With many expressions of sympathy and interest Edith listened to
the story of my dream. When, finally, I had made an end, she
"What are you thinking about?" I said.
"I was thinking," she answered, "how it would have been if your
dream had been true."
"True!" I exclaimed. "How could it have been true?"
"I mean," she said, "if it had all been a dream, as you supposed
it was in your nightmare, and you had never really seen our
Republic of the Golden Rule or me, but had only slept a night and
dreamed the whole thing about us. And suppose you had gone forth
just as you did in your dream, and had passed up and down telling
men of the terrible folly and wickedness of their way of life and
how much nobler and happier a way there was. Just think what good
you might have done, how you might have helped people in those days
when they needed help so much. It seems to me you must be almost
sorry you came back to us."
"You look as if you were almost sorry yourself," I said, for her
wistful expression seemed susceptible of that interpretation.
"Oh, no," she answered, smiling. "It was only on your own
account. As for me, I have very good reasons for being glad that
you came back."
"I should say so, indeed. Have you reflected that if I had
dreamed it all you would have had no existence save as a figment in
the brain of a sleeping man a hundred years ago?"
"I had not thought of that part of it," she said smiling and
still half serious; "yet if I could have been more useful to
humanity as a fiction than as a reality, I ought not to have minded
But I replied that I greatly feared no amount of opportunity to
help mankind in general would have reconciled me to life anywhere
or under any conditions after leaving her behind in a dream—a
confession of shameless selfishness which she was pleased to pass
over without special rebuke, in consideration, no doubt, of my
unfortunate bringing up.
"Besides," I resumed, being willing a little further to
vindicate myself, "it would not have done any good. I have just
told you how in my nightmare last night, when I tried to tell my
contemporaries and even my best friends about the nobler way men
might live together, they derided me as a fool and madman. That is
exactly what they would have done in reality had the dream been
true and I had gone about preaching as in the case you
"Perhaps a few might at first have acted as you dreamed they
did," she replied. "Perhaps they would not at once have liked the
idea of economic equality, fearing that it might mean a leveling
down for them, and not understanding that it would presently mean a
leveling up of all together to a vastly higher plane of life and
happiness, of material welfare and moral dignity than the most
fortunate had ever enjoyed. But even if the rich had at first
mistaken you for an enemy to their class, the poor, the great
masses of the poor, the real nation, they surely from the first
would have listened as for their lives, for to them your story
would have meant glad tidings of great joy."
"I do not wonder that you think so," I answered, "but, though I
am still learning the A B C of this new world, I knew my
contemporaries, and I know that it would not have been as you
fancy. The poor would have listened no better than the rich, for,
though poor and rich in my day were at bitter odds in everything
else, they were agreed in believing that there must always be rich
and poor, and that a condition of material equality was impossible.
It used to be commonly said, and it often seemed true, that the
social reformer who tried to better the condition of the people
found a more discouraging obstacle in the hopelessness of the
masses he would raise than in the active resistance of the few,
whose superiority was threatened. And indeed, Edith, to be fair to
my own class, I am bound to say that with the best of the rich it
was often as much this same hopelessness as deliberate selfishness
that made them what we used to call conservative. So you see, it
would have done no good even if I had gone to preaching as you
fancied. The poor would have regarded my talk about the possibility
of an equality of wealth as a fairy tale, not worth a laboring
man's time to listen to. Of the rich, the baser sort would have
mocked and the better sort would have sighed, but none would have
given ear seriously."
But Edith smiled serenely.
"It seems very audacious for me to try to correct your
impressions of your own contemporaries and of what they might be
expected to think and do, but you see the peculiar circumstances
give me a rather unfair advantage. Your knowledge of your times
necessarily stops short with 1887, when you became oblivious of the
course of events. I, on the other hand, having gone to school in
the twentieth century, and been obliged, much against my will, to
study nineteenth-century history, naturally know what happened
after the date at which your knowledge ceased. I know, impossible
as it may seem to you, that you had scarcely fallen into that long
sleep before the American people began to be deeply and widely
stirred with aspirations for an equal order such as we enjoy, and
that very soon the political movement arose which, after various
mutations, resulted early in the twentieth century in overthrowing
the old system and setting up the present one."
This was indeed interesting information to me, but when I began
to question Edith further, she sighed and shook her head.
"Having tried to show my superior knowledge, I must now confess
my ignorance. All I know is the bare fact that the revolutionary
movement began, as I said, very soon after you fell asleep. Father
must tell you the rest. I might as well admit while I am about it,
for you would soon find it out, that I know almost nothing either
as to the Revolution or nineteenth-century matters generally. You
have no idea how hard I have been trying to post myself on the
subject so as to be able to talk intelligently with you, but I fear
it is of no use. I could not understand it in school and can not
seem to understand it any better now. More than ever this morning I
am sure that I never shall. Since you have been telling me how the
old world appeared to you in that dream, your talk has brought
those days so terribly near that I can almost see them, and yet I
can not say that they seem a bit more intelligible than
"Things were bad enough and black enough certainly," I said;
"but I don't see what there was particularly unintelligible about
them. What is the difficulty?"
"The main difficulty comes from the complete lack of agreement
between the pretensions of your contemporaries about the way their
society was organized and the actual facts as given in the
"For example?" I queried.
"I don't suppose there is much use in trying to explain my
trouble," she said. "You will only think me stupid for my pains,
but I'll try to make you see what I mean. You ought to be able to
clear up the matter if anybody can. You have just been telling me
about the shockingly unequal conditions of the people, the
contrasts of waste and want, the pride and power of the rich, the
abjectness and servitude of the poor, and all the rest of the
"It appears that these contrasts were almost as great as at any
previous period of history."
"It is doubtful," I replied, "if there was ever a greater
disparity between the conditions of different classes than you
would find in a half hour's walk in Boston, New York, Chicago, or
any other great city of America in the last quarter of the
"And yet," said Edith, "it appears from all the books that
meanwhile the Americans' great boast was that they differed from
all other and former nations in that they were free and equal. One
is constantly coming upon this phrase in the literature of the day.
Now, you have made it clear that they were neither free nor equal
in any ordinary sense of the word, but were divided as mankind had
always been before into rich and poor, masters and servants. Won't
you please tell me, then, what they meant by calling themselves
free and equal?"
"It was meant, I suppose, that they were all equal before the
"That means in the courts. And were the rich and poor equal in
the courts? Did they receive the same treatment?"
"I am bound to say," I replied, "that they were nowhere else
more unequal. The law applied in terms to all alike, but not in
fact. There was more difference in the position of the rich and the
poor man before the law than in any other respect. The rich were
practically above the law, the poor under its wheels."
"In what respect, then, were the rich and poor equal?"
"They were said to be equal in opportunities."
"Opportunities for what?"
"For bettering themselves, for getting rich, for getting ahead
of others in the struggle for wealth."
"It seems to me that only meant, if it were true, not that all
were equal, but that all had an equal chance to make themselves
unequal. But was it true that all had equal opportunities for
getting rich and bettering themselves?"
"It may have been so to some extent at one time when the country
was new," I replied, "but it was no more so in my day. Capital had
practically monopolized all economic opportunities by that time;
there was no opening in business enterprise for those without large
capital save by some extraordinary fortune."
"But surely," said Edith, "there must have been, in order to
give at least a color to all this boasting about equality, some one
respect in which the people were really equal?"
"Yes, there was. They were political equals. They all had one
vote alike, and the majority was the supreme lawgiver."
"So the books say, but that only makes the actual condition of
things more absolutely unaccountable."
"Why, because if these people all had an equal voice in the
government—these toiling, starving, freezing, wretched masses of
the poor—why did they not without a moment's delay put an end to
the inequalities from which they suffered?"
"Very likely," she added, as I did not at once reply, "I am only
showing how stupid I am by saying this. Doubtless I am overlooking
some important fact, but did you not say that all the people, at
least all the men, had a voice in the government?"
"Certainly; by the latter part of the nineteenth century manhood
suffrage had become practically universal in America."
"That is to say, the people through their chosen agents made all
the laws. Is that what you mean?"
"But I remember you had Constitutions of the nation and of the
States. Perhaps they prevented the people from doing quite what
"No; the Constitutions were only a little more fundamental sort
of laws. The majority made and altered them at will. The people
were the sole and supreme final power, and their will was
"If, then, the majority did not like any existing arrangement,
or think it to their advantage, they could change it as radically
as they wished?"
"Certainly; the popular majority could do anything if it was
large and determined enough."
"And the majority, I understand, were the poor, not the rich—the
ones who had the wrong side of the inequalities that
"Emphatically so; the rich were but a handful
"Then there was nothing whatever to prevent the people at any
time, if they just willed it, from making an end of their
sufferings and organizing a system like ours which would guarantee
their equality and prosperity?"
"Then once more I ask you to kindly tell me why, in the name of
common sense, they didn't do it at once and be happy instead of
making a spectacle of themselves so woeful that even a hundred
years after it makes us cry?"
"Because," I replied, "they were taught and believed that the
regulation of industry and commerce and the production and
distribution of wealth was something wholly outside of the proper
province of government."
"But, dear me, Julian, life itself and everything that meanwhile
makes life worth living, from the satisfaction of the most primary
physical needs to the gratification of the most refined tastes, all
that belongs to the development of mind as well as body, depend
first, last, and always on the manner in which the production and
distribution of wealth is regulated. Surely that must have been as
true in your day as ours."
"And yet you tell me, Julian, that the people, after having
abolished the rule of kings and taken the supreme power of
regulating their affairs into their own hands, deliberately
consented to exclude from their jurisdiction the control of the
most important, and indeed the only really important, class of
"Do not the histories say so?"
"They do say so, and that is precisely why I could never believe
them. The thing seemed so incomprehensible I thought there must be
some way of explaining it. But tell me, Julian, seeing the people
did not think that they could trust themselves to regulate their
own industry and the distribution of the product, to whom did they
leave the responsibility?"
"To the capitalists."
"And did the people elect the capitalists?"
"Nobody elected them."
"By whom, then, were they appointed?"
"Nobody appointed them."
"What a singular system! Well, if nobody elected or appointed
them, yet surely they must have been accountable to somebody for
the manner in which they exercised powers on which the welfare and
very existence of everybody depended."
"On the contrary, they were accountable to nobody and nothing
but their own consciences."
"Their consciences! Ah, I see! You mean that they were so
benevolent, so unselfish, so devoted to the public good, that
people tolerated their usurpation out of gratitude. The people
nowadays would not endure the irresponsible rule even of demigods,
but probably it was different in your day."
"As an ex-capitalist myself, I should be pleased to confirm your
surmise, but nothing could really be further from the fact. As to
any benevolent interest in the conduct of industry and commerce,
the capitalists expressly disavowed it. Their only object was to
secure the greatest possible gain for themselves without any regard
whatever to the welfare of the public."
"Dear me! Dear me! Why you make out these capitalists to have
been even worse than the kings, for the kings at least professed to
govern for the welfare of their people, as fathers acting for
children, and the good ones did try to. But the capitalists, you
say, did not even pretend to feel any responsibility for the
welfare of their subjects?"
"And, if I understand," pursued Edith, "this government of the
capitalists was not only without moral sanction of any sort or plea
of benevolent intentions, but was practically an economic
failure—that is, it did not secure the prosperity of the
"What I saw in my dream last night," I replied, "and have tried
to tell you this morning, gives but a faint suggestion of the
misery of the world under capitalist rule."
Edith meditated in silence for some moments. Finally she said:
"Your contemporaries were not madmen nor fools; surely there is
something you have not told me; there must be some explanation or
at least color of excuse why the people not only abdicated the
power of controling their most vital and important interests, but
turned them over to a class which did not even pretend any interest
in their welfare, and whose government completely failed to secure
"Oh, yes," I said, "there was an explanation, and a very
fine-sounding one. It was in the name of individual liberty,
industrial freedom, and individual initiative that the economic
government of the country was surrendered to the capitalists."
"Do you mean that a form of government which seems to have been
the most irresponsible and despotic possible was defended in the
name of liberty?"
"Certainly; the liberty of economic initiative by the
"But did you not just tell me that economic initiative and
business opportunity in your day were practically monopolized by
the capitalists themselves?"
"Certainly. It was admitted that there was no opening for any
but capitalists in business, and it was rapidly becoming so that
only the greatest of the capitalists themselves had any power of
"And yet you say that the reason given for abandoning industry
to capitalist government was the promotion of industrial freedom
and individual initiative among the people at large."
"Certainly. The people were taught that they would individually
enjoy greater liberty and freedom of action in industrial matters
under the dominion of the capitalists than if they collectively
conducted the industrial system for their own benefit; that the
capitalists would, moreover, look out for their welfare more wisely
and kindly than they could possibly do it themselves, so that they
would be able to provide for themselves more bountifully out of
such portion of their product as the capitalists might be disposed
to give them than they possibly could do if they became their own
employers and divided the whole product among themselves."
"But that was mere mockery; it was adding insult to injury."
"It sounds so, doesn't it? But I assure you it was considered
the soundest sort of political economy in my time. Those who
questioned it were set down as dangerous visionaries."
"But I suppose the people's government, the government they
voted for, must have done something. There must have been some odds
and ends of things which the capitalists left the political
government to attend to."
"Oh, yes, indeed. It had its hands full keeping the peace among
the people. That was the main part of the business of political
governments in my day."
"Why did the peace require such a great amount of keeping? Why
didn't it keep itself, as it does now?"
"On account of the inequality of conditions which prevailed. The
strife for wealth and desperation of want kept in quenchless blaze
a hell of greed and envy, fear, lust, hate, revenge, and every foul
passion of the pit. To keep this general frenzy in some restraint,
so that the entire social system should not resolve itself into a
general massacre, required an army of soldiers, police, judges, and
jailers, and endless law-making to settle the quarrels. Add to
these elements of discord a horde of outcasts degraded and
desperate, made enemies of society by their sufferings and
requiring to be kept in check, and you will readily admit there was
enough for the people's government to do."
"So far as I can see," said Edith, "the main business of the
people's government was to struggle with the social chaos which
resulted from its failure to take hold of the economic system and
regulate it on a basis of justice."
"That is exactly so. You could not state the whole case more
adequately if you wrote a book."
"Beyond protecting the capitalist system from its own effects,
did the political government do absolutely nothing?"
"Oh, yes, it appointed postmasters and tidewaiters, maintained
an army and navy, and picked quarrels with foreign countries."
"I should say that the right of a citizen to have a voice in a
government limited to the range of functions you have mentioned
would scarcely have seemed to him of much value."
"I believe the average price of votes in close elections in
America in my time was about two dollars."
"Dear me, so much as that!" said Edith. "I don't know exactly
what the value of money was in your day, but I should say the price
was rather extortionate."
"I think you are right," I answered. "I used to give in to the
talk about the pricelessness of the right of suffrage, and the
denunciation of those whom any stress of poverty could induce to
sell it for money, but from the point of view to which you have
brought me this morning I am inclined to think that the fellows who
sold their votes had a far clearer idea of the sham of our
so-called popular government, as limited to the class of functions
I have described, than any of the rest of us did, and that if they
were wrong it was, as you suggest, in asking too high a price."
"But who paid for the votes?"
"You are a merciless cross-examiner," I said. "The classes which
had an interest in controling the government—that is, the
capitalists and the office-seekers—did the buying. The capitalists
advanced the money necessary to procure the election of the
office-seekers on the understanding that when elected the latter
should do what the capitalists wanted. But I ought not to give you
the impression that the bulk of the votes were bought outright.
That would have been too open a confession of the sham of popular
government as well as too expensive. The money contributed by the
capitalists to procure the election of the office-seekers was
mainly expended to influence the people by indirect means. Immense
sums under the name of campaign funds were raised for this purpose
and used in innumerable devices, such as fireworks, oratory,
processions, brass bands, barbecues, and all sorts of devices, the
object of which was to galvanize the people to a sufficient degree
of interest in the election to go through the motion of voting.
Nobody who has not actually witnessed a nineteenth-century American
election could even begin to imagine the grotesqueness of the
"It seems, then," said Edith, "that the capitalists not only
carried on the economic government as their special province, but
also practically managed the machinery of the political government
"Oh, yes, the capitalists could not have got along at all
without control of the political government. Congress, the
Legislatures, and the city councils were quite necessary as
instruments for putting through their schemes. Moreover, in order
to protect themselves and their property against popular outbreaks,
it was highly needful that they should have the police, the courts,
and the soldiers devoted to their interests, and the President,
Governors, and mayors at their beck."
"But I thought the President, the Governors, and Legislatures
represented the people who voted for them."
"Bless your heart! no, why should they? It was to the
capitalists and not to the people that they owed the opportunity of
officeholding. The people who voted had little choice for whom they
should vote. That question was determined by the political party
organizations, which were beggars to the capitalists for pecuniary
support. No man who was opposed to capitalist interests was
permitted the opportunity as a candidate to appeal to the people.
For a public official to support the people's interest as against
that of the capitalists would be a sure way of sacrificing his
career. You must remember, if you would understand how absolutely
the capitalists controled the Government, that a President,
Governor, or mayor, or member of the municipal, State, or national
council, was only temporarily a servant of the people or dependent
on their favour. His public position he held only from election to
election, and rarely long. His permanent, lifelong, and
all-controling interest, like that of us all, was his livelihood,
and that was dependent, not on the applause of the people, but the
favor and patronage of capital, and this he could not afford to
imperil in the pursuit of the bubbles of popularity. These
circumstances, even if there had been no instances of direct
bribery, sufficiently explained why our politicians and
officeholders with few exceptions were vassals and tools of the
capitalists. The lawyers, who, on account of the complexities of
our system, were almost the only class competent for public
business, were especially and directly dependent upon the patronage
of the great capitalistic interests for their living."
"But why did not the people elect officials and representatives
of their own class, who would look out for the interests of the
"There was no assurance that they would be more faithful. Their
very poverty would make them the more liable to money temptation;
and the poor, you must remember, although so much more pitiable,
were not morally any better than the rich. Then, too—and that was
the most important reason why the masses of the people, who were
poor, did not send men of their class to represent them—poverty as
a rule implied ignorance, and therefore practical inability, even
where the intention was good. As soon as the poor man developed
intelligence he had every temptation to desert his class and seek
the patronage of capital."
Edith remained silent and thoughtful for some moments.
"Really," she said, finally, "it seems that the reason I could
not understand the so-called popular system of government in your
day is that I was trying to find out what part the people had in
it, and it appears that they had no part at all."
"You are getting on famously," I exclaimed. "Undoubtedly the
confusion of terms in our political system is rather calculated to
puzzle one at first, but if you only grasp firmly the vital point
that the rule of the rich, the supremacy of capital and its
interests, as against those of the people at large, was the central
principle of our system, to which every other interest was made
subservient, you will have the key that clears up every