Caesar's Column, by Ignatius Donnelly

Chapter 8.

The Brotherhood

I cannot give you, my dear brother, a detailed account of every day’s occurrences, although I know that your love for me would make every incident of interest to you. I shall, however, jot down my reflections on sheets, and send them to you as occasion serves.

The more I have seen, and the more I have conversed with Maximilian, the more clearly I perceive that the civilized world is in a desperate extremity. This Brotherhood of Destruction, with its terrible purposes and its vast numbers, is a reality. If the ruling class had to deal only with a brutalized peasantry, they might, as they did in other ages, trample them into animal-like inability to organize and defend themselves. But the public school system, which, with the other forms of the Republic, is still kept up, has made, if not all, at least a very large percentage of the unhappy laboring classes intelligent. In fact, they are wonderfully intelligent; their organizations have been to them clubs, debating societies and legislatures. And you know that all the greatest minds of the earth have come out of the masses, if not directly, at least after one or two removes. The higher aristocracy have contributed but very few to the honored catalogue of men of pre-eminent genius. And therefore you will not be surprised to hear that in these great organizations there have arisen, from among the very laborers, splendid orators, capable organizers, profound students of politics and political economy, statesmen and masterly politicians. Nature, which knows no limit to her capacity for the creation of new varieties, and, dealing with hundreds of millions, has in numerable elements to mingle in her combinations, has turned out some marvelous leaders among these poor men. Their hard fortunes have driven out of their minds all illusions, all imagination, all poetry; and in solemn fashion they have bent themselves to the grim and silent struggle with their environment. Without imagination, I say, for this seems to me to be a world without a song.

And it is to the credit of these great masses that they are keen enough to recognize the men of ability that rise up. among them, and even out of their poor, hard-earned resources to relieve them of the necessity for daily toil, that they may devote themselves to the improvement of their minds, and the execution of the great tasks assigned them. There is no doubt that if the ruling classes had been willing to recognize these natural leaders as men of the same race, blood, tongue and capacity as themselves, and had reached down to them a helping and kindly hand, there might have been long since a coming together of the two great divisions of society; and such a readjustment of the values of labor as would, while it insured happiness to those below, have not materially lessened the enjoyments of those above. But the events which preceded the great war against the aristocracy in 1640, in England; the great revolution of 1789, in France; and the greater civil war of 1861, in America, all show how impossible it is, by any process of reasoning, to induce a privileged class to peacefully yield up a single tittle of its advantages. There is no bigotry so blind or intense as that of caste; and long established wrongs are only to be rooted out by fire and sword. And hence the future looks so black to me. The upper classes might reform the world, but they will not; the lower classes would, but they cannot; and for a generation or more these latter have settled down into a sullen and unanimous conviction that the only remedy is world-wide destruction. We can say, as one said at the opening of the Cromwellian struggle, “God help the land where ruin must reform!” But the proletariat are desperate. They are ready, like the blind Samson, to pull down the pillars of the temple, even though they themselves fall, crushed to death amid the ruins; for

“The grave is brighter than their hearths and homes.”

I learn from Maximilian that their organization is most perfect. Every one of their hundred millions is now armed with one of the newest improved magazine rifles. The use of the white powder reduces very much the size of the cartridges; the bullets are also much smaller than they were formerly, but they are each charged with a most deadly and powerful explosive, which tears the body of the victim it strikes to pieces. These small cartridges are stored in the steel stock and barrel of the rifles, which will hold about one hundred of them; and every soldier therefore carries in his hand a weapon almost equal to the old-time Gatling or Armstrong gun.

The mode in which these guns were procured shows the marvelous nature of the organization and its resources. Finding that the cost of the guns was greatly increased by the profits of the manufacturer and the middleman, and that it was, in fact, very doubtful whether the government would permit them to purchase them in any large quantities, they resolved to make them for themselves. In the depths of abandoned coal mines, in the wildest and most mountainous part of Tennessee, they established, years ago, their armories and foundries. Here, under pretense of coal-mining and iron-working, they brought members of their Brotherhood, workmen from the national gun-works; and these, teaching hundreds of others the craft, and working day and night, in double gangs, have toiled until every able-bodied man in the whole vast Brotherhood, in America and Europe, has been supplied with his weapon and a full accompaniment of ammunition. The cost of all this was reduced to a minimum, and has been paid by each member of the Brotherhood setting aside each week a small percentage of his earnings. But, lest they should break out permaturely,[sic] before the leaders gave the word, these guns have not been delivered directly to their owners, but to the “commanders of tens,” as they are called; for the Brotherhood is divided into groups of ten each; and it is the duty of these commanders to bury the weapons and ammunition in the earth in rubber sacks, furnished for the purpose, and only to deliver them when the signal comes to strike. In the meantime the men are trained. with sticks in all the evolutions of soldiers. You can see how cunning is all this system. A traitor cannot betray more than nine of his fellows, and his own death is certain to follow. If the commander of a squad goes over to the enemy, he can but deliver up nine men and ten guns, and perhaps reveal the supposed name of the one man who, in a disguise, has communicated with him from the parent society. But when the signal is given a hundred million trained soldiers will stand side by side, armed with the most efficient weapons the cunning of man is able to produce, and directed by a central authority of extraordinary ability. Above all this dreadful preparation the merry world goes on, singing and dancing, marrying and giving in marriage, as thoughtless of the impending catastrophe as were the people of Pompeii in those pleasant August days in 79, just before the city was buried in ashes; — and yet the terrible volcano had stood there, in the immediate presence of themselves and their ancestors, for generations, and more than once the rocking earth had given signal tokens of its awful Possibilities.

If I believed that this wonderful Brotherhood was capable of anything beyond destruction, I should not look with such terror as I do upon the prospect. But after destruction there must come construction — the erection of law and civilization upon the ruins of the present order of things. Who can believe that these poor brutalized men will be capable, armed to the teeth with deadly weapons, and full of passions, hates and revenges, to recreate the slaughtered society? In civilized life the many must work; and who among these liberated slaves will be ready to lay down their weapons and take up their tasks? When the negroes of San Domingo broke out, in that world-famous and bloody insurrection, they found themselves, when they had triumphed, in a tropical land, where the plentiful bounties of nature hung abundant supplies of food upon every tree and shrub. But in the temperate regions of America and Europe these vast populations can only live by great toil, and if none will toil all must starve; but before they starve they will slay each other, and that means universal conflict, savagery, barbarism, chaos.

I tremble, my brother, I tremble with horror when I think of what is crawling toward us, with noiseless steps; couchant, silent, treacherous, pardlike; scarce rustling the dry leaves as it moves, and yet with bloodshot, glaring eyes and tense-drawn limbs of steel, ready for the fatal spring. When comes it? To-night? To-morrow? A week hence? Who can say?

And the thought forever presses on me, Can I do nothing to avert this catastrophe? Is there no hope? For mankind is in itself so noble, so beautiful, so full of all graces and capacities; with aspirations fitted to sing among the angels; with comprehension fitted to embrace the universe! Consider the exquisite, lithe-limbed figures of the first man and woman, as they stood forth against the red light of their first sunset — fresh from the hand of the Mighty One — His graceful, perfected, magnificent thoughts! What love shines out of their great eyes; what goodness, like dawn-awakened flowers, is blooming in their singing hearts! And all to come to this. To this! A hell of injustice, ending in a holocaust of slaughter.

God is not at fault. Nature is not to blame. Civilization, signifying increased human power, is not responsible. But human greed — blind, insatiable human greed — shallow cunning; the basest, stuff-grabbing, nut-gathering, selfish instincts, these have done this work! The rats know too much to gnaw through the sides of the ship that carries them; but these so-called wise men of the world have eaten away the walls of society in a thousand places, to the thinness of tissue-paper, and the great ocean is about to pour in at every aperture. And still they hoot and laugh their insolent laugh of safety and triumph above the roar of the greedy and boundless waters, just ready to overwhelm them forever.

Full of these thoughts, which will not permit me to sleep at night, and which haunt my waking hours, I have gone about, for some days, accompanied by Maximilian, and have attended meetings of the workingmen in all parts of the city. The ruling class long since denied them the privilege of free speech, under the pretense that the safety of society required it. In doing so they have screwed down the safety-valve, while the steam continues to generate. Hence the men meet to discuss their wrongs and their remedies in underground cellars, under old ruined breweries and warehouses; and there, in large, low-roofed apartments, lighted by tallow candles, flaring against the dark, damp, smoky walls, the swarming masses assemble, to inflame each other mutually against their oppressors, and to look forward, with many a secret hint and innuendo, to that great day of wrath and revenge which they know to be near at hand —

“And with pale lips men say,

To-morrow, perchance to-day,

Enceladus may arise!”

But as any member is permitted to bring in a friend — for these are not meetings of the Brotherhood itself, but simply voluntary gatherings of workmen — and as any man may prove a traitor, their utterances are guarded and enigmatical.

More than once I have spoken to them in these dim halls; and while full of sympathy for their sufferings, and indignant as they themselves can be against their oppressors, I have pleaded with them to stay their hands, to seek not to destroy, but to reform. I preach to them of the glories of civilization; I trace its history backward through a dozen eras and many nations; I show them how slowly it grew, and by what small and gradual accretions; I tell them how radiantly it has burst forth in these latter centuries, with such magnificent effulgence, until today man has all nature at his feet, shackled and gyved, his patient logman. I tell them that a ruffian, with one blow of his club, can destroy the life of a man; and that all the doctors and scientists and philosophers of the world, working together for ages, could not restore that which he has so rudely extinguished. And so, I say to them, the civilization which it has taken ten thousand years to create may be swept away in an hour; and there shall be no power in the wit or wisdom of man to reestablish it.

Most of them have listened respectfully; a few have tried to answer me; some have mocked me. But it is as if one came where grouped convicts stood, long imprisoned, who heard — with knives in their hands — the thunderous blows of their friends as they battered down the doors of their prison-house, and he should beg them not to go forth, lest they should do harm to society! They will out, though the heavens and the earth came together! One might as well whisper to Niagara to cease falling, or counsel the resistless cyclone, in its gyrating and terrible advance, to have a care of the rose-bushes.

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