previous next

Chapter 5: political studies abroad

Dana left Paris about October 6th, and arrived at Berlin shortly afterwards. His first letter from that place was dated October 10th, and gave a general account of the republican movement throughout Germany. It indicates a close study of conditions not only in that country but in Austria-Hungary as well. In both, as in France, the people were arrayed against the nobility, for the abolition of unjust feudal rights and of unlimited power, for the establishment of equality under the law, for individual and collective liberty, for free religion, free press, and for a wider distribution of the soil. While they favored a united Germany under a republican government, they had not yet, says Dana, adopted “the absurd idea that German nationality must include every race that speaks the German language, or which has ever been under German authority.” Here, as in France, Dana, speaking their language fluently, and mixing with the people freely in their places of meeting and amusement, speedily gained their confidence and became acquainted with their inmost aims and aspirations. Considering their aptitude for giving practical application to abstract ideas, he hastened to declare:

... The question of this age, I begin to think, must be decided in Germany. It was here that was accomplished the [84] great movement of the Reformation which gave individual liberty to the world, and in so doing introduced all the evils that belong to individualism and the reign of unlimited competition as the guiding principle of society. It is here that the next and greatest step is perhaps to be taken, and with the organization of fraternity, the rights of individuals and the full activity of freedom will be reconciled with Universal Prosperity and Justice. But it is not extravagant to believe that the civil war which may accompany or precede the accomplishment of this great change will be :short and harmless compared to that war in which the Reformation contended for existence. In spite of clouds which hang upon the horizon, I have an instinctive faith that the storm, if it burst at all, must soon disappear in a glorious enduring day. The grounds of this faith I may have occasion to develop in future letters, but for the moment the fact that the German character is eminently fraternal is worth considering. ...

While in Berlin he mingled freely with the citizens in the streets, both before and after the collision which occurred between the workmen and the National Guard; and in his letter of the 17th, he gives a graphic account of the fighting and of the public funeral of those who were killed in the affray — of the orations which were delivered by the clergymen and representatives — of the quarrel between the king and those who favored the reduction of his powers — of the failure of the Assembly both there and at Frankfort-and of the threatened condition of affairs in Austria. He had intended to go through Bohemia and Prague to Vienna, to study the condition of affairs on the spot, but for some reason not explained changed his plans, and went directly to Frankfort-on-the-Main. He wrote two letters from there, both dated November 27th; the first related to the Prussian revolution, and gave a graphic account of the king's triumph, which was attributed largely to the cowardice of the armed burghers, especially of [85] Berlin, and the incompetence of both the civil and military leaders. To this should be added the fear of anarchy, the desire of quiet and profitable times, and a willingness on the part of many to accept a “constitutional throne” as a sufficient guarantee of their personal and property rights.

Dana indulged in the prophecy that Prussia, and with it Germany, must become a republic, but he did not venture to predict whether the change would be brought about peaceably or by revolution, nor how soon it might be expected. He thought that there were too many republicans and socialists, too many thinkers and writers, too many journals and magazines throughout Germany to permit the continuance of arbitrary rule; but how soon or how thorough the changes would be, he did not venture to predict. He recognized the effort to re-establish the empire on the basis of a customs-union, or zollverein, in which there should be free-trade between the states and a common tariff against all outside countries. He set forth the arguments in favor of a policy which should guard German industry against foreign competition, and grant free-trade to such countries only as would consent to a genuine reciprocity. He considered the question of an elective or hereditary emperor for life or for a term of years, but came to the conclusion that the preponderance of Prussia over the other German states was so great that the king of that country would carry off the prize, and that Germany as a whole would gain nothing from the revolution, except “that instead of thirty-four sovereign princes she would have thirty-five.” He pointed out that the composite character and dynastic interests of the Austria-Hungarian empire, and especially the opposition of the Slavonic leaders, would make it impracticable to incorporate any of the provinces of that empire into the new German Federation. He gives a brief but an interesting account of affairs at Vienna and in the Danubian provinces, [86] as reportedly by the newspapers, but owing to the continuance of the state of siege at Vienna, and of the civil war in Hungary, he gave up his proposed trip to those regions, and returned to Paris, where he arrived December 6 or 7, 1848.

The first letter after his arrival is dated December 10th, and the second December 14th. They relate to the parties, the candidates, and to the election of Louis Napoleon as the first president of France under the new constitution over Cavaignac the provisional president, Ledru-Rollin, candidate of the revolutionary party, and Raspail, the candidate of the extreme socialists, by an overwhelming majority in the proportion of five votes to two. Dana attributes this extraordinary result to the refusal of the provisional government, backed by the bourgeoisie, the commercial classes, the clergy, and the office-holders to protect the natural rights of the laboring classes.

From the first he declared:

I have no faith in the sincerity of Louis Napoleon's adherence to the Republic. His history is marked with examples of falsehood too glaring to allow any confidence to be placed in his protestations even were he a man of sufficient intellect and character to be capable of genuine sincerity. There is no doubt that he would much rather be Emperor than President. ...

He pointed out that while the new constitution, with all its defects, established a republic, and guaranteed liberty, order, and the opportunity of progress as no other French constitution had ever done, it had also established a centralized government which might be “a good arrangement for a despotism, but not for a free country.” It, however, failed to make provision for the right to labor, and thus ignored one of the principal contentions of the revolution, and yet he thought that neither the Legitimists, [87] the Bonapartists, the socialists, nor the radicals would try to overthrow it. Surveying the whole field, he concluded that the party into whose hands the revolution had fallen “had been tried and found wanting,” that the prominent impulse in every quarter was to oust it, and that as there was no really great man to save it, the voters would settle down “on Louis Napoleon, whom they despised, to defeat Cavaignac, whom they hated.”

Mingling with the plain people in their daily life, studying their manners and habits of thought, their labor and socialistic associations, and conversing freely with them in the restaurants, workshops, places of amusement, and streets, Dana wrote seven letters to the Tribune in quick succession, the last of which was dated January 2, 1849. In these letters he summarized the situation of political affairs throughout Europe, discussed the election in France, the inauguration of the new president, the personnel and character of his cabinet, and finally gave what is aptly designated as “the balance-sheet of the revolution.” In his astonishment at the enormous popular majority of Louis Napoleon, he declared that “France has voted like a drunken man,” and that many feared he would at once make himself emperor, but such an act of usurpation he dismissed as improbable, and if undertaken, no matter under what pretence, as sure to result in failure as did that at Boulogne. He believed that both the army and the great body of the people were true to the republic, and would support it against all its enemies whatsoever, and that there was at that time no reason to fear that the president-elect would accept the imperial crown if it were offered him. Besides, he suggested that with the formation of his cabinet and the establishment of his government on a working basis, “M. Napoleon has his hands full without thinking immediately of putting on the crown of his uncle.” He added: [88]

... If France has voted for him-as it were in intoxication, it is an intoxication in which all engagements are to be remembered, and after which their fulfilment will be insisted upon.

While all this seemed true at the time, and there was but little either in France or the rest of Europe upon which to base a forecast of history, the condition of public affairs had by no leans reached a state of stable equilibrium. While the party of resistance had got control in Germany, and a solidarity of the German people had been defeated for the present by the rivalry between Prussia and Austria and the distrust of the other principalities, order was not yet fully re-established. Italy and Hungary were still in a state of turmoil. The pope had not yet returned to the Vatican nor regained his freedom of action, and yet the revolution was everywhere on the wane. Peace reigned throughout France, the long agony was over, and the new president was quickly though prematurely inaugurated on December 20th, installed in the Elysee National, and surrounded by a cabinet, of his own choosing. Dana, in describing this ceremony, says:

... The president-elect was dressed with unusual elegance in a black coat with a white waistcoat and white kid gloves, much as if he had been going to a wedding. His heavy, rather sensual, and very ordinary features, relieved by a thick moustache, were at the same moment animated by the emotions natural to the scene, so that there was really something remarkable in his appearance. On his left breast was noticed the grand cross of the Legion of Honor.

He ascended the tribune, and as M. Marast read the oath, raised his right hand. After he had taken it and the proper formalities with regard to its announcement to the nation were accomplished, he proceeded to read his inaugural speech in a firm voice but with little impressiveness. This [89] was a short document, but contained the most entire pledges of adherence to the Republic. He would treat as enemies, he said, all who would attempt by illegal means to alter the Constitution. His aim would be to establish society on its true basis, to consolidate the Democratic Institutions of the country, and to ameliorate the condition of the people. He thanked the old government for what it had done to maintain the supremacy of the public authority, and passed a brief eulogy on General Cavaignac. They had a great mission to accomplish-namely, to found a Republic in the interest of all, with a just and firm government, animated by a sincere love of progress, and neither reactionary nor utopian. If they could not do great things, what they did do should, with the aid of God, be good.

This was a programme which might well have silenced the fears and stimulated the hopes of our correspondent.

After a brief but comprehensive allusion, in his final letter, to the inconclusive results realized in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, and to the fact that the arrest of the revolution as a European movement had put an end to the fear of general war, “which seemed at first inevitable, then desirable, and then probable,” but which had “gradually faded away like a cloud from the horizon,” he passed on to a philosophical summary of the good produced by the revolution:

... Briefly it consists in the opening wide of the way of progress. In the putting of society face to face with the questions on which its fate depends, and in the raising of many minds to solve them. Of positive results it has little to show-nothing in comparison with the evils by which it has been attended. But all evil is temporary. Good is permanent and renews itself forever. The carnage of the battlefield disappears, but the liberty thereby achieved remains for the latest generations. The impulse given to the heart and mind of Christendom by the year 1848 will wake after its [90] ruins are rebuilt. This impulse is everywhere in new and more vigorous life, in all countries of Europe-even in England.

... European civilization is at a most important crisis. It has attained its maturity and the process of decay has begun. At the same time the germs of better things, or a new social order, are appearing. Has civilized Europe vitality enough to develop the new forms before it is crushed in the downfall of the old? Is there intelligence, love of justice, and love of man enough in these nations to anticipate and obviate the decay? This is the question. The antique civilization also reached its climax and then perished. It is for us to take a lesson from its fate. It perished because it was based on slavery. Other causes were concerned in its destruction, but this was the primary one. The basis of the social structure is industry. If there is wrong in the relations of industry-that is, of property and labor — the time will arrive when they must be reformed, or the whole structure will go to pieces. For a time slavery served a useful purpose in Greece and Rome, but at last society reached a period when slavery must be put away and labor recognized in a more just manner. This necessity was not understood; the men of the time were not equal to it, and nations great in philosophy, art, poetry, and war were swept away by progress. The same necessity is at hand now. Under the existing system of labor, modern society has reached the utmost development which that system will allow. New methods of industry must be established, as much superior to the wages system as that is superior to slavery, or else the doom will be pronounced and executed....

Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the civilization of modern times is fortified against an overthrow as that of the antique world was not; the railroads, the steamships, the manufactories, the wealth more abundant and more generally divided, which exists now, are so many substantial guarantees that society is to go forward to higher forms without the sad necessity of beginning the circle anew with barbarism and ignorance for its elements. Nor is the reform now to be achieved so difficult as that for the lack of which the Old World [91] went to ruin, for the injustice and imperfection out of which labor must be elevated are not so great, while the humanity and intelligence are vastly greater. And apart from these considerations there is reason to believe that the necessary change is now slowly going on. The practical movement of labor reform is wider and profounder than is generally imagined. The principle of co-operation is surely, I believe, supplanting that of competition. Here in Paris there are now in operation some fifty associations of workmen, and they are springing up in other places also. Some will not succeed, it is likely, others are already brilliantly successful. In five years the greater part of the labor done in Paris will be so done that the workman will be his own master, and receive the full fruit of his toil. This will settle the question for the whole of Europe.

This concludes a series of letters far the most numerous and interesting Dana ever wrote, except those covering the Civil War in America. From the extracts incorporated into this narrative, which show him to have been at least a consummate reporter, it is evident that he was a spectator of many of the transactions which he described, that he was frequently admitted behind the scenes, and that in all cases he must have had excellent sources of information. The facts described by him may, therefore, be relied upon as correctly stated, and while in the light of the half-century or more which has elapsed since his first visit to Europe, it is evident that he wrote rather with regard to cause than to persons — more from a moral and speculative than from an economic or strictly philosophical point of view. Many of his conclusions have not yet been realized, but it must be conceded that they are founded on principles, if not on fundamental facts, which command our sympathy if not our approval, especially when he assures us, as he does in terms of singular eloquence, that: [92]

Through the whole commotion and excitement I have beheld nothing to shock my faith in the Divine Providence and the sure though gradual development of society into noble and happy states. My sympathies were with the people when they were triumphant, and when their heroism and enthusiasm commanded the admiration of the world; they have been with them in their errors and misfortunes; they are with them still in a hope which outlives defeat and forgets disaster.

And so it was always. If Dana appears to have been at times either a partisan or, more rarely, a neutral, there is nothing to indicate that he ever became an indifferent spectator. His mind was ever on the alert to detect the real drift of things, and while it may be truthfully said that he was by nature an optimist in regard to the purposes and tendencies of humanity, and not infrequently overestimated the strength of the forces working for progress, or underestimated those which were working against it, he rarely ever failed to lend the whole weight of his influence to the cause which enlisted his sympathies or appealed to the nobler sentiments of our common nature.

Shortly after his return to this country he prepared and published in the Tribune a review of socialism, and of certain practical associative movements in Europe, in which he contended that the so-called “Red Republicans,” while somewhat given to violence both of feeling and expression, were neither so blood-thirsty as their name seemed to indicate, nor so wicked as to favor the restoration of the guillotine. They wanted a radical change in the relations of capital and labor, with better wages and conditions for the latter than they had yet been able to obtain. To this end they had exerted their influence to induce the National Assembly of France to vote 3,000,000 francs in aid of such industrial associations as might require capital. Of this sum only 1,799,000 francs were lent out to 32 associations, [93] of which 19, receiving an aggregate of 590,000 francs, were at Paris. The rest were from the near-by country provinces. There were only 392 applications in all from 82 different branches of industry calling for about 25,000,000 francs, in sums averaging about 500 francs, or $100 each. Of these 132 were conclusively rejected for one reason or another, but mostly because they did not come within the terms of the law. It is worthy of notice that Dana visited a number of these aided associations at their places of business, and was everywhere received with the greatest politeness. The rules, regulations, working hours, conditions of the trades, and the division of the profits were explained without reservation, and in many cases he received such favorable impressions as seemed to justify the desire for fuller information, but unfortunately Dana's stay abroad was too short to permit an exhaustive study of these interesting experiments. So far as can be ascertained, he did not follow them up after his return home, and the probability is their success, however promising at the time, was partial and short-lived. The absence of sufficient capital to meet the growing requirements of the undertakings, and of an efficient and continuous management with an equitable and certain division of the profits, to say nothing of competition, must have proved fatal to these associations, as they have to every similar undertaking from that day to this. And so far as Dana is concerned, these results only go to prove that the world was not sufficiently advanced to accept the theories, or to share the confidence on which they were founded.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Charles Dana (13)
Louis Napoleon (5)
Cavaignac (3)
M. Napoleon (1)
M. Marast (1)
Ledru (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1848 AD (2)
January 2nd, 1849 AD (1)
December 20th (1)
December 10th (1)
December 6th (1)
December 2nd (1)
November 27th (1)
October 10th (1)
October 6th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: