Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/359

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353
HISTORY-MAKING FORCES

gist is judged, and rightly judged, to be an innovator and It radical; therefore he is held to be vulgar, uncultured, dangerous, an undesirable individual and probably a "heretic" (whatever that may mean). The religious worker of the future must cast off his antiquated garb and become a student of modern society. If not, his power for good will soon be a vanishing quantity.

One of the most potent conservative and reactionary influences on American progress is our federal constitution. This document was drawn in an era before the trust, the railway, the world market and a multitude of revolutionary discoveries and theories. It can be amended only with extreme difficulty; and has only been continued by stretching the meaning of words to fit new conditions. But as the interpretation of the phraseology of the constitution is given to men who were trained a generation or more ago, and who are members of a profession which is peculiarly precedent-shackled, even this crude method does not suffice to enable our legal forms to conform to the ever-changing social and economic requirements of the present.

As long as free land and a frontier were important factors in the nation, the constitution could be adequately stretched to meet new situations—the old laissez faire, individualistic interpretation of liberty and constitutional rights was not seriously out of step with the course of events. But when the frontier disappears, and great industry enters, our legal and constitutional edifice is subjected to serious strain. Libert} r, the right of contract, the right to do business, and similar indefinite phrases must be interpreted anew in the light of a changed and complicated economic and industrial situation. Yet, our courts seem prone to decide cases relating to the relation of labor to capital in the same way that John Marshall did. It is apparently forgotten that when aggregated capital faces organized labor, the situation is very different from that which obtained when the isolated employer faced the independent worker. Legal forms have not infrequently concealed and overshadowed common sense and social welfare; the inalienable rights of men often seem to have been displaced by the sacred rights of property and privilege.

Race prejudice often acts as a force opposing economic pressure. Slavery in the south was becoming in 1860 an uneconomical system even for the slave owner; but the progress toward emancipation was blocked by the fear of the free negro and the demand of social conventionalities. The negro race is at the present time handicapped because of race prejudice which prevents its members from obtaining the same economic opportunity as their white-skinned neighbors or competitors. Yet, on the other hand, race prejudice seems frequently, if not usually, to be generated out of economic friction and antagonism, out of the opposition engendered by competition between people accustomed to widely different standards of living.