The Menace of Privilege Chapter Seven last part
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.
Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.
end of CHAPTER 7, ARISTOCRACY, A FRUIT OF PRIVILEGE
Pomp & Privilege Erode Democratic Institutions such as Suffrage & Juries.
…And in a speech before the Democratic Presidential Convention at St. Louis in 1904, Captain Richard Pearson Hobson, the hero of the Merrimac exploit at Santiago in the Spanish War, declared that “intelligence must govern,” with what appeared to be an intimation that intelligence was confined to the more or less select.
Can such sentiments be unnatural in men reared as the officers of our regular army and navy are? Taken for life under the Federal Government’s care and expense before they are of voting age, given the highest technical training in its military and naval academies, on graduation given command without having, like the common soldier, to begin in the ranks, or like the common sailor, to “go through the hawse hole,” disciplined to take and to give arbitrary orders and taught that martial law supersedes all civil procedure, it would be remarkable, indeed, if these men should not have a secret contempt for the common people and a disdain for the trammels and restraints of civil law.
But these things pass out of mind in light of the graver matter of the suffrage. We shall later consider this more fully in relation to politics. But some attention is required here.
In his first annual message to Congress, in 1861, President Lincoln pointed out that “the insurgents,” in “the most grave and maturely considered public documents” relative to their secession Government, boldly advocated “the abridgment of the existing right of suffrage and the denial of the people of all right to participate in the selection of public offices except the legislative, with labored arguments to prove that large control of the people in government is the source of all political evil. Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.” Said he: “In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.” (” Messages and Papers of the Presidents,” Vol. VI, pp.56-57. )
The old slavery argument was that the black man was by nature inferior to the white man, and, therefore, of course, could not be the white man’s equal; that the black could, however, be reclaimed from barbarism by association with the white man, learning the ways of Christianity from the white man and working for the white man. But the black man must not be taught to read or write, for that might beget in him a discontented and rebellious spirit. As for giving him the suffrage, only crazy fanatics would be so foolish as to speak of it.
And now, with the bloody Civil War over slavery forty years gone, we see that the black citizen – by an amendment of the Federal Constitution enfranchised equally with the white citizen – is as systematically in the South deprived of his right to vote. And not merely this. There is a distinct and strengthening sentiment in the North to disfranchise large bodies of white voters. In the South the race question largely intervenes. The white man is determined to rule over the mingled population of whites and blacks. In the North there is a growing despair of making political head against the swelling “criminal class.” How often do we see reflected in the newspapers the belief that the only way to clear our politics of its corrupt and rotten elements is to “eliminate the ignorant and vicious vote to a large extent.” Every now and again a strong voice comes from the pulpit, as for instance this: –
I know there are many who enter the twentieth century with unspeakable regret that manhood suffrage was ever adopted, who believe that we ought to have educational or property qualifications; who consider that American citizenship has become too cheap; that myriads of votes represent nothing but ignorance, passion and appetite; that we have a great lowest class which always votes wrong; that candidates and party organs are constantly stultified by necessary appeals to this degraded and purchasable vote. There are plenty of our wisest and best citizens who would like to do for the slums what the South is doing for the negroes-just quietly relieve them of the burden of government. (Report of a sermon by Rev. Dr. W. S. Crowe, Universalist church of the Eternal hope, New York, Nov.25, 1900.)
Politicians generally are very cautious about having any-thing to do with such views. Yet once in a while a voice rings out for restricted suffrage even in the political field. Such was the case during the Low-Shepard mayoralty contest in New York in 1901. Abram S. Hewitt disparaged “universal suffrage” for the government of large aggregations of men, saying that “most statesmen and the best thinkers of the day . . . agree that municipal government is a matter of business and not of general politics. They think that ignorance should be excluded from control and that the city business should be carried on by trained experts selected upon some other principle than popular suffrage.” In this view Mr. Hewitt said he concurred.
Mr. Hewitt was a wealthy man, had been member of Congress for a number of terms, also mayor of New York, and on his death, not long following this statement on the suffrage, he was declared by the Chamber of Commerce of New York to have been the city’s first citizen. His open declaration for a restricted suffrage stunned the body of the people and put the political world in a ferment, but it was nothing more than a simple avowal of the state of mind of many in his walk of life. (This utterance, coming from so prominent a man in the community in the last days of the canvass, made a political sensation, as the files of the New York daily papers of Nov. 3 and 4, 1901, will show.)
Akin to this attack on popular suffrage is the attack on trial by jury. Until now we have been taught that the latter principle is one of the stones in the arch of our liberties. But now we are told, as by Professor Alfred Nerinex, of the Chair of Law in the University of Louvain, Belgium, in an address before the congress of lawyers at the St. Louis Exposition, that, speaking of civil suits, “when you cannot get men of high standing in the community for jurymen, you get men of lower tenor, whose judgment cannot be depended upon.” This is not the average viewpoint, but the superior one. Often are just such sentiments heard nowadays in private conversation in this country. Those who adjudge themselves wise distrust the “ignorant and criminal classes.”
Among those sharing this distrust is Secretary of War Taft, who, while on the Federal bench, was an able exponent and developer of the injunction principle in labor disputes. (More on that topic later in this book.) In an address at the anniversary of the Yale law school in June, 1905, he broadly intimated that the principle of jury trial in civil cases was on trial in our extra-constitutional dependencies, Porto Rico and the Philippines. It is only a step from jury trial in civil suits to jury trial in criminal cases; and it is only one more step from the ignorant Porto Rican and the ignorant Filipino to the ignorant and criminal among our own people, for if the one may justly or for any reason of policy be deprived of the benefits of jury trial, so may the other.
Secretary Taft seems mentally to have taken those steps, for in his Yale address he said: “I grieve for my country to say that the administration of the criminal laws in all the states of the Union (there may be one or two exceptions) is a disgrace to our civilization.” He cited the extraordinary increase in murders and homicides of late years, and proposed as a cure — what? To bring about conditions that should lessen crime? No; to clap the cover down tighter on it. (Since 1885 in the United States there have been 131,951 murders and homicides, and there have been 2286 executions. In 1885 the number of murders was 1808. In 1904 it had increased to 8482. The number of executions in 1885 was 108. In 1904 the number was 116 … As murder is on the increase, so are all the offenses of the felony class, — Secretary Taft’s Yale address, June, 1905.)
Taft proposed, first, to abolish or limit the “right of criminal appeal”; and second, to remove all peremptory challenges and to empower the court to “advise the jury” — which in a little while would mean, as we may know from the aggressions of the courts in other directions, to command the jury. And this must also be noted, that with all the depreciation of the jury system by those deeming themselves qualified by intelligence and other circumstances to be competent to pass upon such matters, nothing is said against the grand jury, that relic of nobility. The only clear reason for this is that the “ignorant and criminal” classes are ineligible for service there. Property qualifications are required. Only persons possessing a prescribed amount of property can serve; and on ex parte statements, they can make or refuse to make presentments, bring or refuse to bring indictments. Since class distinctions have come to be drawn relatively to the wealth and the privileges possessed, the grand jury is becoming — has become –a class institution, not accessible to the poor, the common man.
What does all this mean but the very spirit of aristocracy? To say that the best way to promote upright government is to take the vote and jury trial from the ignorant and vicious is much like saying, as some do, that the way to lessen the criminal class is physically to unfit them from propagating their kind. Does it occur to such people to ask what generates the ignorant and vicious class?
Are some human beings made so different from others that they like ignorance and viciousness from their birth and, if possible, would select it as a matter of choice? Or are the ignorant and vicious, ignorant and vicious because they are poor? Poverty is a great breeder of misery; ignorance and vice are the handmaidens of such misery. What sinks the multitude in the slough of involuntary poverty? Precisely that which exalts others to the heights of superabundance — privilege. It robs the many to lavish the spoils upon a few. The judgment of him who benefits is warped by the transaction. He shuts his eyes to the real source of his riches and tells himself that they come naturally and without favor that any other man has not equal chance to enjoy. This brings him to the comfortable conclusion that he is materially better off because he is more intelligent and wiser than others. The pronouncement then goes forth: “Intelligence must govern.”
Thus Privilege robs the poor man of his bread and then of his vote and right of jury trial. If this is not chattel slavery, it is the equally bad slavery of circumstances. Abraham Lincoln said that no man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent. Henry Clay in a speech in Congress in 1818 said that “it is the doctrine of thrones that man is too ignorant to govern himself.”
As will be seen more fully in later chapters, the real directors and, therefore, rulers in politics to-day are to large extent not the masses of the people. Privilege, in the form of monopoly corporations and vested interests, is too often the dominant power. It shapes, passes or thwarts legislation. It does this in favor of the few and in spite of popular suffrage. It comes to regard this arrogated power as not merely wise, but right. As a consequence, it seeks to reduce the plain people from their place of equal citizens to that of governed workers.
This ends a major section of George’s book, where he focused on the privileged few. Next week, we start a new section — The Victims of Privilege.
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