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justify itself and to defend itself against autocracy. The aim of democracy is the liberty and welfare of the individual; the aim of autocracy is the power of the rulers and the state. The idea of conquest, of forcing an alien rule upon a strange people is foreign to the spirit of democracy. It is, however, of the essence of autocratic governments. It is well, therefore, that we now bethink ourselves and take counsel with our leaders.
It is a mistake to believe that democracy as we know it in America is a form of government sanctioned by classical examples reaching back to remote antiquity and with a long tradition behind it. Those who are tempted to believe otherwise should read carefully a passage written in 1901 by no less an authority than Woodrow Wilson.
“As a matter of fact democracy as we know it is no older than the end of the eighteenth century. The doctrines which sustain it can scarcely be said to derive any support at all from the practices of the classical states, or any countenance whatever from the principles of classical statesmen and philosophers. The citizens who constituted the people of the ancient republics were, when most numerous, a mere privileged class, a ruling minority of the population taken as a whole. Under their domination slaves abounded, and citizenship and even the privileges of the courts of justice were reserved for men of a particular blood and lineage. It never entered into the thought of any ancient republican to conceive of all men as equally entitled to take part in any government, or even in , the control of any government, by votes cast or lots drawn. Those who were in the ranks of privileged citizenship despised those who were not, guarded their ranks very jealously against intruders, and used their power as a right singular and exclusive, theirs, not as men, but as Athenians of authentic extraction, as Romans of old patrician blood.
“Modern democracy wears a very different aspect, and rests upon principles separated by the whole heaven from those of the Roman or Grecian democrat. Its theory is of equal rights without respect of blood or breeding. It knows nothing of a citizenship won by privilege or inherited through lines of descent which cannot be changed or broadened. Its thought is of a society without castes or classes, of an equality of political birthright which is without bound or limitation. Its foundations are set in a philosophy that would extend to all mankind an equal emancipation, make citizens of all men, and cut away everywhere exceptional privilege. “All men are born free and equal’ is the classical sentence of its creed, and its dream is always of a state in which no man shall have mastery over another without his willing acquiescence and consent. It speaks always of the sovereignty of the people, and the rulers as the peoples’ Servants.
“Democracy is the antithesis of all government by privilege. It excludes all hereditary right to rule, whether in a single family or in a single class or in any combination of classes. It makes the general welfare of society the end and object of law, and declares that no class, no aristocratic minority, no single group of men, however numerous, however capable, however enlightened, can see broadly enough or sufficiently free itself from bias to perceive a nation's needs in their entirety or guide its destinies for the benefit of all. The consent of the governed must at every turn check and determine the action of those who make and execute the laws.”
Neither is our democracy the first and primitive form of government as is sometimes supposed. It is as a matter of fact the latest form of government, designed to give the individual the greatest degree of liberty and responsibility. We must not therefore regard it as something which will “run itself” or which has “always been so.” Indeed men of great authority like the English political historians, Lecky and Sir Henry Maine, have looked upon certain recent popular tendencies with grave misgiving. Maine admitted that the great tendency of recent decades has been to turn power more and more into the hands of the people, but felt that the movement was not intelligent, that the people did not know why they desired this power or what they would do once they had it in their possession. Lecky felt this same distrust. The quest for power in our democracy has only too often been selfish. If the people wish to exercise the great prerogatives of government, they must also assume the equally serious responsibility of molding “our confusion of purposes, traditions, habits, into a common ordered intention.”
The American people have come to us from every continent, they are of different races and diverging national traditions. They can only be united and welded into a truly great nation if we make these divergent traditions converge upon a definite and identical future. Though it must be a long task, it
will be the easier because from whatever lands Americans have come and with whatever antecedent customs and habits of mind, they have come in the expectation of finding a land of freedom. Difficult as it may seem, it should not therefore be impossible to polarize the hopes and aspirations of earnest men of many races and nations upon this central and unifying vision. In order to bring more clearly into our consciousness the meaning and bearing of these ideals, this volume was planned. It aims to present some of the most important pronouncements by recent American leaders and especially by President Wilson, which would help to make plain whence we come and whither we are tending. These expressions of democracy's ideals may well claim a place in the English courses of our schools and colleges. For, in the words of the statesman already quoted: “These ideals have been very nobly expressed by some of the greatest thinkers of the race. The language in which they have been set for the thought of the world rings keen in the ear, as with a music of peace and good-will, and yet quick also with the energy of fine endeavor, lifting the thoughts to some of the highest conceptions of human progress.” In this presentation of the democratic idea as expounded by our leaders, it has been thought best to begin with Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address and to follow this with some of the most notable pronouncements on democracy from his day to Wilson's. Lowell's Democracy is the more interesting as it shows us still on the defensive; and with its annotations will help to make clearer the growth of the democratic idea. Beside the pronouncements by representative Americans, the address by Lloyd George on America's entrance into the war is reprinted as particularly significant. It was no part of the writer's intention to make of this volume a war book, but the issues of democracy were so deeply involved in the War of 1914 that the conflict and the developments which led to it could not be ignored. For this reason we have included the most important utterances made by President Wilson during the war in that period when we were forced to fight to “make the world safe for democracy”; and the War Message and the Flag Day Address are printed with very full annotations which detail the various intrusions of Germany upon our rights. These notes are reproduced from the editions of these speeches published by the Committee on Public Information at Washington. Though in some cases they have been abbreviated, the meaning has not been changed. The notes on the War Message were prepared for the Committee on Public Information by Professor William Stearns Davis of the University of Minnesota aided by Professor C. D. Allin and Dr. William Anderson, also of Minnesota; and those on the Flag Day Address, by Professors Wallace Notestein, Elmer Stoll, August C. Krey, and William Anderson of the University of Minnesota, and Professor Guernsey Jones of the University of Nebraska.