THE United States Government began with the setting up of the principle that “all men are created equal.” Its founders asserted to the world the doctrine that all are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to preserve these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just rights from the consent of the governed.” Upon this doctrine they essayed to establish a government which should afford to all persons under it the perpetual blessings of civil and religious liberty.
It is perfectly evident to-day that this idea of our forefathers has not been realized. We do not have to search for this evidence; one cannot look in any direction without seeing it. Instead of the peaceful country filled with inhabitants in the undisturbed enjoyment of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” which loomed into the perspective of our forefathers, there is seen a nation whose people are arrayed against each other in a bitter struggle for the mastery. And to the vast majority of those engaged in this contest, the struggle is one for the realization of those very conditions of life and liberty which are supposed to be guaranteed by the fundamental law of the land.
We see around us the Trust, and all the various combinations of capital and labor, operating against the enjoyment of individual freedom. We see the strike, with its attendant misery to the families of the poor, only greater than the perpetual misery from which they seek by that hard means to escape. We see the power of wealth to create unjust conditions for its own advantage in political and social life. And from the enslaved and dissatisfied masses we hear the mutterings of threatened revolution.
And if anything were lacking to show the insufficiency of a theory of government in itself to secure the blessings of good government to a people, it is supplied by the fact that both plutocrats and populists invoke the name of Liberty and appeal to the same principles of free government in support of their diametrically antagonistic positions.
“Liberty, equality and fraternity” are good words; but in the mouth of the plutocrat they do not mean what they do in the mouth of the socialist. Whose meaning of the words, whose theories for the realization of these blessings, are to prevail?
There are many explanations put forward defining and locating the trouble with the workings of our governmental system. One explanation asserts that the trouble is with the Constitution: that this was long ago outgrown, and has since been only an incumbrance to good government and a protection to rascality. Another says that wrong political principles have been put in force; another says that the Government ought to be religious instead of secular; another affirms that republican government is a failure, and that a return must be had to some form of monarchy. The tendency in the last-named direction is already very marked.
But the real trouble is not with the Constitution, or with republican principles of government. As Abraham Lincoln said, there are men who would overthrow the Constitution, and pervert right principles of government. A “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” depends upon the people, and not upon principles and constitutions. Right principles in the Constitution are indeed essential, but these count for little when there are wrong principles in the hearts of the people. When the commercial spirit has cast out the spirit of independence, when the love of gain is greater than the love of liberty, the people will certainly lose their liberty, in spite of the best constitution and the soundest governmental theories.
In other words, when the people lose the ability to properly govern themselves individually, they can no longer hope successfully to govern themselves collectively. In such a case it will avail nothing to shift back and forth between two or more political theories.
WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURE?
The position of the Christian, and that of the SENTINEL, is that “liberty, equality, and fraternity” are qualities which have their origin in God, and have descended to man from him. Or rather, they are in the hearts of men in proportion as God is in their hearts, being inseparable from Him. And they can be properly understood  and appreciated only in the light of the knowledge of God. Of what use is it to the country that men of all classes from plutocrats to populists prate and dispute about these things, without ever arriving at an agreement? Of what use is it that politicians declaim about the virtues of political theories and promise prosperity that does not come?
How long will it take to usher in prosperity upon the nation by way of money “trusts” and labor “trusts?” How long will prosperity be in emerging from the clash of contending “combines,” all embodying the spirit of selfishness and hatred? A long time, we venture to say.
In the literature of Scripture, “liberty, equality and fraternity” mean something. They are there used in no selfish sense. To his followers Jesus said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” It is the theory of government in the United States that those in the chief positions are the servants of the people; but their practical attitude as well as the attitude of the people toward them, is more suggestive of the position of “honored ruler” than of that of servant. The actual exemplification of the theory is not found in any department of the Government. It never was seen in the Government. It never existed anywhere outside of the Christian church.
Again, Jesus said: “Be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” And to the same end the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” Here is the doctrine of the equality of all men; and when this doctrine was enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the national Constitution, it was not a product of the human intellect, but a principle of divine government, as old as Christianity itself.
This divine principle of government cannot be worked out on a selfish basis, but only on the basis of Christianity. This is the trouble with its application to human governments. Men are willing enough to adopt the theory that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights; but for the most part they do this from a selfish motive. When this principle was appealed to and adopted by the people of this nation, they were seeking to defend themselves from the tyranny of an English king. They sought liberty, not for an oppressed people in Europe or Asia, but for themselves, and in proportion as the nation grew strong and ceased to feel the need of defense against an opposing power, the people relaxed their hold upon their liberties, and the change which Thomas Jefferson foresaw became a reality. Having liberty for themselves, securely, as they supposed, the people became absorbed in the occupations of gain, and their guardianship of liberty was relaxed. They held the precious boon in selfishness, and by selfishness they have well-night lost it. But how can it be held in any other way? The question can be answered only by the gospel of God.
“What things soever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” Philippians 2:4-7. “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.” 1 Corinthians 10:24. This is God’s method, and this is the example set by Him who was equal with God. And in proportion as God is in men, they will adhere to this rule; they will hold the principle that all men are created equal and are endowed with equal rights,—not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their fellows.
The trouble is that God is not to any great extent in the hearts of men to-day. They will not let Him into their hearts; they have driven Him almost out of their hearts. And when He is out there is only selfishness left, and selfishness means bad men, and bad men means bad government. A government cannot long rise above the level of the people by whom it is administered.
If there is to be a better government in the United States,—if we are to have prosperity in place of the hard times,—there must be an improvement in the people themselves. The Government cannot improve itself; the Government cannot improve the people. But the people can improve themselves by allowing the divine principle of unselfishness to come into their hearts and rule their lives. The great question is, Will they do it? And this means, for each individually, Will I do it?