Today’s installment concludes Woodrow Wilson’s New Democracy,
our selection from The New Freedom by Woodrow Wilson published in 1913. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of five thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Woodrow Wilson’s New Democracy.
There are cities in America of whose government we are ashamed. There are cities everywhere, in every part of the land, in which we feel that, not the interests of the public, but the interests of special privileges of selfish men, are served; where contracts take precedence over public interest. Not only in big cities is this the case. Have you not noticed the growth of socialistic sentiment in the smaller towns? Not many months ago I stopped at a little town in Nebraska while my train lingered, and I met on the platform, a very engaging young fellow, dressed in overalls, who introduced himself to me as the mayor of the town, and added that he was a Socialist. I said, “What does that mean? Does that mean that this town is socialistic?” “No, sir,” he said; “I have not deceived myself; the vote by which I was elected was about 20 per cent. socialistic and 80 per cent, protest.” It was protest against the treachery to the people and those who led both the other parties of that town.
All over the Union people are coming to feel that they have no control over the course of affairs. I live in one of the greatest States in the Union, which was at one time in slavery. Until two years ago we had witnessed with increasing concern the growth in New Jersey of a spirit of almost cynical despair. Men said, “We vote; we are offered the platform we want; we elect the men who stand on that platform, and we get absolutely nothing.” So they began to ask, “What is the use of voting? We know that the machines of both parties are subsidized by the same persons, and therefore it is useless to turn in either direction.”
It is not confined to some of the State governments and those of some of the towns and cities. We know that something intervenes between the people of the United States and the control of their own affairs at Washington. It is not the people who have been ruling there of late.
Why are we in the presence, why are we at the threshold, of a revolution? Because we are profoundly disturbed by the influences which we see reigning in the determination of our public life and our public policy. There was a time when America was blithe with self-confidence. She boasted that she, and she alone, knew the processes of popular government; but now she sees her sky overcast; she sees that there are at work forces which she did not dream of in her hopeful youth.
Don’t you know that some man with eloquent tongue, without conscience, who did not care for the Nation, could put this whole country into a flame? Don’t you know that this country from one end to another believes that something is wrong? What an opportunity it would be for some man without conscience to spring up and say: “This is the way. Follow me!” — and lead in paths of destruction.
The old order changeth — changeth under our very eyes, not quietly and equably, but swiftly and with the noise and heat and tumult of reconstruction.
I suppose that all struggle for law has been conscious, that very little of it has been blind or merely instinctive. It is the fashion to say, as if with superior knowledge of affairs and of human weakness, that every age has been an age of transition, and that no age is more full of change than another; yet in very few ages of the world can the struggle for change have been so widespread, so deliberate, or upon so great a scale as in this in which we are taking part.
The transition we are witnessing is no equable transition of growth and normal alteration; no silent, unconscious unfolding of one age into another, its natural heir and successor. Society is looking itself over, in our day, from top to bottom; is making fresh and critical analysis of its very elements; is questioning its oldest practices as freely as its newest, scrutinizing every arrangement and motive of its life; and it stands ready to attempt nothing less than a radical reconstruction, which only frank and honest counsels and the forces of generous cooperation can hold back from becoming a revolution. We are in a temper to reconstruct economic society, as we were once in a temper to reconstruct political society, and political society may itself undergo a radical modification in the process. I doubt if any age was ever more conscious of its task or more unanimously desirous of radical and extended changes in its economic and political practice.
We stand in the presence of a revolution — not a bloody revolution, America is not given to the spilling of blood — but a silent revolution whereby America will insist upon recovering in practice those ideals which she has always professed, upon securing a government devoted to the general interest and not to special interests.
We are upon the eve of a great reconstruction. It calls for creative statesmanship as no age has done since that great age in which we set up the government under which we live, that government which was the admiration of the world until it suffered wrongs to grow up under it which have made many of our own compatriots question the freedom of our institutions and preach revolution against them. I do not fear revolution. I have unshaken faith in the power of America to keep its self-possession. Revolution will come in peaceful guise, as it came when we put aside the crude government of the Confederation, and created the great Federal Union which governed individuals, not States, and which has been these one hundred and thirty years our vehicle of progress. Some radical changes we must make in our law and practise. Some reconstructions we must push forward, which a new age and new circumstances impose upon us. But we can do it all in calm and sober fashion, like statesmen and patriots.
I do not speak of these things in apprehension, because all is open and above-board. This is not a day in which great forces rally in secret. The whole stupendous program must be publicly planned and canvassed. Good temper, the wisdom that comes of sober counsel, the energy of thoughtful and unselfish men, the habit of cooperation and of compromise which has been bred in us by long years of free government in which reason rather than passion has been made to prevail by the sheer virtue of candid and universal debate, will enable us to win through to still another great age without violence.
This ends our series of passages on The New Democracy (A.D. 1913) by Woodrow Wilson from his book The New Freedom published in 1913. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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