“There Is Mischief in It” The American Sentinel 6, 24, pp. 185-187.

June 11, 1891

WE have received three long letters from three different individuals, in the East, the South, and the West—one in this city, one in North Carolina, and one in Iowa—criticizing our article of three weeks ago on paternalism in government, and especially that part of it which refers to the Farmers’ Alliance. We cannot print all three of the letters, nor indeed is it necessary as they all speak the same thing in the main; and as we do not wish to seem partial we print none in full, but notice the material points of each and all.

Two of the letters we received shortly after the article appeared; but as one of them thought we had not studied the Alliance from the right side, and as the National Conference of the Alliance was soon to meet in Cincinnati, we thought it well, to wait till we could have the official and authoritative statement of just what they propose upon the point to which we referred.

The Alliance met and conferred, and established a platform of principles, and upon the point to which we had referred this platform says:—

We demand that legal tender treasury notes be issued in sufficient volume to transact the business of the country on a cash basis without damage or especial advantage to any class or calling, such notes to be a legal tender in payment of all debts, public and private, and such notes when demanded by the people shall be loaned to them at not more than two per cent. per annum, upon imperishable products, as indicated in the sub-treasury plan, and also upon real estate with proper limitation upon the quantity of land and amount of money.

As this is precisely what we said the Alliance proposed to do, certainly it can not be said that we misrepresented the Alliance in the least. Not only can it not be said that we misrepresented the proposals of the Alliance; but it cannot be said that we misrepresented in the least the results of the carrying into effect of such proposals. The words which we have here quoted from the platform of the National Alliance, contain all that we said in the article which these three friends-propose to criticise. It is not necessary for us to re-state these results, that!mid be but to reprint that article. We simply ask our friends to turn again to that copy of THE SENTINEL and read it with this quotation from the National Alliance platform.

The proposal of the Alliance contains all that Rome ever was: and every person who will take but three steps in a process of thinking, and they are but the inevitable steps following the proposal, must admit that this is so. Let this plan be adopted as the course of governmental; action. Then the first and inevitable step following it, will be that the Governmentt will soon become possessed of a large amount of land and “imperishable products.” Then the second and inevitable step will be that this land will be absorbed by the capitalist, the “imperishable products” will be handled by “the bulls” and “bears,” and the prices of both the land and the “imperishable products” will be the highest, that the speculators can force them up to, carrying in their train yet heavier stress upon the farmer and producer, and greater “distress and even pinching want upon the day laborer. Then the third and inevitable step will be a general distribution of the land and the “imperishable products” to the people. This course will be followed round and round a few times, gradually robbing the people of the spirit of self-dependence which alone makes manly men; and as self-dependence vanishes self-government goes, and the people, instead of governing themselves, must be governed by the [186] Government, instead of the people looking to themselves for the government they look to the Government for government itself, as well as for everything else; and the only possible outcome is an unmitigated despotism. And the, despotism will be none the less real, and none the less cruel, though it be by many rather than by one. In Rome there was a despotism of the many long before there was a despotism of one. In a government of the people, and Rome was first a government of the people, it is impossible to be otherwise. In a government of the people there must be a despotism of the many before there can possibly be a despotism of one. And when there is a despotism of the many, it is only a question of time when there will be a despotism of one. The gradation is first of the many, next of a few, then, and last, of one. Only in the freedom of the many, is there free government.

In this view we touch the main point of the letter of our Iowa friend, in his remark that he and THE SENTINEL “differ widely in our opinion of what constitutes American principles.” Yes, we do. Although we both speak of government of the people, we differ widely as to what constitutes a government of the people according to American principles. The American principle is not merely a government of the people, but a free government of the people; while the principle of our friend from Iowa and the Farmers’ Alliance is that of a despotic government of the people—a government of the people according to the paternal and despotic principles of the Roman government of the people. The true and American idea of a government of the people is self-government—the government of the individual by the individual; the Roman paternal Farmers’ Alliance idea of government of the people is government of many by many, by a few or by one. The American principle is self-help and governmental protection. The Roman or Farmers’ Alliance principle is governmental help and self protection or no protection at all.

Our friend in this city, upon a misconception of the exact situation justifies the doings of Rome in this particular, in the following words:—

Now let us go to Rome. Where did those men who had large estates get them? By what power did they hold them? What alone gave them value? In the first place they were granted to them by the government, that is by some sort of government; they held them by the power of the government; and it was the protection afforded by government that made it possible for them to use the lands for agricultural purposes. They both held the lands and cultivated them by injustice and oppression; they were simply robbers of the poor people; they were simply highwaymen extorting, by color of law, labor and other things of value from those who had no power to resist them. Instead of doing a wrong the emperors who sought to correct this state of affairs did just the right thing, only they did not go far enough. And the fact that they failed because of the low moral condition of the people, and the natural greed of mankind, is not a valid argument against that which they tried to do.

Clearly our friend has misconceived the situation.

First, What he speaks of as having been done by the emperors, was not done by them. This work was all past before the emperor came in fact, though the first step in it involved the emperor who afterward did come in fact.

Secondly, The land was not “granted” to those who held it, in the common acceptation of the term, and as we suppose the word is here used. The land was public land. It belonged to the State, and was still really possessed by the State, and was rented to these occupants for a stated annual revenue. And the occupiers of the land held it under formal contract, and for a consideration. The only flaw in the tenure was that some of the renters occupied more land than an ancient law allowed; and even this flaw was rather technical than real because the law was obsolete, it had in fact fallen into complete and “innocuous desuetude.” And it was here revived and enforced, just as our old and forgotten Sunday-laws now are upon occasion, when some special advantage is to be gained by it.

Thirdly, From these facts it is evident that it cannot justly be said that they held the lands and cultivated them by injustice and oppression; nor that they were highwaymen robbing the poor people, etc., who had no power to resist them. The land was of no use whatever to the State, unless the State could receive some revenue from it. For this reason it was rented, and the revenue from the rental went to the State, that is to the people, for the government was of the people. And instead of the people having no power to resist this “oppression,” they had power to resist it, they did resist it, and abolished it, and gave away the land to some of themselves for no return whatever.

And then it was soon demonstrated that the former system had been one of neither oppression nor robbery of the people, because from the very beginning the most of those to whom the land was given were so dissatisfied that they actually sold out their holdings to the very capitalists who had formerly occupied the lands. The others lived beyond their means, got into debt, mortgaged their holdings, and then had to let them go, on the mortgage, so that in a very few years all the public lands were again held by the very capitalists from whom they had been taken. And more than this they were now held by these men, and were worked for absolutely no return to the State, whereas they had formerly paid an annual rental. So that the only tangible point of this proceeding was to deprive the State, and therefore the people, of a certain fixed annual revenue and therefore to make the burdens of the people heavier than they were before.

The same thing was gone through with again and again, and each successive time with worse results both to the government as such, and to the people as individuals, developing more and more the despotism of the many, till it was merged in a despotism of three—the first triumvirate—which ended in the despotism of one, whom they murdered, which immediately again by a despotism of three—the second triumvirate—which ended again in the despotism of one—Cesar-Augustus—and the final establishment of the imperial despotism, the most horrible civil despotism that ever was, and which continued until Constantine and the political bishops turned it into the most horrible religious despotism that ever was.

That was the end of that story then and there, and the perfect likeness to it will be the end of this story now and here.

And this answers the query of one of our correspondents, as to what business has THE SENTINEL, a religious paper, to touch this question which is political. We are persuaded that THE SENTINEL has not mistaken its calling, nor spent its efforts in vain in this respect. THE SENTINEL is a religious paper, that is true, and it exists for the sole purpose of exposing to the American people the movement for the establishment of a religious despotism here, after the model of the Papacy.

But no religious despotism can ever be established over a free people. It were literally impossible to establish a religious despotism over the royal freemen who made the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution.

This gradual but steady perversion and subversion of the genuine principles of this Government as established by our fore-fathers, this steady inculcating of the principles of paternalism, is but sowing the seeds of a despotism—whether of the many, of the few, or of one, it matters not—which at the opportune moment will be joined by the political preachers, and out of the wicked alliance thus formed there will come the religious despotism in the perfect likeness of the one which was before, and against which the continuous efforts of THE AMERCAN SENTINEL have ever been and ever shall be directed.

And that is the reason, and the only reason, yet reason enough, why THE SENTINEL, a religious paper, touches this otherwise political question.

We are inclined to agree with our friend of this city, that the government of Rome, in the case referred to, “did just the right thing,” according to the principles of that government. But “the right thing” was the wrong thing, because the principle of the government was wrong. It was the paternal principle, and the right thing for a paternal government to do is the wrong things for any government to do, because no government should be paternal.

This brings us to the one chief point which all three of our correspondents make, and upon which they all three agree. As expressed by our friend of this [187] city, which is but the expression of all three, it is as follows:—

Several times since I have been in New York the speculators in Wall Street have got into a tight place and the United states Treasury has come to their relief. Once it did it by paying nearly six months in advance a large lot of interest upon Government bonds. On several occasions it has bought up a large lot of bonds that it would not otherwise have bought. And what was it all for? Simply to save from financial ruin a lot of men who in their greed for wealth had got beyond their depth. Now why is it any worse to do something of the same kind for the agriculturists? Why if the Government is to help anybody, why if it is proper for it to save the speculator from bankruptcy in an evil day, is it not equally proper for it to give a helping hand to the farmer in a bad season, or in close times?

This is well put, and to all of it we heartily by reply, Why, indeed? It is no more the province of the Government to help the rich than it is to help the poor, or to help the banker or the stock gambler than to help the farmer or the hod-carrier. And IF it is to help the one, logically it must help the other. If it is to be a parent to one it must be the same to all. But there is the if, and that is the point. It is not to help any of them; it is not to be the parent of any.

And here is just the difference between THE SENTINEL and our three correspondents and the whole movement in behalf of which they speak. THE SENTINEL is totally opposed to any of it and all of it, and to the principle upon which any of it is done; while on the other hand this movement pretends to object to, and makes great capital of, the evil of applying the principle to a few, and proposes to cure the the [sic.] evil by applying it to all. That is an evil which exists contrary to the principles of the Government, they propose to cure it by fixing it as a principle of the Government, and by multiplying it ten
thousandfold. In other words, they simply propose to make this evil the fulcrum by which they will lift themselves into the place and power where they can do for themselves a great deal more than has ever been done in this Government for anybody else. The truth of the matter is when the movement shall succeed, as they surely will, if not in this particular line, then in some other, the end of it all will be a sort of general scramble to see who shall get the most. And this is the sum and the substance of the whole thing.

It may be that our correspondents will not agree with us just now; but that matters nothing to us. Five years ago when THE SENTINEL first called attention to the movement to establish a religious despotism, we were criticised and pooh-poohed for that more than we are now for calling attention to this surest forerunner of it. But THE SENTINEL knew then just what it was doing; and it knows now what it is doing just as well is it did then. Those who objected then, know now that we were right then; and those who object now may know sometime that we were right now; and we shall have known it all the time.

There is another point or two in the letters, such as what constitutes real money, etc., which it is not necessary to discuss, and which perhaps need not to have been mentioned in the first place, as the only object that we had in view was to call attention to the civil despotism that lies in the Supreme Court decision coupled with the general movement which corresponds to it. And we are perfectly willing to trust to the event to demonstrate that the coming religious despotism will be established substantially in the manner here outlined.

Now in closing, let us not be misunderstood, and let us not be misjudged, in this matter. We would not be understood as reflecting upon the farmers nor upon the Alliance as such. It is entirely at the principle that we aim. THE SENTINEL has nothing at all to do with parties of any kind either for or against, but with principles only. We do not say for a moment that the Farmers’ Alliance as such, nor the individuals who compose it, intend what we have pointed out. We simply say that the mischief is in the principle, and it will appear and will do all that we have said in the face of their best intentions.

It is the same way with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and others who are working for religious legislation. They do not all intend to establish a religious despotism, they do not all intend to persecute, but a religious despotism with its attendant persecutions, is in the principle of the thing, and will all appear as surely as they secure what they demand, nor will either the wickedness or the cruelty of the thing be relieved by the fact that they did not intend it.

We say to all, have nothing to do with either the religious or the civil movement. In religion let your dependence be upon God, and not upon the Government. And in civil things, let your dependence be upon your own manly self and not upon a paternal, pampering, coddling, meddling government, which must needs tell you what you shall eat and drink and wear, how long you shall work, when you are tired, when you shall rest, and when you shall be religious.

A. T. J.

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