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Spirit of the Times

1916

Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society: after listening to this magnificent address by Father Barth, I find it exceedingly embarrassing to think of attempting anything like an adequate discussion of the theme that has been chosen for me. I shall always be inspired by the address that I have listened to. It has carried me back to the days of my own childhood's experience with learning history, and made keener by the edge of one of my greatest regrets, that I had to pick up my early knowledge of history without the guidance of the kind of which Father Barth has spoken. I suppose there are a few men in Michigan, or in the United States, who as boys learned so little general history as your present speaker. But I was a lover of local history, and in an untaught way tried to find out all I could about these things and people about me. I instinctively read biographies. The lives of great men had charm for me. What history I know has come largely through biography, and if Emerson is right in what he says about history, than I have indirectly become exceedingly interested in this subject. I am hoping for great things in Michigan, both for the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula, along these exceedingly important lines which you have heard so ably addressed by Father Barth.

Now I am to talk to you, informally, a very little while, on the subject that has been chosen for me, "The Spirit of the Times." I am very glad that the makers of this program did not presume that the present Governor of Michigan is a historian, or that he even knows any history; if they had made that mistake, it would have been fatal to me. I admit in the beginning that the historian, or some other observer, would probably follow a trend of thought different from my own trend, with what little information I may have, right or wrong. Fortunately for me, "The Spirit of the Times," does not compel me to go deeply into history; at least I shall not attempt to discuss the subject from what may be the historian's point of view.

The first thing I wish to call your attention to in relation to the spirit of the times is, the change that has come over us politically. Today, the spirit of the times asks you, and asks me, to keep everlastingly in mind, not so much a political organization, as men and policies; these two must ever go together- we can not get along with policies alone; we must have men and policies. This is true of the Nation, of the State and of the City. I am glad to witness, in this political spirit of the times, the recognition of a truth which is not necessary for me to dwell upon tonight; we have come to realize the importance, not only of men and policies; we have come to recognize the fact, that these men who have policies, have also sufficient independence today to speak frankly their minds as to the needs of our Nation.

Along with this independence, and as a necessary corollary of it, there has come the recognition of women. I was glad to hear Father Barth speak of the economic factor in history. Woman today is an important factor in our industrial and economic life. It does not matter now how she has come to enter this life, so far as concerns the truth of the fact that she has arrived there. It does not matter now whether it is because of our neglect, or whether she has been forced there by our industrial system- she is there and is an important factor, and she is now asking for the rights and privileges that we men enjoy. Why should she not have them? If she is to compete for her place in the industrial world, why should she longer be handicapped by the outworn restrictions of days that belong to a past condition, that are gone- forever gone. I wish to say to any doubters here tonight, that the handwriting is on the wall- that there is not the slightest question as to what the spirit of the times has written there; woman is going to be given, in this great democracy of ours, every privilege, and every right that man enjoys. There is absolutely no escape from it, even if we would escape. And let me say to the men present tonight, to quiet any needless fears, that the women are not going to enjoy all, or even the larger part, of the fruits of the change. Men are going to profit, in certain ways possibly more than the women can hope to profit. I say to the women here tonight and to the women everywhere in this broad State of Michigan, I welcome you, and welcome the splendid achievements you have made, in spite of our withholding our encouragement and our help. I with to congratulate you upon that progress, and upon the no less certain fact that you are destined to have, in the near future, the glorious heritage of equal privileges for which you have struggled.

In the business world, the spirit of the times tells us that "efficiency" is the watchword; and I wish to say just a word on that subject. I am inclined to think that undue emphasis has been put upon the progress "efficiency" makes, in determining how a greater and better output can be produced. If efficiency keeps its eye only along that line, it will eventually fall down. It is highly significant, that up to the present hour we have quite failed to enlist the hearty enthusiasm of the employee in our efficiency plans. Any efficiency plan that does not approach employee and employer precisely alike, on the human basis, is a failure, and must ever be a failure. The spirit of the times now points to a kind of efficiency which shall ultimately bring to employer and employee alike, the wholesome fruits of human effort, to be in turn resolved into larger profits for both.

I said to a man from the Northern Peninsula tonight: "Now that your portion of the State is prospering splendidly, and copper is thirty-nine cents a pound, is it not high time you were recognizing the fact that the man who toils under the earth should be a sharer in that splendid gain and prosperity; because, without the man under the ground, in your mines, you could not get your copper, your mines would be valueless and your prosperity would disappear." He thought it was time. The lessons of history, and the spirit of the Present, must guide us in recognizing the importance of profit sharing up in that important arm of the commonwealth. And along with profit sharing, the spirit of the times points to cooperation. The lack of efficient cooperation between labor and capital is one of the serious weaknesses in the present much eulogized system of "efficiency." But I have not the time to dwell upon those things.

I come naturally to the spirit of the times in education, in relation to world history; for there is going on today a great revolution in ideals and methods of education. The unprecedented development of science during the last century, is responsible in large measure for the modification of our courses of study. It has caused new emphasis to be put on vocational studies. It has forced the cry in education today, that first of all, every boy and girl shall be trained to earn a living. This qualification is important. And so we are putting a tremendous emphasis upon the vocational feature but we must not forget that "earning a living" is but a means to an end. The chief end is living. In emphasizing how to earn a living, it will be a fatal error if we forget to train our boys and girls in the greatest of arts, the art of living. The spirit of the times in education is putting a tremendous emphasis upon the training of man as an instrumentality. I deplore that one-sided educational trend. It is not a philosophy that we have heard expounded here tonight. It must not be lost out of sight that man as an instrumentality is a poor thing without personality. Personality is the man. And so some of the things that have been pushed into the background in our educational scheme, must soon come into their own again- history and drama, and poetry, and music, and art, the great cultural subjects, training in which prepares us in the higher sense truly to live.

But the thing which I care most about in the education of the future is education for all the people, all the time. It is too bad that the intelligence of this country should longer accept the traditional view of education, as a thing for children only-a thing to be got through with in our teens and then put away on a shelf, to be pulled out on emergencies. Why so much talk about a "school age" when the only real school age is a lifetime. Father Barth has aptly given us the illustration of training the right hand and the right arm in efficiency and neglecting the left; is not that exactly what we do in our present educational system? Today we have outside of the traditional school age, as many people who are worthy of the benefits of our educational system as we have in the traditional classes; and we have about twenty millions of boys and girls of school age in this country of ours who receive only in part, and in small part, the benefits of our schools.

My plea in Michigan- and it will be my plea to the last breath I draw and the last word I speak- is education for all children, all men, and all women, of Michigan, all the people in all our States, all the time. Our great educational system, our splendid equipment, is applied to only one-third of our citizens. Why should not a state educational system have in it a place for fathers and mothers, for girls in stores and shops, for boys and men in factories, where they may go and feed their hungry souls. The spirit of the times clearly points out that we have not touched the A.B.C.'s of this subject, of the possibilities for real efficiency involved in an educational system of this scope, which shall educate for personality, as well as for instrumentality, to satisfy in the highest sense the hungry lives of all the people.

I believe in the gospel of work. The spirit of the times is pointing with new force and new enthusiasm to the invigorating power of work. We are coming to recognize that no man, even if he inherit his millions, can free himself, as a patriotic American citizen from the responsibility of actually doing useful and serviceable work. I go so far as to say, that if we disregard the philosophy of work, and accept the theory of education which tens of thousands of fathers and mothers today practically embrace when they send their sons and daughters to our colleges and universities, in order that some how, some way, they may not have to pass through the hardships which are involved in work- then we have reached the beginning of the end. Fathers and mothers forget, that it is the work, the down-right hardships, which they have gone through, that have made them the successful, useful, and happy fathers and mothers they are- real fathers, real mothers, real American citizens, worthwhile.

I hear fathers and mothers say, "We will not allow our boys and girls to travel the rocky road we traveled." All right; I will tell you something; that is the reason why there are so many of those boys in our prisons in Michigan- not the girls; we have no place to put girls in our prisons; we take care of them in another way. Now you may think I am wrong in what I state about the boys. Let me say to you that a very careful study of hundreds of personal interviews convinces me that these boys in our prisons, somehow, somewhere, have lost their view in regard to the importance of work. The devil finds work for idle hands to do," is as true as you live. It is as true today as when he drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Paradise. If you want a true view of the meaning of life without work, read Milton's Paradise Lost. There is no quicker way to lose a paradise, if you have one, than to try to live without work; and there is no surer way of gaining one than by work. And I mean by work, manual work- at least some manual work. I have said, a thousand times or more, that bank officials, schoolmasters, doctors, lawyers, and preachers, would be better men by doing manual labor- some manual labor, daily. The touch with the tool, with the sod, is a touch with the millions who toil, by whose sweat the earth produces- a humanizing touch with the great brotherhood of humanity. You could not take from me my garden in Big Rapids. I would let you have almost every other commercial possession I have, but I could not let you have that. And I would not disgrace myself by hiring somebody else to work in it. The privilege of digging in that soil belongs to me. I have a right to what is to be found their- better health, better spirits, better thoughts, a better man, and a better citizen. I want to say to you that since being the Governor of Michigan I have been in contact with the work in our prisons, in Jackson Prison, and I find that the thing most regenerating in the lives of those men there, is work- good hard work; that eight or ten years of honest useful work, is the only thing that will actually let those men out of the hell of their own lives, and point them towards Heaven.

A woman came into my office one day to appeal for her young son, twenty years of age, not quite twenty-one, who had held up the clerk at the Metropole Hotel, in Detroit. He was sentenced for five years. I could not conscientiously parole him at the end of two years, because he needed four or five years; he had been a parasite in his home, and a parasite in his community, and I felt that for real achievement it would take at least five years to put into his muscle and brain and constitution a reasonable regard for the righteous and regenerating power of work. At the end of five years it is barely possible that this mother will owe the State a debt of gratitude for bringing her boy out of darkness into light. And in a measure we all need that kind of training. I do not mean in prisons- not by any means- but the opportunity for work. Mind, I am speaking of work not drudgery. There is a difference between work and drudgery. Drudgery is work beyond one's strength; work is re-creation, new creation.

I want to say a word right here about work and play. What is play? Did you ever help make a snow fort? Did you ever when you were a boy walk two miles on a hot day with your chum and wade to your knees in mud and water to gather a mess of cowslips for greens? Did you ever play a game of football? Did you ever work harder? Work! It would probably not take a tithe of the same energy to split a pile of wood. You were doing it with somebody; it was a change from the routine; and you had your mind unconsciously on thee pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Now the spirit of the times points a step further. It has written in larger letters SYSTEMATIZED, ORGANIZED RECREATION FOR MEN AND WOMEN. Some of you men sitting here may say, "O yes, it is all right for boys and girls to play, but men and women- it is beneath them." Why yes, if you want to die, if you are in a hurry to get to the cemetery, it is all right for you to entertain that notion. You are on your way and you will arrive. If at sixty, seventy, or eighty, you are ready to quit living- just quit playing. But if you want to be hale and hearty at eighty, play! Get in with the boys and girls and get acquainted with them. If you are not used to it, it may be a little awkward at first, but they will enjoy that, and you will enjoy them. Learn to play, if you have forgotten how. IT is about time in America that we should get out of our heads the notion that boys and girls are to be corralled, and labeled "boys and girls." No wonder there is slow disintegration in the American home. Somehow, in some way, I am pessimistic enough to feel that loyalty in the American home is a lost art. I hope I am wrong.

These are very commonplace things that I am saying, but they are very fundamental. I hope that some of you good people will find your way to Grand Rapids this year when the National Association of Play and Recreation is held. I think the organization has been in existence eight or nine years. The farmers of course laugh at what I say; they think it is sentiment; and probably they think I am a suitable subject for some of the minor asylums. But I tell them that if they would get together once a week, say on Wednesday and play baseball- have a real fine game, taking in the boys with the old fellows and get acquainted- they would raise better crops and have fun doing it. I leave you to figure out who are the candidates for the asylum.

Another word written large by the spirit of the times is HEALTH. We are coming, in Michigan particularly, to realize the supreme value of health. I have been wondering how far the members of this Society have been interested in a certain movement that is going on in the State of Michigan. It is of supreme importance that you and I should do a little something to recognize the laws of God as written in our bodies. I wish I could make men and women understand that the laws of health are just as sacred as the Decalogue. We go along, from day to day, year in and year out, most marvelous as it may seem for intelligent people, apparently in the blissful superstition that God Almighty takes care of children and fools.

If we need to look after the health of our bodies, so do we need to protect the health of our body politic. I will only touch upon the subject of patriotism, for it has been discussed here this evening most eloquently. I do feel a little sensitive, however, on one point. Some of my friends- they consider themselves my enemies- are not quite sure I have the kind of patriotism that the spirit of the times seems to have emblazoned on the sky in crimson. I rather think that there is some reasonable doubt about the truth of their conclusions. The kind of patriotism I have been trying to teach for the last thirty years in Michigan, is the kind of patriotism that begins in the home, and works out from the home into the Nation. When I shall presently have occasion to speak to the boys in blue, at Grand Rapids on Decoration Day, I shall recall to them that when they went out to the great Civil War from '61 to '65, they were boys- not men of thirty, or forty, or fifty years; the great armies of the North were made up of boys, hundreds of thousands of boys, under the age of twenty-one; and yet, did ever an army in the world go forth and achieve, in larger degree, what was seemingly impossible, than did our boys in blue? The patriotism that comes from the heart and sold, and loyalty of youth is the patriotism we care for. If I understand the spirit of the times aright, the boys of today, 1916, have in them the same love of country, the same high patriotism, as had their grandfathers who fought in the Civil War. If they have not, then what apology have you to make for yourself? That is the question.

I am in favor of preparedness. I have always been in favor of an adequate navy, and an adequate standing army But I am not in favor of commercializing militarism. Unaccountably, people seem to have lost hope, like the case of the man who sent a letter I received recently, saying a certain clergyman, in Monroe, preached on the subject, "Are we in the grip of Evil?" The whole tone of the letter carried the idea that the world is rapidly approaching dissolution; that the devil had taken full control, and was now driving the world head-on to perdition. I wrote back to him a consoling letter. I said to him that although I was neither a prophet nor a historian, yet I knew enough about human nature to realize, that the whole world cannot be insane, except at moments at a time, and that out of this awful conflagration in Europe there will come a return to good sense and intelligence, and to an appreciation of what has been worked out in this country. The secret of our power, as a Nation, lies in three watchwords of the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. We had to come to our senses, with an awful cost of treasure and lives, in the great Civil War. The trouble with Europe today is, as it was with us then, their lack of democracy. It is fast driving them to destruction. I shall not shed many tears over the brave men who have fallen in the Great War, because that would have been useless. Millions upon millions of splendid men of the great civilizations of Europe lie sleeping that final sleep tonight; my heart aches not for them, but for the mothers, the wives, the children, whose hearts are bleeding for the sons, the husbands, the fathers- these women and children, who are not only to suffer to the last breath they draw, but whose children are to carry in the future, if militarism must grow, the endless burden which crushes out all that is noblest in life, indeed which makes it a serious question whether life under those conditions is even desirable. Therefore my hope is in another kind of patriotism, the patriotism of the heart, of the soul, of the character which dares to put its trust in law and order. I believe in the kind of patriotism which has made possible on this continent a great fortless boundary line, three thousand miles in extent, on which not a single material fortification stands today. Not a single gun is mounted, anywhere on the entire boundary today between the United States and Canada, from ocean to ocean. Why? Because these nations are fortified in the hearts of the people. Spiritual forces, cooperative forces have made for mutual understanding, and the peaceful adjustment of differences, and this notwithstanding the fact that these two peoples are made up of the most heterogeneous racial and national populations that could be gathered from the ends of the earth. I believe in the patriotism of the home, of the city, of the county, of the State, and of the United States, and I believe that there is still room for a larger patriotism, a patriotism which shall recognize that all humanity, everywhere, is entitled to enjoy the fruits of cooperative democracy, and of peace.

As I watch the finger moved upon the scroll of the future by the Spirit of the Times, I observe that words are written there concerning religion. That this is a vital issue, one in which there is really a profound interest today, is evident from the fact that lay speakers find it a delicate subject to discuss; but it is not so delicate as it was twenty-five years ago, when people were inclined to keep it in air-tight compartments, quite away from every other interest, which they called secular. Some people are worrying because they think religion is getting mixed up these days too much with things of the world. I get letters every month from a certain man who is evidently collecting a certain kind of data that he thinks will answer all sorts of conundrums. Now if he would only take the time and trouble to look around his own home town, he would find right there his answer to most of his questions- why men do not attend church? Is religion dying a slow but sure death? Is the end of church in sight? -Too bad the vision of even the humblest man is not able to see that the world was never so religious as it is at this hour- O, yes, in spite of the European war, where strange as it may seem, each nation thinks it is fighting the great battle for civilization and that the salvation of the world depends on its success. When their religion shall get to be a little bit broader; when in an ordinary fist-fight we do not appeal to God Almighty to give us his personal help in punching the other fellow; when in our prayers we cease to pray that the rain may fall in our garden even if there is not enough to go round for the other fellow's yard- we will then be able to get a little closer to God. If God does not include in the essence of his Being the highest that we can conceive, then I think it would be well to revise our ideas about God. What is the spirit of the times but God, moving in the affairs of men? And if God moves in the affairs of men, how will you keep religion out of business, out of international relations, out of any relations that men and women have with one another on the face of the earth? "The kingdom of God is within you"- among you- the very essence of right relationships one with another. And not only does God work in the human, the animate, but in the so-called inanimate- there is no real inanimate. The very clod is animate. Your crops would not grow on your farms if it were not. You cannot walk across the yard of the Capitol, or across your fields, and not get a vision of the universal power that is working in the blades of grass, working in the flowers, working in the leaves of the trees, the same Power that works in the souls of men.

We need today to practice the religion that Abraham Lincoln practiced. He was not so much concerned about whether God was on his side as about whether he was on God's side. I welcome the coming of that day. And it is coming. The living God- the God of otherselfishness- is working and getting into the hearts of men; we are beginning to see ourselves in others, our otherselves. That is the essence of democracy, the essence of Christianity, the essence of true living. Real religion has not changed any more than the principle of life has changed. We adapt it in different ways, through different religious organizations, meeting different needs, but they all serve the same end, to make these three words of the Lord's Prayer more emphatic and more real than ever in the history of the world. "Thy Kingdom Come." We are anxious to have Heaven here, at least to have it begin here- and I venture to say that no one wants Hell here, although people sometimes talk and act in a manner that would certainly bring it, if they could have their way. I am sure I cannot be hurting the feelings of anyone here. I cannot imagine that anyone can be sufficiently intelligent to take interest in the deep things which concern the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society and not be wholeheartedly with me in these views. If there are any such, I beg of you, let a fresh breeze into that musty chamber of your soul, where you have so long kept your religion, and air it out, in the name of suffering humanity, and the crying need for vital living in this day of the coming of the Kingdom of God upon earth as it is in Heaven.

I did not mean to preach you a sermon. But I feel better to get some of these things said. I could tell you some more things I have in mind, if I had the time. I have said enough for tonight. These things are worthy of thought. You know them as well as I do, and perhaps you do not live them any better than I do. I thank you for this privilege of thinking over with you some of these fundamental things of life.


Source: "Spirit of the Times." Michigan History. Volume 1 (1917). n.p.


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