Page:American Journal of Sociology Volume 15.djvu/73
PUBLIC OPINION 59
We have traced the development of the platform in England because in no other way could we probably give so adequate an idea of the real character of this wonderfully potent organ. It was first used in the United States at the same time as it came into existence in England — during that fecund period between the two wars (i 763-1 775); but here the questions were the grievances against the mother-country which finally led to the Revolution. The adoption of the Constitution afforded oppor- tunity for the employment of the platform on both sides, Fed- eralist and Anti-federalist. Otherwise it received little develop- ment until after the democratic overturn of 1800.
One very frequently encounters the statement that the press is the organ of public opinion. So Tarde, in his work, L'Opinion et la Foule, totally disregards the platform as an organ of public opinion, as does Godkin also, who says, "There are only two ways in which public opinion upon political questions finds expression or is thought to find it. One is the vote at elections, the other is journalism" ^^ To anyone at all familiar with the history of the platform such a view seems extremely short- sighted. We have already quoted Mr. Stead's opinion of the power of the editor; yet in the same article he says, "Public meetings, it will be said, are superior even to newspapers as exponents of public feeling. It is true, because a public meet- ing is the direct utterance of the voice of demos without any intermediary. There is nothing in England so powerful as a series of public meetings." ^^ The platform is more tangible than the press and possesses the greater authority, which the personal presence of numbers gives to expressed opinion. It is, however, dependent for its greatest influence upon its rival. Were not the speeches of ministers and other public men printed in all the newspapers, they would influence only the few hundreds who had assembled to hear them. But when published they have a weight greater than leading articles. Through the assistance of the press the platform has multiplied its influence many fold.
These are the most important organs of public opinion.
- Unforseen Tendencies of Democracy, p. 187.
- Contemporary Review, Vol. XLIX, p. 658.