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When in 1917 I first read the generalization about history, that in a war the belligerents are likely to exchange national characteristics, I was faintly interested. Just now my interest is grave. My own country illustrates most dramatically the bad end of the exchange. Germany and Russia, shedding their old despotisms, have a strong probability of settling into interesting democracies. England, not much injured mentally by the war, is leading the world in preparing for industrial democracy, as she has so long led the larger nations is political democracy. France is somewhat less free in mind than before the war, but the change is slight compared to ours. The United States in five years, mainly in three years, has passed into a despotic spirit comparable only to what Russia and Prussia were before 1914. . . . .
Great nations did not fight this war to make the world safe for conformity. When Thomas Jeffersan wrote his own epitaph he disdained to put on it any external honors. He did not mention that he had been Secretary of State, Vice-President or President of the United States. He told only that he had written two documents in favor of human liberty and had founded an institution for the higher learning.
When Daniel Webster picked out the thing that above all others he would leave to his posterity it was a record that in all circumstances he had favored freedom of opinion, in war as in peace, more essentially for opinions that were in bad repute. I'wish I could remember who it was that warned the House of Commons against taking from the rattlesnake the rattle by which he gives warning of his approach and leaving the sting with which he kills. In suppressing opinion we take away the rattle. In failing to put into practice new institutions needed by the time we leave the sting. I inquire only if a man has fighting blood in that part of him which dwells among ideas. If so, shall he not give battle for those conceptions of freedom handed down to us in the noble English tradition and carried along by the great names in our own history? Let us remember how Washington stood against a public propagandized by seven years of war when he refused to take sides in a later dispute between England and France; how Lincoln was one of the only two men to vote right in the Illinois Legislature on a bill that touch the most impassioned issue of that day. Is there among us in America none of that pride that makes famous Englishmen dissent from the enraged majority no matter how hot the issue? In a time like this to be free means for a while to be misunderstood. Why not? Is the intellectual life to be all flabby, with no rugged stretches? Is hardihood to exist only in the body? Let us hear the drum music of our own convictions. The ultimate call just now is to spirit. What can a man do better than to refuse to sell his integrity for a mean quiescence? NORMAN HAPGOOD IN THE NEW REPUBLIC.
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