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CLASS LEGISLATION AND DISCRIMINATION
We come now to the most discreditable and, take it all in all, the most disheartening chapter in American history; discreditable because the facts it relates are so opposed to all our ideals of freedom and equality; disheartening because the tendencies disclosed lead straight toward the arraying of class against class in bitter conflict, and the dissolution of democratic institutions.
Not that this country will proceed to such extremes and be wrecked on the rocks that have wrecked every attempt heretofore made toward popular government-let us hope we have too much good sense to run blindly into disaster, but that is the way we are heading at the moment, and no impartial observer doubts it.
The anarchist, the communist, the radical socialist, observe the trend of events with undisguised satisfaction, they say, "We are nearing the crisis," and stand ready with torch and bomb.
The average American looks upon Russia as the hotbed of anarchy and revolution, yet there is probably far more dynamite systematically used in the United States than in Russia for the destruction of life and property in conflicts between classes; and certainly far more than is used in any other two civilized countries taken together.
Three presidents slain in forty years is a record no
other country can show. True, two of these assassinations were by men of more than doubtful sanity, but the same can be said of European crimes of similar character.
The point is that in the sane or insane use of dynamite and murderous weapons as part of social or political propaganda this country is nowise behind the most despotic of European governments.
We think Russia is on the verge of a tremendous social upheaval; we may be quite as near one ourselves.
We look with pitying eye upon the disorders in France and gloomily predict the Republic will not last long; whereas the truth is, that all the disorders reported would add scarce a ripple to the rioting that takes place periodically in our one state of Pennsylvania, to say nothing of the highly inflammable conditions that prevail in Colorado and those western states where the Industrial Workers of the World are strong.
In all probability our strength lies in our very indifference to what is going on about us. We do not take the use of dynamite and the killing of presidents very seriously; our attitude is one of regret that misguided men should do such things, but they mean to us nothing in particular, there is no wider significance, no warning; we think the country is too sound and sane to be carried off its feet.
Let us hope that is so; at the same time things are going on that are more significant than the explosion of a bomb or the killing of a president.
Class legislation, laws drawn for the avowed purpose of conferring upon certain favored classes privileges denied others;
That is the real menace to our institutions, for that more than anything else encourages the bomb thrower, the rioter, the assassin, lending a certain logical coherence to their disordered ideas, for if the law deals with certain classes as enemies of society why may not they?
Equality of all men before the law has been the boast of American civilization from the foundation of the government.
It has ever been an idle boast so far as negroes and Indians are concerned, sinks to a whisper as regards Chinese and Japanese, rings a little hollow when women are considered-but, then, they are not "all men.'
Still it is the fundamental theory of our civilization that all men are, certainly should be, equal before the law-that is the ideal toward which we are supposed to be workingare we?
The answer to that question is found in the speeches of our public men, in laws proposed and laws passed, and it is that,
At no period in the history of the world has there been a more servile catering to classes who have votes.
This is a broad, a startling assertion, but it is borne out by facts; that the truth is not more clearly realized is due partly to our extraordinary composure and partly to our peculiar political divisions. In most countries one central legislative body speaks for the nation; what it does the world notes and criticizes; the result is a strong counter-balance in the influence of public opinion within and without the nation, and that means greater deliberation. In this country there are forty-eight almost sovereign states, each with complete legislative machinery, passing in the twilight of semi-publicity such laws as it sees fit. In addition there
is the federal government with Congress turning out its quota of statutes.
These forty-nine legislative bodies give the demagogue his golden opportunity; he experiments at his leisure and almost without observation. Even if the American people were not over-absorbed in making money, it would be impossible for them to watch all their legislatures, as it is they pay so little attention that any class with ordinary persistence can get somewhere almost any law it desires.
So true is this that the courts are kept busy weeding out the laws that are so rank, so unfair, so one-sided they are clearly unconstitutional..
Only the courts stand between the people and the demand of special classes for favoring laws and now the courts are assailed for their independence and it is seriously proposed to subject their decisions to popular vote.
One reason why the American people have paid comparatively little attention to laws proposed and passed is because they rely for protection upon federal and state constitutions; they assume that no law which is unfair to anybody can be enforced; they cast upon the courts the burden of doing the work they should do themselves through their representatives.
It is notorious that our legislative bodies pass many laws they know are not constitutional; the expression is often heard, "Oh, well, let it go through, the courts will knock it out."
But distinguished as our courts are for their courage and independence, they are composed of men and only human. It is not surprising some of them yield and try to
find ways to sustain laws that others have no hesitation in denouncing as unconstitutional.
Steadily and systematically the independence of the judiciary is being assailed; under threat of "recall" of either men or decisions, or both, judges are being terrorized into rendering supposedly popular decisions.
We say "supposedly" for nothing is more certain than that the thinking masses of the people are not in sympathy with either class legislation or with the efforts that are being made to destroy the independence of the judiciary.
The American Federation of Labor "is composed of 115 national and international unions, representing approximately 27,000 local unions, 4 departments, 39 state branches, 632 city central unions.' The paid membership is about 2,000,000. "The affiliated unions publish about 540 weekly or monthly papers devoted to the cause of labor." There are 1,574 organizers of local unions acting under the orders of the central body.
There is hardly an employment that does not have its union.
Besides the American Federation of Labor there are the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World.
In addition and not affiliated with the American Federation are the following nation-wide unions: Bricklayers' and Masons' International; Brotherhoods of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers; Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen; Railroad Conductors' Order.
While the voting strength of 2,000,000 is not great as compared with a total of over 15,000,000 voters in the country, it is a body the average politician fears and therefore favors.