Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/May 1900/Editor's Table
GOOD use was made of a Washington celebration at Oberlin College, Ohio, by the chief speaker of the occasion, the Rev. A. A. Berle, to utter words that are peculiarly needed at the present time. His subject was Popular American Fallacies, and among these he noted the following: That Anglo-Saxondom is identical with the kingdom of God; that national glory and power can supply the place of national character; that new occasions always teach new duties; and that political alliances may do away with the necessity for "a dual alliance," as he expressed it, "between the people and God."
These particular fallacies, in our opinion, were happily chosen. There is a great deal of silly talk current about the incomparable glories and unimaginable destinies of the Anglo-Saxon race; and it never seems to occur to those who indulge in such talk that a profound sense of one's greatness is very far from being a sure sign of greatness. The greatest characters are the simplest and least boastful. Their greatness is so native to them that they are scarcely conscious of it; and they leave it to others to sing their praises. It is presuming altogether too intimate an acquaintance with the designs of Providence to claim that any race in particular is charged, above all others, with carrying those designs into effect. Who knows what reservoirs of moral and intellectual force may reside in nations and tribes whose world-action has been very obscure as yet? Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, thought that much of high value for civilization lay dormant in the negro race, and it is too soon to say he was mistaken. Then, who knows what the Slavonic race may bring forth? Who can calculate the future of the vast human hive known as China? And, after all, what has any nation got to do except to behave itself, be it great or small, famous or of no great repute? How is it in the community? Do we admire great men who swagger, who boast of their wealth, their strength, their courage, or their virtue? A little quiet consideration will persuade any man that there is one law for all nations alike—the law of justice and humanity—and that the greatest nation, according to any true conception of greatness, is the one which exemplifies that law most perfectly in its domestic and foreign policy. The surest sign of greatness in a nation, we venture to say, is that it should hate war—not dread it, but hate it.
It is a singular thing that any but the most light-headed portion of the community should fall into the second fallacy which the speaker mentioned—that national glory and power can take the place of national character. A nation requires a true heart, an honest self-consciousness, just as much as an individual, and time will avenge national misdoings just as surely as it will those of individuals. No numbers, nor any amount of huzzaing or factitious enthusiasm, can make a vicious policy safe. You may win victories with chariots and horsemen, but to enjoy the fruits of peace there must be a dominant love of justice, and that is what war does not tend to promote. It is also very true, as the speaker said, that there are not many new duties to be learned in this age of the world. There is enough of moral truth taught in old Hesiod's Works and Days to make any society now existing a good deal better than it is. When people talk of new duties they generally mean some new harum-scarum enterprise. The old duty would be good enough if they would only consider it closely and follow it faithfully. The Rev. Mr. Berle has spoken words in season; and it would be well if all who are like minded would unceasingly proclaim the same doctrines, if perchance they may sink into the heart of the masses, and give to this great people a public policy founded on righteousness and the love of peace.
"How far, O Catiline, when all is said and done, are you going to abuse our patience?" So said the great Roman orator on a certain famous occasion. Our Catiline is no individual man; it is the party system which has inflicted on us the Puerto Rican disgrace. It was obvious to the common sense of every one that, having laid our hands on the island of Puerto Rico, there was no decent course to take save to make it, for all practical purposes, an integral portion of the Union. We had cut it off from the market it enjoyed in Spain, and left it to contend with the hostile tariffs of other countries—were we going, in addition to that, to make it a stranger to the land that had seized it, and subject its products to our own high scale of duties? The President, in his message to Congress, conceiving the proposition to be almost self-evident, had declared that it was "our plain duty to abolish all customs tariffs between the United States and Puerto Rico, and give her products free access to our markets." So thought nearly every disinterested citizen, and yet what have we since seen? The President, terrorized by the cry of party unity in danger, repudiates his former emphatic declaration, and gives his approval to a measure which virtually makes our unfortunate possession a foreign country. With the "free access to our markets" which the President had promised, the island would have entered on a new career of prosperity; but with its leading industries weighed down under an impost of fifteen per cent, there is nothing in view but commercial stagnation and general poverty. That the island has already languished under American rule—our revolutionary forefathers did not expect that their descendants would so soon go into the "ruling" business—the most disinterested witnesses attest. A leading journal of this city, The Herald, prints in heavy-faced type the following statement of a correspondent:
"American military officials told me at the outset that the year and a half of American sovereignty had been a blight on the island. This was not the echo of Spanish or of Puerto Rican feelings. They spoke their own views with soldierly frankness and sometimes with a word of regret for their own position. Their talk was more pointed than when filtered through official channels."
It is in these circumstances that our Legislature, at the instance of a benevolent President, decides to refund to the people of the island two million dollars of duties collected in our ports on their products. Our tariff system breeds poverty in the population it oppresses, and then we rush to their assistance with a largess. They ask for justice and we offer them alms—alms for which the correspondent already quoted says he can not find a single individual who is grateful. We rob the Puerto Rican Peter to pay our own tobacco-growing Paul; and then we rob the whole community in order to pay back Peter. And, strange to say, some of us feel very virtuous over the business. The countenance of the President glows with satisfaction over the thought of all the good he is doing. For our part, we view the matter in a different light. The money will, of course, meet certain expenses of government in Puerto Rico; but there is reason to fear that it will do as much to pauperize the island in one direction as the restriction of its trade will do in another. What the Puerto Ricans want is not alms, but commercial liberty. The repayment of this money will not stimulate their trade; it will not stimulate anything except their helplessness. It is an open question whether they will suffer more by our protectionist greed or by our wishy-washy sentimentality. Meantime what are we to think of the party system whose exigencies place us in so ridiculous a position before the world? How long shall it abuse our patience?