II. LIBERALISM’S COMING OF AGE
IV. UTILITARIANISM, LAISSEZ FAIRE AND INDIVIDUALISM
LIBERALISM had conquered in three important countries and had become an important force everywhere. How did Liberalism act, now that it had won supremacy? Under the control of the Whigs in the eighteenth century, England had entered upon a period of enormous prosperity, expanding into a great imperialist power. All the propertied classes had become reconciled to the 1688 compromise. (*1) Liberalism grew more skeptical, more conservative.
Eighteenth-century Liberalism found a true spokesman in David Hume. To Hume, all abstract beliefs were mere prejudice. It was impossible to state, neither was it worth arguing about, whether God existed or not, (*2) whether thinking was a function of matter, or matter merely an idea. With Locke there had been active speculation about God and matter, both of which, although unknowable, existed. With Hume, Liberalism, now tired of strife and more secure in its social position, became negatively critical. It was impossible to prove philosophically that anything existed, even oneself. Hume thus became the expression of the purest zero.
The theory of Social Contract had been useful to the Whigs so long as they were seeking power. Now this very theory was being used by the American Revolutionists, by Rousseau, by Thomas Paine, to justify the new revolutions against which the English Liberals were fighting.
By the eighteenth century, English Liberalism could well afford to drop the theory of Social Contract. Within the nation it was no longer needed since the rapid industrial development of the country had, established the Whigs so securely on top that the old rationalization was antiquated. Besides, the Jacobite Tories always had been opposed to this theory since it had led to dangerous revolutionary conclusions. Thus, in abandoning the concept of Social Contract, Hume and the Liberals of his type again emphasized their conservative character; they tried to forget their revolutionary past and the democratic tendencies they had evoked.
Since the Social Contract theory was only a part of a system of everlasting truths, under these circumstances English Liberalism no longer could speak in the name of “eternal” truth. Contrariwise, it was now the duty of English Liberalism in control of the State to point out that no truth was eternal, but all was mere opinion, and all opinions were prejudice; to Hume truth depended on the point of view.
Against the theory of Social Contract, Hume pointed out that government was founded solely on usurpation and conquest (*3) and not on the voluntary subjection of the people. Locke had based property on labor; Hume founded property on seizure., (*4) Possession is nine-tenths of the Law. Cynical Liberalism!
Under Hume, the Utilitarian school was founded. According to him, all that we knew were our senses. We acted to obtain pleasure and to avoid pain according to our selfish needs. We experimented to find out which experiences would bring us the greatest good. And that law was the best which brought the greatest happiness to the largest number of people. All ideals were here dissolved into a sensationalist, sensualist approach in which the only binding nexus was self-interest and cash payment. In this way Liberalism tried to justify its rule, not from the aspect of good morals, but from the angle of whether it paid good dividends. The entire emphasis was placed on individual egotism.
Nevertheless, the right of Liberal capitalist egotism to dominate remained on the foundation of utility to the nation. Nor could there have been a stronger justification for capitalist egotism in the eighteenth century than the fact this motivation was bringing prosperity to the people. Under the Whigs a great industrial revolution was taking place. Industry was bringing into the world unheard of wealth, realizing unprecedented achievements, transforming the whole social order. Industry was making England supreme. It would bring Napoleon to his knees. Utility was indeed the keynote of England’s capitalist class, its very raison d’ etre.
To these efforts of the anti-democratic Utilitarians must be added the historical arguments of Edmund Burke. With the exception of Montesquieu, previous Liberal leaders had not taken an historical approach. Locke, Hume, Paine, Jefferson, had argued from the logic of abstract eternal laws to be ascertained by reason. Only Rousseau had abandoned rationalism to appeal to the emotions. It is Burke (and in Germany later Hegel) who goes back to history, not indeed to show us the laws of evolution and of change, but in order to justify the status quo and tradition and custom generally. To Burke, the traditional had existed because it had been useful and therefore should not be lightly overthrown. The Liberals Burke and Pitt became the chief enemies of the French Revolution. (*5) There was no room even for Thomas Paine in England. (*6)
Burke was opposed to the abolition of Rotten Boroughs; he was against a shorter Parliament. He protested lowering the qualifications for suffrage. He declared Parliament was as nearly perfect as possible. He was a real English Liberal of the times, that is, he was no democrat. Hume, Adam Smith, Bentham, were against the American Revolution, while Burke tried to prove that the Revolution of 1688 was not a democratic revolution at all, but a revolution of stability to defend a threatened aristocratic tradition. (*7)
We have seen that in the eighteenth century, during their struggles against the old order, everywhere the capitalists had asked the government to keep its hands off business. “That government is best that governs least.” Whether in complaint against heavy taxation, whether in a fight against government monopoly and business restrictions, or whether to abolish the old feudal dues and internal tariffs in order to establish free trade within the country, the Liberal capitalists had raised the slogan “Laissez faire"- Let us alone. It was the American Revolution that most dramatically enforced the dictum of free, trade, free markets, no governmental interference. And what the Americans did in practical Political Science, the English at the same time, with Adam Smith, began to do in theoretical Political Economy.
With the Industrial Revolution it was not the merchant capitalists who rose to the top, but the owners of factories, the manufacturers of goods, the industrialists. Agrarian England had become industrial England. These industrialists were interested in low costs of production and, to secure them, had to fight the older capitalist orders, the landlords and the merchants. The abolition of the tariff was no evil in a country where the industrialists could meet and beat all competition. As the markets increased and the profits of the industrialists rose, these capitalists emptied the orphan asylums to exploit the frail bodies of little children; men and women were driven helplessly into the jaws of a Moloch that devoured them at a frightful rate; the cesspools of the city slums and the sweatshops of industry cried to heaven. The stamina of the whole English race was threatened. (*8)
How could all this be justified? The answer was laissez faire. The Classic School of economists, headed by Adam Smith, (*9) attempted to prove that the laws of free business are as eternal as Natural Law itself. (*10) Turning to the merchants, bankers, and landlords, the industrial capitalists set about to demonstrate that all value is labor embodied in commodities, that value is produced in the factory and not in the sphere of circulation or finance, that other sections of the capitalist class must subordinate themselves to the industrialist, who alone is productive, who alone is the backbone of the nation, the sole source from which the others draw their income, that it was to the interest of the whole nation that the industrialists be allowed an entirely free rein. (*11) Utilizing the energies of the proletariat which they had called into being, the industrialist Liberals were able to enforce their will upon the other capitalist sections.
Concurrently, the meaning of the term laissez faire had become greatly extended. It now became the theory with which to fight any social legislation that might aid the poorer classes, especially the workers, at industry’s expense. The manufacturers were casting a big burden upon society in the shape of slums, criminals, prostitutes, degenerates, diseased, disabled unemployed, paupers, etc, and just as Malthus undertook to prove the poor would be always with us, the Utilitarian Liberals and the Classic Economic School undertook to show that all this was for the best good of the nation, and that, in the long run, the nation would benefit more if these matters were not regulated. Thus did the Utilitarians fight the Democrats, and Utility become opposed to the Rights of Man. Laissez faire was the bitterest opponent to social reform.
The program of laissez faire brought other principles in its train. It meant for one thing that the industrialist had no responsibilities to society. But it was not necessary for him to defend his interests so narrowly. He could go farther and argue that each citizen had to stand on his own feet and take care of himself. This was most convenient for the capitalist; he was expanding his business, defeating all competitors, and growing enormously wealthy; let the worker who brought up the rear of the procession look out for himself!
To the Liberal capitalist, the proposition that there were no classes in society, but simply an aggregate of individuals, was very convenient. It was an excellent theory for a class in control of the government, and fearing no individual attacks, to tell the lower orders not to band together in groups or classes. How appropriate for the consumption of the world at large was the program that the only true interests were individual interests, when the capitalist alone of all individuals was the most able to take care of himself. (*12) To say that man was motivated only by egoistic interests was but another way of idealizing the brutal piggishness and irresponsible criminality by which the industrialists had crashed the gates to power.
The industrialists, however, were only aping their betters, the landed aristocracy. Between 1760 and 1844 about seven million acres of common lands were privately seized by acts of Parliament. (*13) This was perhaps the greatest land steal in British parliamentary history. In 1875 half of the total agricultural land in England and Wales was owned by two thousand persons. Seventeen hundred people owned nine-tenths of all Scotland.
The French Revolution had given English capitalists a great scare. So long as the war against Napoleon was on, all sections of the ruling class united to stamp out any signs of Radicalism the moment they appeared. And yet, no sooner was Napoleon out of the way than the consequences of the war increasingly made themselves felt on the British social system.
The old equilibrium was definitely broken. On the one hand there was a great growth of the national debt, concurrent with a large increase in taxation, and a huge State apparatus honeycombed with the most flagrant corruption. On the other hand, a new class of industrialists had arrived who had profited greatly from the war, who refused to pay for it, and who demanded their place in the political sun of the British Parliament.
On the third side, a large petty-property class was being uprooted from its old conditions and greatly buffeted about by the contradictions of capitalism. With William Cobbett, these old elements “hated a stock-jobber worse than a Duke,” (*14) and under his leadership they tried to fuse their interests with those of the Monarchy. They called for a return to the days of “Old England” and at the same time demanded a Reform Bill that would allow them to vote and to express their interests. Counter to this group were the new sections of petty proprietors clustered around the booming industries, whose whole future was tied up with the large factories in the cities. This branch of property, too, was clamoring to be heard.
Finally, and above all, a great working class was stirring uneasily. The Napoleonic Wars had caused the workers great suffering. They had been dragooned into the army and shanghaied into the navy. The cost of living had gone sky high. They, moreover, were also the worst victims of the social maladjustment which had marked the feverish advance of capital. After the Napoleonic Wars the costs of the further readjustments necessary were thrown heavily on these people. A great many workers were dumped on the streets. Other large numbers of them were demobilized from the armed forces. The unemployed, treated as criminals, were seized by the police and hired out in gangs like slaves. Strikes and riots broke out everywhere.
Here was a force, the proletariat, which, if allowed to go uncontrolled, could blow up the whole social order. On the other hand, if maneuvered by some other group, it could supply the necessary explosive energy to reach political power. At once the older classes of landlords, merchants, and financiers made advances to the workers. They denounced the industrialists high and low. William Cobbett spoke for the right of workers to organize and to strike, (*15) and even defend the right of insurrection (although he was vehemently against all violence). Following such a policy, Parliament made a faint beginning in social legislation regulating factory conditions on behalf of working children, and wiped out the law holding trade unions as illegal conspiracies. This law was soon restored, however.
In the long run, such measures could not defeat the industrialists, but could only drive them to more radical extremes. Aiming to end the tariff on grain, the industrialists exposed the huge profits that the landlords were seizing for themselves from their monopolies. Now deadly in earnest to wipe out the Rotten Boroughs, the factory owners began to talk of democracy for all. Their intellectuals formed a school of philosophic Radicalism. (*16)
These Radicals, such as Bentham, warned Parliament that there must not be too great a gap between law and morals, and that the social problems of the day had to be solved by legislation. Bentham did not turn to Natural Law as the French had done, for the French Revolution was entirely too fresh in mind. He looked for remedies within the narrow framework of the State itself. This was most normal. By this time, English law had thoroughly absorbed into itself the business principles of the law-merchant and equity. With Bentham and John Austin, the cold Analytical school of jurists refused to modify their legal precepts by appealing to the new customs and morals arising, but waited for new legislation to instruct them that the law had been changed.
Thus, when it was to their interests to bring their own practices and morals into the law, the capitalists were able to get judges to modify the law by “discovering” new principles, by inventing fictions, by new “interpretations” and by even setting up a new court--Equity. The appeal to equity was an appeal from law to justice. When, however, the lower orders, not in control of the State, pressed forward their own claims and interests, the judges decided that law could not be “discovered,” but must come into being by legislation rather than by courts. Law was no longer to be fused with morals. Law had nothing to do with justice, (*17) or rather, so far as the prisoner was concerned, the court of law was his court of justice.
The attitude of the British courts was but added evidence that the battle was being fought, not under the guise of private claims of property, but as an affair of mass political interests involving pressure on Parliament. From this was easily drawn the conclusion by Bentham that parliamentary legislation had to be not for a clique but for the greatest happiness to the greatest number. Thus did Bentham continue the Utilitarian school of Hume under new circumstances. To achieve this happiness, the legislature had to provide for security, subsistence, abundance, and equality for all, in the order named.
In Bentham’s scheme, security came first, equality last, and liberty was not even mentioned except as a subdivision of security. To effect security it was not necessary to give equality to all. That might be an ultimate goal, but what was needed immediately was the recognition that Parliament had to be reformed and that the petty bourgeoisie mobilized behind the industrialists were to be given the vote. Bentham put subsistence ahead of abundance but this was a general principle only. It must not be supposed that Bentham advocated the subsistence of all before abundance to a few as a tenet of legislation.
There was also affirmed as basic the principle that, though the State may be called on to secure happiness-here Bentham and Adam Smith were at odds-the greatest good to the greatest number could be attained by letting each man follow his egotistic instincts which would lead him to find pleasure and to avoid pain. In Bentham’s rationalistic scheme, not reason, but force, was the ultimate desideratum in society. Balance the interests; yield to the stronger and most utilitarian.
The French Revolution of 1830 greatly sharpened the Radical movement in England. The workers began to take matters into their own hands. Thrashing machines and other new implements, the introduction of which brought about unemployment, were destroyed; ricks, barns, and other property of unpopular landlords were burned. Reduction or the abolition of tithes was demanded, also higher wages and reductions in rents. Unpopular overseers were driven from the counties. Rich men barricaded themselves. “For a time large tracts of the countryside passed into the possession of the labourers.” (*18)
Under such circumstances, there was nothing else for the conservative coteries in Parliament to do but to yield. The Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. The Rotten Borough system was ended. Manchester and other manufacturing towns were given better representation, sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie were enfranchised. Only the workers were cheated completely of any gains.
Under Cobden and Bright, the Manchester School pushed forward to full victory. Nothing less would do for them than full free trade, and a complete relegation of government officiousness to the background. Factory legislation was reactionary. (*19) Unions were seditious.
Absolutely nothing must interfere with business and profits, and since Cobden regarded war as interfering with Manchester business, war was considered immoral, as well as the loans and legislation that led to war. “Protective tariffs and other trade impediments were condemned, not merely or mainly because they made food dear and otherwise impaired the production of national wealth, but because they interfered with the free and friendly intercourse of different nations, bred hostility of interests, stimulated hostile preparations, and swallowed up those energies and resources of each nation that were needed for the cultivation of the arts of peaceful progress.” (*20) Sir Robert Peel also had pointed out that increasing military expenditure meant taxation, and increased taxation meant revolution.
At the time Cobden and Bright were declaring themselves opposed to war, Britain was waging a progressive war in the Crimea against Russia (1854). However, when the British aristocracy were about to help the South break the blockade of the North during the American Civil War, the British Liberal firm of Cobden and Company aided the South by seriously proposing the abolition of blockades in time of war (Perish the world, let business go on!). Cobden thought the North foolish and openly stated, “But at what a price is the Negro to be emancipated! I confess that, if then I had been the arbiter of his fate, I should have refused him freedom at the cost of so much white men’s blood and women’s tears." (*21)
The Liberalism of the Manchester School was that of the smug “Little Englander” which refused to adapt itself to the new conditions which the Crimean War on the one hand, the American Civil War on the other, and the Paris Commune on the third, had placed before the British ruling class, driving it to World Imperialism. Imperialism could lead only to unceasing wars and to ubiquitous governmental collectivity. (*22) On the contrary, the Manchester School insisted that individual liberty, free trade, free contract, and the maximum liberty of the individual to exploit his fellow possible under the circumstances should be allowed; that the State should be but an inexpensive policeman whose sole role, in the words of Cobden, was to maintain order, restrain men from violence and fraud, to hold them secure in person and property against foreign and domestic enemies, and to give redress to injuries.
The Liberal actually did not want the government to let him entirely alone. Soon enough he would come screaming for injunctions against labor. Soon enough he would call on the armed forces of the nation to support his foreign investments. Soon enough the Liberals would thunder to the proletariat about its social duties and responsibilities. Soon enough, as conditions grew worse and they were faced with an aroused mass of people, the Liberals would avow that the State was not a necessary evil but an inestimable blessing.
In America the program of individualism became far more intensely developed and far more generally accepted than in England. It embraced the widest mass of people. Individualism became, so to speak, the National Program. Here, again, paradoxically enough, the United States could be both more and less advanced than England. In France, Utilitarian individualism met its superior in the power of the Nation. On the Continent, it was overwhelmed by the domination of Social Classes. Only in England was individualism, supported by Utility, able to dominate, temporarily. However, in America, individualism did not need a Manchester School, but had become the fundamental way of life.
The weightiness of this difference with England lay in the fact that America’s might was derived from its natural resources and raw materials, rather than from its useful manufactures. Pioneers, frontiersmen, farmers, planters, practically the whole population had been compelled to combat the forces of nature in an individualistic manner. Social forces were still secondary to natural forces (*23). The State hardly existed; in many places classes hardly existed. What feeling of responsibility could the Americans owe to society or society to them?
The State, it is I,” said the Benevolent Despot. “It is Natural Law,” asserted the early Liberals. “It is the Nation,” declaimed the French. “It is Society,” affirmed the English. “It is the Individual,” said the American. In each case we have an abstraction from reality.
Like the French Radicals, the Americans felt that all should be individual owners. But here, unlike France, all the owners had the opportunity of becoming rich. It was this fact which gave the individualism of America such a democratic character, embraced as it was by such large strata of the population. America, as opposed to Europe, was a fairyland, a brand-new world, a petty bourgeois utopia where each could reach success by his own direct action.
The possibilities and opportunities of becoming rich in America seemed limitless. An unending frontier beckoned. A continent was to be had for the asking; it was not necessary to seize anything from one’s neighbors. All that was needed to obtain the El Dorado was liberty of action, freedom of motion and locomotion. Individual motion thus took the place of social movement.
The possibilities of becoming rich in America seemed unlimited in the broader economic sense as well as in the territorial. Wealth and productivity were increasing at a tremendous tempo. New markets, new fields of conquest opened everywhere. Old Europe was beginning to recognize the supremacy of America. The old social orders and classes began to feel the power of the American’s individualist effort, America had pushed aside the feudal order with such ease, capitalism had such a free and unrestricted development, that American prosperity and success could only accentuate the rampant individualist program.
The best philosopher of this style was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson felt America could learn little from Europe. “Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close.” (*24) Over a half century before him Thomas Paine had advocated the separation of the American colonies because here a new world could be built up entirely different from the old.
Success seemed to come from the evasion of the State. The State meant burdens, restrictions on Liberty. Differing from England, where individualism was justified as equivalent to the welfare of society and the State, in America the individual was counterposed to the State. The individual became an end in himself. This position was emphasized by the Concord School of Emerson and Thoreau (*25)
And with the tremendous rise of industrial capital after the Civil War, Liberty became assimilated to the English doctrine of ‘laissez faire in the name of which the government became the complete handmaid of the industrialists. Theoretically limping after England, it was only in the late nineteenth century that American Individualism, dropping the theory of “Natural Rights,” was supported by the arguments of the Utilitarians. By this time, America, too, had become a leader in the manufacture of finished articles, and was beginning to challenge England for world power.
In England, Liberty was conceived simply as a means to the end of happiness; in America, Liberty, abstracted from Society, became an end in itself. As late as 1883 an American could write: “The notion of civil liberty which we have inherited is that of a status created for the individual by laws and institutions, the effect of which is that each man is guaranteed the use of all his powers exclusively for his own welfare. It is not at all a matter of elections, or universal suffrage, or democracy…. It is not to be admitted for a moment that liberty is a means to social ends, and that it may be impaired for major considerations. (*26)
Liberty meant individualism. If democracy or social institutions were to exist at all, it must be for the sole purpose of guaranteeing independent individualism. Democracy was not for the hired laborer, for the indentured servant, or for the Negro slave, but only for those who were independent small property holders. This was understandable in a country where democracy had been won, not by a social revolution of the people, but through a political revolution engineered by oligarchical cliques whose relative weakness compelled them to share the wealth of the country with certain others.
Up to the nineteenth century, individualism could run away from the State. From then on, it had to face the State and conquer it. The Liberal State was catching up with both the farmer and the frontiersman. Slavery, too, was pressing its spurs into the independent small owner. Representing agrarian individualism, a vast democratic movement arose among the lower propertied elements especially of the West.
In its fight against the State, the democratic West found friends among the Southern plantocracy. Having spurned as allies the hired laborer and slave, the West could turn nowhere else for better support. On its side, too, the Southern slave-holders could here play a profitable game. It was losing out in its economic struggles against the Northern capitalists. It needed the West for its aims of Western expansion. It could use the West in joint battles against the North and East. At the same time the Southern oligarchy did not fear democracy. In the vast domains under its control there was a slavery which no one yet had dared to challenge.
It was to cement this alliance that the South could tolerate Jeffersonian Democracy. “Jeffersonian Democracy did not imply any abandonment of the property, and particularly the landed qualifications on the suffrage or office holdings, it did not involve any fundamental alterations in the national Constitution which the Federalists had designed as a foil to the leveling propensities of the masses; it did not propose any new devices for a more immediate and direct control of the voters over the instrumentalities of government. Jeffersonian Democracy simply meant the possession of the federal government by the agrarian masses led by an aristocracy of slave-owning planters, and the theoretical repudiation of the right to use the Government for the benefit of any capitalistic groups, fiscal, banking, or manufacturing.” (*27)
Thus, too, at the time of the Missouri Compromise, when the cry of the Abolitionists was already loud, the “Democrat” Jackson could suggest that Congress pass “such a law as will prohibit under severe penalties the circulation in the Southern States [of] incendiary publications intended to instigate the slaves to insurrection.” (*28) This was the price the West paid for its Southern connections.
By the time of Andrew Jackson, however, the West, with its frontier now at the Mississippi, was beginning to find its voice. It could not be coerced; it would have to be duped. Larger concessions had to be made to these rough Westerners if the South was to maintain its control. Under Andrew Jackson (*29) the Jeffersonian name of “Republican” was changed to “Democrat” and the franchise was extended, the old “rascals” were cleaned out of political office and the Westerners were allowed temporarily to taste the bribes of government.
In comparison to this rough democratic movement, Emerson’s Liberalism was of a timid variety. Writing in 1844 he declared, “The spirit of our American radicalism is destructive and aimless: It is not loving; it has no ulterior and divine ends, but is destructive only out of hatred and selfishness.” (*30)s The Concord School of thinkers headed by Emerson and Thoreau tried hard to run away from the rough reality. They built little utopias. They became mystics, transcendentalists, believers in oriental philosophies. They succeeded in escaping reality so well that as late as 1859 Emerson could write: “No man living will see the end of slavery.”
The alliance between Western individualism and the slave power could not last long. The future of individualism lay in Northern competition and not in the Southern slave camps. By means of canals and water routes the West was being bound up firmly with the eastern cities. Hitherto Western products had been shipped down the southward flowing rivers to New Orleans. Situated on these rivers, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, became great traffic centers and were hooked up with all Southern markets. But in 1825 the Erie Canal was completed and freight rates dropped from $100 a ton to $15 or $25. Rapidly there arose a whole network of canals in the Northwest territory, connecting Ohio, Michigan, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati directly to the East. (*31)
The second blow in prying the West from the South came simultaneously with the canal network. The West, from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, had become the great granary of the world. In 1840 the West produced 7.4 per capita, in 1860 13.3 bushels. Self-sufficient farming disappeared and in its place arose capitalist commercial farming. While the time of this shift varied for different portions of the Western farming area by 1830 Ohio had generally completed this adjustment and by 1850 it was joined by the states farther west, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and a part of Wisconsin.
With specialized farming came machinery produced in the North and East. In 1840 wheat was generally broadcast by hand; by 1860 the drill was rapidly coming into use and much of the wheat in the Mississippi Valley was now sown by machine. In the early ‘40’s wheat was reaped with a cradle; after 1860 the use of the reaper swiftly increased. By 1850 most of the threshing also was done by portable machinery.
The final blow in tying up the West with the East was given by the railroads, running East and West and not North and South, that signalized the great railroad boom period of 1850-1860. The effects were immense. In the three years ending 1852, Cincinnati shipped 1,091,000 barrels of flour to the South and 37,000 to the East. By 1860, the three-year total had changed to 300,000 barrels shipped South and 1,376,000 shipped West. Nor was this all. Entirely new centers were being built up far superior to the Southern ones. In 1836 Chicago had shipped 78 bushels of grain, in 1850, 1,831,000 bushels, and in 1860 31,109,000 bushels. Already by 1850 the number of hogs packed at Chicago had exceeded the number packed for the Southern market.
Not only Chicago, but innumerable Western towns became absolutely dependent for their livelihood on the railroads and on Eastern capitalism. Far from attacking the railroads, Western states did their utmost to bring them in. Every professional politician and lawyer who could do so tried to get into the pay of the railroads, which, in turn, were only too glad to link themselves up with the legal and political lights of the times.
Abraham Lincoln was no exception to this general trend. “As a green legislator in Illinois he helped to promote the vicious legislation which went into the laws of the state, for excessive and unwise railroad building. As a rising lawyer some of his best clients were the railroads; although at times he appeared against them. He ‘chalked his hat,’ or traveled on passes habitually. He was tempted with an offer from the New York Central, which, if accepted, would have changed his entire political career. He was a guiding spirit behind the first line to the Far West-the Union Pacific- and he helped determine its gauge, which became the standard gauge of the country. In the famous Rock Island Bridge case, he enunciated a right for common carriers which has become an accepted doctrine.” (*32)
Thus in this tug-of-war between North and South for the West, the North had to emerge victorious. The discovery of gold in California hastened the need for complete victory. Now the North could afford to play its trump card, a card which the South could never match, namely, a free homestead to every man.
We have seen that even in the early days of the eighteenth century the pinch of high land prices had been felt. Now the enclosure of the common lands in New England, the relentless drive of the southern plantations, and the rapid growth of the country had created an ever-present land hunger which, in the light of the vast continent that stretched before the Americans, created an absolutely intolerable set of contradictions. The commercialization of agriculture and the discovery of gold had raised all land prices and had caused a land dearth greater than ever. This only accelerated westward expansion and sharpened the demand for free land. Finally, there was the new powerful force, calling for rapid capitalist cultivation of the West, namely, the railroads backed up by the new metal machinery factories. Eastern railway and finance capitalists could now unite with the Western farmers to push the West to the limit.
Thus the slogan for a free homestead for every man took on such momentum as to become irresistible. With this slogan the East was able to split the Middle West away from the Southern squirarchy to which it had been wedded so long, and to build a new Republican Party, in 1856.
To the Northern capitalists, the opening up of the West was needed for another reason. The Revolutions of 1848 in Europe had driven many revolutionary elements to these shores. These Irish, German, and other colonists were far from docile. Settled in the new land they at once began to organize political societies and unions. The ‘50’s were marked with strikes and in the great Crisis of 1857, the misery of the masses in the midst of plenty led to a dangerous situation. The Homestead Act was thus a measure calculated to stave off the Labor Problem, which was becoming increasingly pressing in the Eastern cities. As the Beards put it, “Energies which in the normal course of affairs would have been devoted to building up trade unions and framing schemes of social revolution were diverted to agitation in favor of a free farm for every workingman whether he wanted it or not.” (*33)
The economic. battle having been won so peacefully, it seemed that all that was necessary was to wait. But for this very reason the South could not wait. Up to 1860 it had dominating control of the Federal Government. Desperately it was trying to maintain this control and steadily it was losing out.
It has been popularly propagated by some historians and publicists that the Civil War was a struggle between a pre-capitalist slave system and modern capitalism. In this way two ideas are emphasized: first, that slavery is incompatible with capitalism, and second, that the Liberal capitalists freed the slaves. Here, then, is another myth that has to be exploded.
The fact of the matter is that Negro slavery formed the very basis of the capitalist system in the United States. As we have seen, it was the only way to get the laborer to work for another’s profit. It is estimated that about twelve million Africans were brought here in chains, not counting the untold millions killed in Africa or on the passage over.
During the Revolutionary War, Virginia Liberals and Pennsylvania Quakers declared against the slave trade and tried to stop further lawful importations. It was hard to maintain the principle of Slavery and the Declaration of Independence at the same time. (*34) Besides, the British were trying to stir up the slaves to rebellion. The new imported Negroes were always the most recklessly militant and more time had to be allowed for their assimilation. The end of the slave trade, too, was calculated to deal a great blow to England and her West Indian colonies.
Ultimately, the deciding factors were economic, not political. The chief crop at the time, certainly in Virginia, the key State, was not cotton, but tobacco, and here white labor was decidedly superior. Besides, the slave market was glutted. Already the South had become divided into regions in which the role that had been assigned to such States as Virginia and Maryland was that of a slave breeder. Thus the struggle to stop the slave trade was at bottom a struggle to wipe out Virginia’s and Maryland’s foreign competition. And it was the New England States, particularly that most Liberal of all, Rhode Island, which blocked Virginia’s move.
In the end Virginia prevailed. With the termination of foreign competition, Virginia was able to give some basis for its tradition of treating slaves well. To feed the slaves well and to bring them together so that they could produce plenty of slave children was a basic point in Virginia economy. And if the Negroes themselves would not produce enough children, the master could always call in the Negro women and either turn them over to his foremen or do the job himself. The Southland, proud of its traditions of Southern chivalry, nevertheless organized the greatest system of rape known to history.
In the ancient world where slavery was part of a self-sufficient economy, and everything had to be produced on the place, the slave was often an educated craftsman. He was treated well and sometimes taken into the family. Such was not the slavery of the one-crop South where cotton ruled. Education was forbidden. Conditions were fearful. Torture and terror were constantly applied (*35)There was no redress save insurrection.
With the invention of the cotton gin, when great quantities of cotton could be shipped out on the world market-in other words, when the plantation system of the South became linked up with the capitalist system of the rest of the world, slavery became highly profitable and the number of slaves rapidly increased. The South became wedded to its “peculiar institution.”
But it was not only the South that benefitted. The Napoleonic Wars had accelerated the industrial revolution, particularly in cotton textiles. Cheap cotton became the very life food of British industries. It built up New England factories. It formed the basis of countless fortunes in every walk of life. As English cotton consumption jumped from 13,000 bales in 1781 to 3,386,000 in 1860, Southern production leaped to 5,000,000 bales. Slavery made cotton King.
Here was the basic reason for the terrific hostility to the Abolition movement on the part of certain elements in the Northern cities. These were the elements that were to sabotage the cause of the North. Now we can also better appreciate why so many British Liberals refused to aid the North in the Civil War. Gladstone wanted France and Russia to unite with England to stop the Civil War and thus recognize the South. (*36) Cobden argued that the South was more Liberal than the North since it believed in free trade! Bright believed that the South would be able to secede (but he didn’t want war with the United States), while Cairnes was sure that both the occasion and the moral feeling of Europe demanded that the South should be allowed to secede, as this also would be better for the North! (*37) All these gentlemen had built their pyramids on the backs of Negro slavery and they were afraid their whole civilization would crash to earth.
Yet, by 1860, despite all, the South had come to the end of its rope. Slave labor was wasteful; for it to be profitable there was needed an abundance of fertile soil and a crop which demanded a steady combining of labor. Thus there had arisen large plantations that could be devoted solely to cotton, for only cotton permitted large numbers of people to be used ten months in the year.
As the fertile soil became worn out, two methods were open to the Southern planter, namely, either the renewal of the soil through scientific methods of fertilization and use, or abandonment of the old plantation and utilization of fresh lands. The first alternative was completely closed to the Southern planter by the very institution of slavery. Slavery meant sparsity of population. It spelled the absence of towns and community isolation. It frowned on good highways and easy methods of communication. It meant dense ignorance. Only the coarsest and crudest tools could be given the slaves. The more machinery took hold in the grain belt, the more reactionary became slavery in the cotton belt.
Frenetically, the South took to the second alternative, territorial expansion. In spite of the sparsity of population, a ferocious land hunger made itself felt, forcing the South to push on towards the West. Slavery took Florida. It took Louisiana. It took Texas. It sent marauding expeditions into Mexico, into Cuba, into Nicaragua. Crowding behind the Mason-Dixon line, the South turned its attention to the North. It sent its “poor white trash” into Kansas and Nebraska as Border Ruffians to terrorize the countryside. But the Border Ruffians were met by the John Browns. Finally, through its mouthpiece, Chief Justice Taney, it decided in the Dred Scott Case that any territorial limits to slavery would no longer be recognized. By 1860, the issue had become clear-All or nothing: either unlimited expansion, or the South would be choked to death by the operating law of diminishing returns. Feverish foreign policy became choleric domestic policy. The irrepressible conflict was at hand.
As the South pursued its inexorable course, corresponding changes took place in the attitude of the North. With the great growth of the cotton industry and its enormous significance to capitalism both North and South, the prevailing opinion in the North was well expressed by the Liberal Whigs of the time headed by Henry Clay and typified by Abraham Lincoln. Their policy was to restrict the institution of slavery solely to the South. The Missouri Compromise was their crowning achievement. Lincoln articulated their views when, as legislator in Illinois, in 1837, he brought in the following protest declaring that the signers “… believe that the ‘institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils. They believe that the Congress of the United States has no power under the constitution to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States. They believe that the Congress of the United States has the power, under the constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, but that the power ought not to be exercised, unless at the request of the people of the District.” (*38)
It is true that later, in 1849, when he was in Congress, Lincoln did announce his intention to introduce a Bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia with compensation to the owners but attached to the bill was a rider calling for the most stringent enforcement of the fugitive slave law. (*39) In Congress “Apparently Lincoln’s closest associates were Southern Whigs like Stephens and Toombs,” (*40) with whom he was so closely bound up that he went "so far as to vote, with all Southern members and in opposition to most Northern members, against permitting Palfrey to introduce a bill to repeal all laws ‘establishing or maintaining slavery or the slave trade in the District of Columbia." (*41)
Although Lincoln expressed fear of what he called the mobocratic spirit, he did not protest when the Abolitionist Lovejoy was lynched. On the contrary, he took the trouble to tell his audience in Worcester, Massachusetts “I have heard you have abolitionists here. We have a few in Illinois and we shot one the other day.” (*42) It is no wonder that Wendell Phillips called Lincoln the ‘’slave hound from Illinois.” (*43) When the Free Soil Party was formed in 1848 with a platform of free labor, free soil and free press and was obtaining the adherence of such bourgeois democrats as Charles Sumner, then Lincoln’s mentors, the Whig leaders, “were even more virulent toward the Free Soilers than they were toward the Democrats,” (*44) on the ground that the Free Soil Party was giving a foothold to the principles of Abolitionism.
Lincoln’s views on the question of the Negro are well summed up in his statement made not long before he became candidate for President: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making jurors of negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race…. I will to the very last stand by the law of this state which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes.” (*45)
Lincoln was against the extension of slavery into the North on the ground that this would have to lead to intermarriage between white and black, as it had done in the South, to which miscegenation he was deadly opposed. He advocated the shipment of all Blacks back to Africa. In practice he was for the gradual emancipation of the Negroes although “… for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge. our brethren of the South.” (*46) Lincoln objected to any interference with the institution of slavery in the South; he declared that Congress, too, had no power to act but that only the people of the States themselves could decide on these matters themselves without dictation from the Federal Government.
The timid character of Lincoln’s views stands out in bold relief when they are contrasted to the opinions even of bourgeois Radicals such as Charles Sumner. Contrary to Lincoln, Sumner came out plainly for Negro suffrage and full equality for the Negro people. He “… denied to judicial tribunals the power to dictate to Congress an interpretation of the Constitution or to bind the individual conscience.” (*47) Regarding the Fugitive Slave Act, Sumner boldly declared: “… by the Constitution which I have sworn to support, I am bound to disobey this Act.” (*48)
The feverish capitalist development of the North, the rise of the demands of the West as denunciated in the platform of the Free Soil Party and the relentless drive for more land by the South, toppled the old Missouri Compromise, and with it the Whig Party, to the earth. Lincoln found himself out of Congress and in a defunct party. The struggle had entered into the higher plane of “squatter sovereignty” where the classes fought it out directly with weapons in their hand. With the Dred Scott decision that gave the South a free hand to enter into all the regions of the North with its slaves, large numbers of moderate elements began to gravitate towards the Free Soil movement. Out of these elements there was born the Republican Party. It was not a party of war. (As a matter of fact, no large organized group in the North wanted war or even suspected it was so near.) It was not a party of Abolition but one that merely stood against the extension of slavery. The other demands put forward, such as Free Homestead, Protective Tariff, and a Pacific Railway, clearly demonstrated the petty bourgeois Liberal character of the organization. To keep the peace, these Northern Liberals were willing to bend backward, if necessary, in their obeisance to slavery. They renounced the term “Democracy” and went back to the idea of the Republic (Union). They were willing to take in such people as Lincoln, who, moreover, did not agree with the platform of the Republican Party.
In his famous debates with Lincoln, Douglas of Illinois pointed out that the platform of the Republican Party included planks advocating the abolition of slavery in territories and in the District of Columbia, the rejection of all future slave states into the union and the repeat of the Fugitive Slave Acts. Douglas then taunted Lincoln with the fact that the latter had been against this platform all his life. Lincoln replied: “The plain truth is this … in our opposition to that we did not agree with one another in everything. The people in the North end of the State were for stronger measures of opposition than we of central and southern portions of the State.” (*49) In short, Lincoln was not for these parts of the Republican program and he plainly stated that he would vote for admission of slave States into the union in the future. It was in this spirit, too, that he fought the Civil War, namely, with mercy and charity to the slave owners.
The chief aim of the Republican Party was the preservation of the Union at all costs. Fundamentally, the issue between the Republicans and the extreme wing of the Southerners who wanted to secede from the Union was that the former wanted to keep slavery in the union and the latter wanted to take it out of the union. (*50) Lincoln stated the views of the Republicans accurately when he declared that if he could save the Union by abolishing slavery, or by keeping slavery, his object was the maintenance of the Union. Indeed, had the Southern States seceded, in what a plight Northern capitalism would have been!
Whatever Radicalism existed was contained in the ranks of the Abolitionists. These consisted of two principal wings. One, headed by William Lloyd Garrison, was made up of petty bourgeois elements to whose morality of Liberal individualism slavery had become deeply abhorrent. Garrison himself had no definite scheme for the realization of Abolition. He took no interest in politics, none in the ballot, nor in revolution. Like most of the anti-slavery men and women, he was deeply religious. Garrison would do nothing to further slave insurrections. (*51)
What separated these people from the Republican Party was that to them the chief issue was Slavery and not the Union. If the Left Wing of the Republican Party wanted Liberty and Union, the Abolitionists insisted that Liberty must be achieved even if the Union had to be destroyed. Garrison denounced the Constitution as a covenant with death and with hell, and demonstratively tore copies of it to pieces.
Thus Garrison appealed to the Bible as against the law. A section of the Abolitionists violated the law and formed a system of “underground railways” to aid the fugitive slave escape. They called for secession or expulsion of the Southern states from the Union. The South, too, called for secession in the name of the Bible. Liberal Lincoln believed, not in the Bible, but in the Constitution. In this way, tolerant of both sides, he could defend the Union and severely punish the Abolitionists for helping the fugitive slaves.
The second wing of Abolitionists has become symbolized by John Brown. These had their fill of the Border Ruffians in “Bleeding Kansas.” The bitter struggle of these Western agrarians to hold their own against slavery in the no-man’s land of the prairies had determined them to take matters in their own hands. These Radicals did not know fear of the law. They did understand, however, the necessity of goading people into physical collision with the institution of slavery. They stood for violent action and slave insurrections. (*52) Their monumental achievement was Harper’s Ferry. While Garrison was vehemently urging the North not to fight and strongly denouncing John Brown’s raid, everyone knew matters had taken a decisive turn. Willy-nilly, Harper’s Ferry became the campaign issue of 1860. To the South the “Black Republicans” were tarred with the same stick as “Nigger Lover” Brown.
In vain Lincoln affirmed that Republicans were not Radicals and that, in declaring the right to control slavery, were only carrying out the procedure of the “Founding Fathers.” In vain he proclaimed to the South that it was not Republicans who stirred up insurrections among slaves. “John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper’s Ferry Enterprise.” (*53) And again.- “Republican doctrines and declarations are accompanied with a continual protest against any interference whatever with your slaves, or with you about your slaves. Surely this does not encourage them to revolt.” (*54)
Nevertheless, even Lincoln had refused to recognize the Dred Scott decision as final law, and the election of Lincoln did mean the sweeping out of the South from its political control of the head of government. It meant that the old equilibration of forces was definitely ended, the old balance of power destroyed. Politics had begun to catch up with economics. The Slavocracy was doomed. And when Lincoln was elected with 1.9 million votes Out Of 4.7 million, the South decided to secede and fight. The die was cast.
As in the Revolutionary War, so in the Civil War the Liberals did their best to prevent the masses from taking matters into their own hands. When the War first started, a tremendous enthusiasm was shown by the people who knew that the freedom of the slaves would mean an enormous step forward for democracy. Great crowds of recruits flocked to the enlistment stations only to find that the government had made no preparations to receive them. They were sent home as too numerous to handle and as superfluous. Cold water was thrown on their enthusiasm while recruiting was officially discouraged. The enlistment stations were not reopened until June 1862. (*55) But it was then rather late and a year later conscription was necessary.
As soon as the call came for volunteers, free Negroes everywhere offered their services and everywhere their services were declined. It was only in September, 1862, that a regular Negro regiment was formed. All in all, 180,000 Negro’s were accepted. But only under the meanest conditions. Even when giving their lives for the Union-and 68,000 Negroes were lost -they were allowed only half the pay the white soldiers got, or $7.00 a month.
It should have been a most elementary duty on the part of Lincoln and his government not only immediately to have freed the slaves of all those in actual rebellion to the United States, but to have started a movement of the Blacks to initiate a slave insurrection in the rear of the Southern armies. Instead, everything possible was done to prevent the slaves from rising on their own account. When Cameron, Secretary of the Treasury, urged the arming of the Negroes in his report in 1861, Lincoln recalled the report by telegraph.(*56) “The constant charge of Southern newspapers, Southern politicians and their Northern sympathizers, that the war was an abolitionist war met with constant and indignant denial. (*57) “Repeated appeals were made to the slave-holders that if they desisted they could keep their slaves or adequate compensation would be made. It was forbidden to sing “John Brown’s Body” in the army. In his first Inaugural Address, President Lincoln pledged himself anew to carry out in full the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law. The Commander-in-Chief of the Northern forces in the field, General McClellan, had openly stated that he would take the side of the masters against the slaves, were the issue one of slavery rather than of the Union. (*58)
When masses of Negroes flocked into the camps of the Northern armies, not only were they rejected as soldiers, but the Union generals were informed they had to keep the Negro’s intact as slaves for their masters. Lincoln repudiated the action of General Fremont in freeing the slaves in Missouri, although it had become clear that the Union armies were advancing most easily in precisely those areas where the Negroes were densest.
But such a situation could not long endure and when General Hunter faced Lincoln with the accomplished fact of numbers of slaves set free and armed, the bars were let down to Negroes entering the army and helping the Union cause. To the very end, however, no slave revolt was ever encouraged, and the South was able to free all her man power for fighting at the front. Only reluctantly, and after waiting till the last moment, when the cause of the North was at its lowest ebb and England was about to recognize the South, did Lincoln issue his Emancipation Proclamation. The net result of all this “Liberalism” of Lincoln was fearfully to protract the war and to raise its toll to ghastly heights.
It was no wonder that Wendell Phillips could exclaim: “I do not say that McClellan is a traitor, but I say this, that if he had been a traitor from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, he could not have carried on the war in more exact deference to the politics of that side of the Union. And almost the same thing may be said of Mr. Lincoln,-that if he had been a traitor, he could not have worked better to strengthen one side and hazard the success of the other.” (*59)
If Lincoln was Liberal to the slave-holders, good railroad lawyer as he had been, he was not forgetful of the Rights of Big Business either. (*60) This was the period of the rise of many great American fortunes, (*61) but none zoomed so spectacularly as those of the railroads. Corruption and graft were rampant, and the Republican Party lived up to its platform handsomely. Not only were charters granted to the Pacific railroads, but cash loans were made running as high as $16,000 to $48,000 per mile of road, and stupendous grants of the very best land, to the total of 129 million acres, were given away. Thus, when the Homestead Act was finally passed and a settler could get a “free” farm, very little good land was left. Big Business had locked the frontier and cornered the market.
Tragically the Western farmer had fought the War to guarantee free competition and individual liberty. For this he gave his life unstintingly during the War. At the end, not the farmer of the democratic West, but the oligarchic Trust dominated the scene and took control; the farmer had been duped.
If Republican Liberalism was easy on Northern capitalists, it was not so easy on labor. The Civil War had the immediate effect of destroying the rising labor movement in the United States. Strikers were regarded as hostile to the Union and guilty of treason. Strikes were deemed illegal and were broken by the military. Often Negro workers were used as strike- breakers.
As the War continued, the misery of the working class greatly increased. As in the Revolutionary War, so in the Civil War the moneyed men tried to throw the entire cost of the War on the backs of the people. Currency inflation became general, and in 1862 the government began issuing irredeemable legal tender notes commonly called “green-backs” which soon fell greatly in value. Thus, the rise in the prices of necessities, due to the War, accompanied by the fall in the purchasing power of money, due to inflation, resulted in a tremendous fall in the standard of living of the workers. At the same time, Big Business refused to tax itself, issuing 7 per cent bonds instead, which bonds could be bought in depreciated green-backs. Meanwhile, the tariff was raised from 19 per cent to 47 per cent.
These rough economic measures against the common people coincided with rough political measures. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended, freedom of press denied, and, to cap the climax, Congress passed the Conscription Act, the first time universal conscription had been decreed in the United States. This Conscription Act had the infamous provision that those who could procure a substitute or Pay $300 in cash would be exempted from the draft. Thus could the blood-tax which the War demanded be shifted onto the shoulders of the poor entirely.
Such unprecedented class legislation had its immediate reaction in the bloody draft riots of 1863 in New York City. The working class of the cities by this time had become thoroughly disillusioned with the conduct of the War. Not only did they now refuse to enlist, despite the inducement of bounties as high as $1,500 to volunteers, but when they realized the dispensations being granted to “Big Business,” they decided actively to resist the draft.
For four days in New York City were conducted violent and bitter struggles. Business came to a standstill. Over fifty buildings were burned; two of them were police stations, three were draft lottery offices, one was an arms factory. An entire block of houses was consumed in flames. Newspapers especially were the objects of the fiery wrath of the workers. In general, homes, factories, and stores were wrecked and looted, and property estimated at more than $11,200,000 destroyed. The toll taken among the workers is not known definitely, but unofficial counts total more than 1,200 killed or dying as the result of their injuries.
In the course of the fighting, the workers were able to win a good many of the returned soldiers over to their side. The volunteer fire companies also were strongly sympathetic; for this reason, New York City quickly abolished its volunteer fire organization and substituted a well-paid professional department.
Other cities in the North reacted sympathetically to the riots of New York. Riots broke out in Hartford, Boston, and Newport, also in Jersey City, in Albany, in Troy, and elsewhere in New York State. In the end, all the riots were put down by the stern action of the Liberal Government in Washington.
These draft riots were the first indications that the struggle between North and South would soon give way to the struggle between capital and labor. The New York City riots against the Conscription Act stand as one of the harbingers of the proletarian revolution and are a direct forerunner to the Paris Commune of 1871.
It has been said, even by socialistic historians, that the draft riots were really reactionary manifestations. These historians, point out that the rioters assaulted Negroes. They also show that the riots worked objectively against the progressive Northern forces and with the Copperheads of the North. The action of the New York workers is also contrasted with the friendly attitude of Karl Marx to Abraham Lincoln, and the decision of the First International to mobilize the English working class for the North as against the South. These historians fail to analyze the real dynamic processes at work. Had the workers won in New York City, their victory would have precipitated a workers’ revolt throughout the Union which, far from ending the Civil War, would have carried it out in a much more Radical manner and would have attempted to complete the democratic revolution which ended up by freeing the chattel-slaves, with a proletarian revolution to end wage-slavery.
With the termination of the Civil War, Republican Liberalism was faced with the double task of keeping down both the Negro and labor. The question immediately arose, should the Negro be given the vote? The opinion of Lincoln was to limit the suffrage on the conquered territory to only “the very intelligent.” However, with the assassination of Lincoln, the problem became far more acute. "Some planters held back their former slaves on their plantations by brute force. Armed bands of white men patrolled the country roads to drive back the Negroes wandering about. Bodies of murdered Negroes were found on and near the highways and by-paths. Gruesome reports came from the hospitals-reports of colored men and women whose ears had been cut off, whose skulls had been broken by blows, whose bodies had been slashed by knives or lacerated by scourges." (*62)
Liberal Washington soon was faced with three alternatives. (1) either to give up the fruits of War, or (2) to keep a Freedman’s Bureau for a generation, or (3) to use the Negro vote as the only force it had at hand to reconstruct the Southern states. Thus Negro suffrage was forced to the front, not as a method of humiliating the South, not as a theoretical and generous gift to the Freedman, not according to any preconceived plan, but simply because of the grim necessities of the situation. Only the Negro favored the North.
Having the vote at their disposal, Negroes were elected en masse to the State Legislatures in the South. As to Liberalism and the democracy of the Negro, judge A. W. Tourgee has this to say: “They obeyed the Constitution and annulled the bonds of states, counties and cities which were issued to carry on the War of the Rebellion and maintain armies in the field against the Union. They instituted a public school system in the realm where public schools had been unknown. They opened the ballot-box and jury-box to thousands of white men who had been debarred from them by lack of earthly possessions. They introduced Home Rule in the South. They abolished the whipping-post, the branding iron, the stocks, and other barbarous forms of punishment which, up to that time, prevailed. They reduced capital felonies from about twenty to two or three. In an age of extravagance, they were extravagant in the sums appropriated for public works. In all that time no man’s right of person was invaded under the forms of law. Every Democrat’s life, home, fireside and business were safe. No man obstructed any white man’s way to the ballot-box, interfered with his freedom or boycotted him on account of his political faith.” (*63)
What was the effect of the victory of Liberalism in the Civil War upon the growth of democracy in the United States? As far along as in 1824, when Jackson and Adams ran for President, Only 3 per cent of the population voted. With Jackson’s victory, the number exceeded the million mark for the first time and the percentage jumped to 9.1 per cent. From that time, notwithstanding the rapid growth in population generally, the voting percentage increased but slowly, being but 12 per cent up to the Civil War.
From the Civil War to the first two decades of the twentieth century, this average was improved by only 5 per cent, going to 17 per cent, and it was only after the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution in 1920, granting the right of suffrage to the women of the country, that the voting percentage jumped to 25 per cent of the whole population. Since then, each Presidential election has seen a slight increase, the percentage for 1932 being 31.9 per cent and the number voting reaching about forty million, a record number for the United States.
Standing alone, these figures are impressive; compared to other democratic countries, however, their relative importance sharply drops. For example, in the British elections of 1931, 56 per cent of the population voted. In the German election November 1932, 54 per cent voted, and four months later, in the special election held, 62 per cent of the population went to the polls, close to forty million votes being cast, a total equal to that of the votes cast in the United States, a country with double the population. (*64)
The reason for the slow growth in ballot-box democracy in the United States has been two-fold. First, large masses of people have been disfranchised; second, large sections of those eligible to vote have taken other methods to secure their ends. A study of the election returns makes it amply evident that most of those who vote are not workers and most of the proletariat does not vote. The greatest target of direct attack has ever been the foreign-born and the Negro.
Before the Civil War, slavery prevented the Negroes from ‘voting. Afterwards, they were violently excluded from the ballot by organized terror, by manipulation of the ballots, by sudden removal of the polls, illegal arrests the day before election, etc. To the violent methods indulged in immediately after the Civil War soon was added a whole system of legal methods preventing the Negro from voting, including complex election laws, disqualification if ever sent to jail (which embraces a large number of Negroes in the South), heavy tax requirements, education or literacy tests, grandfather clauses, abolition of a great number of elective offices making them appointive by the governor, etc.
Even in the North the Negro had a hard time to win suffrage. The experience of New York is typical where, as late as in 1867, equal rights for the free Negro were defeated in a referendum. Only in 1874 were the special barriers disfranchising the Negro lowered and most of the Negroes permitted to qualify as voters. Even if the Negro is eligible to vote, he is very often barred, as in the South, from the primaries of the political party, in many cases the only significant process in the election of candidates. This bar has been recently sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States. Only now is the case in regard to jury service being fought for the Negroes.
There are other ways, too, in which citizens are barred from voting, including minimum voting age, residence period, literacy and understanding tests, property and tax-paying requirements, disqualification of paupers and delinquent taxpayers, etc.
Since 1919, the voting age of men and women in Germany has been set at twenty years, while in Russia all citizens over eighteen years of age, except those especially disbarred, have the right of suffrage. The minimum age limit of twenty-one years universal in the United States bars several million working youths from participation in the government. (*65) Today thirteen States have a property-ownership qualification for voting, require payment of general or poll taxes, bar delinquent taxpayers, or disqualify non-taxpayers.
The poll tax, too, has been found increasingly difficult to meet on the part of masses of poor workers and toilers. Millions of unemployed workers, dependent upon State Relief, which makes no provision for the payment of the poll tax, are thus very neatly deprived of their democratic right to participate in the government. Alabama, for example, specifically requires that voters be engaged in some employment, thus barring not only the unemployed but many thousands who are only seasonably employed. Other states have openly denied the vote to citizens who have received relief.
Every one of the forty-eight States requires a previous residence period for voting; six require two years in the state, the others a year or less, with a proportionate time requirement in the county and election districts. For the seasonal worker and those who, because of unemployment or other reasons, are forced to lead a migratory existence in search of work, it is very difficult to meet ‘the residential voting requirements. We must not forget, too, that in Washington, D. C., the half a million people living there have no vote whatever.
Property qualifications not only bar workers from the ballot, but also often keep them from holding office. This applies even to such matters as service on juries, where the juror must fill out a blank swearing that he owns a certain amount of property free and clear. This no doubt is a guarantee that the propertyless worker will be assured a trial “by his peers.”
The necessity to own property applies not only to petit or trial juries, but especially to grand juries, which usually are hand-picked and are nearly always well-to-do friends of the politicians. Of all the nearly two million people in New York County who might be eligible, there are no more than five hundred names on the Grand Jury list. The role of the Grand Jury is far more important than the layman may imagine. In all felony cases, and in some misdemeanors, after a person is held by a police magistrate to answer for the crime, the Grand Jury investigates the facts of the occurrence. If it feels that a crime has been committed, it indicts, charging a specific person with a specific crime. Since matters are left to its discrimination, a Grand Jury composed exclusively of wealthy men frequently may act in a partisan and class-discriminatory manner.
If we sum up the situation after the Civil War and compare the three important sections of the country, we may declare that in the South there never was even the pretense of democracy; in the West, the democracy that was developed was a democracy for the small property holder only, and yet, since most of the settlers were small property holders, this included the main part of the people; in the East there was only the semblance of democracy, the mass of the people, wage laborers and non-property holders, being disbarred.
From Jackson’s day on, mechanics and artisans, and, later in the nineteenth century, skilled workmen are able to obtain the franchise. As regards the great mass of general laborers, they were disfranchised at first, because they were indentured servants, later, because they were immigrants, and last, because they could not meet the host of requirements laid down. If, in spite of that, in the East and throughout the country there has existed so strongly the illusion that America has been a democracy, all this illusion was created by the fact that, first of all, many workers did and could rise in the social scale, acquire a little property and vote; second, many of the rebellious elements who were discontented and disfranchised were drained off to the West; third, the general standard of living was often high enough to prevent those not voting from worrying about it. The disfranchised relied on their own personal resources for economic security rather than looked to the State.
To the enumerated qualifications which have reduced so considerably those eligible to vote we have to add the equally important fact that traditionally the American has trusted his own strong hands and individual might to solve his problems. This has been true not only for large sections of the farmers, but for workers also. We have already stressed the point that the State did not appear prominently upon the American scene until relatively late, and that in large sections of the country hard and fast classes did not exist. Rampant American individualism did not conceive it necessary to satisfy its needs through the intermediation of the State apparatus. It went after things directly. This is seen on all sides, whether we turn to the tradition of lynch law, to the organization of the IWW, to the exaggerated rate of crime prevailing in the United States, or to the general opinion, held even to this day, that nothing good can come of anything that the politicians once get hold of, etc. Traditions of ballot-box democracy are indeed not too strong in the United States.
1. As an example of this reconciliation we can note how, in his History of England, Liberal Hume defended the Stuarts. He feared all disturbances, but feared the “real” revolutionaries far more than the “Whig or government revolutionaries."(See E. Halevy: The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, p. 141.)
2. Contrary to Locke, Hume affirmed: “Out most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure.” (D. Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, p. 137 1900 Open Court edition, reprint of 1777 edition.)
Hume also denied the idea of miracles being reasonable and ridiculed it as a basis of any religion. (The same, p. 122.)
3. See D. Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, pp. 540-556, and following (1896 Selby Bigge edition).
4. The same, p 505 and following. See also Wm. Blackstone: Commentaries of the Laws of England, II, 8-9.
5. Burke justified his actions in defending the American Revolution by declaring that the Americans, unlike the French, overthrew no traditions, but only did what the English did in 1688.
Moreover, what helped to guide Burke in 1776 was his fear that if the Americans lost, the King would dominate Parliament. (Compare J. Morley: Burke, pp. 86, 87 [1923 Macmillan edition].)
6. Paine had been elected to the French Convention and had stood for a capitalist republic. In England the Liberals under Pitt had indicted Paine. Both Pitt and Burke fought against the repeal of the Test Act and were violently opposed to freeing even the Unitarians from special disabilities under which they labored at the time. The Liberal forces split, with Fox opposed to Burke and Pitt.
7. See E. Burke. Works, II, 290 and following (1894 edition).
8. See Friedrich Engels: Condition of the Workingclass in England in 1844. See also J. C. Cobden The White Slaves of England (1854).
9. Adam Smith’s principal work was An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776.
10. “M. Mantoux remarks with much justice that it was the American War rather than Smith’s writing which demonstrated the decay of the ancient political economy and compassed its ruin. The War of Independence proved two things: (1) the danger lurking in a colonial system which could goad the most prosperous colonies to revolt; (2) the uselessness of a protective tariff, for on the very morrow of the war, English trade with the American colonies was more flourishing than ever before."’ (Gide and Rist: History of Economic Doctrines, p. 103.)
11. Ricardo in his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation took this position far more clearly than did Adam Smith.
12. “The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its members. The interest of the community then is, what?—the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.” (J. Bentham: Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, I, 4 [1823 edition].)
13. P. W. Slosson: The Decline of the Chartist Movement, p. 35. Compare A. Johnson: The Disappearance of the Small Landowner, p. 90.
14. G. D. H. Cole: The Life of William Cobbett, p. 11. “Cobbett represents and symbolizes a phase of the dissolution of old England.” (The same, p. 13.)
15. Although he was opposed to the strike itself and, like Benjamin Franklin, believed all strikes for higher wages futile.
16. The term “Philosophic” meant that these were not “real” Radicals, that is, Radicals in activity, but were only Radicals in talk. Such people were safe and could be accepted in the best society.
17. See J. Austin: Lectures on jurisprudence, especially Volume I.
18. Cole, Work cited, p. 361.
19. John Bright bitterly opposed all protective factory legislation for adults. (See G. M. Trevelyan: The Life of John Bright, p. 154 and following.)
20. J. A. Hobson: Richard Cobden, p. 9.
See also, J. Morley: The Life of Richard Cobden, pp. 69-70 (London, 1883 edition).
Previously both Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant had put forward plans for a “universal and perpetual peace.”
21. J. A. Hobson, work cited, p. 370.
22. Bentham had argued, indeed, that England should give up her colonial dependencies
23. “in society you will not find health but in nature.” (Henry Thoreau: Letters, p. 199.) Thoreau was the finest expression of the doctrine of back-to-nature in America. Of him Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. “Few lives contain so many renunciations. He was bred to no profession; he never married; he lived alone; he never went to church; he never voted; he refused to pay a tax to the State; he ate no flesh; he drank no wine; he never knew the use of tobacco.” (R. W. Emerson: Complete Works, X, 454 [Houghton Mifflin 1904 edition].)
24. Speech at Phi Beta Kappa meeting, quoted in Van Wyck Brooks: Life of Emerson, p. 75.
25. The difference between the Englishman Paine and the American Emerson here is interesting. To Paine, government was an evil, but necessary. He had justified the attack on the British government in the name of society. With Emerson, however, “Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey the laws too well.” ("Essay on Politics,” Complete Works, III, p. 208 [Houghton Mifflin Co. edition, 1904.) In his essay on “Self Reliance,” in his various preaching’s to the effect that each man was to mind his own business, Emerson became the chief exponent on the American attitude towards individualism that prevailed in the middle nineteenth century. Emerson was also a close friend of the reactionary romanticist, Thomas Carlyle.
26. W. G. Sumner: What Social Classes, Owe to Each Other, p. 34. The emphasis is Sumner’s.
27. C. A. Beard: Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy, p. 467.
28. See S. B. Leacock: Lincoln Frees the Slaves, p. 66.
29. Incidentally, Jackson was the first United States President to be a church member. All the others had been free thinkers.
30. R. W. Emerson: Complete Works, III, 210.
31. See Bidwell and Falconer: History of Agriculture in the Northern United States, 1620- 1860, p. 306 and following.
32. W. Starr, Jr., Lincoln and the Railroads, p. VII.
33. C. A. and Mary Beard: Rise of American Civilization, p. 648.
34. Later the South was to denounce the Declaration of Independence.
35. See C. G. Parsons: Inside View of Slavery, pp 45, 156 and following.
36. J. Morley: Life of Gladstone, II, 75-76.
37. J. E. Cairnes: The Slave Power, Chapter IX.
38. Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, I, 15.
Lincoln knew that the majority of the population of the District of Columbia at that time would never consent to abolish slavery.
39. Section five of the Bill declared: “That the municipality authorities of Washington and Georgetown within their respective jurisdictional limits are hereby empowered and required to provide active and efficient means to arrest and deliver up to their owners all fugitive slaves escaping into said District.” (The same, p. 148.)
40. See A. J. Beveridge: Abraham Lincoln, I, 433.
41. The same, I, 480.
42. The same, I, 473; see also S. B. Leacock: Lincoln Frees- the Slaves, p. 82.
43. A. J. Beveridge: Work cited, I, 482; S. B. Leacock: Work cited, p. 82.
44. A. J. Beveridge. Work cited, I, 467. Speech, September 18, 1858.
45. Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, I, 369-370.
46. Lincoln: Works, I, 288.
47. G. H. Haynes: Charles Sumner, p. 180.
48. C. Sumner: Works, III, 178, Speech of 1852.
49. The same, I, 330, 332.
50. This was the opinion of Frederick Douglass. See W. E. B. Dubois: Black Reconstruction, p. 61. 51. "It is a fact that he had never sent or caused to be sent a single paper south of Mason and Dixon’s line." (Mrs. Child: An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, p. 151.)
52. Frederick Douglass, foremost Negro of his day, also urged slave insurrections, as did Wendell Phillips.
53. “Lincoln’s Cooper Institute Address,” Feb. 27, 1860, Old South leaflets, Vol. V, No. 107, p.152. 54. The same, p. 153.
55. See G. G. Coulton: The Case for Compulsory Military Service, pp. 135-136.
56. See W. E. B. Dubois: Black Reconstruction, p. 63.
57. The same, p. 60.
58. The same p. 101.
59. Wendell Phillips: Speeches and Lectures, p. 450. (1862)
Wendell Phillips estimate of Lincoln was: "I will tell you what he is. He is a first rate second rate man."(The same, p. 457.)
60. It is generally forgotten that Lincoln had become a rather well-to-do man. For one of his railroad cases he collected $5,000—a really extraordinary amount at the time. The New York Central Railroad offered him $10,000 a year to retain him as Counsel.
61. See G. Myers: The History of the Great American Fortunes; also C. E. Russell: Stories of the Great Railroads.
62. W. E. B. Du Bois: Gift of the Black Folk, quoting “Carl Schurz Report,” p. 201.
63. “The Negro Government,” Article in Chicago Weekly, December 26, 1890.
64. We do not count such “votes” as the ones taken by Hitler on March 29, 1936, when, of a total of 45.5 million qualified voters, approximately 45 million voted, only 1/2 million persons qualified to vote not exercising the franchise.
65. In Missouri, as far back as 1820, a fruitless effort was made to reduce the age limit to eighteen, the proponents arguing that every such person had to do a man’s work and boys of eighteen were already householders and independent.