December 10, 1896
OF all the forms of government that stability of the republican form depends most upon the integrity of the individual.
Abraham Lincoln’s definition of a republic is the best that can ever be given: “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
A republic is a government “of the people;” because the people only compose the government. The people then are governed “by the people;” that is, they are governed by themselves. The people are governed “by the people” “for the people;” that is, by themselves for themselves.
Such a government in the nature of things is only self-government. Each citizen governs himself. He does this by himself—by his own powers of self-restraint. And he does this for himself, that is, for his own good, for his own best interests: knowing at the same time that this is also for the good and for the best interests of his fellow-citizen.
Only in the proportion that this conception is fulfilled, is it possible for a republic to flourish. In the proportion that the people lose the power to govern themselves, in just that proportion the true idea of a republic must, and surely will, fail of realization. And in a republic, just as soon as a majority of the people have ceased to govern themselves by their own individual powers, the republic has in principle and in fact passed away.
And so surely as a republic passes away, a despotism takes its place. It may be an elective despotism, but it is none the less a despotism. It may, indeed, be a despotism of the many—of the majority; but it is none the less a despotism. In fact, in such cases, it always is at first a despotism of the many. Shortly after this it becomes a despotism of a few. And at last, ere long too, it becomes a despotism of one.
Any person, therefore, who allows himself to engage in anything that deprives him of the full and free government of himself, thereby enters upon a course that is contrary to free government. Whatever weakens or absorbs the individuality of the citizen, undermines the republic. It matters not what it may be, what form it may take, or what pretensions may be made in its behalf, to whatever extent it weakens or swallows up the individuality of the individual man—just to that extent it undermines the republic.
Party organization may be perfectly proper, but when it become so “straight” that the citizen cannot act upon his own individual preferences or convictions, without being ostracised or “read out;” or when it is turned to “the machine;” however much certain men may gain by it, the people are only the losers and the republic is weakened.
Business partnerships and corporations may be perfectly proper; but when they are employed to crush out competition or to swallow up the individuality of owners, they violate the first principle of free government, and therefore are a menace to the republic.
Labor organizations may be beneficial; but when they are used to deprive the individual of the privilege of entering into any engagement that he may see fit to make; or so as to absorb the individuality of any member that he is not free to be employed under whatever circumstances that seem to him satisfactory, or that he is not free to come and go at his own pleasure without interference on the part of anybody; they invade the right of the individual to govern himself, and in so doing repudiate government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and are a menace to the republic.
Church organization is not only proper, it is divine; but when church organization is so managed and manipulated by men as to become in their hands a weapon to be held menacingly before politicians, business men and all others, by threats or whatever other means shall prove most effective, to deprive them of the freedom of individual action, according to their own individual conviction,—then such church organizations, become only a menace to the republic itself. They cease to be divine and become earthly, sensual, devilish, and thus the greatest possible menace to the republic.
Hon. Henry Watterson, in an interview for the press of this city, only a few days ago, made the following statement:—
In 1800 we were a few millions of people and we loved liberty. In 1900 we are nearly a hundred millions of people and we love money. Moreover, individually and collectively, we have a great deal of money. Most of this money is invested in what are called corporations. From a handful of individuals we have become a national of institutions. The individual counts for less and less, organizations for more and more.
In remarking upon this statement the New York Journal, of December 2, said:—
There is no disputing the truth of that…. What he feels as to the dangers of concentrating wealth, the diminution of the importance of the individual, and the dominance of the purse, an increasing minority of men of thought and masculine instincts feel.
Every organization, every influence, that diminishes the importance of the individual, is in antagonism to government of the people, and just so far as it does so, is inimical to the republic.
Yet no man can deny that all the forms of organization which we have referred to, are diligently working in all the ways pointed out, and in other ways besides, to diminish the importance of the individual. The practice of each one is therefore in direct antagonism to government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Any one of them, then, to be continued and to “grow by that it feeds on,” could end in nothing else than the subversion of the republic: this to be followed by the inevitable despotism, first of the many, then of a few, and finally of one. And when such only can be the tendency and end of any one of these, how much more, and how much more swiftly, must this be the end, with all of them working at the same time and only to that end.
What, then, is the remedy? Cultivate the individual. Restore the integrity, the manliness, the manly independence, the individuality, of the individual. This is the only remedy. Nothing else can possibly avail.
Thus again is strongly illustrated the importance of that scripture that was written for this time: “The Lord spake thus unto me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”