Mob Rule

Some worry that direct democracy will lead to mob rule. If the mob were big and organized, perhaps that would be a problem. But are we afraid of standing up for our rights because of this mob warning? Woodrow Wilson fought back against this idea that a mob will take over America, some democracy-loving, voting mob…

“I am not afraid of the American people getting up and doing something. I am only afraid they will not; and when I hear a popular vote spoke of as mob government, I feel like telling the man who dares so to speak that he has no right to call himself an American. You cannot make a reckless, passionate force out of a body of sober people earning their living in a free country. Just picture to yourselves the voting population of this great land, from the sea to the far borders in the mountains, going calmly, man by man, to the polls, expressing its judgment about public affairs: is that your image of ‘a mob?’

“What is a mob? A mob is a body of men in hot contact with one another, moved by ungovernable passion to do a hasty thing that they will regret the next day. Do you see anything resembling a mob in that voting population of the countryside, men tramping over the mountains, men going to the general store up in the village, men moving in the little talking groups to the corner grocery to cast their ballots, –is that your notion of a mob? Or is that your picture of a free, self-governing people? I am not afraid of the judgments so expressed, if you give men time to think, if you give them a clear conception of the things they are to vote for; because the deepest conviction and passion of my heart is that the common people, by which I mean all of us, are to be absolutely trusted.

“So, at this opening of a new age, in this its day of unrest and discontent, it is our part to clear the air, to bring about common counsel; to set up the parliament of the people; to demonstrate that we are fighting no man, that we are trying to bring all men to understand one another; that we are not the friends of any lass against any other class, but that our duty is to make classes understand one another. Our part is to lift so high the incomparable standards of the common interest and the common justice that all men with vision, all men with hope, all men with the convictions of America in their hearts, will crowd to that standard and a new day of achievement may come for the liberty which we love.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 5/The Parliament of the People.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 108-110. Print.

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The Hundred Year Problem

Woodrow Wilson makes a call for Americans to be part of the political process and to scrutinize their representatives. He identified the problem of money in politics more than a hundred years ago.

“The men who have been ruling America must consent to let the majority into the game. We will no longer permit any system to go uncorrected which is based upon private understandings and expert testimony; we will not allow the few to continue to determine what the policy of the country is to be. It is a question of access to our own government. There are very few of us who have had any real access to the government. It ought to be a matter of common counsel; a matter of united counsel; a matter of mutual comprehension.

“So, keep the air clear with constant discussion. Make every public servant feel that he is acting in the open and under scrutiny; and, above all things else, take these great fundamental questions of your lives with which political platforms concern themselves and search them through and through by every process of debate. Then we shall have a clear air in which we shall see our way to each kind of social betterment. When we have freed our government, when we have restored freedom of enterprise, when we have broken up the partnerships between money and power which now block us at every turn, then we shall see our way to accomplish all the handsome things which platforms promise in vain if they do not start at the point where stand the gates of liberty.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 5/The Parliament of the People.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 107-108. Print.

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Common Counsel

The following excerpt argues why we should work together to determine policy; that one viewpoint is not enough, and the very definition of democracy is working as a group to bring the understanding, needs, and solutions of many perspectives into the fray.

“No one man understands the United States. I have met some gentlemen who professed they did. I have even met some business men who professed they held in their own single comprehension the business of the United States; but I am educated enough to know that they do not. Education has this useful effect, that it narrows of necessity the circles of one’s egotism. No student knows his subject. The most he knows is where and how to find out the things he does not know with regard to it. That is also the position of a statesman. No statesman understands the whole country. He should make it his business to find out where he will get the information necessary to understand at least a part of it at a time when dealing with complex affairs. What we need is a universal revival of common counsel…

“I feel nothing so much as the intensity of the common man. There are in every crowd … men who are listening as if they were waiting to hear if there were somebody who could speak the thing that is stirring in their own hearts and minds. It makes a man’s heart ache to think that he cannot be sure that he is doing it for them; to wonder whether they are longing for something that he does not understand. He prays God that something will bring into his consciousness what is in theirs, so that the whole nation may feel at last released from its dumbness, feel at last that there is no invisible force holding it back from its goal, feel at last that there is hope and confidence and that the road may be trodden as if we were brothers, shoulder to shoulder, not asking each other anything about differences of class, not contesting for any selfish advance, but united in the common enterprise.

“The burden that is upon the heart of every conscientious public man is the burden of the thought that perhaps he does not sufficiently comprehend the national life. … The whole purpose of a democracy is that we may hold counsel with one another, so as not to depend upon the understanding of one man, but to depend upon the counsel of all. For only as men are brought into counsel, and state their own needs and interests, can the general interests of a great people be compounded into a policy that will be suitable to all.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 5/The Parliament of the People.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 100, 104-105. Print.


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Truth in Politics

What is missing in politics? Political debate and discussion among the body politic, both in communities and in Congress. We don’t have a parliament, and the town meeting is almost gone. Instead, we’ve got a manufactured narrative from the parties. Not the truth.

“For a long time this country of ours has lacked one of the institutions which freemen have always and everywhere held fundamental. For a long time there has been no sufficient opportunity of counsel among the people; no place and method of talk, of exchange of opinion, of parley. Communities have outgrown the folk-moot and the town-meeting. Congress, in accordance with the genius of the land, which asks for action and is impatient of words, –Congress, in accordance with the genius of the land, which asks for action and is impatient of words, –Congress has become an institution which does its work in the privacy of committee rooms and not on the floor of the Chamber; a body that makes laws,– a legislature; not a body that debates, –not a parliament. Party conventions afford little or no opportunity for discussion; platforms are privately manufactured and adopted with a whoop. It is partly because citizens have foregone the taking of counsel together that the unholy alliances of bosses and Big Business have been able to assume to govern for us.

“I conceive it to be one of the needs of the hour to restore the processes of common counsel, and to substitute them for the processes of private arrangement which now determine the policies of cities, states, and nation, We must learn, we freemen, to meet, as our fathers did, somehow, somewhere, for consultation. There must be discussion and debate, in which all freely participate.

“It must be candid debate and it must have for it honest purpose the clearing up of questions and the establishing of the truth. Too much political discussion is not to honest purpose, but only for the confounding of an opponent.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 5/The Parliament of the People.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 90-91. Print.

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Flower Power

Nowhere else in the book The New Freedom is Woodrow Wilson as lyrical or poetic as in this chapter, paraphrased below. Here, he describes the kind of power that rises from the soil, the roots, to produce the flower.

“Today, when our government has so far passed into the hands of special interests; today, when the doctrine is implicitly avowed that only select classes have the equipment necessary for carrying on government; today, when so many conscientious citizens, smitten with the scene of social wrong and suffering, have fallen victims to the fallacy that benevolent government can be meted out to the people by kind-hearted trustees of prosperity and guardians of dutiful employees,–today, supremely, does it behoove this nation to remember that a people shall be saved by the power that sleeps in its own deep bosom, or by none; shall be renewed in hope, in conscience, in strength, by waters welling up from its own sweet, perennial springs. Not from above; not by patronage of its aristocrats. The flower does not bear the root, but the root the flower. Everything that blooms in beauty in the air of heaven draws its fairness, its vigor, from its roots. Nothing living can blossom into fruitage unless through nourishing stalks deep-planted in the common soil. The rose is merely the evidence of the vitality of the root; and the real source of its beauty, the very blush that it wears upon its tender cheek, comes from those silent sources of life that lie hidden in the chemistry of the soil. Up from that soil, up from the silent bosom of the earth, rise the currents of life and energy. Up from the common soil, the quiet heart of the people, rise joyously today streams of hope and determination bound to renew the face of the earth in glory.

“…the need of the hour is just that radicalism that will clear a way for the realization of the aspirations of a sturdy race.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 4/Life Comes from the Soil.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 88-89. Print.

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Insulting Women

I’m struck with Woodrow Wilson’s framing of the difference between the classes in this essay. First, he insults the rich kids at a college where he’s speaking, then he insults everybody else by calling them “common.” But what’s even worse is how obvious it is that women aren’t even considered in his thoughts about leadership and industry.

“I remember speaking at a school not long ago where I understood that almost all the young men were the sons of very rich people, and I told them I looked upon them with a great deal of pity, because, I said: “most of you fellows are doomed to obscurity. You will not do anything. You will never try to do anything, and with all the great tasks of the country waiting to be done, probably you are the very men who will decline to do them. Some man who has been ‘up against it,’ some man who has come out of the crowd, somebody who has had the whip of necessity laid on his back, will emerge out of the crowd, will show that he understands the crowd, understands the interests of the nation, united and not separated, and will stand up and lead us.”

“If I may speak of my won experience, I have found audiences made up of the ‘common people’ quicker to take a point, quicker to understand an argument, quicker to discern a tendency and to comprehend a principle, than many a college class that I have lectured to,–not because the college class lacked the intelligence, but because college boys are not in contact with the realities of life, while ‘common’ citizens are in contact with the actual life of day by day; you do not have to explain to them what touches them to the quick.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 4/Life Comes from the Soil.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 84-85. Print.

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Out of the Unknown, that Great Voiceless Multitude

Where Woodrow Wilson says below “we have got to organize a government whose sympathies…” he makes me think of what I tried to do with

“A nation is as great, and only as great, as her rank and file.

“So, the first and chief need of this nation of ours today is to include in the partnership of government all those great bodies of unnamed men who are going to produce our future leaders and renew the future energies of America….The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it. The man who is in the melee knows what blows are being struck and what blood is being drawn. The man who is on the make is the judge of what is happening in America, not the man who has made good; not the man who has emerged from the flood; not the man who is standing on the bank looking on, but the man who is struggling for his life and for the lives of those who are dearer to him than himself. That is the man whose judgment will tell you what is going on in America; that is the man by whose judgment I, for one, wish to be guided.

“We have had the wrong jury; we have had the wrong group, –no, I will not say the wrong group, but too small a group, –in control of the policies of the United States. The average man has not been consulted, and his heart had begun to sink for fear he never would be consulted again. Therefore, we have got to organize a government whose sympathies will be open to the whole body of the people of the United States, a government which will consult as large a proportion of the people of the United States as possible before it acts. Because the great problem of government is to know what the average man is experiencing and is thinking about. Most of us are average men very few of us rise, except by fortunate accident, above the general level of the community about us; and therefore the man who thinks common thoughts, the man who has had common experiences, is almost always the man who interprets America aright. Isn’t that the reason that we are proud of such stories as the story of Abraham Lincoln, — a man who rose out of the ranks and interpreted America better than any man had interpreted it who had risen out of the privileged classes or the educated classes of America?

“The hope of the United States in the present and in the future is the same that it has always been: it is the hope and confidence that out of the unknown homes will come men who will constitute themselves the masters of industry and of politics. The average hopefulness, the average welfare, the average enterprise, the average initiative, of the United States are the only things that make it rich. We are not rich because a few gentlemen direct our industry; we are rich because of our own intelligence and our own industry. America does not consist of men who set themselves up to be political leaders; she does not consist of the men who do most of her talking, –they are important only so far as they speak for that great voiceless multitude of men who constitute the great body and the saving force of the nation.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 4/Life Comes from the Soil.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 80-82. Print.

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Freedom Not Thralldom

Shall we submit to a monopolistic culture, to an authoritarian government that rules by strong-arming the public into submission? Woodrow Wilson says we shall not, and yet, what is being done? He falls short on his call to action. It should have been stronger.

“America is never going to submit to guardianship. America is never going to choose thralldom instead of freedom. Look what there is to decide! There is the tariff question. Can the tariff question be decided in favor of the people, so long as the monopolies are the chief counselors at Washington? There is the currency question. Are we going to settle the currency question so long as the government listens only to the counsel of those who command the banking situation?

“Then there is the question of conservation. What is our fear about conservation? The hands that are being stretched out to monopolize our forests, to prevent or pre-empt the use of our great power-producing streams, the hands that are being stretched into the bowels of the earth to take possession of the great riches that lie hidden in Alaska and elsewhere in the incomparable domain of the United States, are the hand of monopoly. Are these men to continue to stand at the elbow of government and tell us how we are to save ourselves,– from themselves? You cannot settle the question of conservation while monopoly is close to the ears of those who govern. And the question of conservation is a great deal bigger than the question of saving our forests and our mineral resources and our waters; it is as big as the life and happiness and strength and elasticity and hope of our people.

“There are tasks awaiting the government of the United States which it cannot perform until every pulse of that government beats in unison with the needs and the desires of the whole body of the American people. Shall we not give the people access of sympathy, access of authority, to the instrumentalities which are to be indispensable to their lives?”

Let us take authority, then! Let us rise up against these forces that mean to keep us down!

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 3/Freemen Need No Guardians.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 77-78. Print.

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One Hundred Years Ago

Woodrow Wilson explains the problem with voting and money in politics from a hundred years ago.

“All over the Union people are coming to feel that they have no control over the course of affairs. I live in one of the greatest States in the union, which was at one time in slavery. Until two years ago we had witnessed with increasing concern the growth in New Jersey of a spirit of almost cynical despair. Men said: ‘We vote; we are offered the platform we want; we elect the men who stand on that platform, and we get absolutely nothing.’ So they began to ask: ‘What is the use of voting? We know that the machines of both parties are subsidized by the same persons, and therefore it is useless to turn in either direction.’

“This is not confined to some of the state governments and those of some of the towns and cities. We know that something intervenes between the people of the United States and the control of their own affairs at Washington. It is not the people who have been ruling there of late.

“Why are we in the presence, why are we at the threshold, of the revolution? Because we are profoundly disturbed by the influences which we see reigning in the determination of our public life and our public policy. There was a time when America was blithe with self-confidence. She boasted that she, and she alone, knew the processes of popular government; but now she sees her sky overcast; she sees that there are at work forces which she did not dream of in her hopeful youth.


“Here, for example, is the old question of campaign funds: If I take a hundred thousand dollars from a group of men representing a particular interest that has a big stake in a certain schedule of the tariff, I take it with the knowledge that those gentlemen will expect me not to forget their interest in that schedule, and that they will take it as a point of implicit honor that I should see to it that they are not damaged by too great a change in that schedule. Therefore, if I take their money, I am bound to them by a tacit implication of honor. Perhaps there is no ground for objection to this situation so long as the function of government is conceived to be to look after the trustees of prosperity, who in turn will look after the people; but on any other theory than that of trusteeship no interested campaign contributions can be tolerated for a moment, –save those of the millions of citizens who thus support the doctrines they believe and the men whom they recognized as their spokesmen.

“I tell you the men I am interested in are the men who, under the conditions we have had, never had their voices heard, who never got a line in the newspapers, who never got a moment on the platform, who never had access to the ears of Goernors or Presidents or of anybody who was responsible for the conduct of public affairs, but who went silently and patiently to their work every day carrying the burden of the world. How are they to be understood by the masters of finance, if only the masters of finance are consulted?

That is what I mean when I say, “Bring the government back to the people.” I do not mean anything demagogic; I do not mean to talk as if we wanted a great mass of men to rush in and destroy something. That is not the idea. I want the people to come in and take possession of their own premises; for I hold that the government belongs to the people, and that they have a right to that intimate access to it which will determine every turn of its policy.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 27-28. Print.

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 3/Freemen Need No Guardians.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 75-77. Print.

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Who Runs Our Government?

Woodrow Wilson describes the troubling association between government and business.

“One of the most alarming phenomena of the time, … one of the most significant signs of the new social era is the degree to which government has become associated with business. I speak, for the moment, of the control over the government exercised by Big Business. Behind the whole subject, of course is the truth that, in the new order, government and business must be associated closely. But that association is upside down. Our government has been for the past few years under the control of heads of great allied corporations with special interests. It has not controlled these interests and assigned them a proper place in the whole system of business; it has submitted itself to their control. As a result, there have grown up vicious systems and schemes of governmental favoritism (the most obvious being the extravagant tariff), far-reaching in effect upon the whole fabric of life, touching to his injury every inhabitant of the land, laying unfair and impossible handicaps upon competitors, imposing taxes in every direction, stifling everywhere the free spirit of American enterprise.”

“…It is an intolerable thing that the government of the republic should have got so far out of the hands of the people; should have been captured by interests which are special and not general. In the train of this capture follow the troops of scandals, wrongs, indecencies, with which our politics swarm.”

“There are cities in America of whose government we are ashamed. There are cities everywhere, in every part of the land, in which we feel that, not the interests of the public, but the interests of special privileges, of selfish men, are served; where contracts take precedence over public interest. Not only in big cities is this the case. Have you noticed the growth of socialistic sentiment in the smaller towns? Not many months ago I stopped at a little town in Nebraska, and while my train lingered I met on the platform a very engaging young fellow dressed in overalls who introduced himself to me as the mayor of the town, and added that he was a Socialist. I said, ‘What does that mean? Does that mean this town is Socialistic?’ ‘No, sir,’ he said; ‘I have not deceived myself; the vote by which I was elected was about 20 per cent socialistic and 80 per cent protest.’ It was protest against the treachery to the people of those who led the other parties of that town.”

I want to explain the last story here by Woodrow Wilson, to the best of my ability. The mayor in overalls won his seat by capturing the votes of the disgruntled public who were not happy with either of the major parties. They elected, against their favorite position, a less corrupt candidate, even though he was a socialist. Imagine that in our day!! (Not to say that I am a socialist! I am not!)

If you think you can explain Wilson’s Nebraskan story better than I, please go ahead and leave a comment.

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 24-27. Print.

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