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The True Politics for Prohibition and Labor

by Edwin C. Pierce


A vast body of American citizens have a deep concern in the temperance cause, and are bound in conscience to do their utmost to give early success to the movement for the legal suppression of the drinking saloon, which they rightly regard as the fountain of intemperance. Some of them are rich and some of them are poor. Some of them are conservative and some of them of radical tendency as to questions concerning wealth. They belong to the industrious, intelligent, moral, and patriotic reserves of the country. With them in sympathy is the motherhood of America. I think it is only fair to say, and that all social reformers should see, that the radical prohibition constituency—dispersed now in several political parties—is larger than the following commanded by any other single reform idea, and it is distinguished by exceptional persistency. There is also a large and increasing body of American citizens absorbed in what is called the labor question. Some of them are rich and some of them are poor. Some of them are also on the side of prohibition and some of them are hostile or indifferent.

The labor question is the question of social justice, and no question can be higher than that. Stated in other terms, the labor question is the question of how to approximate more nearly to an equal distribution of wealth, not so much of the wealth already amassed by society as of the wealth that is to be produced by labor in the future. Now, while there are very few people who think that entire equality of fortune in this world is either possible or desirable; every free democracy will wish to work towards equality of social condition, looking forward to a glorious time when uninvited poverty shall be outgrown, when manhood shall be of more social weight than wealth.

There is as much high moral sentiment put into the labor question to-day, as ever was put into any crusade against any form of oppression or evil.

If, however, only the radicals with fixed convictions and unflagging zeal were counted, neither of these humane causes would have a majority of American voters. Deeply interested in both, I frankly confess that I do not believe either prohibition or labor can win alone. As we study our political history, we find that political issues are not carried except in combination, and as part of the policy of a political party to the cohesion and the power of which many issues and many forces contribute. We are not under the Swiss referendum; we are a representative republic, with two legislative chambers, each constituted in a peculiar way. Our national life is complex. To hold in party association the six millions or more of American men whose support, continued for years, is necessary to carry a great measure, requires the proper connection with the past, and trenchant dealing with the present which is full of imperious demands. Abraham Lincoln was not borne into the presidency in 1860 solely by the strength of the anti-slavery issue, but found necessary support in Pennsylvania from the committal of the Republicans to the protective principle, while in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and the West generally, he was greatly aided by the homestead issue. Several distinct issues have usually been involved in our presidential elections. Exceptions are presented by the victories of sentiment or tendency under the extraordinary leadership of Jefferson in 1800, and in the extraordinary demonstration for General Jackson and Democracy in 1828.

Successful parties in the United States, as in England, have generic rather than specific names. Federalist, Democratic-Republican, Whig, Democratic, and Republican; all represent popular triumphs and administrations of the government. Anti-Masonic, Liberty, American, Free Soil, Greenback, Prohibition, Labor,—these party names represent no partisan victories. In the Cabinet of the first President of the Republic, Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury. To each of them Washington submitted the question whether Congress had power to incorporate a bank. Jefferson, believing popular liberty safe only in a strict construction of the Constitution, denied the power to create a bank because no such power is expressed, or is strictly necessary to the exercise of any power expressly granted. Hamilton, believing that a liberal construction of the Constitution was essential to the development of America, answered that Congress had the power, that the power was incidental to the national character of the government. He construed the grant of “necessary” powers in these words: “It is a common mode of expression to say that it was necessary for a government or a person to do this or that thing, when nothing more is intended or understood than that interests of the government or person require or may be promoted by the doing of this or that thing. The imagination can be at no loss for exemplifications on the use of the word in this sense. And it is the true one, in which it is to be understood as used in the Constitution.” The Supreme Court, quoting these very words with approval, has adopted Hamilton’s construction. With the writing of those two opinions in the Cabinet of Washington, the enduring lines of party division in America were drawn. There ought to be early recognition of the fact, that in case a new party of the people shall be formed, a party determined upon reform of existing abuses and oppressions, upon the suppression of the liquor traffic as we know it, upon the overthrow of every semblance of plutocracy, upon opening to every child of the American democracy an equality of opportunity as yet unknown, resort must be had to those broad, liberal, and constructive constitutional doctrines which the existing Democratic party steadily opposes, and which the Republican party does not sufficiently apply for the benefit of the masses. It is the duty and opportunity of the prohibitionists to make such a party. A party going to Thomas Jefferson for a baptism of Democratic feeling, and content with no sprinkling, and to the school of Hamilton for its constitutionalism, can supplant the Republicans, and only such a party can meet the case of labor. The woollen manufacturers of Massachusetts have just remonstrated against further reduction of the hours of labor unless the reduction be uniform in all the manufacturing States, and they made the significant suggestion that Congress has power to establish uniform hours of labor. Congress does have that power as a part of the power to regulate commerce. The eight-hour day can only come in this country by act of Congress, and the construction that sustains such an act sustains national regulation of the liquor traffic. The general welfare of the Union is involved in each case. American industry is a unit so far as the interests of American homes require the rule of uniformity, and the home life of America is a unit so far as it needs that protection which, in order to be complete, must come from the national authority. I venture to suggest that one thing that has hindered the cementing of the alliance between labor and prohibition, is the tendency of the prohibitionists while recognizing the importance of labor problems to insist that prohibition must come first. The labor men will never go into any party that puts it quite in that way. Is it not sufficient to claim urgency for the prohibition issue, to say that no work should take precedence of prohibition in party performance? I think the time has come when this issue can be taken up by a political party and I recommend a party that shall declare for prohibition with the same emphasis with which the Republican party declared for protection in 1884 and in 1888. I think, however, that the party that carries a bill for national control of the manufacture and traffic in liquors through Congress, to be signed by a President chosen with a knowledge of his prohibition principles, will have to have a good running mate for its prohibition issue. Yet I believe the prohibition plank in the platform of the great progressive party, lineally descending, would be the centre of attraction and of repulsion. I grant that. But the balance will be so kept that multitudes who take, at first at least, a livelier interest in some other measure which also is promoted by party ascendancy, will vote for partisan prohibition because it is the policy of the party of human progress with which they are keeping step.

I refrain from going at length into a discussion of labor issues. Shall prohibitionists come out for State Socialism, shall they pledge themselves to make that economic nationalism which is now only a prophecy and an ideal, a political fact when they came into administration? No political party should do this. But the word socialism is a word of good meaning. It means fraternity, industry upon a Christian basis. In the discussion that impends in this country, concerning the rights and the wrongs of the wage-earners, and concerning the demands for relief, constantly growing louder, of the agricultural producing classes, the question arises in the mind at the outset, whether our policy, state and national, shall be based upon the laissez faire doctrine, the “let alone” principle; or upon the principle of the intervention of public opinion through the agency of government to effect the ends of justice and of aid to the weaker classes whether by regulative laws, or by the assumption by the public (through local, state, or national government, as the nature of the case may require,) of such business or industrial enterprises as are natural monopolies or can be best performed by the people collectively. I say this question arises in the mind at the outset, but after all, it is, I think, not a question requiring much argument in this day of the world; because, although there are some men more busy with their own daily duties than attentive to the world’s progress who are apt, from time to time, to raise this question, appealing in favor of the “let alone” principle, it is really a question already decided. The people both in England and in America have grown quite away from laissez faire doctrine, the tendency is strong and constantly increasing in the direction of increase of governmental intervention to redress the social balance. I believe it is impossible that this tendency should be arrested. I believe it would not be in the interest of humanity to arrest it. There is a vast field for individualism, and in that field it is eminently useful. There is a field also for society, for the State. The needs of the people in this country to-day are such, the thought of the masses is advancing so rapidly in the direction indicated that no political party can long hold power that does not accept the socialistic tendency and prudently experiment in that direction. There is, in point of fact, no other possible direction in which society can move, and it cannot stand still. From the necessity for some intervention in aid of the weaker classes against the operation of the laws of demand and supply, it follows that “no class legislation” is not a good cry for a labor party.

The land question should have a distinct recognition as a true reform issue, and while committal to the policy signified by the term single tax, in its entirety, should be avoided, land speculation and monopoly should be condemned as a monstrous evil, and against that evil should be directed such special taxation of land values as will check and ultimately destroy it, without too rudely disturbing existing values.

Government ownership of railroads, telegraphs, and of the anthracite coal mines, should be favored.

Gas, electric lights, and street railroads should be municipalized.

Legislation, reducing gradually and prudently the hours of labor, should be given urgency.

National aid to education, unwisely neglected by the Republicans, is strong with labor, and will be stronger the more it is discussed. Prohibitionists should advocate universal suffrage with universal education.

Educational tests for the suffrage offer too easy a repose for the conservatism of wealth, and to advocate them is to touch the wrong note, that of distrust rather than trust in the masses. Stand with Jefferson for Democracy and education, not for education first and the ballot afterwards. Go to the magnificent oration of Wendell Phillips, “The Scholar in a Republic,” for the courage and wisdom to say with that friend of prohibition and labor, that “crime and ignorance have the same right to vote that virtue has…. The right to choose your governor rests on precisely the same foundation as the right to choose your religion.” “Thank God for His method of taking bonds of wealth and culture to share all their blessings with the humblest soul He gives to their keeping.” “Universal suffrage,—God’s church, God’s school, God’s method of gently binding men into commonwealths in order that they may at last melt into brothers.” All attempts to identify prohibition or labor with free trade should be abandoned.

No large extension of our market for manufactures in Spanish America or in other foreign countries is possible, if we are to reduce hours of labor, abolish child labor, call married women from factory to home, and raise wages in America, regardless of the effect upon the cost of production. Labor reform, the socialistic tendency require a rigid adherence to the protective system. But reliance upon the home market will not only make labor legislation possible, but will be economic wisdom as well, for by education, by suppressing the saloon, by shortening hours, by increasing wages, we can indefinitely increase the capacity of our own people to consume. The McKinley tariff will work out its own salvation; for the friends of labor or prohibition to attack it is a fatal mistake. Prohibition, labor reform, and protection are natural allies, and in the party of the future will be united. Whoever wishes to form a new party for prohibition and for labor, will do well to appropriate rather than discard the historic Republican issues. Let the reformers catch the Republicans bathing and steal their clothes, albeit they already have some garments of their own which are very good. If a Democrat, for the sake of temperance or labor, or any issue, will leave the Democratic party, he has outgrown the constitutional doctrines of that party, and will not cling to its economic theories. If he brings a traditional prejudice in favor of government by the masses rather than by classes, he brings what is needed. When the period of political readjustment, not yet surely begun, is over, the Republican party will have been supplanted by a party inheriting many distinguishing articles of its creed; but the Democratic party will remain as the party of obstruction, claiming descent from Jefferson but not the true representative of the eternal truths with which his name is associated. Around the anti-national idea the ultra-conservatives, the cormorants of society, the panderers to vice, the white-liners of the South will rally. The true Democrats, with a unanimity hitherto unknown, will appreciate the utility of the national idea and will demonstrate that our Constitution was indeed intended “to live and take effect in all successions of ages.” The popular party, at once conservative and radical, will demonstrate by its habitual self-restraint, by its scrupulous regard for justice, by the honorable methods which it shall observe and exact, by its prudence in legislation, that the Democracy in the plentitude of its powers, is most truly conservative of all that vast store of good which the past hands down.