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POLITICAL EDUCATION IN THE SCHOOLS.
By WILLIAM A. MOWRY, A, M.,
PROVIDENCE, R. I.
The schools should teach the principles of our government
and the duties of an American citizen.
CHARLES SUMNER, upon the title-page of “ Prophetic Voices concerning America,” quotes the following from John Bright:
66 I have a far other and far þrighter vision before my gaze. It may be but a vision, but I will cherish it. I see one vast confederation, stretching from the frozen North in unbroken line to the glowing South, and from the wild billows of the Atlantic, westward to the calmer waters of the Pacific main. And I see one people, and one law, and one language, and one faith, and over all that wide continent, the home of freedom and a refuge for the oppressed of every race and of every clime.”
Beautiful vision! Is it a prophecy? Will it be fulfilled ?
These words were spoken at Birmingham, in December, 1862. But let us go back to 1796 and read the prophecy of the traveller Burnaby, after passing through the “ Middle Settlements of North America”:
“ The present union of American States will not be permanent, or last for any considerable length of time. That extensive country must necessarily be divided into separate states and kingdoms."
“ Thus far,” says Sumner, “ the Union has stood against all shocks, foreign or domestic."
Let us now ask the question, “Why has not this latter prophecy been fulfilled ?” and also let us ask whether the vision of John Bright will be likely to prove anything more than a cherished vision ; whether it be possible to hold this vast country to “one people, one law, one language, one faith, and over all this wide continent, the home of freedom and a refuge for the oppressed of every race and of every clime."
That the tendency of modern times is to the consolidation of governments, the aggregation of powers, the building up of the strong and the crushing out of the weak, few thoughtful students of history will be inclined to deny. The scientific doctrine of " the survi. val of the fittest” furnishes us the same thought. It is an age which slights or ignores the mediocre, the weak, the small. It is the great, the grand, the strong that receive the plaudit and the welcome. We live in the period of great churches, great schools, great hotels, great business houses, great manufactories, great societies, great railroad monopolies, great failures, gigantic schemes of every kind. Great failures. Not all these great schemes prove successful, and when gigantic failures do come, the ruin is irretrievable.
Our nation has thus far proved a success. Will it so continue? If so, unquestionably the causes of success hitherto will serve to avert failures in the future.
Forty years ago it was said that other “ republics have no other guide towards the establishment of order and freedom than our example. If this should fail them, the last stay would be torn from their hope. We are placed under a most solemn obligation to keep before them this motive to perseverance in their endeavors to place free institutions on a sure basis."*
It will not be questioned, I think, by any in this audience, that intelligence is the safeguard of the republic. Hitherto, all governments have been founded and maintained by force. The feudal system, an absolute monarchy, or an aristocracy depends primarily, and must depend, for its success upon the ignorance of the masses.
When the founders of this nation asserted in their immortal - Declaration” that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” they enunciated a principle that carries a very important inference along with it.
For if their consent is to be sought, it follows that the governed must be capable of judging. An ignorant class would not know to what consent should be given and from what consent ought to be withheld.
In fact, it is now universally conceded that no republic can stand, except upon the broad basis of the intelligence of the masses. Nothing else will insure them their rights, protect them against misrule, or guard them from internal dissensions or foreign aggressions.
A distinguished American has said that the quadrennial canvass for the Presidential election is the nation's schoolmaster. It instructs, through the universal newspaper and the living voice of the campaign orator, the mass of the people in the vital questions of the country. Although for some reasons it may seem better that these periods of political heat and excitement should occur less frequently, yet it is almost certain that serious evils would result were the President elected for six years instead of four. We still believe that the framers of our Constitution were wiser than those men who, having proved false to their oaths to support the Constitution of the fathers, rebelled against this government and set up for themselves under the Confederate Constitution, which provided for a six years' Presidential term of office.
We are prepared, therefore, to observe that our great national experiment of self-government has hitherto succeeded on account of the general intelligence of the masses. It has been said that the higher institutions of learning in this new country will not bear favorable comparison with similar institutions in Great Britain and upon the Continent of Europe. It may be true that the older nations have produced more learned men, greater scholars, more distinguished statesmen, scientists, or poets; but it is undoubtedly true that the masses of the people in America are more intelligent, better educated, than in the nations of the Old World. This is more especially apparent in New England, whence originated such men as James Otis, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, and John Adams, and where the Revolution was commenced and independence first proclaimed. The landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth was in 1620, the settlement of the Puritans at Boston in 1630. Harvard College was founded in 1638, and a system of free public schools, including the old grammar schools which were to be the feeders of the college, gave promise not only of prosperity to these feeble colonies, but also of a free government at an early day.
The success of the nation which the Revolution established has surprised equally the people of America and of Europe. It did not enter the minds of the fathers that our government should ever extend beyond the Mississippi River. The purchase of the great Louisiana province in 1803 was strenuously and persistently objected to by a large portion of our people, on the supposition that our country was already quite as large as prudence would dictate. When we were urging our claims for Oregon upon the British government, it was then seriously objected that we did not want that country, it was too far off, it could never be defended, it would be a source of weakness, and very likely if our power should become so widely established, the country would inevitably fall to pieces from extreme distances and widely extended territory. Nor were these ideas so very strange or unaccountable, if we consider the circumstances of the times.
In Morse's Geography we find the area and population of this country and Europe put down as follows, for the year 1787, the time of the adoption of the United States Constitution :
1. Russia only has more than 1,000,000 square miles
. . . . . 2. Sweden only has more than 200,000 square miles . .
. . . . .