"So much for the causes of the Revolution in America, both the general fundamental cause, consisting in the factor newly introduced into social evolution by the enlightenment of the masses and irresistibly tending to equality, and the immediate local causes peculiar to America, which account for the Revolution having come at the particular time it did and for its taking the particular course it did. Now, briefly as to that course:
"The pinching of the economic shoe resulting from the concentration of wealth was naturally first felt by the class with least reserves, the wage-earners, and the Revolution may be said to have begun with their revolt. In 1869 the first great labor organization in America was formed to resist the power of capital. Previous to the war the number of strikes that had taken place in the country could be counted on the fingers. Before the sixties were out they were counted by hundreds, during the seventies by thousands, and during the eighties the labor reports enumerate nearly ten thousand, involving two or three million workers. Many of these strikes were of continental scope, shaking the whole commercial fabric and causing general panics.
"Close after the revolt of the wage earners came that of the farmers--less turbulent in methods but more serious and abiding in results. This took the form of secret leagues and open political parties devoted to resisting what was called the money power. Already in the seventies these organizations threw State and national politics into confusion, and later became the nucleus of the revolutionary party.
"Your contemporaries of the thinking classes can not be taxed with indifference to these signs and portents. The public discussion and literature of the time reflect the confusion and anxiety with which the unprecedented manifestations of popular discontent had affected all serious persons. The old-fashioned Fourth-of-July boastings had ceased to be heard in the land. All agreed that somehow republican forms of government had not fulfilled their promise as guarantees of the popular welfare, but were showing themselves impotent to prevent the recrudescence in the New World of all the Old World's evils, especially those of class and caste, which it had been supposed could never exist in the atmosphere of a republic. It was recognized on all sides that the old order was changing for the worse, and that the republic and all it had been thought to stand for was in danger. It was the universal cry that something must be done to check the ruinous tendency. Reform was the word in everybody's mouth, and the rallying cry, whether in sincerity or pretense, of every party. But indeed, Julian, I need waste no time describing this state of affairs to you, for you were a witness of it till 1887."
"It was all quite as you describe it, the industrial and political warfare and turmoil, the general sense that the country was going wrong, and the universal cry for some sort of reform. But, as I said before, the agitation, while alarming enough, was too confused and purposeless to seem revolutionary. All agreed that something ailed the country, but no two agreed what it was or how to cure it."
"Just so," said the doctor. "Our historians divide the entire revolutionary epoch--from the close of the war, or the beginning of the seventies, to the establishment of the present order early in the twentieth century--into two periods, the incoherent and the rational. The first of these is the period of which we have been talking, and with which Storiot deals with in the paragraphs I have read--the period with which you were, for the most part, contemporary. As we have seen, and you know better than we can, it was a time of terror and tumult, of confused and purposeless agitation, and a Babel of contradictory clamor. The people were blindly kicking in the dark against the pricks of capitalism, without any clear idea of what they were kicking against.
"The two great divisions of the toilers, the wage-earners and the farmers, were equally far from seeing clear and whole the nature of the situation and the forces of which they were the victims. The wage-earners' only idea was that by organizing the artisans and manual workers their wages could be forced up and maintained indefinitely. They seem to have had absolutely no more knowledge than children of the effect of the profit system always and inevitably to keep the consuming power of the community indefinitely below its producing power and thus to maintain a constant state of more or less aggravated glut in the goods and labor markets, and that nothing could possibly prevent the constant presence of these conditions so long as the profit system was tolerated, or their effect finally to reduce the wage-earner to the subsistence point or below as profits tended downward. Until the wage-earners saw this and no longer wasted their strength in hopeless or trivial strikes against individual capitalists which could not possibly affect the general result, and united to overthrow the profit system, the Revolution must wait, and the capitalists had no reason to disturb themselves.
"As for the farmers, as they were not wage-earners, they took no interest in the plans of the latter, which aimed merely to benefit the wage-earning class, but devoted themselves to equally futile schemes for their class, in which, for the same reason that they were merely class remedies, the wage-earners took no interest. Their aim was to obtain aid from the Government to improve their condition as petty capitalists oppressed by the greater capitalists who controlled the traffic and markets of the country; as if any conceivable device, so long as private capitalism should be tolerated, would prevent its natural evolution, which was the crushing of the smaller capitalists by the larger.
"Their main idea seems to have been that their troubles as farmers were chiefly if not wholly to be accounted for by certain vicious acts of financial legislation, the effect of which they held had been to make money scarce and dear. What they demanded as the sufficient cure of the existing evils was the repeal of the vicious legislation and a larger issue of currency. This they believed would be especially beneficial to the farming class by reducing the interest on their debts and raising the price of their product.
"Undoubtedly the currency and the coinage and the governmental financial system in general had been shamelessly abused by the capitalists to corner the wealth of the nation in their hands, but their misuse of this part of the economic machinery had been no worse than their manipulation of the other portions of the system. Their trickery with the currency had only helped them to monopolize the wealth of the people a little faster than they would have done it had they depended for their enrichment on what were called the legitimate operations of rent, interest, and profits. While a part of their general policy of economic subjugation of the people, the manipulation of the currency had not been essential to that policy, which would have succeeded just as certainly had it been left out. The capitalists were under no necessity to juggle with the coinage had they been content to make a little more leisurely process of devouring the lands and effects of the people. For that result no particular form of currency system was necessary, and no conceivable monetary system would have prevented it. Gold, silver, paper, dear money, cheap money, hard money, bad money, good money--every form of token from cowries to guineas--had all answered equally well in different times and countries for the designs of the capitalist, the details of the game being only slightly modified according to the conditions.
"To have convinced himself of the folly of ascribing the economic distress to which his class as well as the people at large had been reduced, to an act of Congress relating to the currency, the American farmer need only have looked abroad to foreign lands, where he would have seen that the agricultural class everywhere was plunged in a misery greater than his own, and that, too, without the slightest regard to the nature of the various monetary systems in use.
"Was it indeed a new or strange phenomenon in human affairs that the agriculturists were going to the wall, that the American farmer should seek to account for the fact by some new and peculiarly American policy? On the contrary, this had been the fate of the agricultural class in all ages, and what was now threatening the American tiller of the soil was nothing other than the doom which had befallen his kind in every previous generation and in every part of the world. Manifestly, then, he should seek the explanation not in any particular or local conjunction of circumstances, but in some general and always operative cause. This general cause, operative in all lands and times and among all races, he would presently see when he should interrogate history, was the irresistible tendency by which the capitalist class in the evolution of any society through rent, interest, and profits absorbs to itself the whole wealth of the country, and thus reduces the masses of the people to economic, social, and political subjection, the most abject class of all being invariably the tillers of the soil. For a time the American population, including the farmers, had been enabled, thanks to the vast bounty of a virgin and empty continent, to evade the operation of this universal law, but the common fate was now about to overtake them, and nothing would avail to avert it save the overthrow of the system of private capitalism of which it always had been and always must be the necessary effect.
"Time would fail even to mention the innumerable reform nostrums offered for the cure of the nation by smaller bodies of reformers. They ranged from the theory of the prohibitionists that the chief cause of the economic distress--from which the teetotal farmers of the West were the worst sufferers--was the use of intoxicants, to that of the party which agreed that the nation was being divinely chastised because there was no formal recognition of the Trinity in the Constitution. Of course, these were extravagant persons, but even those who recognized the concentration of wealth as the cause of the whole trouble quite failed to see that this concentration was itself the natural evolution of private capitalism, and that it was not possible to prevent it or any of its consequences unless and until private capitalism itself should be put an end to.
"As might be expected, efforts at resistance so ill calculated as these demonstrations of the wage-earners and farmers, not to speak of the host of petty sects of so-called reformers during the first phase of the Revolution, were ineffectual. The great labor organizations which had sprung up shortly after the war as soon as the wage-earners felt the necessity of banding themselves to resist the yoke of concentrated capital, after twenty-five years of fighting, had demonstrated their utter inability to maintain, much less to improve, the condition of the workingman. During this period ten or fifteen thousand recorded strikes and lock-outs had taken place, but the net result of the industrial civil war, protracted through so long a period, had been to prove to the dullest of workingmen the hopelessness of securing any considerable amelioration of their lot by class action or organization, or indeed of even maintaining it against encroachments. After all this unexampled suffering and fighting, the wage-earners found themselves worse off than ever. Nor had the farmers, the other great division of the insurgent masses, been any more successful in resisting the money power. Their leagues, although controlling votes by the million, had proved even more impotent if possible than the wage-earners' organizations to help their members. Even where they had been apparently successful and succeeded in capturing the political control of states, they found the money power still able by a thousand indirect influences to balk their efforts and turn their seeming victories into apples of Sodom, which became ashes in the hands of those who would pluck them.
"Of the vast, anxious, and anguished volume of public discussion as to what should be done, what after twenty-five years had been the practical outcome? Absolutely nothing. If here and there petty reforms had been introduced, on the whole the power of the evils against which those reforms were directed had vastly increased. If the power of the plutocracy in 1873 had been as the little finger of a man, in 1895 it was thicker than his loins. Certainly, so far as superficial and material indications went, it looked as if the battle had been going thus far steadily, swiftly, and hopelessly against the people, and that the American capitalists who expended their millions in buying titles of nobility for their children were wiser in their generation than the children of light and better judges of the future.
"Nevertheless, no conclusion could possibly have been more mistaken. During these decades of apparently unvaried failure and disaster the revolutionary movement for the complete overthrow of private capitalism had made a progress which to rational minds should have presaged its complete triumph in the near future."
"Where had the progress been?" I said; "I don't see any."
"In the development among, the masses of the people of the necessary revolutionary temper," replied the doctor; "in the preparation of the popular mind by the only process that could have prepared it, to accept the programme of a radical reorganization of the economic system from the ground up. A great revolution, you must remember, which is to profoundly change a form of society, must accumulate a tremendous moral force, an overwhelming weight of justification, so to speak, behind it before it can start. The processes by which and the period during which this accumulation of impulse is effected are by no means so spectacular as the events of the subsequent period when the revolutionary movement, having obtained an irresistible momentum, sweeps away like straws the obstacles that so long held it back only to swell its force and volume at last. But to the student the period of preparation is the more truly interesting and critical field of study. It was absolutely necessary that the American people, before they would seriously think of undertaking so tremendous a reformation as was implied in the substitution of public for private capitalism, should be fully convinced not by argument only, but by abundant bitter experience and convincing object lessons, that no remedy for the evils of the time less complete or radical would suffice. They must become convinced by numerous experiments that private capitalism had evolved to a point where it was impossible to amend it before they would listen to the proposition to end it. This painful but necessary experience the people were gaining during the earlier decades of the struggle. In this way the innumerable defeats, disappointments, and fiascoes which met their every effort at curbing and reforming the money power during the seventies, eighties, and early nineties, contributed far more than as many victories would have done to the magnitude and completeness of the final triumph of the people. It was indeed necessary that all these things should come to pass to make the Revolution possible. It was necessary that the system of private and class tyranny called private capitalism should fill up the measure of its iniquities and reveal all it was capable of, as the irreconcilable enemy of democracy, the foe of life and liberty and human happiness, in order to insure that degree of momentum to the coming uprising against it which was necessary to guarantee its complete and final overthrow. Revolutions which start too soon stop too soon, and the welfare of the race demanded that this revolution should not cease, nor pause, until the last vestige of the system by which men usurped power over the lives and liberties of their fellows through economic means was destroyed. Therefore not one outrage, not one act of oppression, not one exhibition of conscienceless rapacity, not one prostitution of power on the part of Executive, Legislature, or judiciary, not one tear of patriotic shame over the degradation of the national name, not one blow of the policeman's bludgeon, not a single bullet or bayonet thrust of the soldiery, could have been spared. Nothing but just this discipline of failure, disappointment, and defeat on the part of the earlier reformers could have educated the people to the necessity of attacking the system of private capitalism in its existence instead of merely in its particular manifestations.
"We reckon the beginning of the second part of the revolutionary movement to which we give the name of the coherent or rational phase, from the time when there became apparent a clear conception, on the part of at least a considerable body of the people, of the true nature of the issue as one between the rights of man and the principle of irresponsible power embodied in private capitalism, and the realization that its outcome, if the people were to triumph, must be the establishment of a wholly new economic system which should be based upon the public control in the public interest of the system of production and distribution hitherto left to private management."
"At about what date," I asked, "do you consider that the revolutionary movement began to pass from the incoherent into the logical phase?"
"Of course," replied the doctor, "it was not the case of an immediate outright change of character, but only of the beginning of a new spirit and intelligence. The confusion and incoherence and short-sightedness of the first period long overlapped the time when the infusion of a more rational spirit and adequate ideal began to appear, but from about the beginning of the nineties we date the first appearance of an intelligent purpose in the revolutionary movement and the beginning of its development from a mere formless revolt against intolerable conditions into a logical and self-conscious evolution toward the order of to-day."
"It seems I barely missed it."
"Yes," replied the doctor, "if you had been able to keep awake only a year or two longer you would not have been so wholly surprised by our industrial system, and especially by the economic equality for and by which it exists, for within a couple of years after your supposed demise the possibility that such a social order might be the outcome of the existing crisis was being discussed from one end of America to the other.
"Of course," the doctor went on, "the idea of an integrated economic system co-ordinating the efforts of all for the common welfare, which is the basis of the modern state, is as old as philosophy. As a theory it dates back to Plato at least, and nobody knows how much further, for it is a conception of the most natural and obvious order. Not, however, until popular government had been made possible by the diffusion of intelligence was the world ripe for the realization of such a form of society. Until that time the idea, like the soul waiting for a fit incarnation, must remain without social embodiment. Selfish rulers thought of the masses only as instruments for their own aggrandizement, and if they had interested themselves in a more exact organization of industry it would only have been with a view of making that organization the means of a more complete tyranny. Not till the masses themselves became competent to rule was a serious agitation possible or desirable for an economic organization on a co-operative basis. With the first stirrings of the democratic spirit in Europe had come the beginning of earnest discussion as to the feasibility of such a social order. Already, by the middle of the century, this agitation in the Old World had become, to discerning eyes, one of the signs of the times, but as yet America, if we except the brief and abortive social experiments in the forties, had remained wholly unresponsive to the European movement.
"I need not repeat that the reason, of course, was the fact that the economic conditions in America had been more satisfactory to the masses than ever before, or anywhere else in the world. The individualistic method of making a living, every man for himself, had answered the purpose on the whole so well that the people did not care to discuss other methods. The powerful motive necessary to rouse the sluggish and habit-bound minds of the masses and interest them in a new and revolutionary set of ideas was lacking. Even during the early stage of the revolutionary period it had been found impossible to obtain any hearing for the notions of a new economic order which were already agitating Europe. It was not till the close of the eighties that the total and ridiculous failure of twenty years of desperate efforts to reform the abuses of private capitalism had prepared the American people to give serious attention to the idea of dispensing with the capitalist altogether by a public organization of industry to be administered like other common affairs in the common interest.
"The two great points of the revolutionary programme--the principle of economic equality and a nationalized industrial system as its means and pledge--the American people were peculiarly adapted to understand and appreciate. The lawyers had made a Constitution of the United States, but the true American constitution--the one written on the people's hearts--had always remained the immortal Declaration with its assertion of the inalienable equality of all men. As to the nationalization of industry, while it involved a set of consequences which would completely transform society, the principle on which the proposition was based, and to which it appealed for justification, was not new to Americans in any sense, but, on the contrary, was merely a logical development of the idea of popular self-government on which the American system was founded. The application of this principle to the regulation of the economic administration was indeed a use of it which was historically new, but it was one so absolutely and obviously implied in the content of the idea that, as soon as it was proposed, it was impossible that any sincere democrat should not be astonished that so plain and common-sense a corollary of popular government had waited so long for recognition. The apostles of a collective administration of the economic system in the common interest had in Europe a twofold task: first, to teach the general doctrine of the absolute right of the people to govern, and then to show the economic application of that right. To Americans, however, it was only necessary to point out an obvious although hitherto overlooked application of a principle already fully accepted as an axiom.
"The acceptance of the new ideal did not imply merely a change in specific programmes, but a total facing about of the revolutionary movement. It had thus far been an attempt to resist the new economic conditions being imposed by the capitalists by bringing back the former economic conditions through the restoration of free competition as it had existed before the war. This was an effort of necessity hopeless, seeing that the economic changes which had taken place were merely the necessary evolution of any system of private capitalism, and could not be successfully resisted while the system was retained.
"'Face about!' was the new word of command. 'Fight forward, not backward! March with the course of economic evolution, not against it. The competitive system can never be restored, neither is it worthy of restoration, having been at best an immoral, wasteful, brutal scramble for existence. New issues demand new answers. It is in vain to pit the moribund system of competition against the young giant of private monopoly; it must rather be opposed by the greater giant of public monopoly. The consolidation of business in private interests must be met with greater consolidation in the public interest, the trust and the syndicate with the city, State, and nation, capitalism with nationalism. The capitalists have destroyed the competitive system. Do not try to restore it, but rather thank them for the work, if not the motive, and set about, not to rebuild the old village of hovels, but to rear on the cleared place the temple humanity so long has waited for.'
"By the light of the new teaching the people began to recognize that the strait place into which the republic had come was but the narrow and frowning portal of a future of universal welfare and happiness such as only the Hebrew prophets had colors strong enough to paint.
"By the new philosophy the issue which had arisen between the people and the plutocracy was seen not to be a strange and unaccountable or deplorable event, but a necessary phase in the evolution of a democratic society in passing from a lower to an incomparably higher plane, an issue therefore to be welcomed not shunned, to be forced not evaded, seeing that its outcome in the existing state of human enlightenment and world-wide democratic sentiment could not be doubtful. By the road by which every republic had toiled upward from the barren lowlands of early hardship and poverty, just at the point where the steepness of the hill had been overcome and a prospect opened of pleasant uplands of wealth and prosperity, a sphinx had ever stood, propounding the riddle, 'How shall a state combine the preservation of democratic equality with the increase of wealth?' Simple indeed had been the answer, for it was only needful that the people should so order their system of economy that wealth should be equally shared as it increased, in order that, however great the increase, it should in no way interfere with the equalities of the people; for the great justice of equality is the well of political life everlasting for peoples, whereof if a nation drink it may live forever. Nevertheless, no republic before had been able to answer the riddle, and therefore their bones whitened the hilltop, and not one had ever survived to enter on the pleasant land in view. But the time had now come in the evolution of human intelligence when the riddle so often asked and never answered was to be answered aright, the sphinx made an end of, and the road freed forever for all the nations.
"It was this note of perfect assurance, of confident and boundless hope, which distinguished the new propaganda, and was the more commanding and uplifting from its contrast with the blank pessimism on the one side of the capitalist party, and the petty aims, class interests, short vision, and timid spirit of the reformers who had hitherto opposed them.
"With a doctrine to preach of so compelling force and beauty, promising such good things to men in so great want of them, it might seem that it would require but a brief time to rally the whole people to its support. And so it would doubtless have been if the machinery of public information and direction had been in the hands of the reformers or in any hands that were impartial, instead of being, as it was, almost wholly in those of the capitalists. In previous periods the newspapers had not represented large investments of capital, having been quite crude affairs. For this very reason, however, they were more likely to represent the popular feeling. In the latter part of the nineteenth century a great newspaper with large circulation necessarily required a vast investment of capital, and consequently the important newspapers of the country were owned by capitalists and of course carried on in the owners' interests. Except when the capitalists in control chanced to be men of high principle, the great papers were therefore upon the side of the existing order of things and against the revolutionary movement. These papers monopolized the facilities of gathering and disseminating public intelligence and thereby exercised a censorship, almost as effective as that prevailing at the same time in Russia or Turkey, over the greater part of the information which reached the people.
"Not only the press but the religious instruction of the people was under the control of the capitalists. The churches were the pensioners of the rich and well-to-do tenth of the people, and abjectly dependent on them for the means of carrying on and extending their work. The universities and institutions of higher learning were in like manner harnessed to the plutocratic chariot by golden chains. Like the churches, they were dependent for support and prosperity upon the benefactions of the rich, and to offend them would have been suicidal. Moreover, the rich and well-to-do tenth of the population was the only class which could afford to send children to institutions of the secondary education, and they naturally preferred schools teaching a doctrine comfortable to the possessing class.
"If the reformers had been put in possession of press, pulpit, and university, which the capitalists controlled, whereby to set home their doctrine to the heart and mind and conscience of the nation, they would have converted and carried the country in a month.
"Feeling how quickly the day would be theirs if they could but reach the people, it was natural that they should chafe bitterly at the delay, confronted as they were by the spectacle of humanity daily crucified afresh and enduring an illimitable anguish which they knew was needless. Who indeed would not have been impatient in their place, and cried as they did, 'How long, O Lord, how long?' To men so situated, each day's postponement of the great deliverance might well have seemed like a century. Involved as they were in the din and dust of innumerable petty combats, it was as difficult for them as for soldiers in the midst of a battle to obtain an idea of the general course of the conflict and the operation of the forces which would determine its issue. To us, however, as we look back, the rapidity of the process by which during the nineties the American people were won over to the revolutionary programme seems almost miraculous, while as to the ultimate result there was, of course, at no time the slightest ground of question.
"From about the beginning of the second phase of the revolutionary movement, the literature of the times begins to reflect in the most extraordinary manner a wholly new spirit of radical protest against the injustices of the social order. Not only in the serious journals and books of public discussion, but in fiction and in belles-lettres, the subject of social reform becomes prominent and almost commanding. The figures that have come down to us of the amazing circulation of some of the books devoted to the advocacy of a radical social reorganization are almost enough in themselves to explain the revolution. The antislavery movement had one Uncle Tom's Cabin; the anticapitalist movement had many.
"A particularly significant fact was the extraordinary unanimity and enthusiasm with which the purely agricultural communities of the far West welcomed the new gospel of a new and equal economic system. In the past, governments had always been prepared for revolutionary agitation among the proletarian wage-earners of the cities, and had always counted on the stolid conservatism of the agricultural class for the force to keep the inflammable artisans down. But in this revolution it was the agriculturists who were in the van. This fact alone should have sufficiently foreshadowed the swift course and certain issue of the struggle. At the beginning of the battle the capitalists had lost their reserves.
"At about the beginning of the nineties the revolutionary movement first prominently appears in the political field. For twenty years after the close of the civil war the surviving animosities between North and South mainly determined party lines, and this fact, together with the lack of agreement on a definite policy, had hitherto prevented the forces of industrial discontent from making any striking political demonstration. But toward the close of the eighties the diminished bitterness of feeling between North and South left the people free to align themselves on the new issue, which had been steadily looming up ever since the war, as the irrepressible conflict of the near future--the struggle to the death between democracy and plutocracy, between the rights of man and the tyranny of capital in irresponsible hands.
"Although the idea of the public conduct of economic enterprises by public agencies had never previously attracted attention or favor in America, yet already in 1890, almost as soon as it began to be talked about, political parties favoring its application to important branches of business had polled heavy votes. In 1892 a party, organized in nearly every State in the Union, cast a million votes in favor of nationalizing at least the railroads, telegraphs, banking system, and other monopolized businesses. Two years later the same party showed large gains, and in 1896 its platform was substantially adopted by one of the great historic parties of the country, and the nation divided nearly equally on the issue.
"The terror which this demonstration of the strength of the party of social discontent caused among the possessing class seems at this distance rather remarkable, seeing that its demands, while attacking many important capitalist abuses, did not as yet directly assail the principle of the private control of capital as the root of the whole social evil. No doubt, what alarmed the capitalists even more than the specific propositions of the social insurgents were the signs of a settled popular exasperation against them and all their works, which indicated that what was now called for was but the beginning of what would be demanded later. The antislavery party had not begun with demanding the abolition of slavery, but merely its limitation. The slaveholders were not, however, deceived as to the significance of the new political portent, and the capitalists would have been less wise in their generation than their predecessors had they not seen in the political situation the beginning of a confrontation of the people and the capitalists--the masses and the classes, as the expression of the day was--which threatened an economic and social revolution in the near future."
"It seems to me," I said, "that by this stage of the revolutionary movement American capitalists capable of a dispassionate view of the situation ought to have seen the necessity of making concessions if they were to preserve any part of their advantages."
"If they had," replied the doctor, "they would have been the first beneficiaries of a tyranny who in presence of a rising flood of revolution ever realized its force or thought of making concessions until it was hopelessly too late. You see, tyrants are always materialists, while the forces behind great revolutions are moral. That is why the tyrants never foresee their fate till it is too late to avert it."
"We ought to be in our chairs pretty soon," said Edith. "I don't want Julian to miss the opening scene."
"There are a few minutes yet," said the doctor, "and seeing that I have been rather unintentionally led into giving this sort of outline sketch of the course of the Revolution, I want to say a word about the extraordinary access of popular enthusiasm which made a short story of its later stages, especially as it is that period with which the play deals that we are to attend.
"There had been many, you must know, Julian, who, while admitting that a system of co-operation, must eventually take the place of private capitalism in America and everywhere, had expected that the process would be a slow and gradual one, extending over several decades, perhaps half a century, or even more. Probably that was the more general opinion. But those who held it failed to take account of the popular enthusiasm which would certainly take possession of the movement and drive it irresistibly forward from the moment that the prospect of its success became fairly clear to the masses. Undoubtedly, when the plan of a nationalized industrial system, and an equal sharing of results, with its promise of the abolition of poverty and the reign of universal comfort, was first presented to the people, the very greatness of the salvation it offered operated to hinder its acceptance. It seemed too good to be true. With difficulty the masses, sodden in misery and inured to hopelessness, had been able to believe that in heaven there would be no poor, but that it was possible here and now in this everyday America to establish such an earthly paradise was too much to believe.
"But gradually, as the revolutionary propaganda diffused a knowledge of the clear and unquestionable grounds on which this great assurance rested, and as the growing majorities of the revolutionary party convinced the most doubtful that the hour of its triumph was at hand, the hope of the multitude grew into confidence, and confidence flamed into a resistless enthusiasm. By the very magnitude of the promise which at first appalled them they were now transported. An impassioned eagerness seized upon them to enter into the delectable land, so that they found every day's, every hour's delay intolerable. The young said, 'Let us make haste, and go in to the promised land while we are young, that we may know what living is': and the old said, 'Let us go in ere we die, that we may close our eyes in peace, knowing that it will be well with our children after us.' The leaders and pioneers of the Revolution, after having for so many years exhorted and appealed to a people for the most part indifferent or incredulous, now found themselves caught up and borne onward by a mighty wave of enthusiasm which it was impossible for them to check, and difficult for them to guide, had not the way been so plain.
"Then, to cap the climax, as if the popular mind were not already in a sufficiently exalted frame, came 'The Great Revival,' touching this enthusiasm with religious emotion."
"We used to have what were called revivals of religion in my day," I said, "sometimes quite extensive ones. Was this of the same nature?"
"Scarcely," replied the doctor. "The Great Revival was a tide of enthusiasm for the social, not the personal, salvation, and for the establishment in brotherly love of the kingdom of God on earth which Christ bade men hope and work for. It was the general awakening of the people of America in the closing years of the last century to the profoundly ethical and truly religious character and claims of the movement for an industrial system which should guarantee the economic equality of all the people.
"Nothing, surely, could be more self-evident than the strictly Christian inspiration of the idea of this guarantee. It contemplated nothing less than a literal fulfillment, on a complete social scale, of Christ's inculcation that all should feel the same solicitude and make the same effort for the welfare of others as for their own. The first effect of such a solicitude must needs be to prompt effort to bring about an equal material provision for all, as the primary condition of welfare. One would certainly think that a nominally Christian people having some familiarity with the New Testament would have needed no one to tell them these things, but that they would have recognized on its first statement that the programme of the revolutionists was simply a paraphrase of the golden rule expressed in economic and political terms. One would have said that whatever other members of the community might do, the Christian believers would at once have flocked to the support of such a movement with their whole heart, soul, mind, and might. That they were so slow to do so must be ascribed to the wrong teaching and non-teaching of a class of persons whose express duty, above all other persons and classes, was to prompt them to that action--namely, the Christian clergy.
"For many ages--almost, indeed, from the beginning of the Christian era--the churches had turned their backs on Christ's ideal of a kingdom of God to be realized on earth by the adoption of the law of mutual helpfulness and fraternal love. Giving up the regeneration of human society in this world as a hopeless undertaking, the clergy, in the name of the author of the Lord's Prayer, had taught the people not to expect God's will to be done on earth. Directly reversing the attitude of Christ toward society as an evil and perverse order of things needing to be made over, they had made themselves the bulwarks and defenses of existing social and political institutions, and exerted their whole influence to discourage popular aspirations for a more just and equal order. In the Old World they had been the champions and apologists of power and privilege and vested rights against every movement for freedom and equality. In resisting the upward strivings of their people, the kings and emperors had always found the clergy more useful servants than the soldiers and the police. In the New World, when royalty, in the act of abdication, had passed the scepter behind its back to capitalism, the ecclesiastical bodies had transferred their allegiance to the money power, and as formerly they had preached the divine right of kings to rule their fellow-men, now preached the divine right of ruling and using others which inhered in the possession of accumulated or inherited wealth, and the duty of the people to submit without murmuring to the exclusive appropriation of all good things by the rich.
"The historical attitude of the churches as the champions and apologists of power and privilege in every controversy with the rights of man and the idea of equality had always been a prodigious scandal, and in every revolutionary crisis had not failed to cost them great losses in public respect and popular following. Inasmuch as the now impending crisis between the full assertion of human equality and the existence of private capitalism was incomparably the most radical issue of the sort that had ever arisen, the attitude of the churches was likely to have a critical effect upon their future. Should they make the mistake of placing themselves upon the unpopular side in this tremendous controversy, it would be for them a colossal if not a fatal mistake--one that would threaten the loss of their last hold as organizations on the hearts and minds of the people. On the other hand, had the leaders of the churches been able to discern the full significance of the great turning of the world's heart toward Christ's ideal of human society, which marked the closing of the nineteenth century, they might have hoped by taking the right side to rehabilitate the churches in the esteem and respect of the world, as, after all, despite so many mistakes, the faithful representatives of the spirit and doctrine of Christianity. Some there were indeed--yes, many, in the aggregate--among the clergy who did see this and sought desperately to show it to their fellows, but, blinded by clouds of vain traditions, and bent before the tremendous pressure of capitalism, the ecclesiastical bodies in general did not, with these noble exceptions, awake to their great opportunity until it had passed by. Other bodies of learned men there were which equally failed to discern the irresistible force and divine sanction of the tidal wave of humane enthusiasm that was sweeping over the earth, and to see that it was destined to leave behind it a transformed and regenerated world. But the failure of these others, however lamentable, to discern the nature of the crisis, was not like the failure of the Christian clergy, for it was their express calling and business to preach and teach the application to human relations of the Golden Rule of equal treatment for all which the Revolution came to establish, and to watch for the coming of this very kingdom of brotherly love, whose advent they met with anathemas.
"The reformers of that time were most bitter against the clergy for their double treason to humanity and Christianity, in opposing instead of supporting the Revolution; but time has tempered harsh judgments of every sort, and it is rather with deep pity than with indignation that we look back on these unfortunate men, who will ever retain the tragic distinction of having missed the grandest opportunity of leadership ever offered to men. Why add reproach to the burden of such a failure as that?
"While the influence of ecclesiastical authority in America, on account of the growth of intelligence, had at this time greatly shrunken from former proportions, the generally unfavorable or negative attitude of the churches toward the programme of equality had told heavily to hold back the popular support which the movement might reasonably have expected from professedly Christian people. It was, however, only a question of time, and the educating influence of public discussion, when the people would become acquainted for themselves with the merits of the subject. 'The Great Revival' followed, when, in the course of this process of education, the masses of the nation reached the conviction that the revolution against which the clergy had warned them as unchristian was, in fact, the most essentially and intensely Christian movement that had ever appealed to men since Christ called his disciples, and as such imperatively commanded the strongest support of every believer or admirer of Christ's doctrine.
"The American people appear to have been, on the whole, the most intelligently religious of the large populations of the world--as religion was understood at that time--and the most generally influenced by the sentiment of Christianity. When the people came to recognize that the ideal of a world of equal welfare, which had been represented to them by the clergy as a dangerous delusion, was no other than the very dream of Christ; when they realized that the hope which led on the advocates of the new order was no baleful ignis fatuus, as the churches had taught, but nothing less nor other than the Star of Bethlehem, it is not to be wondered at that the impulse which the revolutionary movement received should have been overwhelming. From that time on it assumes more and more the character of a crusade, the first of the many so-called crusades of history which had a valid and adequate title to that name and right to make the cross its emblem. As the conviction took hold on the always religious masses that the plan of an equalized human welfare was nothing less than the divine design, and that in seeking their own highest happiness by its adoption they were also fulfilling God's purpose for the race, the spirit of the Revolution became a religious enthusiasm. As to the preaching of Peter the Hermit, so now once more the masses responded to the preaching of the reformers with the exultant cry, 'God wills it!' and none doubted any longer that the vision would come to pass. So it was that the Revolution, which had begun its course under the ban of the churches, was carried to its consummation upon a wave of moral and religious emotion."
"But what became of the churches and the clergy when the people found out what blind guides they had been?" I asked.
"No doubt," replied the doctor, "it must have seemed to them something like the Judgment Day when their flocks challenged them with open Bibles and demanded why they had hid the Gospel all these ages and falsified the oracles of God which they had claimed to interpret. But so far as appears, the joyous exultation of the people over the great discovery that liberty, equality, and fraternity were nothing less than the practical meaning and content of Christ's religion seems to have left no room in their heart for bitterness toward any class. The world had received a crowning demonstration that was to remain conclusive to all time of the untrustworthiness of ecclesiastical guidance; that was all. The clergy who had failed in their office of guides had not done so, it is needless to say, because they were not as good as other men, but on account of the hopeless falsity of their position as the economic dependents of those they assumed to lead. As soon as the great revival had fairly begun they threw themselves into it as eagerly as any of the people, but not now with any pretensions of leadership. They followed the people whom they might have led.
"From the great revival we date the beginning of the era of modern religion--a religion which has dispensed with the rites and ceremonies, creeds and dogmas, and banished from this life fear and concern for the meaner self; a religion of life and conduct dominated by an impassioned sense of the solidarity of humanity and of man with God; the religion of a race that knows itself divine and fears no evil, either now or hereafter."
"I need not ask," I said, "as to any subsequent stages of the Revolution, for I fancy its consummation did not tarry long after 'The Great Revival.'"
"That was indeed the culminating impulse," replied the doctor; "but while it lent a momentum to the movement for the immediate realization of an equality of welfare which no obstacle could have resisted, it did its work, in fact, not so much by breaking down opposition as by melting it away. The capitalists, as you who were one of them scarcely need to be told, were not persons of a more depraved disposition than other people, but merely, like other classes, what the economic system had made them. Having like passions and sensibilities with other men, they were as incapable of standing out against the contagion of the enthusiasm of humanity, the passion of pity, and the compulsion of humane tenderness which The Great Revival had aroused, as any other class of people. From the time that the sense of the people came generally to recognize that the fight of the existing order to prevent the new order was nothing more nor less than a controversy between the almighty dollar and the Almighty God, there was substantially but one side to it. A bitter minority of the capitalist party and its supporters seems indeed to have continued its outcry against the Revolution till the end, but it was of little importance. The greater and all the better part of the capitalists joined with the people in completing the installation of the new order which all had now come to see was to redound to the benefit of all alike."
"And there was no war?"
"War! Of course not. Who was there to fight on the other side? It is odd how many of the early reformers seem to have anticipated a war before private capitalism could be overthrown. They were constantly referring to the civil war in the United States and to the French Revolution as precedents which justified their fear, but really those were not analogous cases. In the controversy over slavery, two geographical sections, mutually impenetrable to each other's ideas were opposed and war was inevitable. In the French Revolution there would have been no bloodshed in France but for the interference of the neighboring nations with their brutal kings and brutish populations. The peaceful outcome of the great Revolution in America was, moreover, potently favored by the lack as yet of deep class distinctions, and consequently of rooted class hatred. Their growth was indeed beginning to proceed at an alarming rate, but the process had not yet gone far or deep and was ineffectual to resist the glow of social enthusiasm which in the culminating years of the Revolution blended the whole nation in a common faith and purpose.
"You must not fail to bear in mind that the great Revolution, as it came in America, was not a revolution at all in the political sense in which all former revolutions in the popular interest had been. In all these instances the people, after making up their minds what they wanted changed, had to overthrow the Government and seize the power in order to change it. But in a democratic state like America the Revolution was practically done when the people had made up their minds that it was for their interest. There was no one to dispute their power and right to do their will when once resolved on it. The Revolution as regards America and in other countries, in proportion as their governments were popular, was more like the trial of a case in court than a revolution of the traditional blood-and-thunder sort. The court was the people, and the only way that either contestant could win was by convincing the court, from which there was no appeal.
"So far as the stage properties of the traditional revolution were concerned, plots, conspiracies, powder-smoke, blood and thunder, any one of the ten thousand squabbles in the mediaeval, Italian, and Flemish towns, furnishes far more material to the romancer or playwright than did the great Revolution in America."
"Am I to understand that there was actually no violent doings in connection with this great transformation?"
"There were a great number of minor disturbances and collisions, involving in the aggregate a considerable amount of violence and bloodshed, but there was nothing like the war with pitched lines which the early reformers looked for. Many a petty dispute, causeless and resultless, between nameless kings in the past, too small for historical mention, has cost far more violence and bloodshed than, so far as America is concerned, did the greatest of all revolutions."
"And did the European nations fare as well when they passed through the same crisis?"
"The conditions of none of them were so favorable to peaceful social revolution as were those of the United States, and the experience of most was longer and harder, but it may be said that in the case of none of the European peoples were the direful apprehensions of blood and slaughter justified which the earlier reformers seem to have entertained. All over the world the Revolution was, as to its main factors, a triumph of moral forces."