Governor Woodrow Wilson, of New Jersey, addressed the members of the University in Sanders Theatre Saturday afternoon, giving a general discussion of the fundamentals of the American government.
Governor Wilson said that we are being continually told that we are in a period of agitation and that the agitators are men who are trying to alter the structure of our government. People seem to have lost sight of the fact that it is not this structure that determines the fundamentals of the government, but that it is the fundamentals which determine the structure.
Now, what are the fundamentals of our government? The ultimate foundation of it is political liberty, and combined with this is a conception of free and untrammelled opportunity. Liberty, where many elements are concerned, as in this country, consists not in the absolute independence of those elements, but in the best possible adjustment of them to one another. It is a false conception of liberty which looks upon it as a system of disconnected parts, free from co-operation. Freedom is the chance to relate oneself to the force and activity of the mass without destroying oneself, and does not exist in factories where the operatives beg reformers to let things be for fear that reforms will simply cause more suffering and hardship for them, rather than a comparatively slight sacrifice on the part of the employer.
The second fundamental, besides liberty and opportunity, is that people shall be represented in their own government. There can be no argument of this statement,--it validates itself, if the government is to be one that will represent public opinion.
In the third place, the government which we want must, in order to maintain its claim to be called a government, act as public opinion dictates.
Thus liberty, opportunity, representation, and action in the common interest are the fundamentals, and against these no thoughtful man is proposing anything to prevent their realization.
But suppose it is found that some where the people don't control their own government, a condition which will be considered hypothetical, even though it is the fact in many notorious cases. Suppose that there is a bi-partisan machine which, no matter how the elections go, will run the government to suit the demands of the big interests which supply both sides with funds. Supposing these things, it is not destroying the fundamentals of our government to suggest changes; it is rather going back to the fundamentals.
Influence of Big Interests.
Now, suppose that the government is in form representative but in fact far form republican, that in minor actions the will of the people is respected but in large questions the will of the big interests. Then if a man is a representative in the legislature and at the same time owns a small business, what is he going to do when the big interests which control his business say do so and so? Governor Wilson said that a member of the New Jersey legislature came to him and said, "I would to God I could stand with you, but I can't. They hold my notes."
The hopeful thing is, that about all that it is necessary to do is to expose these great evils and let the light of public opinion kill them. We have got to earn our own living, but we should feel ashamed of ourselves if we haven't a surplus to spend for the nation on that public opinion. Nothing can resist the mass of clear-eyed men backed with the purpose of establishing justice and peace without war.
Free Competition Destroyed.
There is nothing about which to be discouraged in our government. Anything looks black when you hold it up against the blazing light of Utopia; but it will look only marred if held where that light will shine upon it. Take for instance the impregnable jungle of our protective tariff. Hold it in the light and see the little demons curled up in its snarled roots and branches. There will be seen little devils of deceit and special privilege, introduced into the tariff, there introduced to each other, and then forming a collective family and posing as the idol of American prosperity. The tariff has not created our prosperity but the extraordinary genius of the American people. The area of free trade with in the country has been too great to allow the influences of the tariff to be felt, and it has made little difference what the height of the tariff so long as there has been free competition behind it. But that free competition has been destroyed, industries have combined, and are hiding comfortably behind the tariff wall. Prices have been regulated largely by domestic competition in this country, but since that competition has disappeared it is time to take steps to introduce other competition.
It is now time to re-establish that freedom which has caused our past prosperity. We are discovering again the principles upon which the nation was founded, and we are demanding proofs that the government is living up to its old ideals. Individual elements are continually being submerged in a common American stock of men who are looking for true liberty. We are now wondering what to do to recover that leadership of the world which belongs to us, and to re-establish the fame and majesty of America