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The Duty And Responsibility Of The Anglo-saxon Idea Of Citizenship





BY W. JUSTIN CARTER
of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

[Note 33: Extract from an Address delivered before the Eureka
Literary Society at Penbrooke, Pa., December 16, 1904.]


Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am going to speak to you to-night of what your race has contributed
and is contributing to this great stream on whose bosom is borne the
freighted destiny of the human race, and whose currents wash every
shore.

More than two and one half centuries of progress and achievement, on
this continent alone, may well vaunt your pride and give you the
resolution which belongs to the children themselves of destiny.

Exult copiously, if you will, over the triumphal march of a great
material civilization, the marvelous expansion of your territory, your
wonderful development of hidden resources, your power and dignity at
home or abroad, but invite not, nor condone that spirit of listless
satiety, nor sink into that national egotism which lets the dagger steal
to the heart of the nation while your reveling conceals the presence of
the foe. For, remember, pomp and splendor, wealth, ease, and power's
pride and heraldry's boast once echoed

"Through haughty Rome's imperial street."

If American citizenship contains a hope and promise, a wealth, a
blessing, and a content, aye! and immortality and just renown, it lives
to-day in hearts, and not in stones; it lives in feelings and not in
lands; it resides in aspirations and not in coffers, it lives in ideals
and not in vaunt and splendor.

It is yours to fulfill its duties; to meet well its responsibilities; it
is what your fathers builded out of heart and soul, out of love,
compassion, and generous fellowship, and not out of blood and brawn; it
is humanity's own; yours be it to study and repeat, if need be, the
sacrifices of those who planted its first seeds with the sword,
nourished them with their blood and suffering, and with wisdom, blessed
by Heaven, consecrated by heroic sacrifices and sanctified by prayer,
left it to you and to all of us, more wisely fashioned, more glittering
in its prospect and more alluring to our fancy than anything political
wisdom ever offered to human hope.

But in order to know and feel what there is of universal interest which
we have to do, what there is for humanity's glory and weal we have to
preserve; what is the task set to us, as our work in forwarding the
current of human life and liberty, we must look to the past, and learn
what fundamental, essential truths have grown from its toil and
achievement. Many such the American idea of citizenship contains; but of
one let us speak.

The American idea of citizenship and its ideal, its aims, possibilities,
and destiny, had its origin and enshrinement in that Anglo-Saxon spirit
of freedom which has been the peculiar characteristic of a race whose
civil and judicial development in the remotest and darkest days of its
history distanced all rival clans and, from Alfred to William III, from
tribe to Empire, has cherished and sustained a system of civil and
religious liberty, which, intolerant of every form of oppression, has
made the English language the vernacular of liberty.

In the earliest periods of these peoples' history we find the germinal
elements of those great charters of liberty which are to become the
chief corner-stone of free government and mighty guarantees of personal
liberty.

A philosophical review of the evolution of these early ideas of personal
liberty to their full growth into a free constitutional government would
make an instructive and interesting study; but I lack the learning and
the ability for such disquisitions. I must therefore content myself for
the purpose of unfolding the duties and destinies of American
citizenship, to review but historically, how from simple communities
seeking to free themselves from the rule of individuals or classes, to
govern themselves by law, and make that law supreme in every exigency,
great charters were established and the reign of law instead of the rule
of princes permanently established.

Even in the establishing of their free system of public administration,
the Anglo-Saxon aim and purpose was to secure the most absolute
guarantees of personal security. The liberty of the individual unit of
society secured in the exercise of the largest liberty consistent with
the public welfare, and that liberty protected by the just and
righteous administration of public laws, was the ideal of the
Anglo-Saxon state.

In their religion, philosophy, poetry, oratory, and literature they have
always confessed that oppression was venal and wrong. If selfishness,
greed, or pride have allured them for a while from that royal path of
national rectitude and honor, they have in the final test returned
conquering to their true and higher selves. Their inborn hate of
oppression, their magnanimous and tolerant spirit of freedom gloriously
in the ascendant.

Thus it is that the free institutions of Great Britain and America have
grown and towered in strength, and in their onward march startled the
world by their progress, and appalled the very lips of prophecy by their
bold and daring sweep. They will not stop, for liberty is fearless and
the current of freedom is irresistible.

But in the early Anglo-Saxon Commonwealth, the rights, liberties, and
privileges of the citizen were not as broad and full as we find them
to-day. The spirit of liberty was weak at first, but her demands grew
apace with her strength. Neither by the generosity of princes, nor by
the wisdom of legislation, were the ordinary English rights of free
citizenship enlarged and established. Nor are the first and elemental
principles of free government which we find springing up on English soil
after the conquests, and whose history in the re-establishment of
political liberty we shall trace through countless struggles and
repressions, the original of that divine idea of freedom which it has
been the mission of the Anglo-Saxon race to give to the world.

It is but a part of that great race spirit which the Conqueror could not
conquer; the lingering spirit of freedom which the iron heel of despotic
usurpation could not stamp out, the memory of a lost freedom ranking in
the hearts of men determined to restore in their island home those
ancient rights which no man dared to question in the days of the Saxon,
Edward the Confessor.

The condition of the early Saxon as it was raised by the wisdom and
benevolence of good King Alfred, and as it remained until the end of the
reign of the unfortunate Harold, was that of a freeman, a freeman not
merely in the sense of being his own master, but "he was a living unit
in the State." He held his lands in his own right. He attended the
courts, and entered in their deliberations. He bore arms and, by
authority of law, could use them in his own defense. The animating
principle of Anglo-Saxon government was local sovereignty. Matters from
the smallest to the greatest were vested in the local power.

* * * * *

The establishment, after the granting of the Magna Charta, thus firmly
of the liberties of England has been accomplished by bitter and fierce
struggles; the obstructive forces were strong, but yielded in the end to
the onward sweep of liberty directed by the aggressive spirit of
intelligence, manhood, and humanity. At the end of the sixteenth century
this much had been gained for freedom. The principles of liberty, which
had been constantly acknowledged in written documents or had been
established by precedents and examples (some of which were the remains
of their ancient liberties) had been embodied as a part of the
fundamental law of the land; those local institutions, which a while ago
we found among the free Saxons, and even now pregnant with the seeds of
liberty,--the jury, the right of holding public meetings, of bearing
arms, and finally the Parliament itself had become a part of the common
law of England.

Then came the Reformation and its demand for religious freedom. Against
the claim of a divinely ordained kingly power, the Cavalier was found
ready to revolt. The Puritans writhed under their religious restraint.
The Puritan and the Cavalier joined their cause; political liberty
invoked the aid of Faith, and Faith hallowed and strengthened the
crusade of human liberty. The struggle increased against absolute power,
spiritual and political, now concentrated in kingly hands. Giants they
were who took up the quarrel of liberty in those dark days of civil
strife. Men they were who inherited the blood of the saintly Langton and
of his lordly Barons. Five centuries of heroic strife against oppression
had sanctified the name of Liberty. They were mad with the hatred of
tyranny, and centuries of bitter, heart-rending experience had made them
wise and valorous for the fray. Liberty is now about to win on Saxon
soil, but not there alone, for those of her yeomanry, who were hardiest
for the fight and cherished the broadest liberty, transplanted
themselves now upon this new soil of America and laid the foundation of
a new Empire, which then and forever should be untrammeled by the
conservation of princes and unabashed by the sneers of monarchs. They
rejected primogeniture and the other institutions of the Middle Ages,
and adopted the anti-feudal custom of equal inheritance. They brought
with them the Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights; they threw around
themselves the safeguard of Anglo-Saxon liberty purified and burned by
those years of oppression. They transplanted Saxon England freed from
the dross of Norman rule and feudal aristocracy. Liberty and law are
henceforth to work out the destinies of men. And who contemplating the
manner of men and whence they derived their faith, their hopes and
fears, can quibble about the aims and purposes of the founders of this
Republic? The fathers did not borrow their political ideals from the
juriscounsuls of Rome; not from the free democracy of Greece; nor did
they fuse into their system the feudal aristocratic imperialism of
Europe.

To govern themselves by law, and secure therewith the largest liberty
with the greatest security of individual rights and property, was their
ideal of statecraft, and this idea, inseparable from the principles they
laid down, must endure while the fabric lasts.

I have told you that the government the fathers planted was Anglo-Saxon
in law; but it was Anglo-Saxon too in religion and spirit. Nothing has
been so conquering in its influence as the Anglo-Saxon spirit; it has
assimilated wherever it has gone, and like the leaven that leaveneth the
whole, homogeneity has followed in its fierce wake of progress with not
a whit lost of its great and fearless impulse of law and freedom.

No race has been so domineering, none stronger and with a more exclusive
spirit of caste, none with a more contemptuous dislike of inferiority,
none more violent in prejudice once formed, or dislikes once engendered;
yet doth the spirit and impulse of freedom move majestic "in the
chambers of their soul," raising them finally above those hated
obliquities, conquering their repugnance, enfeebling and vanishing their
hates. Thus one by one grave wrongs inflicted upon weaker races by the
cold, calculating hand of greed have been arrested and blotted out in
the holy names of right. Thus it is, and has been, that nations, sects,
and creeds coming to these shores lose, in the fascination of free
institutions and the august majesty of liberty, the distinctive
qualities of their old allegiance, and thus it is that over a broad land
composed of all nations, sects, and creeds there reigns one grand
homogeneity and a single patriotic impulse of faith and destiny. Few
there are of Americans who can to-day trace even the faintest spark of
their lineage to an English or even a Norman source. Yet the spirit of
the Anglo-Saxon is the presiding genius of our destiny. Its spirit is
the spirit of our law, and its religion is the evangel of our political
faith.

Inheritors of this great circumstance of power and rule, need I remind
you that, though you sacrifice your labor and toil, though you may have
brought forth this jewel of liberty regulated by law, you cannot keep it
unless you share it with the world. The evils which in days past men had
to wipe out in tears and blood will arise again and precipitate
convulsions in which liberty may expire.

The very spectacle of seeming grandeur and the outward cast of luxury
and splendor invite the enemies' quest and fans into blood-red heat his
latent ire, while pride, vanity, and hate surround the heart with the
humor of death-breeding slime into which the corroding worm is spawned.

I care nothing for the shell; the fleshy parts are no longer food for
the living, but the pearl contained in this Anglo-Saxon mollusk has for
me an irresistible charm. The pure spirit of its lofty ideals, distilled
from his life and struggles, and living in quickening touch with human
thought and aspiration, like the exaltation which lingers after some
Hosanna chorus; his sublimated actions and deeds, whose swelling flood
of cadence throb with the heart-beat of universal man,--these I love
with inexpressible devotion; these are worth preserving. All else, cast
in the rubbish heap with past delusions.

Mr. Chairman, men are great and small, they roam the vast wilderness of
the stars, and soar the very empyrean of thought and action, and they
fear and crouch and kneel; and in their quaking fears and driveling
doubts seem like puny things crawling on the ground; they are saints and
sinners; sometimes emissaries of light and love, and yet again
harbingers of ill, and sometimes the very Nemesis of hate; but in the
composite elements of their human thinking, throbbing energies of heart
and mind, they are as but a single soul, governed by one law, imbued
with one spirit, hearkening to one voice, touched by the one sympathy,
inspired by one hope, and in trend of aspiration, love and ideal,
impelled by the onward flux of one great life-struggle and purpose.

What, then, are you and I but sentient units in one great evolving
process of life-activity and thought; and yet so circumvolved in that
process that the impulse, which we irradiate from the point of our
single particular seat of energy and feeling, thrills through the vast
spheres of human purpose and endeavor, and raises the standard of truth
or forwards the advance of enlightened order like each rhythmic melody
is gathered in the mightier confluence of chime and strain to swell the
torrent of a mighty symphony.

The work we have to do is not outside, but deep down in the teeming flow
of struggling human souls. Think of them as your other self, and your
own souls will interpret the meaning of their complaints, the quality of
their striving, and the measure of their justice.

You will then behold the race of men as I have beheld them once when my
single soul seemed with sympathy winged and I sat with the lowly outcast
and felt his outrage and his shame; I brooded with him over all his
wrongs; I felt within my breast the poison shaft of hate, and clinched
like him my fist, scowled, and vengeance swore on them who drove my
despair and misery to crime by scoff and rancor and unforgiving hate.

I stood amidst a motley throng and felt my brain bereft of noble
thought; I lived in a squalid home and despised the pity which the
disdainful cast upon my lot; laughed at ribald jests and quaffed the
liquid flame, and the dark-hued nectar which concealed the serpent
beneath its foam; I held my head aloft to seem with pride imbued; I
gibed at fortune's whim and grinned a soulless sneer at my fate to
conceal a deep despair.

I roamed with the savage Indians across the arid plains, stood with them
in lonely worship of the great Unknown, and dropped like him a silent
tear for the woodlands gone; the fleet-footed game no longer at his
door; his father's dust, scattered by winds over consecrated and
hallowed battle-plains.

I stood beside the enchanted Nile and wondered at the mystery of the
Sphinx; I felt the lure, the wanderlust of the mysterious arid plains
and laid my body down on the desert sand to sleep, a weapon by my side;
I arose to greet the rising sun and, with "Allah" on my tongue, bowed
my head in solemn worship towards Mecca's distant domes.

I wandered through Africa's torrid forest and scorching plains and sat
naked before a bamboo hut; I felt the savage's freedom and his ease; I
learned the songs of birds, the shriek of beasts, the omens of the
moons, and kenned the dread and sacred lore which tradition single
tongue had brought from the ages past and gone.

I walked beside the Ganges' sacred shores, worshiped at the shrine of
mighty gods and felt the spirit of the mighty All vibrate through my
being. I chanted the songs whose authors are forgot, and studied strange
philosophies of sages passed; I starved and hungered on his arid plains;
I felt the whips and scorn of cast; the curse of fated birth and the
iron rule of oppression's heartless greed.

I was slave, and by fortune scorned; I felt the whip cut into my
quivering flesh and my blood rush hot to the gaping wound; I knew the
agony of unrequited toil, and with aching limbs dragged my hopeless body
to my hut, to think, but not to sleep.

I learned to dream and hate, and at Nemesis' bloody altar immolated in
thought and hope the whole detested tribe of human oppressors and cried
Content.

And thus I know the bondage which men endure, the realty and the
delusion in what they think and feel; and the subtlety and strength of
those evil forces which color his disposition and becloud his prospect.

And I stand amidst his turbulent fortunes and above the storm and rage
of his contentions and despairs to proclaim the divinity of his soul,
and to herald a new awakening under which his quickened energies will
yet surge forward in mighty waves of better things.

If the Republic is true to the great principles of liberty and justice
which it proclaims; if you have learned the lesson of your own history,
and appropriated the experience coined out of your own struggles, then
will Anglo-Saxon genius and achievement glow like a mighty flame to
light the path of struggling men, and Anglo-Saxon glory light angels to
restore the rights of man.





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