Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 11.

How the World Came to Be Ruined

We were uneasy, restless, longing for the night to come. To while away the time we conversed upon subjects that were near our hearts.

I said to Maximilian while he paced the room:

“How did this dreadful state of affairs, in which the world now finds itself, arise? Were there no warnings uttered by any intelligent men? Did the world drift blindly and unconsciously into this condition?”

“No,” said Maximilian, going to his library; “no; even a hundred years ago the air was full of prophecies. Here,” he said, laying his hand upon a book, is The Century Magazine, of February, 1889; and on page 622 we read:

For my own part, I must confess my fears that, unless some important change is made in the constitution of our voting population, the breaking strain upon our political system will come within half a century. Is it not evident that our present tendencies are in the wrong direction? The rapidly increasing use of money in elections, for the undisguised purchase of votes, and the growing disposition to tamper with the ballot and the tally-sheet, are some of the symptoms. . . . Do you think that you will convince the average election officer that it is a great crime to cheat in the return of votes, when he knows that a good share of those votes have been purchased with money? No; the machinery of the election will not be kept free from fraud while the atmosphere about the polls reeks with bribery. The system will all go down together. In a constituency which can be bribed all the forms of law tend swiftly to decay.

“And here,” he said, picking up another volume, “is a reprint of the choicest gems of The North American Review. In the number for March, 1889, Gen. L. S. Bryce, a member of Congress, said:

We live in a commercial age — not in a military age; and the shadow that is stealing over the American landscape partakes of a commercial character. In short, the shadow is of an unbridled plutocracy, caused, created and cemented in no slight degree by legislative, aldermanic and congressional action; a plutocracy that is far more wealthy than any aristocracy that has ever crossed the horizon of the world’s history, and one that has been produced in a shorter consecutive period; the names of whose members are emblazoned, not on the pages of their nation’s glory, but of its peculations; who represent no struggle for their country’s liberties, but for its boodle; no contests for Magna Charta,[sic] but railroad charters; and whose octopus-grip is extending over every branch of industry; a plutocracy which controls the price of the bread that we eat, the price of the sugar that sweetens our cup, the price of the oil that lights us on our way, the price of the very coffins in which we are finally buried; a plutocracy which encourages no kindly relation between landlord and tenant, which has so little sense of its political duties as even to abstain from voting, and which, in short, by its effrontery, is already causing the unthinking masses to seek relief in communism, in single-taxism, and in every other ism, which, if ever enforced, would infallibly make their second state worse than the first.

“And here are hundreds of warnings of the same kind. Even the President of the United States, in that same year, 1889, uttered this significant language:

Those who use unlawful methods, if moved by no higher motive than the selfishness that prompted them, may well stop and inquire, What is to be the end of this?

“Bishop Potter, of New York, in the national ceremonies, held April 30, 1889, which marked the centennial anniversary of the first inauguration of George Washington, spoke of the plutocracy, which had already reached alarming proportions, and expressed his doubts whether the Republic would ever celebrate another centennial. Afterwards, in explaining his remarks, he said:

When I speak of this as the era of the plutocrats, nobody can misunderstand me. Everybody has recognized the rise of the money power. Its growth not merely stifles the independence of the people, but the blind believers in this omnipotent power of money assert that its liberal use condones every offense. The pulpit does not speak out as it should. These plutocrats are the enemies of religion, as they are of the state. And, not to mince matters, I will say that, while I had the politicians in mind prominently, there “are others.” I tell you I have heard the corrupt use of money in elections and the sale of the sacred right of the ballot openly defended by ministers of the gospel. I may find it necessary to put such men of the sacred office in the public pillory.

“And Bishop Spalding, of Peoria, Illinois, about the same time, said:

Mark my words, the saloon in America has become a public nuisance. The liquor trade, by meddling with politics and corrupting politics, has become a menace and a danger. Those who think and those who love America and those who love liberty are going to bring this moral question into politics more and more; also this question of bribery, this question of lobbying, this question of getting measures through state and national legislatures by corrupt means. They are going to be taken hold of. Our press, which has done so much to enlighten our people, which represents so much that is good in our civilization, must also be reformed. It must cease to pander to such an extent to the low and sensual appetites of man. My God, man is animal enough! You don’t want to pander to his pruriency! You don’t want to pander to the beast that is in him. . . . Our rich men — and they are numerous, and their wealth is great — their number and their wealth will increase — but our rich men must do their duty or perish. I tell you, in America, we will not tolerate vast wealth in the hands of men who do nothing for the people.

“And here is a still more remarkable article, by Dr. William Barry, in The Forum for April, 1889. He speaks of —

The concrete system of capitalism; which in its present shape is not much more than a century old, and goes back to Arkwright’s introduction of the spinning-jenny in 1776 — that notable year — as to its hegira or divine epoch of creation.

“And again he says:

This it is that justifies Von Hartmann’s description of the nineteenth century as “the most irreligious that has ever been seen;” this and not the assault upon dogma or the decline of the churches. There is a depth below atheism, below anti-religion, and into that the age has fallen. It is the callous indifference to everything which does not make for wealth. . . . What is eloquently described as “the progress of civilization,” as “material prosperity,” and “unexampled wealth,” or, more modestly, as “the rise of the industrial middle class,” becomes, when we look into it with eyes purged from economic delusions, the creation of a “lower and lowest” class, without land of their own, without homes, tools or property beyond the strength of their hands; whose lot is more helplessly wretched than any poet of the Inferno has yet imagined. Sunk in the mire of ignorance, want and immorality, they seem to have for their only gospel the emphatic words attributed to Mr. Ruskin: “If there is a next world they will be damned; and if there is none, they are damned already.”. —— Have all these things come to pass that the keeper of a whisky-shop in California may grow rich on the spoils of drunken miners, and great financiers dictate peace and war to venerable European monarchies? The most degraded superstition that ever called itself religion has not preached such a dogma as this. It falls below fetichism. The worship of the almighty dollar, incarnate in the self-made capitalist, is a deification at which Vespasian himself, with his “Ut puto, deus fio,” would stare and gasp.

“And this remarkable article concludes with these words of prophecy:

The agrarian difficulties of Russia, France, Italy, Ireland, and of wealthy England, show us that ere long the urban and the rural populations will be standing in the same camp. They will be demanding the abolition of that great and scandalous paradox whereby, though production has increased three or four times as much as the mouths it should fill, those mouths are empty. The backs it should clothe are naked; the heads it should shelter, homeless; the brains it should feed, dull or criminal, and the souls it should help to save, brutish. Surely it is time that science, morality and religion should speak out. A great change is coming. It is even now at our doors. Ought not men of good will to consider how they shall receive it, so that its coming may be peaceable?

“And here,” Max added, “is the great work of Prof. Scheligan, in which he quotes from The Forum, of December, 1889, p. 464, a terrible story of the robberies practiced on the farmers by railroad companies and money-lenders. The railroads in 1882 took, he tells us, one-half of the entire wheat crop of Kansas to carry the other half to market! In the thirty-eight years following 1850 the railroad interest of the United States increased 1580 per cent.; the banking interest 918 per cent., and the farming interest only 252 per cent. A man named Thomas G. Shearman showed, in 1889, that 100,000 persons in the United States would, in thirty years, at the rate at which wealth was being concentrated in the hands of the few, own three-fifths of all the property of the entire country. The American Economist asserted, in 1889, that in twenty-five years the number of people in the United States who owned their own homes had fallen from five-eighths to three-eighths. A paper called The Progress, of Boston, in 1889, gave the following significant and prophetic figures:

The eloquent Patrick Henry said: “We can only judge the future by the past.”

Look at the past:

When Egypt went down 2 per cent. of her population owned 97 per cent. of her wealth. The people were starved to death.

When Babylon went down 2 per cent. of her population owned all the wealth. The people were starved to death.

When Persia went down 1 per cent. of her population owned the land.

When Rome went down 1,800 men owned all the known world.

There are about 40,000,000 people in England, Ireland and Wales, and 100,000 people own all the land in the United Kingdom.

For the past twenty years the United States has rapidly followed in the steps of these old nations. Here are the figures:

In 1850 capitalists owned 37½ per cent. of the nation’s wealth.

In 1870 they owned 63 percent.

“In 1889, out of 1,500,000 people living in New York City, 1,100,000 dwelt in tenement-houses.

“At the same time farm-lands, east and west, had fallen, in twenty-five years, to one-third or one-half their cost. State Assessor Wood, of New York, declared, in 1889, that, in his opinion, ‘in a few decades there will be none but tenant farmers in this State.’

“In 1889 the farm mortgages in the Western States amounted to three billion four hundred and twenty-two million dollars.”

“Did these wonderful utterances and most significant statistics,” I asked, “produce no effect on that age?”

“None at all,” he replied. “‘Wisdom cries in the streets, and no man regards her.’ The small voice of Philosophy was unheard amid the blare of the trumpets that heralded successful knavery; the rabble ran headlong to the devil after gauds and tinsel.”

“Have there been,” I asked, “no later notes of warning of the coming catastrophe?”

“Oh, yes,” he replied; “ten thousand. All through the past century the best and noblest of each generation, wherever and whenever they could find newspapers or magazines that dared to publish their utterances, poured forth, in the same earnest tones, similar prophecies and appeals. But in vain. Each generation found the condition of things more desperate and hopeless: every year multiplied the calamities of the world. The fools could not see that a great cause must continue to operate until checked by some higher power. And here there was no higher power that desired to check it. As the domination and arrogance of the ruling class increased, the capacity of the lower classes to resist, within the limits of law and constitution, decreased. Every avenue, in fact, was blocked by corruption. juries, courts, legislatures, congresses, they were as if they were not. The people were walled in by impassable barriers. Nothing was left them but the primal, brute instincts of the animal man, and upon these they fell back, and the Brotherhood of Destruction arose. But no words can tell the sufferings that have been endured by the good men, here and there, who, during the past century, tried to save mankind. Some were simply ostracised from social intercourse with their caste; others were deprived of their means of living and forced down into the ranks of the wretched; and still others”— and here, I observed, his face grew ashy pale, and the muscles about his mouth twitched nervously —“still others had their liberty sworn away by purchased perjury, and were consigned to prisons, where they still languish, dressed in the hideous garb of ignominy, and performing the vile tasks of felons.” After a pause, for I saw he was strangely disturbed, I said to him:

“How comes it that the people have so long submitted to these great wrongs? Did they not resist?”

“They did,” he replied; “but the fruit of the tree of evil was not yet ripe. At the close of the nineteenth century, in all the great cities of America, there was a terrible outbreak of the workingmen; they destroyed much property and many lives, and held possession of the cities for several days. But the national government called for volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of warlike young men, sons of farmers, sprang to arms: and, after several terrible battles, they suppressed the revolution, with the slaughter of tens of thousands of those who took part in it; while afterwards the revengeful Oligarchy sent thousands of others to the gallows. And since then, in Europe and America, there have been other outbreaks, but all of them terminated in the same way. The condition of the world has, however, steadily grown worse and worse; the laboring classes have become more and more desperate. The farmers’ sons could, for generations, be counted upon to fight the workmen; but the fruit has been steadily ripening. Now the yeomanry have lost possession of their lands; their farms have been sold under their feet; cunning laws transferred the fruit of their industry into the pockets of great combinations, who loaned it back to them again, secured by mortgages; and, as the pressure of the same robbery still continued, they at last lost their homes by means of the very wealth they had themselves produced. Now a single nabob owns a whole county; and a state is divided between a few great loan associations; and the men who once tilled the fields, as their owners, are driven to the cities to swell the cohorts of the miserable, or remain on the land a wretched peasantry, to contend for the means of life with vile hordes of Mongolian coolies. And all this in sight of the ruins of the handsome homes their ancestors once occupied! Hence the materials for armies have disappeared. Human greed has eaten away the very foundations on which it stood. And of the farmers who still remain nearly all are now members of our Brotherhood. When the Great Day comes, and the nation sends forth its call for volunteers, as in the past, that cry will echo in desolate places; or it will ring through the triumphant hearts of savage and desperate men who are hastening to the banquet of blood and destruction. And the wretched, yellow, under-fed coolies, with women’s garments over their effeminate limbs, will not have the courage or the desire or the capacity to make soldiers and defend their oppressors.”

“But have not the Oligarchy standing armies?” I asked.

“Yes. In Europe, however, they have been constrained, by inability to wring more taxes from the impoverished people, to gradually diminish their numbers. There, you know, the real government is now a coterie of bankers, mostly Israelites; and the kings and queens, and so-called presidents, are mere toys and puppets in their hands. All idea of national glory, all chivalry, all pride, all battles for territory or supremacy have long since ceased. Europe is a banking association conducted exclusively for the benefit of the bankers. Bonds take the place of national aspirations. To squeeze the wretched is the great end of government; to toil and submit, the destiny of the peoples.

“The task which Hannibal attempted, so disastrously, to subject the Latin and mixed-Gothic races of Europe to the domination of the Semitic blood, as represented in the merchant-city of Carthage, has been successfully accomplished in these latter days by the cousins of the Phœnicians, the Israelites. The nomadic children of Abraham have fought and schemed their way, through infinite depths of persecution, from their tents on the plains of Palestine, to a power higher than the thrones of Europe. The world is to-day Semitized. The children of Japhet lie prostrate slaves at the feet of the children of Shem; and the sons of Ham bow humbly before their august dominion.

“The standing armies of Europe are now simply armed police; for, as all the nations are owned by one power — the money power — there is no longer any danger of their assaulting each other. But in the greed of the sordid commercial spirit which dominates the continent they have reduced, not only the numbers, but the pay of the soldiers, until it is little better than the compensation earned by the wretched peasantry and the mechanics; while years of peace and plunder have made the rulers careless and secure. Hence our powerful association has spread among these people like wild-fire: the very armies are honeycombed with our ideas, and many of the soldiers belong to the Brotherhood.

“Here, in America, they have been wise enough to pay the soldiers of their standing army better salaries; and hence they do not so readily sympathize with our purposes. But we outnumber them ten to one, and do not fear them. There is, however, one great obstacle which we have not yet seen the way to overcome. More than a century ago, you know, dirigible air-ships were invented. The Oligarchy have a large force of several thousands of these, sheathed with that light but strong metal, aluminium; in popular speech they are known as The Demons. Sailing over a hostile force, they drop into its midst great bombs, loaded with the most deadly explosives, mixed with bullets; and, where one of these strikes the ground, it looks like the crater of an extinct volcano; while leveled rows of dead are strewed in every direction around it. But this is not all. Some years since a French chemist discovered a dreadful preparation, a subtle poison, which, falling upon the ground, being heavier than the air and yet expansive, rolls, ‘like a slow blot that spreads,’ steadily over the earth in all directions, bringing sudden death to those that breathe it. The Frenchman sold the secret of its preparation to the Oligarchy for a large sum; but he did not long enjoy his ill-gotten wealth. He was found dead in his bed the next day, poisoned by the air from a few drops of his own invention; killed, it is supposed, by the governments, so that they would possess forever the exclusive monopoly of this terrible instrument of slaughter. It is upon this that they principally rely for defense from the uprisings of the oppressed people. These air-ships, ‘the Demons,’ are furnished with bombs, loaded with this powerful poison; and, when an outbreak occurs, they sail, like great, foul birds, dark-winged and terrible, over the insurgents; they let fall a single bomb, which inspires such terror in the multitude that those not instantaneously killed by the poison fly with the utmost speed; and the contest is at an end. We have long labored to bring the men who arm these air-ships, and who manufacture this poison, into our organization, but so far without success. The Oligarchy knows their value, and pays them well. We have, however, bribed one or two of their men, not themselves in the secret, but who have inspired the others to make demand after demand upon the government for increased pay, knowing that they held everything in their power. The Oligarchy has been constrained to yield to these demands, which have only led, under our inspiration, to still greater claims; and it is our hope that before long the rulers will refuse to go farther in that direction; and then, in the discontent that will inevitably follow, the men will yield to our approaches. It will be the old story over again — the army that was called in to defend effete Rome at last took possession of the empire and elected the emperors. This is the fate that cruelty and injustice ultimately bring upon their own heads — they are devoured by their instruments. As Manfred says:

“‘The spirits I have raised abandon me;

The spells that I had recked of torture me.’”

“You are right,” I replied; “there is nothing that will insure permanent peace but universal justice: that is the only soil that grows no poisons. Universal justice means equal opportunities for all men and a repression by law of those gigantic abnormal selfishnesses which ruin millions for the benefit of thousands. In the old days selfishness took the form of conquest, and the people were reduced to serfs. Then, in a later age, it assumed the shape of individual robbery and murder. Laws were made against these crimes. Then it broke forth in the shape of subtle combinations, ‘rings,’ or ‘trusts,’ as they called them, corporations, and all the other cunning devices of the day, some of which scarcely manifested themselves on the surface, but which transferred the substance of one man into the pockets of another, and reduced the people to slavery as completely and inevitably as ever the robber barons of old did the original owners of the soil of Europe.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37