Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/December 1894/The Need of Educated Men

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IF the experiment of government by the people is to be successful, it is its educated men and women who must make it so. The future of the republic must lie in the hands of the men and women of culture and intelligence, of self-control and of self-resource, capable of taking care of themselves and of helping others. If it falls not into such hands, the republic will have no future. Wisdom and strength must go to the making of a nation. There is no virtue in democracy as such, nothing in Americanism as such, that will save us, if we are a nation of weaklings and fools, with an aristocracy of knaves as our masters. There are some who think that this is the condition of America to-day. There are some who think that this republic, which has weathered so nobly the storms of war and of peace, will go down on the shoals of hard times; that we as a nation can not live through the headache induced by the financial sprees of ourselves and others. We are told that our civilization and our government are fit only for the days of cotton and corn prosperity. We are told that our whole industrial system, and the civilization of which it forms a part, must be torn up by the roots and cast away. We are told that the days of self-control and self-sufficiency are over, and that the people of this nation are really typified by the lawless bands rushing blindly hither and thither, clamoring for laws by which those men may be made rich whom all previous laws of God and. man have ordained to be poor.

In these times it is well for us to remember that we come of hardy stock. The Anglo-Saxon race, with its strength and virtues, was born of hard times. It is not easily kept down; the victims of oppression must be of some other stock-We, who live in America and who constitute the heart of this republic, are the sons and daughters of "him that overcometh." Ours is a lineage untainted by luxury, uncoddled by charity, uncorroded by vice, uncrushed by oppression. If it were not so we could not be here to-day.

When this nation was born, the days of the government of royalty and aristocracy were fast drawing to a close. Hereditary idleness had steadily done its work, and the scepter was already falling from nerveless hands. God said: "I am tired of kings; I suffer them no more." And when the kings had slipped from their tottering thrones, as there was no one else to rule, the scepter fell into the hands of the common man. It fell into our hands, ours of this passing generation, and from us it will pass on into yours. We are the common man, and you are his heir apparent. You are here to make ready for your coronation, to learn those maxims of government, those laws of human nature, without which all administrations must fail; ignorance of which is always punishable by death. If you are to hold this scepter, you must be wiser and stronger than the kings, else you too shall lose the scepter as they have lost it, and your dynasty shall pass away.

For more than a century now the common man has ruled America. How has he used his power? What does history tell us of that the common man has done? It is too soon to answer these questions. A hundred years is a time too short for the test of such gigantic experiments. Here in America we have made history already, some of it glorious, some of it ignoble; much of it made of the old stories told over again. We have learned some things that we did not expect to learn. We find that the social problems of Europe can not be kept away from us by the quarantine of democracy. We find that the dead which the dead past can not bury are thrown up on our shores. We find that weakness, misery, and crime are still with us, and that wherever weakness is there is tyranny also. The essence of tyranny we have found lies not in the strength of the strong, but in the weakness of the weak. We find that in the free air of America there are still millions who are not free—millions who can never be free under any government or under any laws, so long as they remain what they are. The remedy for oppression, then, is to bring in better men, men who can not be oppressed. This is the remedy our fathers sought; we shall find no other. The problem of life is not to make life easier, but to make men stronger, so that no problem shall be beyond their solution. It will be a sad day for the republic when life is easy for ignorance, indolence, and apathy. It is growing easier than it was; it is too easy already. There is no growth without its struggle. Nature asks of man that he use his manhood. If a man puts no part of his brain and soul into his daily work, if he feels no pride in the part he is taking in life, the sooner he leaves the world the better. His work is the work of a slave, and his life the waste of so much good oxygen. The misery he endures is Nature's testimony to his worthlessness. We can not save him from Nature's penalties. Our duty toward him may be to temper justice with mercy. This is not the matter of importance. Our duty toward his children is to see that they do not follow his path. The grown-up men and women of to-day are in a sense past saving. The best work of the republic is to save the children. The one great duty of a free nation is education—education wise, thorough, universal; the education, not of cramming, but of training; the education which no republic has ever given, and without which all republics must be in the whole or in part failures. If this generation should leave as its legacy to the next the real education, training in individual power and skill, breadth of outlook on the world and on life, the problems of the next century would take care of themselves. There can be no collective industrial problem where each man is capable of solving his own individual problem for himself.

In this direction lies, I believe, the answer to all industrial and social problems. Reforms in education are the greatest of all reforms. The ideal education must meet two demands: It must be personal, fitting a man or woman for success in life; it must be broad, giving a man or woman such an outlook on the world as that this success may be worthy. It should give to each man or woman that reserve strength without which no life can be successful because no life can be free. With this reserve the man can face difficulties, because the victor in any struggle is he who has the most staying power. With this reserve he is on the side of law and order, because only he who has nothing to lose can favor disorder or misrule. He should have a reserve of property. Thrift is a virtue. No people can long be free who are not thrifty. It is true that thrift sometimes passes beyond virtue, degenerating into the vice of greed. Because there are men who are greedy—drunk with the intoxication of wealth and power—we sometimes are told that wealth and power are criminal. There are some that hold that thrift is folly and personal ownership a crime. In the new Utopia all is to be for all, and no one can claim a monopoly, not even of himself. There may be worlds in which this shall be true. It is not true in the world into which you have been born. Nor can it be. In the world we know the free man should have a reserve of power, and this power is represented by money. If thrift ever ceases to be a virtue, it will be at a time long in the future. Before that time comes, our Anglo-Saxon race will have passed away and our civilization will be forgotten.

A man should have a reserve of skill. If he can do well something which needs doing, his place in the world will always be ready for him. He must have intelligence. If he knows enough to be good company for himself and others, he is a long way on the road toward happiness and usefulness. To meet this need our schools have been steadily broadening. The business of education is no longer to train gentlemen and clergymen as it was in England, to fit men for the professions called learned as it has been in America. It is to give wisdom and fitness to the common man. The great reforms in education have all lain in the removal of barriers. They have opened new lines of growth to the common man. This form of university extension is just beginning. The next century will see its continuance. It will see a change in educational ideals greater even than those of the revival of learning. Higher education will cease to be the badge of a caste, and no line of usefulness in life will be beyond its helping influence.

The man must have a reserve of character and purpose.

"To the good man no harm can come, be he alive or dead."

He must have a reserve of reputation. Let others think well of us, it will help us to think well of ourselves. No man is free who has not his own good opinion. A man will wear a clean conscience as he would a clean shirt, if he knows his neighbors expect it of him. He must have a reserve of love, and this is won by the service of others. "He that brings sunshine into the lives of others can not keep it from himself." He must form the ties of family and friendship, that, having something at stake in the goodness of the world, he will do something toward making the world really good.

When every American citizen has reserves like these, he has no need to beg for special favors. All he asks of legislation is that it keep out of his way. He demands no form of special guardianship or protection. He can pay as he goes. The man who can not has no right to go. Of all forms of greed, the greed for free lunches, the desire to get something for nothing, is the most demoralizing, and in the long run most dangerous. The flag of freedom has never floated over a nation of deadheads.

Then, again, education must take the form of real patriotism—of public interest and of civic virtue. If a republic be not wisely managed, it will fail as any other corporation would; it will only succeed as it deserves success.

The problems of government are questions of right and wrong, they can be settled only in one way. They must be settled right. Whatever is settled wrong comes up for settlement again, and this when we least expect it. It comes up under harder conditions, and compound interest is charged on every wrong decision. The slavery question, you remember, was settled over and over again by each generation of compromisers. When they led John Brown to the scaffold his last words were: "You had better—all you people at the South—prepare yourselves for a settlement of this question, that must come up for settlement again sooner than you are prepared for it. You may dispose of me now very easily," he said; "I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled—this negro question, I mean; the end of that is not yet."

This, John Brown said, and they settled the problem for the time by hanging him. But the question rose again. It was never settled until at last it was "blown hellward from the cannon's mouth." Then it was found that for every drop of negro blood drawn by the lash, a thousand drops of Saxon blood had been drawn by the sword.

Thus it is with every national question, large or small. Thus it will be with the tariff, with finance, with the civil service. Each question must be settled right, and we must pay for its settlement. It is said that fifteen per cent of the laws on the statute books of the States of the Union stand there in defiance of acknowledged laws of social and economic science. Every such statute is blood poison in the body politic. Around every such law will gather a festering sore. Every attempt to heal this sore will be resisted by the full force of the timeservers. Such statutes are steadily increasing in number, concessions by shortsighted legislatures to the arrogant monopolist, the ignorant demagogue, or the reckless agitator. This must stop, "They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin," or with ignorance, or with recklessness. "The gods," said Marcus Aurelius, "are at the head of the administration, and will have nothing but the best."

"My will fulfilled shall be,
In daylight or in dark;
My thunderbolt has eyes to see
Its way home to the mark!"—Emerson.

It was the dream of the founders of this republic that each year the people should choose from their mimber "their wisest men to make the public laws." This was actually done in the early days, for our first leaders were natural leaders. The men who founded America were her educated men. None other could have done it. But this condition could not always last. As the country grew, ignorance came and greed developed; ignorance and greed must be represented, else ours would not be a representative government. So to our congresses our people sent, not the wisest, but the men who thought as the people did. We have come to choose, in our lawmakers, not rulers but representatives; we ask not wisdom, but watchfulness for our personal interests. So we send those whose interests are ours, those who act as our attorneys. And just as the people do this, so do the great corporations, who form a large part of the people and control a vastly larger part. And as the corporations command the best service, they often send as their attorneys abler men than the people can secure. And so it has come about that demagogues and special agents make up the body of lawmakers in this country, and this in both parties alike. They represent, not our wisdom, but our business. They are the reflex of the people they represent; no better, and certainly no worse. Those whose interest lies in the direction of good government alone, often know not which way to turn, and at last fall back on the time-honored anathema—

"A plague on both your houses!"

In this degree republican government has failed. For this failure there is again but one remedy—education. If the people are to rule us, the people must be wise. We must have in every community men trained in social and political science. We must have men with the courage of their convictions, and only the educated man has any real convictions. We must have men who know there is a right to every question as well as many wrongs. We must have men who know what this right is, or, if not knowing, who know how the right may be found. Very few men ever do that which they know and really believe to be wrong. Most wrongdoing comes from a belief that there is no right, or that right and wrong are only relative.

If representative government is ever to bring forward wisdom and patriotism, it will be because wisdom and patriotism exist and demand representation. In this direction lies one of the most important duties of the American university. Every question of public policy is a question of right and wrong. To such questions all matters of party ascendency, all matters of individual advancement must yield precedence. There is no virtue in the acts of ignorant majorities. The danger of ignorance is only intensified when rolled up in majorities. Truth is strong and error is weak, and the majorities of error melt away under the influence of a few men whose right acting is based on right thinking.

Right thinking has been your privilege: right acting is now your duty; and at no time in the history of the world has duty been more imperative than now.


  1. An Address to the Graduating Class in Leland Stanford Junior University.