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COUNSELLORS - CONTINUED.
Miss E. D. COPLEY, Kansas.
The report was received, and the persons named were'elected.
The address of the evening was given by Hon. Newton Bateman, Illinois, on
COMPULSORY SCHOOL ATTENDANCE.
The theme assigned me is Compulsory School Attendance.
The verbal formula may be of little consequence, but, aside from the ill-repute into which that form of statement has fallen and the hostile criticism which it unnecessarily invites, I do not think it most fitly expresses the cardinal idea involved. It seems to misplace the emphasis, fixing it upon the children rather than upon the parents, where it should chiefly fall.
Believing, as I do, that the greater fault lies against parents and guardians for refusing or neglecting to send their children and wards to school, and not against the latter for refusing to attend, were I to prepare a law on the subject, I should entitle it, not a bill for an act to compel the attendance of children at school, but a bill for an act to secure to children their right to a good commonschool education. That is the form in which the question shapes itself most forcibly in my mind, and under that form I should prefer to consider it. With this introductory remark, I take the theme as it reads in the programme.
It will be my aim to maintain and support the two following propositions: Attendance in the public schools of the state should be enjoined by appropriate legislation,
I. Because such legislation is within the sphere of the proper and reasonable prerogatives of a republican commonwealth.
II. Because such legislation is expedient and necessary.
If these two propositions can be established, the doctrine of legislative interposition to arrest the evils of absenteeism and truancy, and to secure the rights and benefits of education to the youth of the state, will also be established.
I. First, then: A state legislature may legitimately undertake to deal with the question of school attendance.
This proposition simply affirms that the people of a commonwealth may properly take this matter in hand. For, behind general assemblies are massed the people, the formal embodiment and promulgation of whose will, judgment, or moral convictions, as the case may be, is legislation. Whatever matters and interests, therefore, fall legitimately within the handling of the people, as the supreme and authoritative body-politic, come also within the jurisdiction of general assemblies, the people's representative agents and servants. All of our theories and practices as American states and communities conform to and rest upon these maxims of civil government - none, in this country, deny them.
Now, there are certain things which are essential to the very existence of an organized civil community, even in its most rudimentary form. Most of these primary conditions are so obvious and imperative as to have the spontaneous and almost universal assent of the members of the community. Among them are the rights and immunities of person and property.
So self-evident are these initial requirements of civil and municipal existence, that little or no opposition to the enforcement of them is encountered. Life and property must be protected - it is the instinctive, spontaneous and absolute decree of the popular will that they shall be. But, in stead of each man, club or pistol in hand, standing guard over his own property, and becoming his own swift and irresponsible avenger of blood, the popular will on these subjects passes on to legislative halls, thence to reäppear in the form of penal and criminal laws for the repression and punishment of murder, robbery, burglary, arson, etc.
And for the enforcement of these just and necessary enactments there are the jail, the dungeon, the gibbet, and the mailed hands of the officers of the law, supported, if need be, by the resistless posse.
These elementary laws are all compulsory. Force stands ever in the background, ready to uphold the majesty of the law, or to execute the decrées of courts. Without this element of force ever in reserve, and known so to be, criminal and punitive codes would be but chaff before the whirlwind, affording no protection at all against the insurgent passions of lawless men.
There stands the enactment, formulating the popular mind and conscience and will, grounded upon a primal necessity of civil society, of most beneficent intent, a pledge for the safety of every well-disposed citizen. For such it has no terrors- utters no menace-infringes no right - challenges no opposition inspires no odium. Armed, indeed, is it with the high prerogatives of power; a glittering sword does indeed lurk beneath the folds of its robe. But that is only for the assassin and thief, for the prowling burglar and the midnight incendiary. Until awakened by one of these, that blade sleeps, .concealed amid the verbal draperies of the law, gently as the head of infancy upon the maternal breast. But then, its leap from its hiding-place is terrible and sure.
Having established those elementary safeguards, the inchoate community is soon pressed by other needs, demanding other legislative provisions. Roads, highways and streets, bridges, market-places and public buildings, and countless other improvements and structures, are required, in rapid succession, for the comfort and convenience of the people, and for the transaction of accumulating public business. To lay out and construct these, much labor and skill and large sums of money are necessary. No one man, or the fractional part of the community, has the strength or resources for such extensive and costly enterprises; nor would it be just to impose the whole burden upon one, or a part, even if there were ability to assume it. The work must be done by associated effort — by united hands and purses. It is for all, and all must participate in the labor and cost, each according to his ability. To construct and maintain the roads and highways, the whole able-bodied male population is called out, and must respond, either in person or by a money equivalent sufficient to employ a substitute.
The general revenue needful for public uses is secured by a device called taxation. Discreet persons are chosen to estimate the value of every man's possessions of whatsoever kind; the aggregate of these values is compared with the total amount required for public uses, and therefrom is deduced the number of mills or cents which each man must pay on every dollar's worth of his possessions. Particular times and places are designated, when and where every man is to repair and pay over the sums due, to the persons appointed by the community, as its agents, to receive the same.
Now, it would seem that a contrivance so simple as this, so necessary for the public good, so manifestly just and equitable, might be safely left to the voluntary acceptance and compliance of the people, without legislation, or coërcive provisions. But, however reasonable such expectation, experience demonstrates it to be fallacious. Citizens are not wanting who, without a blush, use the bridges and highways, and enjoy all the public improvements and conveniences, to the making, building and maintenance of which they did not and will not contribute a farthing. This increases the burdens of the rest, who justly complain of the wrong, and again the community must seek redress through the authoritative forms of law, armed with penal provisions, and, in the last resort, with the full power of the physical arm. If a selfish propertyholder will not pay his proportion of taxes voluntarily, he is compelled to pay them. In default, the indignant people at last, through their own accredited agents, the officers of the law, take his property, with the strong hand, and sell it, forcing him to bear his just part in the common and necessary burdens of the commonwealth.
The same is true of assessments levied to maintain a police force to protect the lives and property of citizens and insure the public peace and tranquillity – to establish and support a fire department, that shall be ever ready to rescue the homes and possessions of the people from the devastating flames — to build strongholds for the safe custody of criminals and outlaws, and numberless other purposes demanded by the common weal. The people have sent all these assessments through the forms of law, and environed them, every one, with compulsory provisions directed against the selfish, the unin ligent, and the unreasonable. The tax that avarice or stupidity or obstinacy will not pay for these beneficent and necessary uses is extorted, even from the clenched fist of the desperate recusant, by the iron grip of the ministers of the law.
The things thus far enumerated belong, it is true, to civil society in its more rudimentary forms, and, being manifestly essential thereto, none but the depraved or stupid, the moral bedouins of the body-politic, deny that they are all proper subjects of compulsory and punitive legislation.
But do the prerogatives of government, that is, of the people in their sovereign capacity, cease with the establishment and maintenance of these elementary principles of social and political order? Does the supremacy of the people, acting through general assemblies which do but reflect and make effective that supremacy, stop, of necessity, with the care of these material interests of the commonwealth? Must the column of governmental forces be peremptorily halted on the very line that divides the lower from the higher plane of civilization-at the very foot of the mount of social and political transfiguration? May the people, through those of their number chosen for the purpose, called legislators, pass laws that shall help to put bread into hungry mouths, hats on uncovered heads, coats on naked backs, and shoes on bare feet, but not dare to recognize greater needs and deeper cravings? Is the work of a com
ommunity done, are its powers exhausted, when the cry “What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed ?” has been regarded? Who says to governments, striving to evolve a nobler civilization, "Thus far, but no further"? What high decree of God or of men strikes the sceptre from the popular hand the moment it would summon the masses from the dusty highways and sordid market-places, out to green fields and sunlit mountains? Who has been commissioned to roll a red sea of perpetual despair in front of the children of men, as they would fain fly toward the land of promise, from the task-masters of Egypt?
Passing, now, the further analysis of the primary and inalienable rights and powers of the people, which these inquiries challenge - how is it in point of fact? Do legislatures, as the fiduciaries of the people, renounce their sovereignty at the outer threshold of God's temples of grace and beauty — not daring to enter? Do the people always stay contentedly in the workshop, and amid the bales and casks of commerce, never daring to approach the Beautiful Gates, and swarm out where bright fields, the minstrelsy of birds and glory-tinted skies invite? Are our statutes limited to the bare necessities and material utilities of life? Is the strong arm invoked for naught beyond the domain of our common and lower needs and comforts?
Let the millions paid, willingly paid for the most part, here in republican America, in the form of taxes and assessments levied and collected by state and municipal law for gigantic reservoirs and costly water-works— for lake tunnels and Croton and Cochituate aqueducts - for Central Parks, and other parks and pleasure-grounds innumerable - for public fountains, gardens and promenades - for public museums, galleries of art, academies of music, libraries and reading-rooms— for flooding the streets and public buildings with artificial light by night-for memorial statues and structures in granite and bronze and marble, and a hundred other forms of public ministry to the demands of æsthetic culture-of elegance, taste and beauty - let all these, so familiar and so valued, be the emphatic answer.
The people rise to a conception and appreciation of these things; they desire them, believe it right to have them, and resolve to have them. And then, as in all other instances, so in this, their will at length passes on to legislative halls, and is recorded in imperative statutes- money is wanted for beauty as well as for bread, for art as well as for trade. The mandate goes forth and searches out and hunts down every tax-payer, and just behind stand the same inexorable, mail-clad, resistless sentinels and servitors of the law, armed with the powers and weapons of compulsion. Is the assessment for a park, a fountain, or a statue? it must be paid under the same penalties and at the peril of the same coërcion as if it were for a bridge, a prison, or an almshouse.
Now, these things lie beyond the iron orbit of hard material necessities, out in the blue firmament where play the forces of a higher civilization, where the inspirations of art and taste and beauty have recognition. And yet the regency of the people over them, through the law-making power, is acknowledged. They are, to-day, among the familiar subjects of federal, state and municipal legislation.
In direct alignment with the examples just noted is the history and development of free public education in this country. The idea of free schools, established and supported by the state, was born of the political sagacity, far-reaching wisdom and sanctified common sense of the New-England Fathers, who builded their moral, social and political institutions upon foundations as enduring as the rocks of their own sea-girt colonies. The splendid results of that grand idea have been the admiration of observing nations for more than a hundred years. It was a seminal and diffusive truth that was planted by those hardy, libertyloving men of God. It enfolded the germinal principles, the essential elements, of our political system—the vital ideas of a free republican state. It has been adopted by nearly every commonwealth from the lakes to the gulf, and from sea to sea.
How has it attained this universal recognition — this firm intrenchment in the laws? Just as all the other popular measures to which reference has been made. It commended itself to the judgment of the people; it was seen to be essential to the public welfare, and the people therefore decreed that it should be put in practice. Their decree went up to general assemblies and was there reïssued in the form of state school-laws, with all the machinery required for their enforcement. And now, in all those free-school states, every propertyowner, resident or non-resident, bachelor, or patriarch, whether personally friendly or hostile to the system, must pay the school-tax assessed against him. The whole power of the state is in reserve to enforce the law and collect the tax, and the people, almost with one voice, say it is right. But now, when it is proposed to go a step further, in precisely the same direction, in the same moral and political plane, in furtherance of precisely the same ends, and seek such additional legislation as will tend to perfect and consummate the whole work — as will utilize the enormous expenditures of money and secure the largest possible harvest for the intellectual and moral garners of the commonwealth,—a sudden halt is sounded all along the line, and notes of apprehension and alarm are heard. Thus: Preach the gospel of universal education by free public schools, they say; it is the only gospel of political safety. Ballots for all, without knowledge for all, is the precipitous road to anarchy and despotism. Establish your school-systems, with all their intricate and nicely-adjusted machinery, and their tens of thousands of school-officers and fiduciary agents. Let the school-houses rise and their bells ring out from every hillside and valley, from every cross-roads and prairie. Seek out, train and employ the choicest men and women of the land to instruct and teach the children of the people, with a wise disregard of false economy as to wages. Fnrnish and equip, with a lavish hand, the buildings and grounds, with whatsoever is required for the work of instruction, or demanded by the rules of convenience and taste. And for all these things tax the people. Tax them, if need be, to the utmost limits of state law, municipal law, local district law, and sub-district law. Tax them on all realty and personalty; let no description or class of property escape. Tax them for buildings, furniture and apparatus; for books and libraries; for grounds and appurtenances, and for the improvement and ornamenta