The Chicago Settlements and Social Unrest
Whatever other services the settlement may have endeavored to perform for its community, there is no doubt that it has come to regard that of interpreting foreign colonies to the rest of the city in the light of a professional obligation. This settlement interpretation may be right or wrong, but it is at least based upon years of first hand information and upon an opportunity for free intercourse with the foreign people themselves.
The city as a whole is ready to listen to this interpretation in times of peace, but when an event implying “anarchy” occurs such as the Averbuch incident in Chicago or the Silverstein bomb throwing in New York, it is apparently impossible for the over-wrought community to distinguish between the excitement the settlements are endeavoring to understand and to allay and the attitude of the settlement itself. At such times fervid denunciation is held to be the duty of every good citizen, and if the settlement chooses to use its efforts to interpret rather than denounce the sentiments of the foreign colony, its attitude is at once taken to imply a championship of anarchy itself.
The public mind at such a moment falls into the old [medieval] confusion -- he who feeds or shelters a heretic is upon prima facie evidence a heretic himself -- he who knows intimately people among whom anarchists arise is therefore an anarchist.
Certainly the settlements do not wish to pose as martyrs because of these inevitable misunderstandings, but we may perhaps be permitted to utilize the occasion to explain the settlement position, and to assert that it is difficult to ascribe any real social value to settlements at all, if they are not ready in times of public panic to stake the sober results of their experience and their mature convictions against the hasty public opinion of the moment, and to do this irrespective of the result upon themselves.
In fact the more excited and irrational public opinion is, the more recklessly newspapers state mere surmises as facts and upon these surmises arouse unsubstantiated prejudices against certain immigrants, the more necessary it is that some body of people should be ready to put forward the spiritual and intellectual conditions of the foreign colony which is thus being made the subject of inaccurate surmises and unjust suspicion.
We might possibly be permitted to go a step further and to assert that quite as settlements have a unique opportunity for seeing and understanding the state of mind into which a foreign colony is thrown by such an untoward event, so it might be assumed that settlements have exceptional opportunities for suggesting the best method for meeting the situation, or at least for treating it in a way which will not destroy confidence in the American institutions which are so adored by the refugees from foreign governmental oppression.
Every settlement has classes in citizenship in which the principles of American institutions are expounded and of these the community as a whole, approves. But the settlements know better than anyone else that while these classes and lectures are useful, nothing can possibly give lessons in citizenship so effectively and make so clear the constitutional basis [page 2] of a self-governing community as the current event itself. The treatment at a given moment of that foreign colony which feels itself outraged and misunderstood, either makes its constitutional rights clear to it, or forever confuses it, on the subject.
Because my first American ancestor bought his land of William Penn in 1684, and because Olga Averbuch has been in America for two years, does not make the least difference in our constitutional rights. It does, however, put me under an obligation to interpret to her and her kindred, the spirit and intent of American institutions as they are understood by those who have inherited them, so to speak; it may cause me to reflect that unless their protection shall be extended equally to all, they are slipping from our grasp.
It sometimes seems that each set of immigrants goes through much the same political development, and that the present arrivals, quite as our own ancestors did, care most passionately of all for “freedom.” The phrases one hears most often among the Russian Jewish immigrants are “free speech,” “freedom of assemblage” and a “free press,” doubtless the same words which were most often repeated in broad Oxfordshire dialect by those early founders of the Pennsylvania colony.
This paper is an attempt to state some of the reactions of the Averbuch affair upon the Russian Jewish colony of which the young man was a newly arrived member, and to put down some of the reflections to which these reactions have given rise. It makes not the slightest effort to go into the facts of the case, nor to give judgment upon the guilt or innocence of Averbuch, but to state a position which seems to us a just one, whether or not the police theory should be substantiated.
One realizes of course the inevitable sense of horror with which the community regards an attack upon an official as such. It adds the horror of anarchy to assassination and is the essence of that which distinguishes anarchy from assassination. The crime against government itself compels an instinctive recoil from all law-abiding citizens and both the horror and recoil have their roots deep down in human experience. The earliest forms of government implied a group which offered competent resistance to invasion or attack from outsiders, but assumed that no protection was necessary between any two of its own members. When, therefore, one member, who in all good faith had been taken into the privileges of the group, turned against another member, the offence was regarded as one of unpardonable treason promptly punishable with death. This prompt dealing with the traitor still continues in military organizations, where treason is so fraught with immediate danger that even insolence to a superior officer, which may be the first symptom of insubordination, is not tolerated for an instant. The anarchist corresponds in civil society to the traitor in military circles, and is the modern representative of the long line of creatures, despised always, reaching back to the tribe itself. When an anarchistic attack is made against an official representative of law and order we have the baldest possible situation and an accredited basis, as it were, for unreasoning hatred and for prompt punishment. There is, too, no doubt that in the present instance there is added to this old horror the sense of being betrayed by a newcomer, by one who has been kindly received and who is undermining the government which others have painstakingly built up. It becomes almost a mark of patriotism in the first excitement to fulminate against the “foreign anarchist.”
But because such a deed is colossal in its reaction upon a law-abiding community, it is well to remember that the very horror and dread which it produces naturally extends to the entire colony of newly immigrated foreigners with whom the idea of anarchy thus becomes associated. Because of the consciousness of this, the Russian Jewish colony on the west side of Chicago was thrown into a state of intense excitement as soon as the nationality of the young man who went to the house of the chief of police became known.
During the hours of uncertainty as to [page 3] the young man’s identity, the time between the first and last editions of the evening papers, the members of both the Italian and Russian colony were filled with dark forebodings, with a swift prescience of what it would mean to either of them were the odium of anarchy rightly or wrongly attached to one of their members.
An Italian in my hearing cried out,
We have just had Alia in Denver. We can endure no more. We have an uphill fight as it is with the American prejudice against ‘dagoes’ and the Paterson group constantly appearing in the newspapers.
An ambitious Russian Jew who thought himself quite free from the faith of his orthodox fathers, the same afternoon said, with white lips:
That picture in the News looks like a Russian Jew; we can’t have it so. All our radicals are socialists, not anarchists. We are not such fools as to pursue the method of terrorism in a country where there is free speech and an opportunity for agitation. We fill up the night schools, we learn English faster than anyone else; no one tries so hard as we do, to be Americans. To attach anarchy to us means persecution, plain Jew-baiting and nothing else.
For the next few weeks at least his worst fears in this direction were realized. Every member in the colony in varying degrees immediately felt the result of the public panic. A large tract of land near Paris, Ill., which had been negotiated for that an agricultural colony of Russian Jews might be established, was withdrawn by the seller on the ground that the people of the vicinity were not willing to have anarchists settle there, although the land was practically sold and only the final arrangements remained to be completed. The society having the matter in charge was forced to give up the entire affair. School children were hooted and stoned upon the streets. Inoffensive young people returning from their work upon the street cars were treated with the utmost contempt. One young man was obliged to leave a dental college because of the persecution of his fellow students, and similar instances might be cited by the hundred. The old anti-Semitic feeling held sway, encouraged and sustained by the sense that to indulge it was “to put down anarchy.”
The inevitable resentment engendered by this treatment first expressed itself against the “Americans” that they so readily took the hasty newspaper conclusions that the man was an anarchist. The Russians themselves give this version of the incident, which I may be permitted to repeat as from them: that the chief of police saw a young man with an envelope in his hand enter his door; that according to the chief’s own statement he was at once convinced that the man was an Italian anarchist sent to assassinate him in the furtherance of an anarchistic plot, of which he had been warned. The Russian colony says that it has been clearly ascertained since, that the chief was mistaken as to the man’s nationality; a searching inquiry failed to establish the fact that the man was an anarchist, and it is certainly within the range of human possibilities that the man’s intent was also misinterpreted. Nothing could have been further apart than this certainly possible version and the one spread over the front pages of the leading Chicago dailies. A sense of injustice, of a lack of fair play, rankled through all those first experiences of persecution.
It seemed to the Russian colony that none of the Americans took the position that because a man has been attacked in his official capacity, an obligation is implied to go into the matter with that decorum and gravity which is inevitably attached to governmental affairs. It is certainly true that just because anarchy is so hideous an affront upon society, upon the most precious of its inherited institutions, the most elemental sense of justice demands that before its stigma is attached to an entire colony of immigrants, not only the facts themselves should be carefully ascertained, but the method of dealing with such a situation should be soberly considered. It may also be maintained that the pursuance of an unintelligent policy may easily result in increasing the very tendencies which it is desired to suppress.
A most superficial analysis shows the advocates of the violent overthrow of government, whether or not they justify [page 4] their action by anarchistic doctrines, are inevitably produced in countries such as Russia, where the government is interpreted to them by a series of unjust and repressive measures. In these countries the officials are concerned only to assert their paramount authority, no constitutional rights are guaranteed, and such untoward events as the massacre at Kishinev are readily suspected of sinister direction by the government itself. The only sane, the only possible cure for such a state of mind, the only method by which a reasonable and loyal conception of government may be substituted for the one formed upon such an experience, is that the actual experience of the refugees with government in America shall gradually demonstrate what a very different thing government means here. Such an event as the Averbuch affair affords an unprecedented opportunity to make clear this difference and to demonstrate beyond the possibility of misunderstanding that the guarantee of constitutional rights implies that officialism shall be restrained and guarded at every point, that the official represents not the will of a small administrative body but the will of the entire people, and that methods therefore have been constituted by which official aggression may be restrained. The opportunity comes to demonstrate this to that very body of people who need it most; to those who have had experience in Russia where autocratic officers represent autocratic power and where government is officialism.
It is deeply to be regretted that instead of using this opportunity to present to the Russian Jewish colony the sharp contrast between the two forms of government, the republican government right on its own ground and in the hands of its friends should have fallen into the Russian method of dealing with a similar incident, and that because the community was in a state of panic it should have connived at and apparently approved of these very drastic methods on the part of the police.
It is a common saying among Russians of all classes that the real ruler of a Russian city is the chief of police, doubtless because the police, backed many times by the Cossack soldiery, are the final executors and interpreters of autocracy. The fact, therefore, that it was the Russian colony to which the Chicago police repaired immediately after Averbuch had been identified made the action of the police all the more deplorable and caused feeling to run very high. The Averbuch family was not the only one which had been subjected to persecution and threatened with massacre in “the old country.” The Russian Jewish colony was largely made up of such families, only too familiar with the methods of the Russian police. Therefore, when the Chicago police ransacked all the printing offices they could locate in the colony, when they raided a restaurant which they regarded as suspicious because it had been supplying food at cost to the unemployed, when they searched through private houses for papers and photographs of revolutionaries, when they seized the library of the Edelstadt group and carried the books away to the city hall, when they arrested two friends of young Averbuch and kept them in the police station forty-eight hours after the police themselves acknowledged their acquaintance with the young man had been most casual; when they mercilessly “sweated” the sister, Olga, and led her up between two officers to the half naked body of her brother, that she might be startled into a confession; when they so persistently told her that her brother had killed three men, so that she could scarcely be made to believe that this was a mistake when she was released on the fourth day and returned to her friends;—all these things so poignantly reminded them of Russian methods that indignation, fed both by old memory and bitter disappointment in America, swept over the entire colony. The older men asked whether constitutional rights gave no guarantee against such violent aggression of police power, and the hot-headed ones cried out at once that the only way to deal with the police was to defy them; that that was true of the police the world over.
The younger and more radical members of the Russian Jewish colony were determined to protest against the action of the police, which they considered [page 5] brutal, by the only method possible in Russia, that of a procession and public demonstration so large that the police should not suppress it. It was planned to make this demonstration at the reburial of the body of Averbuch. This time was selected partly because it was a dramatic moment and partly because great resentment had been aroused in the Jewish colony by the needless indignity heaped upon the body, Jewish sentiment being most sensitive upon such a matter. They did not so much resent the fact that the body was placed in the potter’s field as they resented all the needless suffering of the sister, Olga, that she had been brutally told that no Jewish cemetery would receive the body of an anarchist and that, of course, no Christian cemetery would, “that traces of anarchy had been found in the brain,” as if the words were written across the front lobes. It seemed to the older and more conservative members of the Russian Jewish colony, as it did indeed to the residents of the two settlements with whom they were in constant communication, that such a demonstration was most unwise, and should be prevented if possible. A procession at such a time, a possible collision with the police, might result disastrously.
The only method of accomplishing this was to keep the time of the reburial a secret. This was most difficult because in order to remove the body legally it was necessary to obtain permits not only from the burial division of the city Health Department but from the coroner who held jurisdiction over the body until a report of the inquest should have been made, and from the president of the County Board of Commissioners, because the potter’s field in which the body had temporarily been buried, belonged to the county. If the reburial was to be carried through without a demonstration, it was necessary to procure these three permissions simultaneously upon the opening of the offices in the morning and to proceed at once before the noon edition of the newspapers informed the public that the permits had been issued. The young radicals had stationed two men in the corridor of the burial department of the Board of Health that they might notify their comrades whenever a burial permit should be granted, which they anticipated would be given to a Hebrew burial society. Everything was arranged to give the signal quickly to those young comrades throughout the colony, who were only too eager to march and to show their contempt for the police. Through the friendly co-operation of the physician in charge of this department the permits were given without their knowledge. As these various permits were obtained from city and county—and the one from the coroner’s office was not obtained without almost insuperable difficulties—they were assembled at the down town office of an attorney who was interested in the affair on the same basis as many of us were.
Armed with all this red tape, the body was disinterred, a second autopsy was held by a distinguished pathologist who fortunately cared for fair play as much as he did for medical etiquette, the reburial took place with appropriate Jewish rites, and a hostile demonstration was avoided.
The settlement people were able to carry through this delicate and extremely difficult affair more easily perhaps than the members of the Russian Jewish colony could have done; at least the latter themselves eagerly insisted upon this settlement help, and came to the house in the moment of their perplexity and distress with no notion that help and counsel would be denied them. They—the settlement people—did not, however, by this win encomiums from the radical portion of the colony, who felt that their demonstration had been unwarrantably interfered with and that an excellent opportunity for propaganda had been lost. It was indeed a somewhat ironic situation, a leading newspaper calling the settlement people “socialists” and “disturbers of the peace” at the very moment when they were being denounced by the socialists themselves as “cowards” and “bourgeoisie.”
This attitude toward the police on the part of the young Russian revolutionaries is in itself a new development. Their normal attitude has been that in [page 6] America the policeman is pursuing his natural function of preserving peace and has not been turned into the spy of a suspicious government or the executive officer of “a pogrom.” But the Russian colony now says that if the police are to use these drastic measures, the Russian method is preferable to the American one, for in Russia it has been carefully worked out and is at least guarded at certain points; that the Russian police have a list of books marked illegal, but that the excited men acting for the Chicago police department carried away all of the books belonging to the Edelstadt group including a full set of Shakespeare and a full set of Spencer. The Russian colony also insists that the Russian government has many agents in this country whose business it is to do everything possible to stop the flow of money sent from America to support the Russian revolutionists; that such agents are always trying to break up meetings held by Russian Jews in which they discuss the Russian revolutionary movement, and that if the American police can be persuaded that all such meetings are dangerous and anarchistic, if they can receive orders to break them up on sight wherever found, it will do more than any other one thing to prevent the collection of funds for the Russian revolution. The Russian colony believes that these agents of the Russian government are constantly seeking to influence public opinion. If Americans say that the police will have to be stringent with these anarchists who threaten officials and throw bombs, and that it is easy to understand how the Russian government has been driven into restrictive and strong-handed measures, a great point will have been made. They cite the fact that while an extradition treaty was consummated between America and Russia during the last years of President Cleveland’s administration, the Russian government has seldom if ever, availed itself of it until after the Shippy event, since when a number of applications have been made for extradition; at least two to Chicago and four to New York. They insist that this is but the beginning of its frequent use, at least so long as its use will be sustained by public opinion, and that the Russian government utilized the first wave of feeling against Russian anarchists to establish a much desired precedent. It is quite possible that the young Russians are most unjustly suspicious in this regard, but certain it is that so soon as the matter is discussed by one of them dark hints are thrown out concerning governmental agents who may have induced a young man of eighteen, fumbling in the midst of bewildering hopes and reactions, to go to the chief of police at the moment when public panic and excitement on the subject of anarchy was at its height, because of the Denver affair. Such a boy would inevitably expose himself to a suspicion of evil intent, and it is of course further intimated that these same agents may have prepared the mind of the chief by tales of anarchistic plots and upset his nerves by mysterious messages.
There are many hundreds of adherents in the colony to the theory that the boy was obscurely induced to go to the chief’s house by a man in the employ of the Russian government. Certainly nothing could happen which would so well serve the purpose of the Russian government and the American public is taking it in exactly the way which makes it most valuable to the Russians.
Would it not provoke to ironic laughter that very Nemesis which presides over the destinies of nations, if the most autocratic government yet remaining in civilization should succeed in pulling back into its own autocratic methods the youngest and most daring experiment in democratic government which the world has ever seen? Stranger results have followed a course of stupidity and injustice resulting from blindness and panic! The only way to meet such a suspicion is of course by perfect frankness and by inviting a full and searching inquiry into the entire situation.
To the reply that the coroner’s inquest invited such a searching examination they make rejoinder that the [page 7] attorney who appeared there on behalf of the sister, Olga, did so at the cost of public opprobrium, that an attempt made to testify as to the good character of Averbuch was put down in the most high-handed fashion. The following instance is indeed well authenticated: A young man, a friend of Averbuch, who had earlier figured in the newspapers as a mysterious “curly headed” person, went to Captain O’Brien’s office at nine o’clock on the morning of the inquest offering to appear as a witness as to the good character of Averbuch. He was promptly arrested and detained until four o’clock the same afternoon and so was prevented from giving favorable testimony.
They maintain that not a scintilla of evidence was produced at the inquest to prove the charge of anarchy, and yet that the same newspapers which had so assiduously spread the police charge of anarchy did nothing whatever to rectify the mistake when the coroner’s inquest not only failed to establish such a charge, but when their silence confirmed a lack of material upon which they were willing to make such a charge. They, the Russian Jewish colony, further assert that the Americans throughout the community were brutally indifferent to the fact that the odium of this unsubstantiated charge should remain upon thousands of their fellow citizens of Russian Jewish birth.
I could quote a much longer indictment which is made against the coroner’s inquest by the colony, but perhaps the spirit can be best illustrated by the events in New York. The Russian Jewish colony there are also convinced, quite erroneously possibly, but still convinced by the hundreds, that Silverstein was also cleverly influenced by Russian agents to prepare his bomb. They insist that the man’s life was meager and dull; that he had absolutely no connection save with the Socialist Party, who would have been the last to propose such a measure, and that it is but reasonable to believe that such a suggestion came from an outside source. If governments and governmental agents suggest such machinations to thousands of our fellow citizens, the method of procedure in order to disillusion them would seem clear.
It is quite possible that this interpretation is scattered broadcast by the Russian revolutionary party as propaganda against the Czar’s government. Far be it from me to decide. At the present moment all parties (with the notable exception of the advocates of American law and constitutional rights) are using the event as the basis for their propaganda.
The socialists pointed out the very morning after the occurrence that their great contention was here illustrated; that like economic conditions produce like results the world over; that when American capitalists are frightened as to the safety of their property or power, they behave exactly as the Russians do when they are similarly frightened.
Since the event the membership in all the radical societies in the Russian Jewish colony, irrespective of names and creeds, has increased with incredible rapidity. During the first few days applications were received faster than they could be taken care of. It registered a conviction that in a moment of panic a republican government cared no more for justice and fair play than an autocratic government did; that in America as in Russia the statement of an official was without question taken as over against the statements of the obscure members of the community. It was said many times that those who are without influence and protection in a strange country fare exactly as hard as do the poor in Europe; that all the talk of guaranteed protection through political institutions is nonsense.
It seemed to those who lived in the settlements nearest the Russian Jewish colony that it was an obvious piece of public spirit to at least try out all the legal value involved, to insist that American institutions were stout enough not to break down in times of stress and public panic. In fact, there was no other group of Americans available to whom the Russian Jewish colony might reasonably appeal. The political parties were much too timid [page 8] to take upon themselves the odium of anarchy and they were furthermore only too eager to use the hue and cry of anarchy to their own political advantage, posing as defenders of vested interests. While some of the churches spoke out later, at the time, of course, there was no way of knowing which clergymen would do so, and naturally the Russian Jewish colony had no personal acquaintance with them. For the first few days at least the churches were silent. Indeed the settlements have always cherished a secret apprehension lest they might in a given crisis act as so many of the churches do,—keep quiet and do nothing at all until the immediate crisis is past and public opinion set, thus leaving the unknown members of the community who are anxiously seeking help in the formation of their opinions, moral guidance as it were, utterly at sea. It is curious that at the moment the settlements themselves thought the first help might come from Collier’s Weekly or the American Magazine, thus corroborating the words of Professor William James in regard to higher institutions in general, although he spoke solely in relation to colleges and universities:
It would be a pity if any future historian would have to write words like these: “By the middle of the twentieth century the higher institutions of learning had lost all influence over public opinion in the United States. But the mission of raising the tone of democracy, which they had proved themselves so lamentably unfitted to exert, was assumed with rare enthusiasm and prosecuted with extraordinary skill and success by a new educational power; and for the clarification of their human sympathies and elevation of their human preferences, the people at large had acquired the habit of resorting exclusively to the guidance of certain private literary adventures, commonly designated in the market by the affectionate name of ten-cent magazines.”
The settlement might of course have waited until one of these beloved ten-cent magazines should have sent an intelligent man from New York to investigate the situation. Perhaps they would have added a detective, as McClure’s previously had sent one to San Francisco to investigate its “graft” for it.
I am quite willing to predict that if this had been done the settlements would have given uniform testimony that anarchy as a philosophy is dying down, not only in Chicago but everywhere; that their leading organs have discontinued publication and that their most eminent men in America have deserted them; that even those groups which have continued to meet are dividing, and the major half in almost every instance calls itself socialist-anarchists, an apparent contradiction of terms, whose members insist that the socialistic organization of society must be the next stage of social development and must be gone through with, so to speak, before the ideal state of society can be reached, so nearly begging the question that many orthodox socialists are willing to join them; that anarchists have never had an elaborate organization, signs, or passwords, as the newspapers state, because the very philosophy of individualism prevents it.
If I personally had been consulted by this harbinger of justice, representing a ten-cent magazine, and if he were a gentle soul who would have indulged me in a little sermon on a pet topic of non-resistance, I should have pointed out to him that to my mind the danger from the American colonies of Russian refugees lies not in the philosophies they may hold but in the moral twist which comes to him who, because he has been hard driven, has justified terrorism; that this menace comes equally from the terrorist refugees and from the agents of the Russian government which itself has instituted the terrorism of the four hundred. Perhaps he would have permitted me to expatiate at some length, in which case I should have said that when the sense of justice seeks to express itself quite outside the regular channels of established government it is set forth on a dangerous journey inevitably ending in disaster, and that this is true in spite of the fact that the adventure may have been inspired by noble motives. In the course of a recent argument with a Russian revolutionist, he once repeated [page 9] to me the speech he had made to the court which sentenced him to Siberia. As representing the government against which he had rebelled, he told the court that he might in time be able to forgive all of their outrages and injustices save one, but that hundreds of men like himself, who were vegetarians because they were not willing to participate in the destruction of living creatures, who had never struck a child even in punishment because it was against their principles, who were consumed with tenderness for the outcast and oppressed and had lived for weeks among starving peasants only that they might cheer and solace them, that these men should have been driven into terrorism, and should feel impelled to “execute”, as they call it, assassinate the Anglo-Saxon would term it, public officials, was something for which he would never forgive the Russian government. It was perhaps the heat of the argument, as much as conviction, which led me to reply that it would be equally difficult for society to forgive these very revolutionists for one thing they had done, and that was that they had re-instituted this use of force in such wise that it would inevitably be imitated by men of less scruple and restraint; that to have revived such a method in civilization, to have justified it by their disinterestedness of purpose and nobility of character, was perhaps the gravest responsibility that any group of men could assume. That the methods of terrorism have become justified in the minds of thousands of young Russian revolutionaries who have reacted against the outrages of the autocracy and who contend that it must be appealed to as a last resort induces them to justify this position to Americans with the statement that the number of violent executions in Russia do not in a given six months or a year equal the number of lynchings in America; that it is only a question of provocation before men will resort to it.
These two points of lawlessness justified by elaborate argument—one in Russia and one in America—seem to me matters of grave concern. All this I should have ventured to say to a hypothetical representative; but of course a little talk like this could only be made to an organ which appeals to the entire people, a less inclusive audience would be sure to misunderstand.
After all, are the settlements not somewhat impertinent? In trying to state that facts of the case, is not true, as Professor Small said in the Chicago Evening Post of March 14, “that the settlements are doing that which the whole city should have done.” To quote from him further “All that they desire is that nothing should remain hidden which may throw light on the affair. They wish to see that every means of getting information is exhausted before a final opinion is formed.”
That the settlements feel a responsibility for this more sharply than the rest of the community does, is doubtless the result of propinquity.
Last week in New York Dr. John Elliott, of the New York Ethical Society, told me the following story: He was conducting a class in ethics with a number of East Side boys, and by way of illustration had told the story of Nero, expatiating at some length upon his wickedness, that among other things he had killed his grandmother, burned Rome, and so forth. Finding one of his auditors very indifferent to this stirring tale, he addressed him directly: “What do you think of such a man, Louis?” Louis shrugged his shoulders, and replied that he “didn’t think nothing about him.” Dr. Elliott, seeing that he had made a mistake in appealing to Louis’s head rather than his heart, asked again with some heat, “Well, Louis, how do you feel about such a man?” Louis again shrugged his shoulders and replied with supreme indifference, “He ain’t never done nothing to me.” After all, we are amazingly dependent upon our experiences, not so much for our information and understanding as for the selection of objects which stir us to championship.
At the end of twenty years it seems absurd that the Chicago settlements should be explaining their position to the public upon these grave matters. They have received much generous support from Chicago; in many respects [page 10] they have been overestimated, but in a moment of great public excitement it is possible that they themselves are realizing for the first time that they have attained a professional standard of conduct and may perhaps begin to clear themselves of the charge of being amateur. This standard may demand that the newly arrived immigrant shall have his defense and his chance, in so far as the settlements can obtain it.
Some years ago when the mayor of Chicago was brutally assassinated and in the moment of excitement the first trial was considered hasty and inadequate, leading attorneys of this city insisted that the trial should be re-opened; that the case should be taken up to a higher court, not because there was any doubt that the condemned prisoner killed the mayor, but because the standards of the legal profession demanded that the case should be adequately and properly cared for. When the assassin of President McKinley was brought to trial in Buffalo, the legal profession there insisted that one of their number should defend him, because the professional ethics demanded that this should be done. The fact that it was a distasteful undertaking to the chosen representative had nothing whatever to do with it.
Quite as the legal profession feels its obligations in these matters, as a medical man would care for a wounded assassin as scientifically and as carefully as for a “leading citizen,” so possibly the settlements are coming to a professional standard of conduct in regard to matters pertaining to foreign colonies and the interpretation of American institutions to them.
Certain books written by settlement residents are used in the department of social ethics in several American universities. Any value such books may have arises from the fact that they present a first hand study of social and ethical conditions in the immigrant quarters and represent convictions upon which settlement residents are willing to act. That these convictions lead them to advise a different treatment for “anarchy” from that pursued by the Chicago police department may possibly mean that they are advocating an effective treatment instead of a stupid treatment.
In the first place the Chicago police department made utterly contradictory statements as to the number of anarchists which the town contains. Several days before the attack they declared that they had definite information as to a well laid anarchistic plot which would probably consummate in an assassination. So sure were they of this information that the chief himself, seeing a dark young man with a letter in his hand standing in his doorway at an unusual hour, concluded that he was an Italian anarchist about to carry out his part in this definite anarchistic plot. And yet when the police are put to it to give information, they are utterly unable to locate any such plot either among Italians or Russians, and are forced to the conclusion that whatever young Averbuch had in his mind, it was a solitary effort, “sporadic” anarchy, if anarchy at all, as was also the case of Alia in Denver, and seems to be the case of Silverstein in New York. There is no method by which any community can be guarded against sporadic efforts on the part of half-crazed, discouraged men, save by a sense of community right and security which will include each one.
One is driven at last to the Christian assertion that society is not safe unless it includes “the least of these,” and that this inclusion must be world wide with compassionate understanding for the outcast of every land, drawing him in to the reassurance and warmth of a fellowship against which he could not strive if he would. I suppose that all of our religious teaching has to be translated into experience before we really believe it. But this conviction that a sense of fellowship is the only implement which will break into the locked purpose of a half-crazed creature bent upon destruction in the name of justice, certainly came to me through an experience, curiously enough, recited to me by an old anarchist.
He was a German cobbler who, through all the changes in the manufacturing of shoes, had steadily clung [page 11] to his little shop on a Chicago thoroughfare, partly as an expression of his individualism and partly because he preferred bitter poverty in a place of his own to good wages under a disciplinary foreman. The assassin of President McKinley on his way through Chicago only a few days before he committed his dastardly deed, had visited all the anarchists whom he could find in the city, asking them for “the pass-word,” as he called it. They, of course, possessed no such thing, and had turned him away, some with disgust and all with a certain degree of impatience, as a type of the ill-balanced man who, as they put it, was always “hanging around the movement without the slightest conception of its meaning.” Among other people, he visited the German cobbler, who treated him much as the others had done, but who, after the event had made clear the identity of his visitor, was filled with the most bitter remorse that he had failed to utilize his chance meeting with the assassin to deter him from his purpose. He knew, as well as any psychologist who has read the solitary history of such men, that the only possible way to break down such a persistent and secretive purpose was by the kindliness which might have induced confession, which might have restored him into fellowship with normal men.
In the midst of his remorse, the cobbler told me a tale of his own youth; that years before, when an ardent young fellow in Germany newly converted to the philosophy of anarchism, as he called it, he had made up his mind that the church, as much as the state, was responsible for human oppression, and that this fact could best be set forth “in the deed” by the public destruction of a clergyman or priest; that he had carried firearms for a year with this purpose in mind, but that one pleasant summer evening, in a moment of weakness, he had confided his intention to a friend, and that from that moment he not only lost all desire to carry it out, but it seemed to him the most preposterous thing imaginable. In concluding the story, he also said: “That poor fellow sat just beside me on my bench,—if I had only put my hand on his shoulder and said: ‘Now, look here brother, what is on your mind? What makes you talk such nonsense? Tell me. I have seen much of life, and understand all kinds of men. I have been young and hot-headed and foolish myself.’ If he had told me of his purpose then and there, he would never have carried it out. The whole nation would have been spared this horror.” He would always shake his gray head and sigh as if the whole incident were more than he could bear. One of those terrible sins of omission; one of the things he “ought to have done,” the memory of which is the hardest to endure.
The far reaching consequences of this incident must be my excuse for this long paper. For many years differences of opinion have existed between public spirited citizens on the subject of restricting immigration and upon the treatment of refugees who have broken police or military regulations in order to escape from oppressive governmental conditions. If immigration laws are enacted which make it infinitely more difficult for Russian Jews to come to America, we shall close up the last loophole of escape for thousands of people who are living under an oppression and a persecution which are simply intolerable.
The statement has gone throughout the country that young Averbuch intended to kill the chief of police of Chicago because he represented a society of anarchists who advocated the killing of police as such. Even so eminent a man as Senator Lodge of Massachusetts, in a public address delivered in Boston before the City Club on March 20, said: “Within the last few weeks we have seen a murderous assault by an alien immigrant upon the chief of police of a great city, not to avenge a personal wrong but because he represented law and order.” Senator Lodge made this a plea for further restrictive measures in our immigration laws. It is difficult to estimate the effect upon minds all over the country, most of them presumably less careful than that possessed by the senior senator of Massachusetts, and it is difficult to estimate the result [page 12] upon immigration legislation.
Because of its effect upon immigration laws, if for no other reason, it is most essential, first and foremost, to ascertain just what did happen, and what the social implications of the event mean. As we allow our public officials to act in this instance, so the American policy will be largely determined; so free speech, “freedom of assemblage,” and all the other stirring words in the bill of rights will become interpreted; so may “our charter be torn,” to use the pregnant phrase of Abraham Lincoln.
Let us review the situation as the police themselves state it. The police in New York beat a man over the head because he is talking about socialism on the street. The man has always been told that “free speech” is guaranteed in America and he is enraged beyond bounds by this treatment. Then he hears that the unemployed have been forbidden a permit to assemble in Union Square in order to state their case and to discuss measures of relief. This seems to him an invasion of the American guarantee to the right of “free assemblage” and he, therefore, from directions in the encyclopedia, prepares a bomb to throw at the police as a protest against their invasion of American rights as he conceives them. The police in Chicago prevent a parade of the unemployed, and threaten to break up a meeting in Brand’s Hall if it shall be addressed by Emma Goldman. These two acts of the Chicago police worked upon the mind of the young Russian revolutionary named Averbuch and are the only psychological clue the police themselves give in support of their theory that he went to the house of the chief with the intent of assassination.
But with the curious logic of the policeman, the police of New York and Chicago both cite these two acts of violence which they themselves say were indirectly resultant from oppressive measures, as a justification for further repressive measures, and insist that unless further repressive measures are used, such acts will constantly occur.
When I first came to Chicago, in 1889, the events of the Haymarket riot were already two years old, but during that time Chicago had apparently gone through the first period of repressive measures, and during the winter of 1889-1890, by the advice and with the active participation of its leading citizens, had reached the conclusion that the only cure for the acts of anarchy was free speech and an open discussion of the ills of which the opponents of government complained.
As many of you doubtless remember, great open meetings were held every Sunday evening in the recital hall of the then new Auditorium, which were presided over by such representative citizens as Lyman Gage, and where every possible shade of opinion was freely expressed. A man who spoke constantly at these meetings used to be pointed out to the visiting stranger as one who had been involved with the group of convicted anarchists, and as one who doubtless would have been arrested and tried but for the accident of his having been in Milwaukee when the explosion occurred.
One cannot imagine such meetings being held in Chicago to-day, nor that such a man should be allowed to raise his voice in a public assemblage presided over by a leading banker. What has happened to Chicago in the meantime? What change has come over our philosophy?
If the under dog were always right, one might quite easily try to defend him. The trouble is that very often he is but obscurely right, sometimes only partially right, and often quite wrong, but perhaps he is never so altogether wrong and pig-headed and utterly reprehensible as he is represented to be by those who add the possession of prejudice to the other almost insuperable difficulties in understanding him.
As for those who attempt to interpret him, when he is apparently in his worst temper, they may perhaps be cheered by a phrase often quoted by Matthew Arnold:
“Conscience and the present constitution of things are not corresponding terms. It is conscience and the issue of things which go together.”