The “Vanity of Liberty”
. C was
among the speakers at a public meeting in memory of President McKinley
held in a Northampton church immediately after the President’s death.
In the course of his remarks he spoke of the “slanders and distempered
misjudgments of a wanton public press,” and of “our national vanity
of liberty to say what we please of whomsoever we will.”
A necessary lack of ceremony, an “over-democracy
of manners,” a tendency to irreverence—these are a part of the price
a country pays for its freedom. There is in America very little
of arrogance in “the look from above downward.” We have, indeed,
heard an international critic go so far as to declare that the absence
of such arrogance in America made our national manners superior
to those of any other country. But there is undoubtedly in America
not a little of arrogance in the other direction.
There is so much training in a country
like ours in the idea of equality that youth is apt to regard itself
not only as equal but decidedly superior to age; and the ignorant
and feeble, even the vicious, are given to the opinion that they
are not merely “as good as,” but actually much “better than,” those
whom they are called upon to respect. We have heard it hinted that
one reason that there were fewer notorious rascals in high places
in English politics than in American was partly because there had
been one woman in England, who, for a long lifetime, set a standard
of public respect—one person who could not be foully and recklessly
abused. The idea was that public opinion was keyed up in England,—to
some extent by this means,—given a better tone, or at least made
If it is at all true that public opinion
in England is more effective in keeping out of high politics a certain
class of notorious corruptionists,—such, for instance, as “boss”
our cities and invade our Senate,—there must be other reasons than
the one indicated—reasons having to do, doubtless, with the centralization
of an acknowledged single commercial, political, and social metropolis.
The license of speech and print in
America, however,—the freedom to abuse grossly and caricature outrageously
all public men, including the President of the United States,—has
a tendency to confuse the minds of the people, and to interfere
with patriotic and disinterested public service. It is right and
necessary to criticize our official servants; nothing should be
allowed to interfere with this right and duty. But aside from the
fear of incitement to assassination, a self-respecting country should
put a stop to the treatment of its high officials, on mere difference
of political opinion and policy, as if they were outcasts and criminals.
Now that the country is starting in, so to speak, with a new President,
it is a good time to consider this subject with all seriousness.
Mr. Cable has put his finger upon
a national failing—the “vanity of liberty.” Here is food for reflection,
and the text for many a timely clerical and lay sermon.