Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/190

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never seen the man on horseback appear in contented eras among satisfied people, notwithstanding all there is to be said for the powers of persuasion, the stir of audacity, and the impact of personality. The ponderous body politic can not be moved by word of mouth nor by the breath of eloquence. Merely preaching to it is foolishness. Internal pangs or external irritation are required to arouse activity. Demagogues are symptoms, agitators are weather cocks, and reformers are men who put themselves at the head of processions. When conditions are favorable for the start the opportunity for leadership arises and the self-seeking struggle with the public-spirited for the direction of the aroused energies. This guidance is of immense importance and no one should shut an eye to the danger of the glory-hunter's sway, nor lessen the credit due the reformer. But to understand the social situation in times of agitation there is need of separating in mind the more or less factitious elements from the fundamental forces at work. From this point of view speeches in legislative halls, on the stump, from the platform and the pulpit, the declarations of political parties and the editorials in the press, the harangues of public-square orators and the excited utterances of disputing citizens are not in the last analysis the outcome of the personal desire of a man or of a group, nor of a spontaneous moral tidal wave sweeping the community, nor of a resolute tugging at the ethical boot-straps of the country. Great national movements are products of fundamental forces in national life. The prophet who lifts his voice before these forces have begun to work dies in disappointment, or, if his message is too unpleasant to his contemporaries, he may achieve martyrdom. And if he has seen truly, succeeding generations may canonize him. The current of a people's thinking is glacial, slow to move; irresistible but largely determined by the contour of its bed. To the study of this formative influence one should address himself for an understanding of the greater changes that mark the history of public opinion.

At the close of the eighteenth century this nation began its career under unique conditions. A relatively small number of people possessed a vast territory over part of which they were sparsely living. Natural resources were boundless and wealth to be had for the taking. Acquisition was the watchword of the time. To open up the country was the economic ideal of the period. To this end were turned by common consent all the individual and collective energies available.

Among the most pressing needs of that clay was that of capital for fixed investment in such improvements as better means of transportation. This was difficult to secure because the people were without great accumulations of wealth or the experience and instruments for readily collecting what was in existence. The machinery now in operation for promoting great enterprises and carrying through speculative ventures