Lessons of the Election, November 27, 1912

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Jane Addams

"I should be very sorry indeed to believe the kind words of the Chairman, as I have never been allowed to be responsible for my own vote, and I think it is very hard to have a million thrust upon me.

"I find it rather difficult to formulate what one might consider the best lesson of this campaign. Mr. Hooker told me that Prof. Merriam was going to speak for the Progressive party, and he hoped that I would say something as to the experience of a woman in this untrodden path, of political action one cannot say, but of urging others to political action.

Social Problems to the Front

"Throughout the campaign, I was impressed that at last many causes which hitherto have been advocated only by small groups of people---by the cults, if you please, of trade unionists, philanthropists, civic reformers, city clubs and so on---were at last, through political action, thrust out into the open.

"I remember many years ago when I first went to live in the 19th ward I was constantly distressed because self-seeking [page 2], albeight kind-hearted, politicians were getting the abject devotion and loyalty of the people for doing things which it seemed to me the government itself ought to do. I also remember that I used to envy the loyalty which the newly arrived foreigners poured out upon trades unions; not that I was not a good trades unionist, but because I craved for America itself that devotion which they felt towards the men who were helping them to better wages and were freeing them from the untoward conditions which pressed so hard upon them.

"Many times I have felt, when philanthropists undertook to do certain things which we could not carry out because there were not enough people interested in them, that it was a great pity that there was not some method by which these well considered plans could be submitted to the entire public for discussion, because I was quite sure that if everybody understood them they would be quickly put into operation.

"I remember, too, if I may go back a little further, when William Stead was in Chicago, a great many years ago, that he continually pointed out that, in spite of the fact that the poor did not know it or at least did not think about it, the city itself was their best friend; that it took care of many more of them than all of the charitable institutions put together. Nevertheless Mr. Stead was convinced that, while Americans were attached to the idea of self-government, they had for it very little devotion and loyalty. The Progressive party, I believe, by its advocacy of humane legislation, has attached the affections and enthusiasms of thousands of people to the government itself. For that and many other reasons, I am indeed glad that these questions have at last been made the objects of political action.

"I am continually challenged by Socialists, who say that if these social and economic measures are political matters, I should, to be consistent, join the Socialist party. I can only say that I do not go as far as the Socialist party, although I keenly desire industrial amelioration. When I found a party that went just about as far as I did, and when, moreover, I was aked to join it -- and of course to be 'asked' is always an important element in a woman's career -- I was very happy indeed to do so.

National Responsibility Consistent with Self-Government

"Another thing which has been very interesting to me, as I have spoken in one state after another, has been my impression that self-government has become confused in the minds of many of our countrymen with local government. Americans have thought for a long time -- perhaps the idea is inherited from the town meetings -- that unless government is localized they do not exercise self-government at all. Such a conception, if persisted in, must narrow our notion of government and circumscribe our national life. I believe that many of the measures advocated by the Progressive party will change their point of view and demonstrate that politics is largely a matter of adjusted human relations, through any unit of government which best serves the purpose.

"For instance, when I was in Colorado the people were all hoping that the Progressive party would do something to save them from certain wrong doings on the part of various companies who control the irrigation possibilities of the state. They believed that only through such control could the country be properly developed, but they further believed that they could get it only through federal authority, and of course many of them thought largely through the personality and energy of Mr. Pinchot.

"When I was in Oklahoma I found that the people there -- they were, by the way, using the 'recall' upon their State Board of Agriculture -- felt that, if citizenship were given to the Indians, the federal government, in some way or other, must provide newer and better methods of agricultural education. In North Dakota, they were hoping that federal care of the immigrants would send them more field labor. This certainly demonstrated that self-government is self-government even if it is carried out through federal authority, and sometimes it is impossible to do it any other way.

National Discussion of State Problems

"A third lesson of the campaign was the advantage of placing the same political measures before all of the states at [page 3] the same time. When we went down to Springfield, as we did over and over again to get better labor legislation, we were always told about the difficulty in Illinois because we had a child labor law so much more stringent than those of Indiana and other states, and of course, there was some point in that contention. At the same time other states might be considering valuable measues. Iowa might be doing one thing which was very good, Illinois doing another thing which was very good, Massachusetts doing a third thing which was very good, but perhaps no two of them were doing the same thing at the same time. It was like a city in which one ward was putting in paving, another was putting in gas, another waws putting in water, another was putting in electric lights, all of them very good things, but of course a city cannot progress very rapidly if each ward decides what it wants to do, all by itself, without any relation to the next ward. The action of the Progressive party in taking up these subjects, as it has, in a national spirit will result in their discussion at the same time by all of the states. Instead of being taken up independently one state after another, they will be considered simultaneously and attention will be focused for the moment upon those things which are important to all the states. When one state does one good thing and another state does another good things, totally unrelated to the first, we thus lose the advantage of a great country such as ours. There is a tremendous adantage in numbers when it comes to enthusiasm, good-will and humanitarian zeal, and if we could only direct the moral energy of which this country possesses so much into the same channels at the same time, there is almost nothing we could not accomplish. That I think the Progressive party has, in a measure, done.

"it is said that most of the measures advocated by the party are matters for state action, but then, all the more is it an advantage to consider them at the same time as matters of national importance. It is possible to consider legislative measures from a national standpoint, even when they are measures that must be legislated upon by separate states.

"There are many other things I might say, but I think that the very important lessons of this campaign might be summed up in three, namely:

"First bringing up for universal discussion by all kinds of people the social and economic questions which heretofore have been discussed largely in the smaller groups.

"Second, doing away with the notion that local government means national irresponsibility.

"Third, the ability to regard social problems from a national point of view and with a sense of common interest.

New Party Provides Machinery for Social Legislation

"If I may be allowed further to refer to one or two of my experiences when I was lecturing, I found that I was talking about the things I have always talked about, child labor, overworked women, and all the rest of it, only that instead of talking to audience in the hope that sometime somebody in the audience would be moved to do something about these things, I was talking to audiences with the conviction that channels were being provided by the Progressive Party, through which moral energy might flow; that well-considered legislation had been proposed for which the voter might declare himself.

"Another experience which may be significant was the fact that large political meetings were opened with prayer, although sometimes men had charge who were not accustomed to meetings opened with prayer and were slightly embarrassed by it. In Minneapolis we were almost enjoined by the State's Attorney under the Corrupt Practices Act, because the meeting on a Sunday evening was begun with a sacred concert. He said that undue influence was brought upon the voter through an organ and a choir. Of course, anticipating the possibility of an injunction our audience was so large that we had two overflow meetings that evening and no injunction after all was served.

The Fusing of Common Interests

"These experiences seemed to indicate a breaking down of the lines that formerly separated the religious, the political, the philanthropic and the civic interests, so that for the moment they were [page 3] merged. The talk was like that heard at a reform organization rather than at a political meeting. I remember a story told by Booker Washington of an old colored woman who wandered into a 'swell' church and was given a seat in the gallery. As she grew happy during the services she began to say 'Bless the Lord' and to make other noisy remarks and an usher went to her and told her that she must keep quiet. She said: 'But Honey, I'se getting religion, I'se getting religion.' In a stage whisper he replied, 'You will have to keep quiet; this is no place to get religion in.' While the public has felt that a political meeting did not seem exactly the place for religion, the lines are fast breaking down and certainly during this campaign interests merged in a very astonishing way.

"At Kansas City they had torchlight procession. They said they had not meant to have such a procession, but somebody had proposed it and the procession almost formed itself. They had a string of automobiles, I think a mile long, marching bands and all the rest of it. The pioneer citizens said, 'We have not had a thing of this sort since the war.' Was it not because they were looking for some means of expression for the new enthusiasm which possessed them because, genuine things were being discussed? It was a very remarkable demonstration of the satisfaction of many people that these genuine needs of social life were at last definitely considered in relation to political action.

"Almost all of the social measures advanced by the Progressive party have been tried elsewhere -- most of them in Germany, many of them in England. I discussed them from the standpoint of a humanitarian pleased to find that social legislation had at last been placed before the American people, who have been so behind in many of these matters.  I think, perhaps, that the last lesson of the campaign is the enormous amount of enthusiasm and the anxiety of the people to grapple with the social questions, if only some well-considered program is laid before them." (Applause.)