The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 620 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.



The questions relating to the kind of reforms which these reorganized state governments might and should attempt to bring about need not be considered in any detail.  In the case of the states institutional reconstruction is necessarily prior to social reconstruction; and the objects for which their improved powers can be best used need at present only be indicated.  These objects include, in fact, practically all the primary benefits which a state ought to confer upon its citizens; and it is because the states have so largely failed to confer these primary benefits that the reconstruction necessarily assumes a radical complexion.  It is absurd to discuss American local governments as agents of individual and social amelioration until they begin to meet their most essential and ordinary responsibilities in a more satisfactory manner.

Take, for instance, the most essential function of all—­that of maintaining order.  A state government which could not escape and had the courage to meet its responsibilities would necessarily demand from the people a police force which was really capable of keeping the peace.  It could not afford to rely upon local “posses” and the militia.  It would need a state constabulary, subject to its control and numerous enough for all ordinary emergencies.  Such bodies of state police, efficiently used, could not only prevent the lawlessness which frequently accompanies strikes, but it could gradually stamp out lynch law.  Lynching, which is the product of excited local feeling, will never be stopped by the sheriffs, because they are afraid of local public opinion.  It will never be stopped by the militia, because the militia is slow to arrive and is frequently undisciplined.  But it can be stopped by a well-trained and well-disciplined state constabulary, which can be quickly concentrated, and which would be independent of merely local public opinion.  When other states besides Pennsylvania establish constabularies, it will be an indication that they really want to keep order; and when the Southern states in particular organize forces of this kind, there will be reason to believe that they really desire to do justice to the negro criminal and remove one of the ugliest aspects of the race question.

A well-informed state government would also necessarily recognize the intimate connection between the prevention of lynching and the speedy and certain administration of criminal justice.  It would seek not merely to stamp out disorder, but to anticipate it by doing away with the substantial injustice wrought by the procedure of the great majority of American criminal courts.  It is unnecessary to dwell at any length upon the work of reorganization which would confront a responsible state government in relation to the punishment and the prevention of crime, because public opinion is becoming aroused to the dangers which threaten

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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