Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/357

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351
HISTORY-MAKING FORCES

way. Forms of government may be radically changed, but the alignment of classes, subordination, legal traditions, religious, ethical and social ideals still remain inevitably to nullify or to modify the results of the newly-made structure of government.

The French Revolution is the classic example of a political revolution. Yet the French Revolution led directly to Napoleon. Absolutism was not immediately abolished by the downfall of Louis XVI. For the stable despotism of the Bourbon ruler was substituted the unstable and constantly changing absolutism of the assembly and the directory and finally of Napoleon. The Reign of Terror was simply the use of direct and primitive methods of maintaining control over the masses and of overriding opposition. Kings, supported by hereditary prestige and crystallized legal and constitutional forms, did not need to use, except occasionally, the crude method of wholesale legal assassination in order to maintain order and subordination. But the newly organized government with its devoted band of untried dictators, unsupported by the trappings and the legal and constitutional mummery, were quickly driven by necessity to the use of the guillotine. An immediate change from absolutism to republicanism was a governmental impossibility. The French Revolution was in effect the spectacular part of a gradual process of social change which greatly modified political conditions in France. A similar conclusion may be drawn from the English revolutions of 1642 and 1688, or from the American revolution.

Nevertheless, governmental structures may retard or modify the course of social change. A written constitution is a crystallization of an outgrown balance of social forces; but it may disturb the balance of forces in the present era. It adds to the strength of one element, and places obstacles in the path of another. Environmental conditions, the mixture of races and nationalities, social customs, tradition, religious ideals and inherited ethical principles may do likewise.

The course of historical events in America furnishes a very interesting and instructive study in social physics. The alignment of social forces in American history presents certain well-marked peculiarities.

(1) The importance of the frontier element in our history is perhaps unparalleled. The history of the United States down to recent times has been warped and twisted by the presence of an ever-moving frontier line which has visibly reflected its ideals and views of government back into the legislation and the social composition of the entire country.

(2) The absence of a royal or noble class based upon hereditary privilege must not be overlooked. (3) Negro slavery produced dangerous sectional antagonism which led directly to the civil war. The presence of the negro furnishes a very different problem for the American legislator and social scientist of to-day. (4) The continued influx of a large -and diverse immigrant class has exercised and is still exercising a