Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/381

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that the points of the present controversies are not of the same importance as those of earlier days; that there remains not much to be done in the way of direct legislation; in short, that its great work is done.

In a sense this may be said to be true. The repeal of usury and corn laws, and the establishment of free trade, was a great work; and in many minds this practical application of principles stood for the science. Being accomplished, it forms so essential a part of the commercial policy of the country, and has become so rooted in the minds of the present generation, that the value of the benefits derived is not duly appreciated, nor the importance of extending this work to other countries sufficiently recognized.

Economical reform in England has reached that critical period, which comes in the history of all reforms, when effort has been crowned with success. Its old rallying-cries have lost their potency because the ideas which they represented have become universally-accepted axioms; the evils which it labored to correct no longer exist; its champions find their old weapons useless, and no new ones are, as yet, fitted to their hands.

Naturally, this chaotic condition has begotten dissension and revolt, even among those who are by no means willing to admit that the functions of the science have become unimportant; the ranks of the faithful have fallen into disorder; rival sects have arisen, and the validity of time-honored tenets is discussed with earnestness if not with heat. The orthodox school still holds in the main to the old creed; while the dissenters, styling themselves the Historical School—a name the fitness whereof their opponents decline to allow—denounce this creed as being based upon rude generalizations, obtained by a superficial and unphilosophical process of abstraction.

We shall not, at this time, attempt any discussion of these questions. We have faith in political economy as a science, and a perfect assurance that, whatever subdivision or specialization it may undergo, its vitality will remain unimpaired. We could, therefore, look upon the present contention with equanimity were it not for the reflection that, here in America, we are still disputing over those economical principles which in England are irrevocably settled.

However true the statements that the science has outlived its usefulness may be with regard to that nation, they have no application to the condition of the United States. Here its most fundamental propositions are matters for discussion and legislation, and the problems involved imperatively demand solution. We who, this year, are celebrating the hundredth anniversary, not of a book, but of the nation's birth, have still to decide whether the progress over which we are prone, rightly enough, to indulge in a good deal of self-glorification, has been helped or hindered by the policy of protection which has ruled hitherto; whether, had an opposite course been pursued, our internal resources might not have been quite as fully developed, and at the same time our external commerce have received a commensurate impetus instead of being at its present low ebb. This, and the condition of our currency, are very real questions with us; the way in which they are answered may make all the difference between continued progress and comparative immobility; and yet, while the country is in a ferment from shore to shore over the most inconsequential of elections, these important matters lie apparently dead in the public mind.

The profound stagnation of the commercial world has brought us nearly to a stand. Old combinations are disturbed and broken up. In the lull some of the hallucinations of speculative fever are disappearing, but the