Browsing "Lincoln’s Revolutionary Legacy"

No Effective Political Opposition

From its inception the Republican party was focused on power and profit for its northeastern industrial supporters who sought protectionist tariffs at the expense of the rest of the county. After the war cemented Republican political hegemony, the Gilded Age marriage of government and business begat repeated scandals of political corruption and bribery unknown to the republic of Washington and Jefferson. Today the scandals and bribery continue unabated as both parties share the spoils.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

No Effective Political Opposition

“With a Third World President busy destroying the future of your and my American descendants in favor of foreign invaders, there has never been a greater need in American history for a real opposition party. But in fact, there has not been a real opposition party in US politics since Mr. Jefferson sent Colonel Hamilton and His Excellency John Adams heading back north.

In the 1830s, when there was a bitter conflict of opinion and interest between a prohibitive tariff and free trade, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren wafted into the White House by declaring themselves stalwart supporters of a “judicious tariff,” whatever that might mean.

In 1840 the Whigs beat them at their own game. They announced their bold program to fight the depression: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” (I omit the War for Southern Independence, in which massive and unprecedented government force was employed to “solve” the principled opposition of Southern communities and their citizens.)

It is a fact that a firmly equivocal and nice-sounding blandness has always been one of the greatest keys to success for American politicians. When was the last presidential election in which any real issues were contested? One celebrity historian has promoted the idea that the lack of opposition in politics is one of the great virtues of the American regime.

This avoidance of ideas and principles has always been the Republican stock in trade. The Republican Party has won office claiming opposition and immediately abetted and institutionalized whatever revolution has been imposed. Whenever the party leadership has been challenged, money, electoral expertise, and cunning deceit have been employed to defeat the usurper.

In 1964, when the grass roots rose up, the leaders torpedoed their own candidate. In 1980, when there was a potential threat, the candidate was quickly co-opted. When George Wallace showed the potential of social-conservative voters, Republican leaders held their noses and successfully gathered the harvest, at least for a time, without ever having the least intention of pressing any of the issues.

When conservative Christians became politically active, giving great hope to many, they, too, were swiftly invited into the party and neutralized. For some time now the party has rested on the votes of conservative Christians and Southerners. It has never had any intention of giving these voters anything, never has given them anything, and never will give them anything.

To do so will not be respectable, would invite calumny from the press, and would interfere with the real objective: power and profits.

When George W. Bush launched an unnecessary war of aggression on the basis of lies to the American people and Congress, there was no effective opposition. The Founding Fathers would have instantly recognized this as treason – the most unquestionably impeachable offense ever committed by one holding high office.

No effective political opposition – although Bill Clinton could be impeached for a bit of ambiguous verbiage. Then both parties colluded to subsidize the financiers so that their immense wealth would not be threatened by their evil acts against the people. No opposition.

There is no reason to think that the illegal immigration juggernaut will be any different. In the future, intelligent observers (if there are any) will judge that the years of George W. Bush marked the de facto end of the American experiment in freedom and self-government.”

(The Missing Opposition, Clyde Wilson; Chronicles Magazine, November 2014, excerpt pp. 18-19)

Farmer Smith and Modern Farming

At the end of the nineteenth century the American landscape was undergoing great change as mechanization transformed the independence and self-reliance of the ordinary farmer. The tractor and combine enabled him to plow, seed and harvest more fields than before, but it came at great cost.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Farmer Smith and Modern Farming

“John Smith was a frugal farmer, and raised enough feed – corn, oats, and silage – to supply his work stock and brood mares. He never bought feed and he rarely bought a horse or mule.

John Smith first bought a car, a Ford, to take the place of his saddle horse and buggy. Next he bought a tractor, and then a trailer for use as a truck. He bought a tractor because the International Harvester Company proved to him that horses have to be fed whether they work or not. The agent showed him striking pictures of horses “eating their heads off” on rainy days when there was nothing to do, and he saw pictures of [tractors] in farm magazines.

The farmer was taught to begrudge the feed for his idle horses and mules. Moreover, the tractor and its gang of plows could turn the 130 acres in half or a third or a fourth of the time that the mules could do it. The Country Gentlemen [magazine] published beautiful pictures of tractors at work and wrote simple articles that John Smith, or his boy, could understand.

John Smith finally drove out the tractor, and the demonstrator taught him how to use it. John Smith was now using as much horsepower as before, perhaps more, but he was getting it on quite different terms.

He was buying horsepower in Detroit and Chicago and mortgaging the future to pay for it. The tractor came covered with a thin coat of paint and several coats of protection. It was protected by a series of patents that made it impossible for more than a few competitors to supply him. It was protected by a tariff that made it impossible for England or Germany or Canada to get into his field.

Moreover, the tractor was never known to have a colt tractor, even a “mule.” On top of this the tractor carried a series of profits extending from the steel mills right on up to the gates of John Smith’s farm, and John Smith had to pay for the paint, protection, and profits.

Now, in contrast to the tractor, the mule colt stood in the meadow lot and gazed at the strange contraption in awe and astonishment. The colt represented horsepower just as the tractor did, but the colt cost practically nothing to begin with. Nobody had a patent on him and he carried no tariff. He represented nobody’s capital except John Smith’s and no wages or interest were tied up in his shiny skin.

He would start paying for himself at the age of three, increase in value for six or seven years, and would continue to give good service for twelve or fifteen years and service only a little less valuable after fifteen. He was so perfectly constructed that he would never have to have a spare part, not even a spark plug. He was a self-starter and self-quitter when quitting time came.

Both the tractor and the mule had to have fuel to go on. The mule’s fuel was corn, hay, cane, straw, or what have you on the farm. John Smith raised all these things and never had to go off the farm to get fuel for this hay-burning horsepower. He raised mule fuel with his own labor, or nature gave it to him from the field and the meadow.

Unfortunately, John Smith could not raise feed for the tractor. It had to have gasoline and oil, as well as batteries and parts. All these had to be purchased in the town from the northern corporations. In short, John Smith now buys his horses in Detroit and Chicago; he buys the feed for them from John D. Rockefeller in New York.

In the meantime something else has happened. The mule that cost so little has grown up, but there is no work for him to do. When John Smith offers him for sale, he finds that nobody is willing to pay a fair price for him, perfect as he is. The neighbors too . . . are going to Chicago for mules that deteriorate rather than improve, and to New York for feed which will never be converted into fertilizer.

Though John Smith is still raising feed, he has little use for it. The brood mares have died, the mules have been sold; there is nothing left to eat the corn, cane and grass except a few cows. When John Smith tries to sell his surplus feed, he finds that there are no buyers . . . The neighbors are not using that kind of feed. They prefer the feed that comes out of pumps.

John Smith no longer raises feed. He is now planting the 130-acre farm in cotton or in wheat, thereby wearing out the soil that supports him.

Something fine has gone out of John Smith, something of the spirit of independence and self-sufficiency that was present when the mules were pulling the plow and the colt that had not yet felt the collar was frolicking in the meadow.

In reality, he has become a retainer, and might well don the uniform of his service. He raises wheat and cotton for a world market, unprotected by tariffs or patents, in order that he may buy mechanical mules, feed, shoes, and everything that he needs in a market that has every protection of a beneficent government.”

(Divided We Stand, The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy, Walter Prescott Webb, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., pp. 137-140)

Confiscating Symbols of American Liberty

The graves of Raleigh’s Southern dead were not safe from Sherman’s army of thieves in 1865; the Northern commander of that city was no better as he ordered the graves removed lest the remains be thrown into the street. Also, anyone possessing symbols of the late Confederate States risked confiscation and arrest.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Confiscating the Symbols of American Liberty

“The Ladies Association of Wake County was formed in 1865, when it was necessary to remove from the grounds of Pettigrew Hospital the remains of the Confederate soldiers buried there. It was but a short while after the Federals took possession of Raleigh before the Mayor was notified that they admired the spot where rested the Confederate dead, and ordered that they be removed at once, or they would be thrown out in the country road.

A town meeting was called, and the association formed, [with] Mrs. L. O’B. Branch being made president . . . A resting-place was selected for the re-interment of the beloved dead, and, with the help of the young men and boys of the town, the work was successfully accomplished. The graves were comparatively few at first, but none were safe from Sherman’s “bummers,” as there were scarcely a new-made grave anywhere but what was opened by these men, in search of treasures; so it was a sacred trust, most religiously kept by the young men and women, to visit these graves almost daily to see that they were kept in order.

The association grew in numbers and the interest increased. Many Confederate dead from the country were moved to this spot, and the grounds were laid off and improved by [Sergeant] Hamilton, a soldier of the Confederate army who lost both eyes from a wound.

After the death of Gen. Jackson the 10th of May was selected as Memorial Day, when the citizens were to repair to the cemetery to participate in the services there. To raise funds to care for the Confederate dead and erect a monument to their memory, every legitimate means was resorted to by the association.

This was not done without risk, as it was reported that contraband articles were for sale, such as Confederate flags, a strand of General Lee’s hair, pictures of President Davis or any Confederate general: so there would be the sudden appearance of a bluecoat with orders to search the room for these contraband articles.”

(Women of North Carolina, Confederate Veteran Magazine, May 1898, page 227)

CPUSA Discovers Hollywood Clout

By 1936 FDR had communist-infiltrated labor unions supplying campaign money through Russian communist Sidney Hillman’s CIO-PAC, the first political action committee in the United States. By that date the Democratic party platform differed little from that of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and FDR’s running mate, Henry Wallace, helped attract collectivist votes to the Democrat party.  Today, Hollywood’s virtual reality programming continues its vital agitation and propaganda role.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

CPUSA Discovers Hollywood Clout

“The Communist Party [in the United States] enjoyed great success with “front groups,” organizations they controlled without that control being publicly recognized. One of the major front groups, the League of American Writers, had been an outgrowth of the American Writer’s Congress, an affiliate of the International Union of Revolutionary Writers, headquartered in Moscow. During the 1930s, at the height of its success, the League even managed to enlist Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States.

The founders of the [Soviet Union] were fascinated with the cinema because they recognized that it allowed limitless alteration of reality, the very goal they that they were attempting to achieve in real life. “Communists must always consider that of all the arts the motion picture is the most important,” said Lenin, who sent cinema trains into the Russian countryside during the 1920s. [Stalin explained in 1936 that] “The cinema is not only a vital agitprop device for the education and political indoctrination of the workers, but also a fluent channel through which to reach the minds and shape the desires of people everywhere.”

In 1926, Sergei Eisenstein, the USSR’s premier cineaste, made Battleship Potemkin, a film about a sailors’ mutiny. The Soviets used the movie as part of their labor-organizing efforts. Joseph Goebbels praised the picture and said it should be the model for Nazi cinema. French actor Yves Montand, who was born to communist Italian parents who fled France from Mussolini’s Fascist regime, said it was the dramatic Potemkin, not the turgid Das Kapital, that stirred his loyalties to Marxism and the USSR.

In 1933, at the nadir of the Depression, impoverished New Yorkers paid $89,931 in four days to see King Kong, at the time a record draw for an indoor attraction. Party cultural officials, eager as Stalin to influence people “everywhere,” duly took notice of Hollywood’s clout . . . and even Stalin enjoyed American gangster movies.

The implications of such influence were staggering to those who were seeking to extend this major movement of their time. Stalin reportedly claimed that he could easily convert the world to communism if he controlled the American movie industry.

“One of the most pressing tasks confronting the Communist Party in the field of Propaganda,” wrote [Communist International] boss Willie Muenzenberg, “is the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit, until now the monopoly of the ruling class. We must wrest it from them and turn it against them.”

By the mid-1930s the tectonic shifts of history, and certainly the social and political conditions of the time, were all favorable to the Party, which was then moving from triumph to triumph. Hollywood loomed as one of its easier targets.”

(Hollywood Party, How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry, Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley, Prima Publishing, 1998, pp. 20-21)

Holden's Evil Genius in North Carolina

After the military overthrow of North Carolina’s government in 1865, political opportunist William Woods Holden was appointed provisional governor by Andrew Johnson. An organizer of the Republican party in the State, he was elected governor in 1868 through election corruption and the disqualification of white voters. Holden biographer William C. Harris wrote: “Most contemporaries characterized Holden as a bitter, unscrupulous, and arrogant demagogue who frequently changed his political stripes to advance his own ambitions.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Holden’s Evil Genius in North Carolina

“Governor Holden in his inaugural address laid down the doctrine that no part in government should be played by those who had opposed reconstruction. He then advocated and threatened the use of force by the State administration. These two ideas, with his defense of the carpetbaggers, were prophetic of the character of his administration, for it was bitterly partisan throughout, force was employed to uphold it, and it was entirely controlled by carpetbaggers.

With the one exception of John Pool, who was, throughout his administration, his evil genius, no one had any such upon him as was exerted by the corrupt gang of aliens who infested the State and surrounded him. All played on his ambition, and there lay his most fatal weakness. Into their hands he committed his future, believing that high national honors were soon to be his, and the result was not only disastrous to himself, but well-nigh ruinous to the State.

The first matter to receive the attention of the governor was, as was to be expected, the filling of such offices as lay within his gift. [The] governor busied himself with the appointments, keeping clearly in mind their political value, and taking care that the Negroes obtained their full share of these cheap honors.

The office of magistrate in North Carolina had always been one of honor and importance. It now became a by-word and a reproach. Governor Holden’s appointments were notoriously poor and, in the main, the white men appointed were not much more fitted to discharge the duties of the office than were the Negroes. Hundreds of them could not read or write and prisoners often had to make out the papers to which the justice laboriously affixed his mark. Much of the later trouble in the administration of justice was due to these ignorant and often corrupt appointees of the governor.

The towns next won the governor’s attention and, without any authority, he commenced the appointment of mayors and commissioners of the various towns of the State. The municipal officers of Raleigh refused to yield to the new [city] administration which was headed by the governor’s brother-in-law. The governor then telegraphed to General Canby for a military force to seat his appointees. The next day he wired for the necessary force to oust the sheriff of New Hanover who had also declined to recognize an appointee of the governor. The sheriffs of Granville, Randolph, and other counties refused to and in every case military force was employed.

It was not a favorable outlook for North Carolina, though the real evils of Reconstruction were scarcely dreamed of. The leaders of [Holden’s Republican] party were holding back until the presidential election should be won, when they would be safe from unfriendly interference by the national government. To that time they looked forward with more eagerness than any slave had ever hoped for freedom and with more longing than any weary Hebrew had ever felt for the Promised Land.”

(Reconstruction in North Carolina, Joseph G. deR. Hamilton, 1914, excerpts, pp. 343-349)

Machines and Objectivity

The Southern historian’s view of the conflict is not considered objective unless “he accepts and proclaims the Northern (i.e., “national”) interpretation of Southern things.”  A non-Northern viewpoint is considered by court historians as merely perpetuating the “myth of the Lost Cause.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Machines and Objectivity

“Once, years ago, a Southern historian beckoned me aside and led me to a room . . . “Look,” he said. An enormous machine occupied about half the room, and a graduate assistant was feeding punch cards into it. With inhuman noise and precision, the machine was sorting the cards.

The historian closed the door upon the noise and, with a kind of Stonewall Jackson glint in his eye, explained. Documentation, he said – mere documentation – would never convince the North. Mere argument was futile.

But if he could say, in a footnote to his forthcoming publication, that the figures in his statistical tables had been achieved by the assistance of a card-sorting machine (he would carefully cite the machine’s name and model), then the Yankees might hearken to both his documentation and his argument.

The machine, a guarantee of his “objectivity,” would remove his work from the area of suspicion that a study originating in the South would normally occupy.”

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, pp. 180-181)

Southerners a Conquered and Foreign People

With the South under military rule despite the fiction of the Union being saved, the Republican party enlisted the manipulated vote of the freedmen in 1868 to ensure that the election of Grant was assured – lest their military victory be lost with the election of New York Democrat Horatio Seymour.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Southerners a Conquered and Foreign People

“Not everything was settled on the day the Federal flag was raised once again over the capitol building in Richmond. The nation had to go forward resolutely to complete the revolution begun by the Civil War . . . It was needful not only to impose obedience on the conquered inhabitants but also to raise them up again after having subjugated them, to bring them back into the bosom of the Union; to rebuild the devastated countryside and enlist the people’s sincere acceptance of the great reform about to be inaugurated.

They must be made to feel the firm hand of a determined government that would not, however, be a threat to their liberties. Armed repression must give way to politics . . .

[In dealing with the Southern States, they] might be considered conquered territory and be told that when they left the Union they gave up all their rights under the Federal Constitution that they had ceased to be sovereign States.

In that case they must be treated as a conquered foreign people; their State and local governments must be destroyed or allowed to collapse and then reorganized as territories . . . Then someday, when the memory of the Civil War had been completely erased, they would be readmitted to the Union.

This procedure, the Radicals argued, would be merely the literal application of the United States Constitution, the sole method of ensuring respect for national authority. It would be the only way to restore the former Union on a solid foundation, having levelled the ground beforehand by stamping out all tendencies to rebellion . . .

It would be a good thing for the Southern States to be subjected for a time to the rigors of military rule and arbitrary power, or at least for them to be kept for a number of years under the guardianship of Congress, that is to say, under the domination of the North.

Their delegates might come, like those from the territories, and present their grievances or defend their interests; but they would only have a consultative voice in Congress and would have no share in the government. Great care must be taken not to give back to the South the preponderant influence it had exercised for so long.

The rebellion is not yet dead, the Radical orators declared; it has only been knocked down and it may get back on its feet if we are not vigilant. Never has the Union been in such danger as in this moment of victory when peace seems to prevail, but when the future depends on the decisions the people and the government now adopt.

If the [Democratic party] is once again allowed to reorganize, if the Southerners renew their alliance with the Northern Democrats, it will be all up for national greatness and liberty. The same arrogant claims and the same quarrels will reappear . . . all this will someday or another lead to another civil war which will encompass the total destruction of America.”

(A Frenchman in Lincoln’s America, 1864-1865, Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne, Volume II, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1975 (original 1866), pp. 543-545

 

His Fraudulency, Mayor Mot

Lincoln appointed Salmon P. Chase as Chief Justice due to the latter’s presidential ambitions though this would resurface after the former’s death. Though Chase was purportedly in Florida to survey the condition of the courts, he was really there to ensure that the freedmen and others were properly instructed and scripted on how to vote after his candidacy was announced. In the Radical Republican vernacular, “patronage” meant bought votes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

His Fraudulency, Mayor Mot

“The “new state of things” to which [a Tallahassee editor] referred was beginning to be realized in Florida as Chief Justice Chase was welcomed in Fernandina the latter part of May, 1865 by a “thunderous volume of song” from former slaves. The correspondent of a New York newspaper described the visit as the “most notable sensation of this isolated place for some time past” and reported that the Chief Justice “in the course of his judicial pilgrimage, took occasion to call upon all his political representatives sent out under patronage of the Treasury.”

The correspondent further reported that a Mr. Mot, “an intelligent French gentleman, formerly a tutor in Mr. Chase’s family in Ohio, and who came here last Fall as the Clerk of the Tax Commission, at a municipal election, held without law and in disregard of the provisions of the act of incorporation, had been elected “Mayor of the City of Fernandina.” The Chief Justice was invited to formally install him in office, and with great pomp the ceremony was performed, and Fernandina has now a city government recognized by the highest judicial officer in the land, though its head is not a citizen of the State and his election has no shadow of legal authority.

Chase wrote to President Johnson that before Mot was elected a vote was taken to decide whether the Negroes should participate in the election; inasmuch as the vote was favorable, the Negroes did participate in the municipal election. Chase, therefore, “had the honor of administering the oath of office of the first Mayor of Fernandina under the new regime,” he further reported. “So you see,” he concluded, “that colored suffrage is practically accepted in Florida — or rather that part of it included in Amelia Island.”

The Chief Justice made some amazing “discoveries” of intelligence among the ex-slaves neither previously nor since known to the human race, and on this visit to the South wrote optimistically of the future of the freedmen. These “discoveries” were of course presented for political consumption.

Although the announced purpose of Chase’s trip was to survey conditions and restore the courts, it was not so interpreted by James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, who said “his tour . . . was only part of a grand scheme for the promulgation of ideas which he and his associates imagined would place him in the presidential chair at the close of Mr. Johnson’s term.”

Harrison Reed, later Republican governor of Florida, had been privately informed, he reported to Washington, that Chief Justice Chase “had made sure of all the patronage necessary to control the State, including the Military Governor.”

(Flight Into Oblivion, A.J. Hanna, LSU Press, 1999 (originally 1938), pp. 213-215)

Tormenting the Defeated South

Though the South laid down its arms to rejoin the Union without slavery or secession, it would not be allowed the dignity of self-government by the victorious Radicals. Some tormenters “hoped to goad them into violent action or language by forcing them to salute the United States flag or walk under it.”  The radical German immigrant Carl Schurz visited the South after the surrender and declared that the South was “not impressed with any sense of its criminality” as if the Americans there committed a crime by forming a more perfect union according to Jefferson’s precepts.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Tormenting the Defeated South

“One of the foremost characteristics of a civilized people is its need and desire for government. It was a fearful sight to see law and order disintegrate with the collapse of the Confederate armies . . . Incoming Federal troops prevented the legislators from meeting except in Mississippi, where the legislators were speedily dispersed.

To prevent anarchy the army of occupation marched in [and comprised departments] under a major general. Even if the soldiers had been forbearing it would have had difficulty in preserving order everywhere; but with soldiers singing “John Brown’s Body” and exciting the Negroes . . . for a short interim there was little law and order in some parts of the South.

At the end of the war the tendency was for the best element in the Federal army to get mustered out first, leaving a less reliable soldiery to police the South. Many of these troops remaining were Negroes, the number in October 1865 amounting to 85,000. Many of them were scattered widely over the South where they became almost without exception a vicious influence.

Elated over their high station, their uniforms and guns, they took special delight in insulting white people and in instilling dangerous notions into the heads of the freedmen. Occasionally they had bloody clashes with the whites and ravished white women. In Nashville they collided with the police and were disarmed and turned over to the provost marshal; in Beaufort, North Carolina, a Negro soldier raped a white girl and was arrested . . . [the Negro troops in nearby Fort Macon] threatened to turn the guns of the fort on the city; and near Augusta, Georgia, marauding [black] troops demolished the home and threatened the lives of a family who objected to the Negroes drinking out of the well bucket instead of the proffered gourd dipper.

In Newberry, South Carolina, a Confederate soldier returning after the war to his Texas home was beset by Negro troops and murdered because he attempted to protect two white girls from their insults.

Southerners felt especially aggrieved that they should be thus humiliated by their former slaves and by self-obtruding blacks from the North. Was it to show the Southern people that a fundamental revolution was in the making for them?

Even Northerners felt the shame of it. Said one, “I am at a loss to see what good [the black soldiers’] presence here is now. If to humble the Southern pride, that end has been fully accomplished. I have heard black soldiers make the most insulting remarks to Southerners, who are too glad to get by with only that to take notice of them.” General Grant, seeing no good purpose served in having Negro troops in the South, advised their removal. Before the end of 1866 practically all had been withdrawn.”

(A History of the South, Volume VIII, The South During Reconstruction, 1865-1877, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1947, pp. 29-30)

Equality and Corporate Tricks

Few Gilded Age tycoons had ever studied economics and all might be described as graduates of the school of hard knocks – but all knew the theories of supply and demand, law of diminishing returns and that bad money drives out bad. They assumed that any man was motivated by the selfish love of gain and most believed in competition, theoretically, and unless bribed government officials could be used to handicap the competition. Grant’s postwar administration of corrupt and bought politicians led the way into the Gilded Age.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Equality and Corporate Tricks

“Nobody expounded the folly of tampering with the laws of economics more eloquently than Yale’s great teacher of political economy, the dynamic William Graham Sumner. In his book What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, published in 1883, he had put the reformers to rout.

“The yearning after equality,” he had written, “”is the offspring of envy and covetousness, and there is no possible plan for satisfying that yearning which can do aught else than rob A to give to B; consequently all such plans nourish some of the meanest vices of human nature, waste capital, and overthrow civilization.”

This emphatically did not mean that Sumner was opposed to a better life for everybody. On the contrary, as a man of high and generous principle – he had begun his working life as a clergyman – he was heartily in favor of it. But he believed in the wider extension of opportunity, not in changing the rules under which business was conducted. He argued that:

“[Instead] of endeavoring to redistribute acquisitions which have been made between the existing classes, our aim should be to increase, multiply, and extend the chances. Such is the work of civilization. Every improvement in education, science, art or government expands the chances of man on earth. Such expansion is no guarantee of equality. On the contrary, if there be liberty, some will profit by the chances eagerly and some will neglect them altogether. Therefore, the greater the chances, the more unequal will be the fortune of these two sets of men. So it ought to be, in all justice and right reason.”

Sumner would not have argued that there were not some ways in which legislation could protect the economically helpless. But he thought that most reform legislation was conceived in ignorance and drafted in folly.

“You need not think it necessary,” he would tell his Yale classes, “to have Washington exercise a political providence over the country. God has done that a good deal better by the laws of political economy.”

The irony of the situation lay in the fact that for generations men have been tinkering with economic law to their own advantage, and in the process had produced institutions which were emphatically not God’s work – as most of Sumner’s hearers presumably supposed them to be – but man’s.

The corporation, for instance, was not an invention of God’s. It was an invention of man’s. It was a creature of the state . . . [and] one of the great inventions of the nineteenth century . . . Yet by taking adroit advantage of the legislative acts which defined its privileges, one could play extraordinary tricks with it. Corporate devices could be used to permit A to rob B – or, let us say, more charitably, to permit A to drain off all the gravy in sight and leave none for B.

It was largely as a result of the discovery of tricks that could be played with corporations, and particularly with their capital stock, that the wealth produced in such a tremendous spate at the turn of the century flowed in large proportion into a few well-placed hands.”

(The Big Change, America Transforms Itself, 1900-1950, Frederick Lewis Allen, Harper & Brothers, 1952, pp. 67-69)