« PreviousContinue »
it has not abolished poverty nor prevented injustice. They have discovered that political equality does not result in social fraternity; that under a democracy the concentration of greater political power in fewer hands, the accumulation and aggregation of greater amounts of wealth in individuals, are more possible than under a monarchy, and that there is a tyranny which is more fatal than the tyranny of kings.
George Washington, the first President of the Republic, at the close of his life in 1799 had the largest private fortune in the United States of America.' Much of this came by inheritance, but the Father of his Country, in addition to his other virtues, shining and illustrious, was a very prudent, sagacious, thrifty, and forehanded man. He knew a good thing when he saw it a great way off. He had a keen eye for the main chance. As a surveyor in his youth he obtained knowledge that enabled him to make exceedingly valuable locations upon the public domain. The establishment of the national capital in the immediate vicinity of his patrimonial possessions did not diminish their value. He was a just debtor, but he was an exact if not an exacting creditor. And so it came to pass that when he died he was, to use the expressive phraseology of the day, the richest man in the country.
At this time, ninety years afterward, it is not without interest to know that the entire aggregate and sum of his earthly possessions, his estate, real, personal, and mixed, Mount Vernon and his lands along the Kanawha and the Ohio, slaves, securities, all of his belongings, reached the sum total of between $800,000 and $900,000. This was less than a century ago, and it is within bounds to say that at this time there are many scores of men, of estates, and of
corporations in this country whose annual income exceed, and there has been one man whose monthly revenue since that period exceeded, the entire accumulations of the wealthiest citizen of the United States at the end of the last century.
At that period the social condition of the United States was one of practical equality. The statistics of the census of 1800 are incomplete and fragmentary, but the population of the Union was about 5,300,000, and the estimated wealth of the country was between $3,000,000,000 and $4,000,000,000. There was not a millionaire, and there was not a tramp nor a pauper, so far as we know, in the country, except such as had been made so by infirmity, or disease, or inevitable calamity. A multitude of small farmers contentedly tilled the soil. Upon the coast a race of fishermen and sailors, owning the craft that they sailed, wrested their substance from the stormy seas.
Labor was the rule and luxury the exception. The great mass of the people lived upon the products of the farms that they cultivated. They spun and wove and manufactured their clothing from flax and from wool. Commerce and handicrafts afforded honorable competence. The prayer of Agur was apparently realized. There was neither poverty nor riches. Wealth was uniformly diffused, and none were condemned to hopeless penury and dependence. Less than four per cent of the entire population lived in towns, and there were but four cities whose population exceeded 10,000 persons. Westward to the Pacific lay the fertile solitudes of an unexplored continent, its resources undeveloped and unsuspected. The dreams of Utopia seemed about to be fulfilled—the wide, the universal diffusion of civil, political, and personal rights among the great body of the people, accompanied by efficient and vig
orous guaranties for the safety of life, the protection of
prop erty, and the preservation of liberty.
Since that time, Mr. President, the growth in wealth and numbers in this country has had no precedent in the building of nations. The genius of the people, stimulated to pro digious activity by freedom, by individualism, by universal education, has subjugated the desert and abolished the frontier. The laboring capacity of every inhabitant of this planet has been duplicated by machinery. In Massachusetts alone we are told that its engines are equivalent to the labor of one hundred million men. We now perform one third of the world's mining, one quarter of its manufacturing, one fifth of its farming, and we possess one sixth part of its entire accumulated wealth.
The Anglo-Saxon, Mr. President, is not by nature or instinct an anarchist, a socialist, a nihilist, or a communist. He does not desire the repudiation of debts, public or private, and he does not favor the forcible redistribution of property. He came to this continent, as he has gone everywhere else on the face of the earth, with a purpose. The 40,000 English colonists who came to this country between 1620 and 1650 formed the most significant, the most formidable migration that has ever occurred upon this globe since time began. They brought with them social and political ideas, novel in their application, of inconceivable energy and power, the home, the family, the State, individualism, the right of personal effort, freedom of conscience, an indomitable love of liberty and justice, a genius for self-government, an unrivalled capacity for conquest, but preferring charters to the sword, and they have been inexorable and relentless in the accomplishment of their designs. They were fatigued with caste and privilege and prerogative.
They were tired of monarchs, and so, upon the bleak and inhospitable shores of New England they decreed the sovereignty of the people, and there they builded “a church without a bishop, and a state without a king."
The result of that experiment, Mr. President, has been ostensibly successful. Under the operation of those great forces, after two hundred and seventy years, this country exhibits a peaceful triumph over many subdued nationalities, through a government automatic in its functions and sustained by no power but the invisible majesty of law. With swift and constant communication by lines of steam trang portation by land and lake and sea, with telegraphs extending their nervous reticulations from State to State, the remotest members of this gigantic republic are animated by a vitality as vigorous as that which throbs at its mighty heart, and it is through the quickened intelligence that has been communicated by those ideas that these conditions, which have been fatal to other nations, have become the pillars of our strength and the bulwarks of our safety.
Mr. President, if time and space signified now what they did when independence was declared, the United States could not exist under one government. It would not be possible to secure unity of purpose or identity of interest between communities separated by such barriers and obstacles as Maine and California. But time and distance are relative terms, and, under the operations of these forces, this continent has dwindled to a span. It is not as far from Boston to San Francisco to-day as it was from Boston to Baltimore in 1791; and as the world has shrunk, life has expanded. For all the purposes for which existence is valuable in this world for comfort, for convenience, for opportunity, for intelligence, for power of locomotion, and superiority to the accidents and
the fatalities of nature-the fewest in years among us, Mr. President, has lived longer and has lived more worthily than Methuselah in all his stagnant centuries.
When the Atlantic cable was completed, it was not merely that a wire, finer by comparison than the gossamer of morning, had sunk to its path along the peaks and the plateaus of the deep, but the earth instantaneously grew smaller by the breadth of the Atlantie. A new volume in the history of the world was opened. The to-morrow of Europe flashed upon the yesterday of America. Time, up to the period when this experiment commenced on this continent, yielded its treasures grudgingly and with reluctance. The centuries crept from improvement to improvement with tardy and sluggish steps, as if nature were unwilling to acknowledge the mastery of man. The great inventions of glass, of gunpowder, of printing, and the mariner's compass consumed a thousand years, but as the great experiment upon this continent has proceeded, the ancient law of progress has been disregarded, and the mind is bewildered by the stupendous results of its marvellous achievements. The application of steam to locomotion on land and sea,
the cotton-gin, electric illumination and telegraphy, the cylinder printing press, the sewing machine, the photographic art, tubular and suspension bridges, the telephone, the spectroscope, and the myriad forms of new applications of science to health and domestic comfort, to the arts of peace and war, have alone rendered democracy possible. The steam-engine emancipated millions from the slavery of daily toil and left them at liberty to pursue a higher range of effort; labor has become more remunerative, and the flood of wealth has raised the poor to comfort and the middle classes to affluence. With prosperity has attended leisure, books, travel; the masses