Harper's Weekly Editorials on Carl Schurz/Theory and Practice
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Theory and Practice
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|From Harper's Weekly, February 7, 1874, p. 122. See also Carl Schurz's U.S. Senate remarks, The Currency — Specie Payments.|
In his remarks replying to Senator Schurz's speech upon the financial question, Senator Morton said, “I prefer to take the actual results and the actual condition of the country, and let theory go to the dogs.” Demanding an increase of the currency, he exclaimed, “Are we to be whistled down the wind and answered by theories from John Stuart Mill or from Bastiat?” When Mr. Schurz had read an extract from Bonamy Price, Senator Ferry, of Michigan, said, “I am not disposed to controvert it any more than to put experience against theory.” Gentlemen who take this tone, and who do not attempt to conceal their contempt for what they call theory, do not see that they condemn themselves. Senators Morton and Ferry have made speeches in favor of inflation. And what were those speeches? Simply the theories of the two Senators. What is the difference in this respect between them and Mill and Bastiat and Price? None whatever. We read Mr. Mill's theory in one book and Mr. Morton's in another. There is a certain financial condition in the country. Mr. Ferry's observation of it leads him to one theory as to its cause and character, Mr. Schurz's observation of the same phenomena leads him to another. Nothing would be more comic than that they should accuse each other of theorizing, and not taking a practical view.
Senator Morton sneered at “the books.” “My friend;” he said, “can bring from the books, as he has brought, authority that we ought to have absolute free trade...... But after he has stated all these commonplaces of the books, these platitudes of finances has given us the metaphysics of finance, there is no vitality in them.” If the Senator means to deny that there is a science of political economy, or laws of the currency, or principles of finance, and that the whole subject is guess-work or dogmatic assertion of what a man calls his experience or the experience of practical men, which usually means a very prejudiced and limited observation, with very imperfect powers of analysis and deduction, his remarks are intelligible, otherwise they are not well considered. As we have already said, we quote this sneer of his from a book, called the Congressional Record. And what is any book but the record of observation and thought?
Probably Senator Morton has heard many a farmer in Indiana laugh at book-farming and declare with an air of superior wisdom that he farms by experience, and not by book. And on his way home the farmer will chat with a neighbor, hanging over the fence, about the care of stock, and methods of planting and tillage, wondering that men can be such fools as to be book-farmers. But if the wise farmer were only a little wiser, he would know that the book which he despises is only his neighbor talking to a thousand farmers instead of one; and if he himself had the wit to know it, the books that he contemns would correct and modify and explain all his neighbor's experience. Book-farming is farming with all the aid of knowledge and experience. Book-financiering is treating the questions that most interest us in this country at this moment with the assistance of the most sagacious observation and thought. Jealousy and contempt of the recorded knowledge and wisdom of great men and of other countries will hardly increase our own knowledge and wisdom.
Senator Morton's theory of the situation is that the volume of the currency should be inflated a little; Senator Ferry's, that it should be inflated indefinitely; yet the drift of Mr. Morton's remarks is toward Mr. Ferry's conclusion. This country has never flourished, he thinks, as under an irredeemable currency. And not this country only, but Austria, Russia, Germany, and Italy have made greater progress under the same conditions than ever before. It was not the irredeemable currency, he says, that produced the panic, nor did it aggravate or prolong it. Moreover, the country was never properly on a specie-paying basis, and speculation and panics were as rife under the old system as now. He would have relief in the form of a little inflation; and of course he would have a little more inflation whenever the greater need of the country demands, and as it demands. This is merely a parachute to what Senator Howe very truly described as Mr. Ferry's balloon. Thus far, then, Senators Morton, Bogy, Ferry, and Logan have declared for inflation, and Senators Morrill, Sumner, Sherman, Frelinghuysen, Fenton, Buckingham, Schurz, Bayard, and Howe against it. The votes in the House upon Mr. Kelley's and Mr. Wilson's motions show a probable majority for expansion. Of all the theories of the situation it is the most perilous; and Senator Morton and his associates, with their contempt of theories, may be surprised to know that there is a very weighty public opinion which regards them as impracticable and dangerous visionaries, who despise experience, and follow their own fine-spun fancies.
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).|