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Import and Outlook of
SOCIAL UNREST SINCE THE AMERICAN ERA 1776
The American Revolution, which carried with it the first clear declaration of the rights of man made by representatives of a people, was the signal of oncoming social disturbances the greatest in history. Our fathers uttered a pronouncement so far-reaching, so notably ahead of their time, ahead of their own practice even (slavery was then a fact recognized in all the States), as to make it an ideal to be striven for through the centuries rather than a declaration of an existing, undisputed equality, or of a universal inherent right of liberty accorded by the signers, and to the defense of which they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. So decidedly is this the case that in later time some of us, who might be called their great-grandchildren, seeing the actual conditions out of which the preamble to the immortal Declaration came, and seeing, too, how far almost all the world even yet is from admitting the
validity of it, have, without much disapproval, heard its assumptions characterized as "glittering generalities,” unrealizable in the actual world. But Calhoun, who first made this fling, and made it from an obvious motive, is a name less revered than Jefferson, and Jefferson is rather ennobled than otherwise in that he suffered his pen here to be guided by the soul of Rousseau. To be sure, as S. J. Randall said, it was not in defense of “natural rights,” or to establish a doctrine of philosophy, that Americans drew the sword, but to redress specific grievances; nevertheless it was perfectly in order to set forth at the outset certain great principles which should forever give depth and dignity to an instrument otherwise made up of more or less petty complaints against the British king. Thus, though it be incidentally, the American Revolution won the credit of entering upon a conflict which later took on vast proportions, became world-wide, and has not to this day reached its climax.
As the first sparks kindling the conflagration came over from Europe in the writings of certain French philosophers, so the light of it shone back and fired the breasts of Frenchmen for their far more resounding Revolution. As the events of that marvelous uprising began to unroll themselves, enthusiastic lovers of liberty the world over took them to indicate the dawn of a new day in which the social regeneration of mankind could be worked out unhindered by any obstacles. But no secure basis for a democracy had been prepared. The middle class - the class that ac
tually dethroned the king, took over the government, and despoiled the nobles — had their own interests at
heart which they did not neglect; the masses, on whom in a free republic things must soon or late depend, were in the depths of ignorance, and, if they could not vote, could carry pikes, and at the beck of their leaders by very force of numbers overpower any assembly. And so it happened that the fine frenzy of revolution for the establishment of justice and the rights of man had hardly more than destroyed one despotism ere it went hopelessly astray into a Reign of Terror, a mad exhibition of the policy of judicially murdering opponents in the name of liberty, from which the issue was easy into the immemorial folly of foreign conquest. So the cult of military glory followed quick upon the cult of the goddess of Reason, and its insatiable altars drank the blood of millions, exhausted the resources of France and of Europe, leaving behind, in mocking compensation for untold agonies and incalculable destruction, an arc de triumph and a few other imposing, but already embarrassing, monuments of glory which were better called shame. But it was such a blinding glory that some belated spirits even yet are unable to see that the great man who wrapped himself in it was the chief scourge and monster of the modern world. Whatever else may be said of him, scourge and monster he assuredly was, and not more because of the ravage and cruelty of his wars than for his arresting and setting back for many a year the dial of progress in democratic government. The Revolution was discredited in almost all eyes by its eventuating in a succession of ever more unspeakable horrors. A great reaction set in, and for thirty years after Napoleon was disposed of scarce any one around the whole world dared breathe a word against tyrants, or to treat as anything more than a rhapsody the doctrine that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. The very word “liberty ” came to be suspect of sedition, where it was not used by tyrants themselves to deceive the people. Despots sat once more securely on their thrones.
ECONOMIC CHANGES SUPERVENE
The so notable subsidence of revolutionary sentiment did not mean that politically the world was content; it meant only that the world-masters had largely succeeded in tying the tongues of political reformers who would again venture to call in question the divine right of kings, or “rhapsodize" over the universally inherent rights of man. Radical politics thus tabued, the drift of thought on social matters turned to questions of economics and the industrial life, which was taking on new phases. The situation of the workers had been rendered exceedingly critical since 1780 by the introduction of machinery to do work before done by hand, a change which completely revolutionized the whole system of production other than agricultural. The old order of things under which every producer had, or could have, his own shop and in it his own simple implements, gave way to an order requiring capital to do anything, requiring buildings of some size, expensive machines, and many hired operatives. Enormous increase of efficiency was attained, greatly swelling the product and lowering its price in every industry, in almost every case driving the small producer, working in the old way, out of business, and forcing him to seek his livelihood as an employé in some large establishment. The number of persons thus compelled to turn to the great factories for employment far exceeded the demand for their services, as every man at a machine displaced a considerable number of hand workers, and they were inevitably brought into sharp competition with one another for what places there were, with the result that wages were next to nothing, barely what would suffice to keep body and soul together. So the centers of the new industry became promptly the centers of poverty and wretchedness, and such, to a somewhat less appalling degree, they have mostly remained to this day. At the same time the profits of the new productive enterprises, particularly in England where they were earliest developed, were very large, amounting to fifty, even one hundred or more per cent. on the investment, speedily building up great fortunes. The gulf between rich and poor deepened and widened, augmenting the hideousness of a spectacle always so sadly common, of two classes living, one flaunting, the other drudging,