Ode to Liberty
HONOR LIBERTY in name and in form. We set up her statues and sound her
praises. But we have not fully trusted her. And with our growth so grow
her demands. She will have no half service! Liberty! it is a word to conjure
with, not to vex the ear in empty boastings. For Liberty means Justice,
and Justice is the natural law—the law of health and symmetry and strength,
of fraternity and co-operation.
They who look upon Liberty as having accomplished
her mission when she has abolished hereditary privileges and given men
the ballot, who think of her as having no further relations to the everyday
affairs of life, have not seen her real grandeur—to them the poets who
have sung of her must seem rhapsodists, and her martyrs fools! As the sun
is the lord of life, as well as of light; as his beams not merely pierce
the clouds, but support all growth, supply all motion, and call forth from
what would otherwise be a cold and inert mass all the infinite diversities
of being and beauty, so is Liberty to mankind. It is not for an abstraction
that men have toiled and died; that in every age the witnesses of Liberty
have stood forth, and the martyrs of Liberty have suffered.
We speak of Liberty as one thing, and of virtue,
wealth, knowledge, invention, national strength and national independence
as other things. But, of all these, Liberty is the source, the mother,
the necessary condition. She is to virtue what light is to color; to wealth
what sunshine is to grain; to knowledge what eyes are to sight. She is
the genius of invention, the brawn of national strength, the spirit of
national independence. Where Liberty rises, there virtue grows, wealth
increases, knowledge expands, invention multiplies human powers, and in
strength and spirit the freer nation rises among her neighbors as Saul
amid his brethren—taller and fairer. Where Liberty sinks, there virtue
fades, wealth diminishes, knowledge is forgotten, invention ceases, and
empires once mighty in arms and arts become a helpless prey to freer barbarians!
Only in broken gleams and partial light has
the sun of Liberty yet beamed among men, but all progress hath she called
Liberty came to a race of slaves crouching
under Egyptian whips, and led them forth from the House of Bondage. She
hardened them in the desert and made of them a race of conquerors. The free
spirit of the Mosaic law took their thinkers up to heights where they beheld
the unity of God, and inspired their poets with strains that yet phrase
the highest exaltations of thought. Liberty dawned on the Phoenician coast,
and ships passed the Pillars of Hercules to plow the unknown sea. She shed
a partial light on Greece, and marble grew to shapes of ideal beauty, words
became the instruments of subtlest thought, and against the scanty militia
of free cities the countless hosts of the Great King broke like surges against
a rock. She cast her beams on the four-acre farms of Italian husbandmen,
and born of her strength a power came forth that conquered the world. They
glinted from shields of German warriors, and Augustus wept his legions.
Out of the night that followed her eclipse, her slanting rays fell again
on free cities, and a lost learning revived, modern civilization began,
a new world was unveiled; and as Liberty grew, so grew art, wealth, power,
knowledge, and refinement. In the history of every nation we may read the
same truth. It was the strength born of Magna Carta that won Crecy and
Agincourt. It was the revival of Liberty from the despotism of the Tudors
that glorified the Elizabethan age. It was the spirit that brought a crowned
tyrant to the block that planted here the seed of a mighty tree. It was
the energy of ancient freedom that, the moment it had gained unity, made
Spain the mightiest power of the world, only to fall to the lowest depth
of weakness when tyranny succeeded liberty. See, in France, all intellectual
vigor dying under the tyranny of the Seventeenth Century to revive in splendor
as Liberty awoke in the Eighteenth, and on the enfranchisement of French
peasants in the Great Revolution, basing the wonderful strength that has
in our time defied defeat.
Shall we not trust her?
In our time, as in times before, creep on
the insidious forces that, producing inequality, destroy Liberty. On the
horizon the clouds begin to lower. Liberty calls to us again. We must
follow her further; we must trust her fully. Either we must wholly accept
her or she will not stay. It is not enough that men should vote; it is
not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They
must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of
life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature.
Either this, or Liberty withdraws her light! Either this, or darkness comes
on, and the very forces that progress has evolved turn to powers that work
destruction. This is the universal law. This is the lesson of the centuries.
Unless its foundations be laid in justice the social structure cannot stand.
Our primary social adjustment is a denial
of justice. In allowing one man to own the land on which and from which
other men must live, we have made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases
as material progress goes on. This is the subtile alchemy that in ways they
do not realize is extracting from the masses in every civilized country
the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting a harder and more hopeless
slavery in place of that which has been destroyed; that is bringing political
despotism out of political freedom, and must soon transmute democratic institutions
It is this that turns the blessings of material
progress into a curse. It is this that crowds human beings into noisome
cellars and squalid tenement houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that
goads men with want and consumes them with greed; that robs women of the grace
and beauty of perfect womanhood; that takes from little children the joy
and innocence of life’s morning.
Civilization so based cannot continue.
The eternal laws of the universe forbid it. Ruins of dead empires testify,
and the witness that is in every soul answers, that it cannot be. It is
something grander than Benevolence, something more august than Charity— it
is Justice herself that demands of us to right this wrong. Justice that will
not be denied; that cannot be put off—Justice that with the scales carries
the sword. Shall we ward the stroke with liturgies and prayers? Shall we avert
the decrees of immutable law by raising churches when hungry infants moan
and weary mothers weep?
Though it may take the language of prayer,
it is blasphemy that attributes to the, inscrutable decrees of Providence
the suffering and brutishness that come of poverty; that turns with folded
hands to the All-Father and lays on Him the responsibility for the want
and crime of our great cities. We degrade the Everlasting. We slander
the Just One. A merciful man would have better ordered the world; a just
man would crush with his foot such an ulcerous ant-hill! It is not the
Almighty, but we who are responsible for the vice and misery that fester
amid our civilization. The Creator showers upon us his gifts—more than
enough for all. But like swine scrambling for food, we tread them in the
mire—tread them in the mire, while we tear and rend each other!
In the very centers of our civilization to-day
are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close
his eyes and steel his nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to
relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which
the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power;
new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of
grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases
fifty-fold should increase a hundredfold! Would poverty be abated or want
relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would accrue would be but temporary.
The new powers streaming through the material universe could be utilized only
through land. And land, being private property, the classes that now monopolize
the bounty of the Creator would monopolize all the new bounty. Land owners
would alone be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend
to the starvation point!
This is not merely a deduction of political
economy; it is a fact of experience. We know it because we have seen it.
Within our own times, under our very eyes, that Power which is above all,
and in all, and through all; that Power of which the whole universe is
but the manifestation; that Power which maketh all things, and without
which is not anything made that is made, has increased the bounty which
men may enjoy, as truly as though the fertility of nature had been increased.
Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the service
of mankind. To the inner ear of another was whispered the secret that compels
the lightning to bear a message around the globe. In every direction have
the laws of matter been revealed; in every department of industry have arisen
arms of iron and fingers of steel, whose effect upon the production of wealth
has been precisely the same as an increase in the fertility of nature. What
has been the result? Simply that land owners get all the gain. The wonderful
discoveries and inventions of our century have neither increased wages
nor lightened toil. The effect has simply been to make the few richer;
the many more helpless!
Can it be that the gifts of the Creator may
be thus misappropriated with impunity? Is it a light thing that labor should
be robbed of its earnings while greed rolls in wealth—that the many should
want while the few are surfeited? Turn to history, and on every page may
be read the lesson that such wrong never goes unpunished; that the Nemesis
that follows injustice never falters nor sleeps! Look around to-day. Can
this state of things continue? May we even say, “After us the deluge!” Nay;
the pillars of the state are trembling even now, and the very foundations
of society begin to quiver with pent-up forces that glow underneath. The struggle
that must either revivify, or convulse in ruin, is near at hand, if it be
not already begun.
The fiat has gone forth! With steam
and electricity, and the new powers born of progress, forces have entered
the world that will either compel us to a higher plane or overwhelm us,
as nation after nation, as civilization after civilization, have been overwhelmed
before. It is the delusion which precedes destruction that sees in the
popular unrest with which the civilized world is feverishly pulsing only
the passing effect of ephemeral causes. Between democratic ideas and the
aristocratic adjustments of society there is an irreconcilable conflict.
Here in the United States, as there in Europe, it may be seen arising. We
cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to tramp. We cannot
go on educating boys and girls in our public schools and then refusing them
the right to earn an honest living. We cannot go on prating of the inalienable
rights of man and then denying the inalienable right to the bounty of the
Creator. Even now, in old bottles the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental
forces gather for the strife!
But if, while there is yet time, we turn to
Justice and obey her, if we trust Liberty and follow her, the dangers
that now threaten must disappear, the forces that now menace will turn
to agencies of elevation. Think of the powers now wasted; of the infinite
fields of knowledge yet to be explored; of the possibilities of which the
wondrous inventions of this century give us but a hint. With want destroyed;
with greed changed to noble passions; with the fraternity that is born
of equality taking the place of the jealousy and fear that now array men
against each other; with mental power loosed by conditions that give to
the humblest comfort and leisure; and who shall measure the heights to
which our civilization may soar? Words fail the thought! It is the Golden
Age of which poets have sung and high-raised seers have told in metaphor!
It is the glorious vision which has always haunted man with gleams of fitful
splendor. It is what he saw whose eyes at Patmos were closed in a trance.
It is the culmination of Christianity—the City of God on earth, with its
walls of jasper and its gates of pearl! It is the reign of the Prince of