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Source: Lee at Appomattox and Other Papers
Source type: book
Document type: essay
Document title: “A National Change of Heart”
Author(s): Adams, Charles Francis
Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin and Company
Place of publication: Boston, Massachusetts
Year of publication: 1902
Pagination: 256-73

 
Citation
Adams, Charles Francis. “A National Change of Heart.” Lee at Appomattox and Other Papers. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1902: pp. 256-73.
 
Transcription
full text of essay; excerpt of book
 
Keywords
William McKinley (death: personal response); assassinations (comparison); William McKinley (death: international response); United States (relations with Great Britain).
 
Named persons
Alexander II; Alfred; James G. Blaine [in footnote]; John Wilkes Booth; Marie François Sadi Carnot; Grover Cleveland; Richard Cobden; Leon Czolgosz; Duncan I; Elizabeth; James A. Garfield; Balthasar Gérard; E. L. Godkin [in footnote]; Charles J. Guiteau; Henry IV (France); Humbert I; Abraham Lincoln; Luigi Luccheni; William McKinley; John Milton; Napoléon III; Felice Orsini; François Ravaillac; Archibald Primrose Rosebery; William I; Robert C. Winthrop.
 
Notes
“A paper read before the Massachusetts Historical Society, at its monthly meeting, October 10, 1901.”

The essay (below) includes the following six footnotes. Page numbers for the footnotes appear in brackets following each footnote. Click on the superscripted number preceding each footnote to navigate to the respective locations in the text.

1 April 20, 1865, following the death of President Lincoln; and October 13, 1881, following that of President Garfield. [256]

2 Robert C. Winthrop was President of the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1855 to 1885. [256]

3 See supra, pp. 74-79; also Life of C. F. Adams, American Statesmen Series, pp. 291-305; for a collection of parliamentary utterances from the pages of Hansard, see Blaine: Twenty Years of Congress, vol. ii. pp. 478-481. [262]

4 Mr. E. L. Godkin, formerly editor of the Nation, called attention to this great change of tone in the very last published communication from his pen, dated Lyndhurst, England, July 31,1901, printed in the New York Evening Post of the 10th of the following month. Mr. Godkin is peculiarly qualified to speak on this point. A Briton by birth, he has, after long residence in this country, been a frequent visitor in England during recent years, returning there recently in failing health. “The American,” he wrote in the letter referred to, “who in any profession enjoys ever so slight a distinction at home, has little idea what a great man he is until he comes to England. It is, however, just as well for him in this respect that he comes now instead of ten years earlier. . . . At the present time American fortunes, and freedom in distributing them, and wide financial operations generally, have so captured the English imagination that they now hasten to embrace indiscriminately the cousins whom they snubbed for a century, and to pronounce them and their works good, one and all.” [263]

5 Supra, pp. 62, 63. [267]

6 Speeches, vol. ii. p. 88. [270]
In the book’s table of contents the essay’s title is given as “The British ‘Change of Heart.’”
 
Document

 

A National Change of Heart

     A TERRIBLE and tragic episode in our national life has burned itself into history since the last meeting of the Society,—the assassination of President McKinley. Twice before have we, in common with the whole land, been shocked by like occurrences.1 At the time of both, Mr. Winthrop occupied this chair;2 and, on each occasion, fitting resolutions, submitted by him and unanimously adopted, were spread upon our records. From the precedents thus established I propose to deviate; not that I have failed to sympathize in the outburst of feeling this truly terrible event has excited, or the expressions elicited by it; but, on now reading the resolutions heretofore passed on similar occasions, they seem to me, though drawn with all Mr. Winthrop’s accustomed felicity, unequal to the occasion,in one word, almost of necessity, formal, conventional, perfunctory. I also feel that I could not express myself more adequately. Of President McKinley all has in this way been said that can be said:— [256][257]

                            “Duncan is in his grave;
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well;
Treason has done his worst; nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing,
Can touch him further.”

He cannot hear; and, as to her for whom the latter years of the dead President’s life were one long record of affectionate, self-sacrificing care, no formally set down words of mine could add one iota to the expression of sympathy—deep and prolonged as sincere—which has already gone forth. This being so, silence seems best.
     Still, to one aspect of this awe-impelling tragedy I wish to call attention, for that aspect has to my mind an historic interest. Perhaps, already discussed, it is an old story; if such is the case I can only excuse myself on the ground that, having been absent from the country, and only just returned to it, I am less informed as to what has been said than I otherwise might have been. But, when some event like this last murder of a high official startles and shocks the whole civilized world, the first impulse always is to attribute its occurrence to present conditions,—moral or material,—to some circumstance or teaching or appliance peculiar to the day,—and to ask in awe-struck tones,—To what are we coming? Whither do tendencies lead? In what will they result? So, as of genuine historical interest, in this connection, I want to call attention to the very noticeable fact that this murder of President McKinley by the wretched, half-witted Czolgosz has no significance whatever, as respects either cause or method, in connection with the times in which we live, its destructive appliances, or its moral instruction. This, somewhat curiously, is true not only of President [257][258] McKinley’s assassination, but of all the assassinations of a like nature, with two exceptions, which have occurred within the last half century. Of such, I easily recall eight: (1) The Orsini attempt on Napoleon III. in 1858, which resulted in numerous deaths, though the person aimed at escaped unharmed; (2) the slaying of President Lincoln in 1865; (3) that of the Czar Alexander II. in 1881; (4) that of President Garfield three months later in the same year; (5) that of President Carnot in 1894; (6) that of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898; and (7, 8) those of King Humbert in 1900, and, more recently, of President McKinley.
     This is truly enough the age of advance,—scientific and intellectual. Strange doctrines are promulgated, and widely preached. There is a freedom given to utterances, at once wild and subversive, the like of which the world has not known before; we do not believe in the suppression of talk; the press disseminates incendiary doctrines broadcast among the partially educated, and the half, where not wholly, crazed. Then, in its turn, science has put the most deadly and destructive of appliances within easy reach of the irrational or reckless. Yet, of all the attempts I have enumerated, two only have borne an earmark of this age. The Orsini conspiracy of 1858 and the death of the Czar Alexander in 1881 brought into play implements of destruction unknown to former generations; the other six cases out of the eight had no features in any respect different from similar crimes of the long past. The impulses, the methods, and the weapons of Booth and Guiteau, in 1865 and 1881, were identical in every way with those of Gérard and Ravaillac in [258][259] 1584 and 1610, three centuries before. They had in them nothing epochal,—nothing peculiar to the dynamitic age. Consider, in the first place, the aim of the assassin, the object of his animosity,—McKinley and Garfield were neither tyrants nor despots; nor were William the Silent and Henry of Navarre. On the contrary, all those named were men of a merciful, not to say singularly genial disposition. Beneficent as rulers and magistrates, they were in the popular mind connected with no severities towards individuals. In not one of these cases had the assassin, directly or indirectly, immediately or remotely, suffered injury at the hands of his victim. It was the same with Lincoln and Carnot, Humbert and Elizabeth. In all these instances, moreover, the weapons used in killing, if not identical, were common to the earlier and the later period. Henry of Navarre in 1610, President Carnot in 1894, and Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, were murdered by thrusts of a poniard; William of Orange in 1584, King Humbert in 1900, and Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, all within forty years, met their deaths from pistol-shots. In no one of these tragedies did the modern high explosive play any part. They were all ordinary shootings or stabbings of the old style.
     Nor was it otherwise as respects motive. The more recent instances developed nothing peculiar to any age or doctrines, except that in the earlier cases the crime originated in a morbid fanaticism born of religious zeal; whereas, in the later, social and anarchistic teachings had taken the place of theological. In the process of human development, or evolution as we call it, the same character of mind was set in action to [259][260] a like end by a common diseased impulse, only under another name. There is no new factor at work; merely the teaching of social rights now operates, in a certain order of brooding minds, as the teachings of theology once did on minds of the same temper. So far as these recent murders are concerned, the world and human nature have, therefore, undergone no change. The Czolgosz of 1901 is the Gérard of 1584 reëmbodied, but actuated by the same impulse, and armed with his old weapon! Luccheni is Ravaillac. The three centuries between introduced no element of novelty. Indeed, the thought this recent murder has most forced on me has been one of surprise, on the whole, that such things so rarely happen. Here in America are now seventy millions of people,—gentle and simple, rich and poor, sane and insane, healthy and morbid; of those seventy millions not a few are men who, like Macbeth’s hired assassin, might truthfully enough declare themselves of those

“Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incensed that I am reckless what
I do to spite the world;”

and, when thus thought of, it seems cause for genuine surprise that among those seventy millions there do not more frequently develop single individuals—some one person in the half million—who, seized in his brooding moments with the homicidal mania, asserts his equality and his hate by striking at the most shining mark. To my mind, contemplating mankind as an infinitely varied and well-nigh countless mass, it is the rarity of these attempts in our day, not their occasional occurrence, which should excite our special wonder. [260][261]
     At the time of the assassination of the President, I chanced to be in England, having left home on the 10th of August. It was a vacation trip; and, in the course of it, I thus had some opportunity to witness that singular, and very suggestive, outburst of sympathy and fellow-feeling on the part of our kin beyond the sea, which was so marked a feature of that unhappy episode. On Thursday, September 19, I was in London, and present at the memorial services in Westminster Abbey. Certainly, they were most impressive. Seated in the choir, I was not in position to see the nave of the Abbey, except in part and by glimpses; but, throughout the solemn observances of that day and place, an atmosphere of genuine sympathy and deep feeling pervaded the great assembly. Every nook and corner was occupied; a sense of awe was apparent. The day had been dull and obscure,—a September noon in London,—but, towards the close of the ceremonial, as the solemn tones of the great organ, intermingled with the responses of the choir, rolled up through the arches of the vaulted roof, the clouds broke away without, and the sun shone down through the windows of stained glass on the vast congregation below. It was Milton’s “dim religious light;” and the dusky atmosphere seemed laden with the smoke of incense, as the chant of the choir died slowly away.
     To me personally, however, this outburst of English sentiment towards the United States and all things American—the demonstration of an undemonstrative people—contained within itself much food for thought. I freely acknowledge I have seen nothing like it. And, as my eyes witnessed the Present, [261][262] memory called the Past to mind. What, I could not but ask myself, did it signify? In what did it originate? Was it merely external? Was it matter of policy? Or did it indicate a true change of heart? And if a change of heart, to what was that change due?
     My thoughts then reverted to remote days and other experiences, now, in Great Britain, quite forgotten,—memories still fresh with me, though a generation has since passed on. I recalled my first experiences in England far back in the “sixties,”—in the dark and trying days of our Civil War; and again, more recently, during the commercial depression, and contest over the free coinage of silver, in 1896. Then, especially in the earlier period, nothing was too opprobrious—nothing too bitter and stinging—for English lips to utter of America, and men and things American.3 We were, as the Times, echoing the utterances of the governing class, never wearied of telling us, a “dishonest” and a “degenerate” race,—our only worship was of the Almighty Dollar. A hearty dislike was openly expressed, in terms of contempt which a pretence of civility hardly feigned to veil. They openly exulted in our reverses; our civilization was, they declared, a thin veneer; democracy, a bursted bubble. In true Pharisaic spirit they made broad their phylacteries, thanking God that they were not as we, nor we as they. All this I distinctly recalled; it was the atmosphere—frigid, con- [262][263] temptuous, condescending—in which I had first lived and moved in London. And now what a change!—and so very sudden! Nothing was too good or too complimentary to say of America. Our representatives were cheered to the echo. In the language of Lord Rosebery, at the King Alfred millenary celebration at Winchester, on the day following the McKinley observances, the branches of the great Anglo-Saxon stock were clasping hands across the centuries and across the sea; and the audience applauded him loudly as he spoke.4
     The heartiness was all there. That at least admitted of no question. But what did it mean? Why had this people so suddenly awakened to a kinship, in which formerly they had felt something in no way akin to pride? It was over this I pondered. At last I evolved an explanation, mistaken, perhaps,—I may say probably mistaken,—but still plausible, and to me satisfactory. At the risk, perchance, of seeming ungracious,—of appearing to respond somewhat unfeelingly to an outburst of genuine sympathy on the part [263][264] of a kindred people, calling on us to forgive and forget the ill-considered utterances and unwise policy of another time, I purpose here to put my much pondered explanation coldly on record.
     In the first place let me premise, and, in so doing, emphasize, my sense of the little worth of the judgment of an individual, and that individual an alien, on what may be the feeling of any community, taken in the aggregate, on a question which does not at once absorb and concentrate attention. Even in our own country, except when deeply stirred by some outburst of patriotism or sympathy,—a common impulse sweeping over the land, and bending minds as a strong gust inclines one way a field of ripening grain,—except on occasions such as this, we know how little real insight the average man has into what is passing in the minds of those among whom he has from his birth lived and moved. We all are conscious of that sense of weariness which almost daily comes over us when we read, in editorial parlance, what the American People have made up their minds to do or not to do,—to have or not to have. On this point the average journalist is always fully advised. His insight is infallible. To his conclusions, knowing by long experience their utter worthlessness, we pay no attention. Yet not an American goes to Europe for a vacation trip, but he comes home fully convinced that he knows more or less of the tendencies of foreign thought. Yet all the insight he has, has been picked up from newspapers and conversations in the railway carriage or the smoking-room. It is true that, in the case of Great Britain, descended from one parent stock, we speak the same language. None the less, an Amer- [264][265] ican in Great Britain must almost of necessity draw his inferences as to Great Britain as a community from casual sources and a narrow range of observation. He may read the Times and the Saturday Review, or the News and the Spectator; he may have an introduction into English domestic and social life, passing as a guest from one great house to another; he may mix in business or financial circles, and be familiar with “the city;” he may belong to the church, and breathe the atmosphere of the close or the university; he may be a non-conformist, and so frequent the conventicle:—and yet, when all is said and done, he is still a stranger in a strange land. In spite of himself, except it be as the result of a long and varied sojourn, he necessarily draws his conclusions largely from matters of accident,—chance conversations overheard or participated in at hotels and in clubs, in waiting-rooms and in railway carriages,—unsigned communications in copies of papers he may pick up,—or even from talking with bagmen, waiters, cab-drivers, and casual travelling companions. In this way what may be called the general drift of public opinion, so far as it reaches him, finds its expression. Much undoubtedly in such cases depends, also, on the individual; for, though every one is apt to generalize from his individual experience, not all men are either sympathetic or approachable. Yet, allowing for all these peculiarities of the individual,—these kaleidoscopic chances of travel,—certain large features stand forth and impress themselves; some general inferences may at times not unsafely be drawn.
     I think I know the Englishman fairly well; at any rate, I have known him through personal contact for [265][266] over thirty years. I may add that I like him; and, individually, I think he does not dislike me. We certainly get on fairly well together. About him and her there is a downrightness, sometimes, it is true, bordering on brutality, which commands my respect. He does not conceal his feelings. He is not good at playing policy. But, high or low, gentle or simple, rich or poor, the Englishman and the Englishwoman respect and admire the wealthy, the successful, the masterful. This is natural, for the English themselves are essentially masterful. They are also a commercial people. Of late years the struggle for life in Great Britain, as elsewhere, has become more intense,—the cost of living higher,— the social scales more exacting. There, as in America, wealth, and the possession of wealth, has become a larger and larger factor in the common existence; and the newspaper, with its elaborate daily accounts of what is taking place among the rich and the fashionable, has distorted ideals. Now, of recent years,—since, we will say, the close of our Civil War, or 1870,—no people on earth have been comparably so successful as the Americans in the rapid accumulation of wealth, none have shown themselves more masterful; and, as he has more and more so shown himself, the Englishman has undergone a change of feeling towards him,—and this change is, I believe, real. Whether real or not, it certainly is sudden. The outward expression is of recent date; but the influences which have gradually brought it about have been a good while at work. The change, as now witnessed, may, I think, be traced to one remote and several immediate causes. I will enumerate some of the more prominent. [266][267]
     The first was the outcome of our gigantic, prolonged Civil War. At one stage of that struggle, America—loyal America, I mean—touched its lowest estate in the estimation of those called, and in Great Britain considered, the ruling class,—the aristocracy, the men of business and finance, the army and navy, the members of the learned professions.5 None the less, they then saw us accomplish what they had in every conceivable form of speech pronounced “impossible.” We put down the Rebellion with a strong hand; and then, peacefully disbanding our victorious army, made good our every promise to pay. We accomplished our results in a way they could not understand,—a way for which experience yielded no precedent. None the less, the dislike, not unalloyed by contempt, was too deep-rooted to disappear at once, much more to be immediately transmuted into admiration and cordiality. They waited. Then several striking events occurred in rapid succession,—all within ten years.
     I am no admirer of President Cleveland’s Venezuela diplomacy. I do not like brutality in public any more than in private dealings. Good manners and courtesy can always be observed, even when firmness of bearing is desirable. None the less, bad for us as the precedent then established was, and yet will prove, there can be no question that, so far as Great Britain was concerned, the tone and attitude on that occasion adopted were productive of results at once profound and, in some ways, beneficial. The average Englishman from the very bottom of his heart respects a man who asserts himself,—provided always he has the will, as well as the power, to make the self-assertion good. [267][268] This, as a result of our Civil War, they felt we had. We had done what they had most confidently proclaimed we could not do, and what they, in their hearts, feel they have failed to do. Throughout our Rebellion they had insisted that, even if the conquest of the Confederacy was possible,—which they declared it manifestly was not,—the pacification of the Confederates was out of the question. They thought, also, they knew what they were talking about. Had they not for centuries had Ireland on their hands? Was it not there now? Were they not perpetually floundering in a bottomless bog of Hibernian discontent? Would not our experience be the same, except on a larger scale and in more aggravated form? The result worked out by us wholly belied their predictions. Not only was the rebellion suppressed, but the Confederates were quickly conciliated. The British could not understand it; in the case of the Transvaal they do not understand it now. They merely see that we actually did what they had been unable to do, and are still trying to do. The Spanish war showed that our work of domestic conciliation was as complete as had been that of conquest.
     Then came the commercial depression of 1893, and the silver issue. Again they predicted all possible disaster. I was in London in the summers of 1896 and 1897, in close touch with financial circles. The tone and atmosphere at that time prevalent reminded me forcibly of the dark days of the Rebellion. Even as recently as four years back, nothing was too bad for the Englishman “on ’Change” to say or to predict of America, or “Americans,” as our securities were called. Suddenly, and in our own way, we emerged [268][269] from under the cloud, and, again erect and defiant, challenged British commercial supremacy. That they understood; while they feared, in their hearts they admired. Then came our Spanish war; and at Manila and Santiago they saw us crush a European navy, such as it was, much as the lion they have taken for their emblem might crush some captive jackal of the desert. This they understood best, and most admired. The rest naturally followed. We were unquestionably rich, unmistakably powerful; that we too were a masterful race was evident; we fearlessly challenged supremacy; we had a way of somehow accomplishing results which they had been at much pains vociferously to pronounce altogether out of the question. So they respected and feared us; then they began, in a way, to feel proud of us. Were we, after all, not flesh of their flesh,— bone of their bone?
     Finally came their own war in the Transvaal. Among the nations of Europe, Great Britain found itself in a state of extreme isolation. We ourselves know from recent experience to what this is due. Under some law of development as yet only partially understood, the leading nations of the earth have, especially within the last quarter of a century, been reaching out for dominion in every direction. In this process Great Britain, for reasons plain to every observer, took the lead. In so doing, she had a century’s start; but, none the less, she came in necessary but sharp contact with others, all bent on the same work. The result was logical. A few years ago we suddenly entered on the same path,— Imperialism, it is called. We all know what followed. We came in conflict [269][270] with a nation belonging to Latin Europe. Immediately, all the Latin communities were in sympathy with Spain, and looked loweringly upon us. The English, at about the same time, came in conflict with an offshoot of the Germanic stock; and instantly all those of German blood scowled upon her. France, she had offended in Africa; Russia was traditionally a rival, and an enemy in Asia. It so chanced that a fellow feeling then brought the United States and Great Britain together. We were in a not dissimilar situation. As Mr. Richard Cobden observed long ago of his countrymen,—“We generally sympathize with everybody’s rebels but our own.”6 This is not a peculiarly British characteristic. We, in America, were inclined to sympathize strongly with the rebels of South Africa; but we now have rebels of our own. Rebels, therefore, are with us not in such high favor as they were,—temporarily, of course. Thus, instinctively and insensibly, Great Britain and the United States, each being to a degree isolated, drew together in face of the Germanic and the Latin races. Especially was this so with Great Britain; for her isolation and consequent unpopularity were much the more pronounced of the two. It thus became, to a certain extent, those of the English-speaking race against the world. Blood, speech, descent, told; and it told more plainly with them than with us.
     Thus, as I more and more reflected upon it, I began to realize that the change in the English heart was not only real, but altogether human, as well as eminently characteristic. I saw, also, or thought I saw, just how it came about. The mass of the English [270][271] people—the great wage-earning class, the toiling millions—never had shared in the fear and dislike, so long and loudly proclaimed, of America and Democracy. They, on the contrary, throughout the slaveholders’ rebellion, and during our time of greatest stress, as a whole, sympathized with the national spirit and the Union cause. They instinctively felt that we somehow were fighting their battle with privilege and aristocracy. Their hearts, therefore, were true; in them no change had to take place. The governing or influential classes, on the other hand, though prejudiced, were quick, in their way, to learn. They now felt British isolation; they feared for their trade; they found themselves in trouble in Ireland and in Africa. So their hearts turned towards their kin beyond the sea; and they turned in good earnest. The new-born sympathy was real; its expression genuine. They themselves did not analyze the motive. Perhaps it was as well they did not, for that adulation which goes forth to those whom success has crowned savors of the Philistine, rather than of the disciples of sweetness and light. None the less it is human; and, moreover, there is much to urge in extenuation of it. But, in this case, the worship of success was but one of the factors which entered into the situation. We ourselves, it must not be forgotten, had, in the years that had passed and the bitter experiences through which we had gone, been largely transmuted. More assured of our position, we had that increased confidence in ourselves which relieved us in a degree of self-consciousness. We had a record, and a future. The national crudeness, so conspicuous in the past, was largely of the past. It was no longer necessary [271][272] to assert our equality, for our equality was no longer challenged. Thus the change was as much in ourselves as in the estimate held of us by others.
     All this we only partially appreciate. In my own case, remembering the situation of a generation back, while I saw how differently they regarded us, I could but be to some extent conscious of a failure to realize how different we had ourselves become. In reality it was much as if, from under the parental roof, a father had watched some rebellious, self-assertive youth, who had gone forth into the world to work out his destiny in his own way and on his own account, not over and above respectful, and setting all precept and experience at defiance. At first, and for a good while, he would be looked at askance; failure would be pronounced his predestined fate. Then, by degrees, as, always asserting his equality, he overcame difficulties,—as he acquired wealth, power, fame,—the father would begin to look with pride on the stalwart, broad-shouldered, big-boned youth, moving on from success to success, achieving victory after victory, ever accomplishing results before pronounced impossible, by processes peculiarly his own working out a great destiny in defiance of rule, but ever changing, developing, ripening as he did so. And gradually that father, however set in his ideas, would undergo a change of heart, not the less real because unconfessed, saying to himself: “This is my offspring,—bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! And what an extraordinary fellow he is,—and enormously rich withal!”
     And this, unless I greatly err, is the process through which Great Britain has gone,—is going; we have gone, and are going. In any event, I now submit it [272][273] as a tentative explanation of an extremely noticeable recent something,—a manifestation no less unmistakable than suggestive. As a change of demeanor, too, it was not otherwise than agreeable to some of us, as, last month, we sat in quiet reminiscent mood during the ringing plaudits. The “Old Home” had not always welcomed us back in just that way; we probably were other than we had been; they certainly looked upon us with more kindly eyes.

 

 


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