Anarchy and abolished the State;’ but, if we today realized that Anarchy was causing a hundred social evils, should we be hasty to accept any one of a dozen different remedies that might be offered us, never mind how grand it looked as pictured by its advocates? I think not. Human nature has not changed to that extent.

“We must not judge the people of 1885 too hastily. There were so many alluring traps set for them that they did not dare venture on the right path for fear of pitfalls and enemies waiting in ambush. Then, again, they were bound in service to the government, and, if they fled from their master, they well knew that his bloodhounds would be sent out to capture them.

“Let us put the curse where it belongs, not upon the people, but upon the State.”

I think I have quoted enough to show you the drift of the book, but in order to make you appreciate how interesting it is, I should be obliged to transcribe pages, and that would make my letter too long.

Josephine.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.