Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/193

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187
PRESENT POLITICS

strength of the expanding nation felt this was another of those beneficent acts of a government rich and solicitous for the well-being of all its citizens. The smoking stacks, the revolving wheels and the hum of the looms were referred to with pride as evidence of success in constructive legislation. As time went on faith in the possibility of legislating the country into prosperity continuously grew stronger and grants of protection became as common as grants of land. The favors were passed around by mutual consent and bargaining until customs duties were placed upon the importation of so many articles that precise knowledge of the effect of the whole system is beyond the grasp of even diligent students. The degree of industrial peace within our walls and prosperity in our palaces was commonly accepted evidence of the success of the American policy that silenced to most ears the doctrinaire objections of a discredited minority.

Parallel with national aid to industry were the grants and franchises given by local and municipal governments with a view to promoting public improvements within their jurisdictions. Street railways were essential to the development of towns and every inducement was offered to capital to lead it to go into their creation. The anticipated benefits were great, and the average citizen, who was busy trying to acquire his share of the collateral gains that were expected to accrue to the community, did not pay much attention to the terms of the contracts, while his representatives frequently exacted from the promoters of the new enterprises the customary informal fees to which in an era of acquisition they felt they were entitled. Fortunes were made all around them through the simple process of taking with governmental sanction and public approbation the lands, the bonds, the tariffs and the franchises that were to be had as part of the great scheme of continental development. There was nothing unusual in picking up these fragments when there were basketfuls being passed. The practise was common and hardly unclean.

From the conditions indicated in this brief analysis of our economic development it is easy to see how certain ideas came to prevail widely in the minds of Americans. At the bottom of our thinking has been the conception of a boundless productive continent to be parceled out by the government among its citizens. We have had the feeling that "the government" apart from the people as a body is wealthy. "Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm" is a popular expression of the notion. A professor in a well-known university has a stock question that he asks year after year concerning who shall meet the expense of a proposed scheme for social improvement, and the invariable answer is: "Let the government pay for it."

Along with the idea that the government possessed an all but inexhaustible store was the collateral feeling that doles should be given to