TO ANY people seeking to avoid the despotism which in civil government has so often trample human rights under foot in the past, a knowledge of the source from which it is likely to arise, is of prime importance.
The cry which is heard against the oppression and tyranny that are felt in the land, is directed almost invariably against the man of wealth, the representative of the Trust, the aristocrat. And that he is not innocent of the charges made, for the most part, is not to be denied; but the man of wealth is by no means the only source, or even the chief source, of danger.
It is a significant truth, which should be known by all and forgotten by none, that the despotism of the Roman empire,—that “furious and crushing despotism,” the worst probably that ever darkened the civilized world, arose not from the aristocracy at all, but from the people themselves.
The aristocracy were represented by the Roman senate; their purposes were carried into effect by that body. But in the days of Julius Cesar, before the empire was set up, the power of the Roman senate was broken and dissipated. It remained a part of the Roman government only in name. The shaping of the affairs of government was wholly in the hands of the people, and of their idol Cesar. “In legislation, the senate was totally ignored; Cesar acted directlyk with the assembly of the people, and passed such laws as he pleased.” 686 The people themselves, having lost the power of self-government, set up over themselves a despotism far worse than that which had incited their struggle against the patricians.
Turning now to the American Republic, we cannot shut our eyes to the plentiful evidence of despotism lurking within those organizations and movements directly representing the common people,—despotism which has on occasions boldly avowed itself. In the State of Illinois a few years ago, for example, by the fiat of one of these organizations, railway travel within the State was completely paralyzed, and the governor was obliged to ask of an individual in no office of governmental authority, permission to travel by rail within the boundaries of his own State. And to-day, in this same State, we see owners of mine property debarred by the governor under a threat of armed interference, from the right of operating their mines by such labor as they see fit to hire,—a right which, however obnoxious its exercise may be to some citizens of the State, they undoubtedly possess under the fundamental law of the land.
Let it be remembered, also, that the tyranny which is set up in the name of the common people passes more rapidly than any other form into the despotism of one-man power. It was so in the republic of Rome; it was so in the French Revolution; and it will be so in the Republic of the United States.
The common people are oppressed; that is true. But in most cases the worst oppression which an individual suffers is self imposed. The worst misgovernment is that of the individual who cannot restrain himself. Let the people learn true self-government, let them maintain the principles of manly independence in their own lives, and the despotism of wealth will crumble away. But if they choose to oppose tyranny with more tyranny, only worse tyranny can be the result. If they choose to “fight the devil with fire,” they cannot complain if they are the victims of a conflagration.