« ForrigeFortsett »
his own people have been formed, which he would throw himself against in vain. The boundaries of his authority lie where he finds the limits of his subjects' willingness or ability to obey him. They cannot obey him if he seek to force upon them rules too strange to their habit; they will not know how, and their spirits will revolt. They will not obey him if he outrage them by too gross a violation of the understandings which they have come to regard as sacred and of the very essence of their life and happiness. The difference between a constitutional system and an unconstitutional is that in a constitutional system the requirements of opinion are clearly formulated and understood, while in an unconstitutional they are vague and conjectural. The unconstitutional ruler has to guess where his subjects will call a halt upon him, and experiment at the hazard of his throne and head; the constitutional ruler definitely knows the limits which he must not transgress and is safe in his authority so long as he does not overstep them.
3. THE MEANING OF SELF-GOVERNMENT.
On the fourth day of July, 1776, the Continental Congress acting in behalf of the thirteen colonies then engaged in armed resistance to the authority of England, adopted the Declaration of Independence. From that day to this the United States has stood as the typical example of a self-governing community. The success of this experiment in government has been due to the fact that the people of the thirteen colonies were at the time the Declaration of Independence was made already endowed with the capacity essential for self-government. The nature of this capacity is very clearly and forcibly explained by Dr. Lyman Abbott:
A great deal of current discussion assumes that the Declaration of Independence is a declaration in favor of self-government, and that consistency requires that a Republic initiated by such a statement of principles should recognize the right of self-government in all peoples.
But it so happens, as a matter of fact, that this document says nothing whatever about self-government. Only one clause, and
that a parenthetical one—the phrase "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed -can be interpreted to imply, even remotely, any doctrine of self-government, and this implication from this phrase is by no means a necessary one. For it is quite conceivable that a people might very gladly consent to be governed by others and relieved of all the responsibility of governing.
What the Declaration affirms is that governments exist for the benefit of the governed; and this is very different from affirming that they must always be administered by the governed.
It declares that men have certain inalienable rights, and it does not include the right of self-government among them; that the end of government, and, by implication, the sole end of government, is to protect these rights; that when government becomes destructive of these rights it ought to be overthrown; that the people, when they have overthrown it, have a right to establish a new government in whatever form will insure public safety and happiness—being free; and, by implication, that they may choose for that purpose a military or a civil government, an autocracy, aristocracy, oligarchy, representative democracy, or pure democracy. In fact, our fathers chose as their first form of government, not a pure democracy, but a republic in which aristocracy and representative democracy were intermingled. Negroes, Indians and foreigners could not vote; nor native-born Americans, unless they possessed some property qualification, in some of the States, or some religious qualification in others. The people were not allowed to choose their own President, he was chosen for them by a representative body; nor to make their own laws-they were made for them by another representative body. It is doubtful whether even a considerable minority would have approved the referendum or the initiative, and it is certain that practically none would have submitted judicial questions to the people at a general election or even to a mass-meeting of representative citizens, as they are submitted to the General Assembly by the constitution of the Presbyterian Church.
There are times when self-government is palpably inconsistent with the Declaration of Independence. Self-government in the Indian Territory created a plutocracy, which is the meanest and most despicable of all forms of government. It made the Territory a paradise for land robbers, and a refuge for the banditti and train-wreckers who fled thither after each succeeding tragedy to escape the processes of the courts.
At length, in order to protect the inalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it became necessary to go into that Territory, overthrow its form of self-government, and institute a new government which would do something to secure that "safety and happiness of the people” for which, according to the Declaration of Independence, governments are instituted among men. In Santiago the death-rate under Spanish misrule was seven hundred a week; under General Wood's beneficent despotism it is reduced to forty or fifty a week. That under Cuban self-government it would have taken half a century to accomplish the sanitary reforms which General Wood has accomplished in half a year is certain; that they would ever have been accomplished is doubtful. Which takes the precedence, the right to life of the six hundred and fifty killed every week before their time, or the right of the Cubans to so administer municipal government as to kill them! There is but one answer to that question.
In fact, self-government is not a right at all-it is a capacity. We might as well say it is the inalienable right of every man to read or every animal to fly as to say that it is the inalienable right of every community to govern itself. It is wrong to forbid men to read; but there are men who cannot read, and if they are to learn anything they must be read to; it is wrong to forbid men to exercise self-government, but there are men who cannot exercise self-government, and if they are not to destroy both themselves and others, they must be controlled. Self-government or self-command is, says the Century Dictionary, “that equanimity which enables one in any situation to be reasonable and prudent, and to do what
the circumstances require." If a man possess this equanimity, is reasonable and prudent, can do and does do what the circumstances require, he has a right to be let alone. But if he has not this equanimity, if he is not reasonable and prudent, if he does not do what the circumstances require, he is not to be let alone; he is to be controlled by men who possess the qualities which he lacks. Self-government is a capacity and the right to exercise a capacity depends on the possession of it. He who has no capacity to govern himself has no inalienable right to pretend to govern himself and try to govern others.
But because self-government is not a right but a capacity, and a right only as the capacity is first developed, therefore self-government is the ideal form of government. For all true government consists in the control of the lower and worse elements by the higher and the better. When the lower and the worse control and the higher and better are superseded or are in abeyance, there is no true government. A man who is under what we call the control of his appetites or passions is not exercising self-control at all; for self-control means the control of the lower self by the higher self. So a community which is under the control of its passions is not self-governed; for self-government means the government of the worse by the better. Mob law is only an euphemism for lawlessness. Certainly all good government is that in which the good controls and the evil is controlled. It is quite evident, therefore, that the best government is that in which in every individual the good controls and the evil is controlled. Majority government, which a great many people seem to regard as identical with self-government, though it is quite different, would make an infernal bedlam out of a lunatic asylum, for it would put the physicians and the keepers under control of the lunatics. Majority government is no government for a lunatic asylum. But, on the other hand, self-government is the end which the physicians and the keepers have constantly in view. Their aim is so to exercise their control as to develop in the lunatics intrusted to their charge the power of controlling themselves. The lunatic is under the command of one who
has equanimity and is reasonable and prudent, in order that, if possible, there may be imparted to him such equanimity and such measure of reason and prudence that at the earliest possible moment he can take command of himself. The lunatic has no right of self-government until he has the capacity for self-government; but he is governed in order that he may be endowed with that capacity.
4. HOW THE CAPACITY FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT IS ACQUIRED.
Dr. Abbott has explained what constitutes the capacity for selfgovernment. President Woodrow Wilson points out the way, and the only way, by which this capacity can be acquired:
Constitutional government can exist only where there is actual community of interest and of purpose, and cannot, if it be also self-government, express the life of any body of people that does not constitute a veritable community. Are the United States a community! In some things, yes; in most things, no. How impossible it is to generalize about the United States! If a foreign acquaintance asks you a ques tion about America, are you not obliged before replying to say, “Which part of America do you refer to?” It would be hard to frame any single generalization which would be true to the whole United States, whether it were social, economic, or political. It is a matter of despair to describe a typical American. Types vary from region to region, and even from state to state. America abounds in the vitality of variety and can be summed up in no formula either of description or of prophecy.
Moreover, she is a country not merely constitutionally governed, but also self-governed. To look upon her and comprehend her is to comprehend the distinction. Self-government is the last, the consummate stage of constitutional development. Peoples which are not yet highly developed, selfconscious communities can be constitutionally governed, as England was before she had got her full character and knowledge of herself, under monarchs who ruled her by their own