"But what reason can you give for this belief?" said Goodspeed. "How do you connect with the consequences, which cannot be doubted, the cause you assign? The differences between the South and the North have hitherto been attributed entirely to slavery; why do you say that they are in so great a measure due to differences of political organization?"
"I can very well see," was the reply, "that one reared as you were should fail to understand at once the potency of the system which has always been to you as much a matter of course as the atmosphere by which you are surrounded. It was not until Harvey's time—indeed, it was not until a much later period—that we knew in what way and manner animal life was maintained by the inhalation of atmospheric air. The fact of its necessity was apparent to every child, but how it operated was unknown. I do not now profess to be able to give all of those particulars which have made the township system, or its equivalent, an essential concomitant of political equality, and, as I think, the vital element of American liberty. But I can illustrate it so that you will get the drift of my thought."
"I should be glad if you would," said Goodspeed.
"The township system," continued Le Moyne, "may, for the present purpose, be denned to be the division of the entire territory of the state into small municipalises, the inhabitants of which control and manage for themselves, directly and immediately, their own local affairs. Each township is in itself a miniature republic, every citizen of which exercises in its affairs equal power with every other citizen. Each of these miniature republics becomes a constituent element of the higher representative republic—namely, a county, which is itself a component of the still larger representative republic, the State. It is patterned upon and no doubt grew out of the less perfect borough systems of Europe, and those inchoate communes of our Saxon forefathers which were denominated 'Hundreds.' It is the slow growth of centuries of political experience; the ripe fruit of ages of liberty-seeking thought.
"The township is the shield and nursery of individual freedom of thought and action. The young citizen who has never dreamed of a political career becomes interested in some local question affecting his individual interests. A bridge is out of repair; a roadmaster has failed to perform his duty; a constable has been remiss in his office; a justice of the peace has failed to hold the scales with even balance between rich and poor; a school has not been properly cared for; the funds of the township have been squandered; or the assumption of a liability is proposed by the township trustees, the policy of which he doubts. He has the remedy in his own hands. He goes to the township meeting, or he appears at the town-house upon election day, and appeals to his own neighbors—those having like interests with himself. He engages in the struggle, hand to hand and foot to foot with his equals; he learns confidence in himself; he begins to measure his own power, and fits himself for the higher duties and responsibilities of statesmanship."
"Well, well," laughed Goodspeed, "there is something in that. I remember that iny first political experience was in trying to defeat a supervisor who did not properly work the roads of his district; but I had never thought that in so doing I was illustrating such a doctrine as you have put forth."
"No; the doctrine is not mine," said Le Moyne. "Others, and especially that noted French political philosopher who so calmly and faithfully investigated our political system—the author of 'Democracy in America'—clearly pointed out, many years ago, the exceptional value of this institution, and attributed to it the superior intelligence and prosperity of the North."
"Then," was the good-natured reply, "your prescription for the political regeneration of the South is the same as that which we all laughed at as coming from Horace Greeley immediately upon the downfall of the Confederacy—that the Government should send an army of surveyors to the South to lay off the land in sections and quarter-sections, establish parallel roads, and enforce topographic uniformity upon the nation?
"Not at all," said Le Moyne. "I think that the use of the term 'township' in a double sense has misled our political thinkers in estimating its value. It is by no means necessary that the township of the United States survey should be arbitrarily established in every state. In fact, the township system really finds its fullest development where such a land division does not prevail, as in New England, Pennsylvania, and other states. It is the people that require to be laid off in townships, not the land. Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, all have their lands laid off in the parallelograms prescribed by the laws regulating United States surveys; but their people are not organized into self-governing communes."
"But was there no equivalent system of local self-government in those states?"
"No; and there is not to-day. In some cases there are lame approaches to it; but in none of the former slave States were the counties made up of self-governing subdivisions. The South is to-day and always has been a stranger to local self-government. In many of those states every justice of the peace, every school committeeman, every inspector of elections is appointed by some central power in the county, which is in turn itself appointed either by the Chief Executive of the State or by the dominant party in the Legislature. There may be the form of townships, but the differential characteristic is lacking—the self-governing element of the township."
"I don't know that I fully comprehend you," said Goodspeed. "Please illustrate."
"Well, take one state for an example, where the constitution adopted during the reconstruction period introduced the township system, and authorized the electors of each township to choose their justices of the peace, constables, school-cominitteemen, and other local officials. It permitted the people of the county to choose a board of commissioners, who should administer the financial matters of the county, and, in some instances, exeicise a limited judicial authority. But now they have, in effect, returned to the old system. The dominant party in the Legislature appoints every justice of the peace in the state. The justices of the peace of each county elect from their number the county commissioners; the county commissioners appoint the school-committeemen, the roadmasters, the registrars of election and the judges of election; so that every local interest throughout the entire state is placed under the immediate power and control of the dominant party, although not a tenth part of the voters of any particular township or county may belong to that party. In another state all this power, and even more, is exercised by the Chief Executive; and in all of them you will find that the county—or its equivalent, the parish—is the smallest political unit having a municipal character."
There was a moment of silence, after which the Northern man said thoughtfully.
"I think I understand your views, Mr. Le Moyne, and must admit that both the facts and the deductions which you make from them are very interesting, full of food for earnest reflection, and, for aught I know, may fully bear out your view of their effects. Still, I cannot see that your remedy for this state of affairs differs materially in its practicability from that of the departed philosopher of Chappaqua. He prescribed a division of the lands, while, if I understand you, you would have the Government in some way prescribe and control the municipal organisations of the people of the various states. I cannot see what power the National Government has, or any branch of it, which could effectuate that result."
"It can only be done as it was done at the North," said Le Moyne quietly.
"Well, I declare!" said Goodspeed, with an outburst of laughter, "your riddle grows worse and worse—more and more insoluble to my mind. How, pray, was it done at the North? I always thought we got it from colonial times. I am sure the New England town-meeting came over in the Mayflower."
"So it did!" responded Hesden, springing to his feet; "so it did; it came over in the hearts of men who demanded, and were willing to give up everything else to secure the right of local self-government. The little colony upon the Mayflower was a township, and every man of its passengers carried the seed of the ideal township system in his heart."
"Admitted, admitted, Mr. Le Moyne," said the other, smiling at his earnestness. "But how shall we repeat the experiment? Would you import men into every township of the South, in order that they might carry the seeds of civil liberty with them, and build up the township system there?"
"By no means. I would make the men on the spot. I would so mold the minds of every class of the Southern people that all should be indoctrinated with the spirit of local self-government."
"But how would you do it?"
"With spelling-books!" answered Hesden sententiously.
"There we are," laughed the other, "at the very point we started from. Like the poet of the Western bar-room, you may well say, my friend, 'And so I end as I did begin.'"
"Yes," said Le Moyne, "we have considered the desirability of education, and you have continually cried, with good-natured incredulity, 'How shall it be done?' Are you not making that inquiry too soon?"
"Not at all," said the Congressman earnestly; "I see how desirable is the result, and I am willing to do anything in my power to attain it, if there is any means by which it can be accomplished."
"That is it," said Le Moyne; "you are willing; you recognize that it would be a good thing; you wish it might be done; you have no desire to stand in the way of its accomplishment. That is not the spirit which achieves results. Nothing is accomplished by mere assent. The American people must first be thoroughly satisfied that it is a necessity. The French may shout over a red cap, and overturn existing systems for a vague idea; but American conservatism consists in doing nothing until it is absolutely necessary. We never move until the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour.
"Only think of it! You fought a rebellion, based professedly upon slavery as a corner-stone, for almost two years before you could bring yourselves to disturb that corner-stone. You knew the structure would fall if that were done; but the American people waited and waited until every man was fully satisfied that there was no other possible road to success. It is just so in this matter. I feel its necessity. You do not.'
"There I think you do me injustice," said Goodspeed, "I feel the necessity of educating every citizen of the Republic, as well as you."
"No doubt, in a certain vague way," was the reply; "but you do not feel it as the only safety to the Republic to-day; and I do."
"I confess I do not see, as you seem to, the immediate advantage, or the immediate danger, more than that which has always threatened us," answered the Congressman.
"This, after all, is the real danger, I think," said Le Moyne. "The states containing only one third of the population of this Union contain also more than two thirds of its entire illiteracy. Twenty-five out of every hundred—one out of every four—of the white voters of the former slave states cannot read the ballots which they cast; forty-five per cent of the entire voting strength of those sixteen states are unable to read or write."
"Well?" said the other calmly, seeing Le Moyne look at him as though expecting him to show surprise.
"Well!" said Le Moyne. "I declare your Northern phlegm is past my comprehension.—'Well,' indeed! it seems to me as bad as bad can be. Only think of it—only six per cent of intelligence united with this illiterate vote makes a majority!"
"Well?" was the response again, still inquiringly.
"And that majority," continued Le Moyne, "would choose seventy-two per cent of the electoral votes necessary to name a President of the United States!"
"Well," said the other, with grim humor, "they are not very likely to do it at present, anyhow."
"That is true," replied Le Moyne. "But there is still the other danger, and the greater evil. That same forty-five per cent are of course easily made the subjects of fraud or violence, and we face this dilemma: they may either use their power wrongfully, or be wrongfully deprived of the exercise of their ballotorial rights. Either alternative is alike dangerous. If we suppose the illiterate voter to be either misled or intimidated, or prevented from exercising his judgment and his equality of right with others in the control of our government, then we have the voice of this forty-five per cent silenced—whether by intimidation or by fraud matters not. Then a majority of the remaining fifty-four per cent, or, say, twenty-eight per cent of one third of the population of the Nation in a little more than one third of the States, might exercise seventy-two per cent of the electoral power necessary to choose a President, and a like proportion of the legislative power necessary to enact laws. Will the time ever come, my friend, when it will be safe to put in the way of any party such a temptation as is presented by this opportunity to acquire power?"
"No, no, no," said the Northern man, with impatience. "But what can you do? Education will not make men honest, or patriotic, or moral."
"True enough," was the reply. "Nor will the knowledge of toxicology prevent the physician from being a poisoner, or skill in handwriting keep a man from becoming a forger. But the study of toxicology will enable the physician to save life, and the study of handwriting is a valuable means of preventing the results of wrongful acts. So, while education does not make the voter honest, it enables him to protect himself against the frauds of others, and not only increases his power but inspires him to resist violence. So that, in the aggregate, you Northerners are right in the boast which you make that intelligence makes a people stronger and braver and freer."
"So your remedy is—" began the other.
"Not my remedy, but the only remedy, is to educate the people until they shall be wise enough to know what they ought to do, and brave enough and strong enough to do it."
"Oh, that is all well enough, if it could be done," said Goodspeed.
"Therefore it is," returned Hesden, "that it must be done."
"But how?" said the other querulously. "You know that the Constitution gives the control of such matters entirely to the States. The Nation cannot interfere with it. It is the duty of the States to educate their citizens—a clear and imperative duty; but if they will not do it the Nation cannot compel them."
"Yes," said Hesden, "I know. For almost a century you said that about slavery; and you have been trying to hunt a way of escape from your enforced denial of it ever since. But as a matter of fact, when you came to the last ditch and found no bridge across, you simply made one. When it became an unavoidable question whether the Union or slavery should live, you chose the Union. The choice may come between the Union and ignorance; and if it does, I have no fear as to which the people will choose. The doctrine of State Rights is a beautiful thing to expatiate upon, but it has been the root of nearly all the evil the country has suffered. However, I believe that this remedy can at once be applied without serious inconvenience from that source."
"How?" asked the other; "that is what I want to know."
"Understand me," said Le Moyne; "I do not consider the means so important as the end. When the necessity is fully realized the means will be discovered; but I believe that we hold the clue even now in our hands."
"Well, what is it?" was the impatient inquiry.
"A fund of about a million dollars," said Le Moyne, "has already been distributed to free public schools in the South, upon a system which does not seriously interfere with the jealously-guarded rights of those states."
"You mean the Peabody Fund?"
"Yes; I do refer to that act of unparalleled beneficence and wisdom."
"But that was not the act of the Nation."
"Very true; but why should not the Nation distribute a like bounty upon the same system? It is admitted, beyond serious controversy, that the Nation may raise and appropriate funds for such purposes among the different states, provided it be not for the exclusive benefit of any in particular. It is perhaps past controversy that the Government might distribute a fund to the different states in the proportion of illiteracy. This, it is true, would give greater amounts to certain states than to others, but only greater in proportion to the evil to be remedied."
"Yes," said the other; "but the experience of the Nation in distributing lands and funds for educational purposes has not been encouraging. The results have hardly been commensurate with the investment."
"That is true," said Hesden, "and this is why I instance the Peabody Fund. That is not given into the hands of the officers of the various states, but when a school is organized and fulfills the requirements laid down for the distribution of that fund, in regard to numbers and average attendance—in other words, is shown to be an efficient institution of learning—then the managers of the fund give to it a sum sufficient to defray a certain proportion of its expenses."
"And you think such a system might be applied to a Government appropriation?"
"Certainly. The amount to which the county, township, or school district would be entitled might be easily ascertained, and upon the organization and maintenance of a school complying with the reasonable requirements of a well-drawn statute in regard to attendance and instruction, such amount might be paid over."
"Yes," was the reply, after a thoughtful pause; "but would not that necessitate a National supervision of State schools?"
"To a certain extent, yes. Yet there would be nothing compulsory about it. It would only be such inspection as would be necessary to determine whether the applicant had entitled himself to share the Nation's bounty. Surely the Nation may condition its own bounty."
"But suppose these states should refuse to submit to such inspection, or accept such appropriation?"
"That is the point, exactly, to which I desire to bring your attention," said Le Moyne. "Ignorance, unless biased by religious bigotry, always clamors for knowledge. You could well count upon the forty-five per cent of ignorant voters insisting upon the reception of that bounty. The number of those that recognize the necessity of instructing the ignorant voter, even in those states, is hourly increasing, and but a brief time would elapse until no party would dare to risk opposition to such a course. I doubt whether any party would venture upon it, even now."
"But are not its results too remote, Mr. Le Moyne, to make such a measure of present interest in the cure of present evils?"
"Not at all," answered Hesden. "By such a measure you bring the purest men of the South into close and intimate relations with the Government. You cut off the sap which nourishes the yet living root of the State Rights dogma. You bring every man to feel as you feel, that there is something greater and grander than his State and section. Besides that, you draw the poison from the sting which rankles deeper than you think. The Southern white man feels, and justly feels, that the burden of educating the colored man ought not to be laid upon the South alone. He says truly, 'The Nation fostered and encouraged slavery; it gave it greater protection and threw greater safeguards around it than any other kind of property; it encouraged my ancestors and myself to invest the proceeds of generations of care and skill and growth in slaves. When the war ended it not only at one stroke dissipated all these accumulations, but it also gave to these men the ballot, and would now drive me, for my own protection, to provide for their education. This is unjust and oppressive. I will not do it, nor consent that it shall be done by my people or by our section alone.' To such a man—and there are many thousands of them—such a measure would come as an act of justice. It would be a grateful balm to his outraged feelings, and would incline him to forget, much more readily than he otherwise would, what he regards to be the injustice of emancipation. It will lead him to consider whether he has not been wrong in supposing that the emancipation and enfranchisement of the blacks proceeded from a feeling of resentment, and was intended as a punishment merely. It will incline him to consider whether the people of the North, the controlling power of the Government at that time, did not act from a better motive than he has given them credit for. But even if this plan should meet with disapproval, instead of approval, from the white voters of the South, it would still be the true and wise policy for the Nation to pursue."
"So you really think," said the Northerner dubiously, "that such a measure would produce good results even in the present generation?"
"Unquestionably," was the reply. "Perhaps the chief incentive to the acts which have disgraced our civilization—which have made the white people of the South almost a unit in opposing by every means, lawful and unlawful, the course of the Government in reconstruction, has been a deep and bitter conviction that hatred, envy, and resentment against them on the part of the North, were the motives which prompted those acts. Such a measure, planned upon a liberal scale, would be a vindication of the manhood of the North; an assertion of its sense of right as well as its determination to develop at the South the same intelligence, the same freedom of thought and action, the same equality of individual right, that have made the North prosperous and free and strong, while the lack of them has made the South poor and ignorant and weak."
"Well, well," said the Congressman seriously, "you may be right. I had never thought of it quite in that light before. It is worth thinking about, my friend; it is worth thinking about."
"That it is!" said Le Moyne, joyfully extending his hand. "Think! If you will only think—if the free people of the North will only think of this matter, I have no fears but a solution will be found. Mine may not be the right one. That is no matter. As I said, the question of method is entirely subordinate to the result. But let the people think, and they will think rightly. Don't think of it as a politician in the little sense of that word, but in the great one. Don't try to compel the Nation to accept your view or mine; but spur the national thought by every possible means to consider the evil, to demand its cure, and to devise a remedy."
So, day by day, the "irrepressible conflict" is renewed. The Past bequeaths to the Present its wondrous legacy of good and ill. Names are changed, but truths remain. The soil which slavery claimed, baptized with blood becomes the Promised Land of the freedman and poor white. The late master wonders at the mockery of Fate. Ignorance marvels at the power of Knowledge. Love overleaps the barriers of prejudice, and Faith laughs at the Impossible.
"The world goes up and the world goes down, The sunshine follows the rain; And yesterday's sneer and yesterday's frown Can never come over again."
On the trestle-board of the Present, Liberty forever sets before the Future some new query. The Wise-man sweats drops of blood. The Greatheart abides in his strength. The King makes commandment. The Fool laughs.