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American Government, Lesson 02

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In living organisms there is a continual tendency for the simple to develop into the complex, and so it has been with organized society —the state. In the beginning, very few functions were performed by the state, but new discoveries and inventions created new social and economic conditions which could be solved only through the united action of society; so the state has developed to its present position along with these various social and economic changes. At some time in the history of the world the ancestors of every race of people lived in a rude, uncivilized manner. The want of food and of other material comforts brought suffering; superstition brought fear; and lack of wisdom brought misunderstanding, quarreling, fighting, war. From this rude condition some peoples have advanced through many stages of social and economic development in the upward trend of the human race. The most highly developed nations have gradually advanced through the following stages: hunting and fishing, pastoral, agricultural, commercial, and capitalistic. Each social or economic stage demanded a more extensive organization; and vice versa, each extension of political organization made possible the advance to a more complex social or economic stage.

Hunting and Fishing Stage

During the hunting and fishing stage of each race, the mode of living was but little above that of beasts. Men lived from hand to mouth in the struggle for existence. Ownership in land was unknown, but each savage horde had temporary hunting grounds beyond which their members went at their peril. They had little need and less capacity for political organization.

Pastoral Stage

When an ingenious horde saved alive the young of wild animals and domesticated them, an epoch-makmg step was taken. By a little foresight and self-denial, food was on hand for times of scarcity. The abundance of flesh foods gradually banished cannibalism, especially when it was perceived that a muscle of a captive was worth more for labor than for food. Permanent food supplies and slaves gave leisure and opportunity for meditation. Wandering hordes became family tribes bound together by the common possession of flocks and herds. These possessions brought the envy of neighboring bands, and organization for defense became necessary. The patriarch of a family became leader of this organization and developed absolute authority to the extent of life and death over his wives, sons, daughters, sons’ wives and children, and slaves. In reality he was an absolute ruler over a “family state.”

Agricultural Stage

The possession of flocks made the habitation of man sufficiently permanent to make possible the planting of seeds with the thought of ultimately reaping the harvest. Slavery became more profitable, the possession of land became necessary, and ownership desirable. As family tribes gradually sent out clans to establish new village communities, common blood, common religion, and common economic interests held them together into loose confederations for social and commercial intercourse and for self-defense. In short, the necessary elements of a modern state existed : law and authority, definiteness and permanence of organization, and a consciousness of political unity.

Commercial Stage

Wealth in flocks, herds, and agriculture multiplied man’s needs. Commerce met the demand. Yoked beasts of burden, sailboats, and forms of money as a medium of exchange gave the merchant a place in civilization. Cities developed at convenient locations on trade routes. Cooperation against pirates and robbers and regulation of city populations made city states necessary.

Manufacturing Stage

The establishment of cities and commercial routes encouraged manufacturing, and in turn manufacturing gave a further contribution to commerce. During the manufacturing stage hand implements slowly gave way to machines. For example, the hand spindle of prehistoric times was replaced by the spinning wheel in 1530; and late in the eighteenth century steam power was applied to the manufacture of cloth. This process brought people from scattered farms into growing towns and cities. City life brought experience and education to the people, and enabled them to wrest their rights from absolute monarchs or privileged nobles.

Capitalistic Stage

The present capitalistic stage that the advanced nations have attained grew out of the development of expensive factory machines, which makes large scale production profitable, but requires the concentration of capital. The application of steam to boats and railroads, which bring raw material and food supplies to the manufacturing plants and distribute the output to the distant consumers, makes possible the concentration of capital. The development of banking systems has also aided in the concentration of capital. The result is the downfall of business competition and the formation of nation-wide and even world-wide monopolies. Thus most persons must work for wages, and if monopolies were not controlled by the state, the wages of the workmen could be determined by the capitalists. The condition of employees then would be no better than that of slaves.

Socialistic Stage

In reviewing the above stages of social, economic, and political development it should be noted that the first duty of politically organized society, or the state, was the protection of life and of movable property; then the regulation of land was added; commerce and manufacturing in turn had to be regulated. The question now facing the people is whether capital can be regulated. If a group of millionaires or bankers combine their capital to control the entire production of certain commodities or services and advance the prices, the masses of people will naturally use their power, the state, to prevent this. If regulation fails, what then? The socialistic stage.

By a socialistic stage is meant a stage when the state will own and operate large industries which would be operated by the people or private corporations if left to their own initiative. The indications are that the United States will merely regulate most monopolies unless regulation ceases properly to protect the masses. Should regulation cease to be effective, state ownership would be necessary; and it is possible that in the near future the United States will conduct other large businesses as it now conducts the postal and parcel post business, or as many European states conduct express, telegraph, and railroad businesses.

How a State Exercises Its Powers

A state is an organized body of people living within a limited territory and having power to make and enforce laws without the consent of any higher authority.  A government is the agency through which a state’s purposes are formulated and executed. If the agents who run the machinery of government are under the absolute control of one person, such as the Sultan of Turkey, an absolute monarchy is said to exist  but if the monarch is restricted in his powers, as in Italy, the government is known as a limited monarchy. If the people select their own agents to run the government without a monarch, a republic exists. If the citizens of a state are uneducated and incapable of choosing representatives or unwilling to abide by laws which their representatives make, an absolute monarchy may be the only form of government able to hold the state together.

At one time, England was an absolute monarchy, but in 1215 the nobles compelled the king to sign the Magna Carta and thereby to yield certain of his powers; in 1689 the king signed the Bill of Rights, in which he transferred many powers to the representatives of the people in Parliament; and from time to time powers have been transferred until to-day the King of England is much less powerful than the President of the United States. The people of England now rule through their representatives in Parliament as truly as the American people rule through their representatives in Congress. Thus we see that an absolute monarchy is limited in proportion to the enlightenment of the citizens and in time naturally gives way to a limited monarchy, as in England, or to a republic, as in France.

Questions on the Text

1. Name six stages of social and economic development.
2. Describe these six stages and explain how each developed into the other.
3. How have economic development and political development depended upon each other?
4. What stages of economic and political development have been attained by the following nations : American Indians when America was discovered? The Jews at the time of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? France during the days of feudalism? The Phoenicians about 1000 b.c? England about 1800 a.d.? The United States to-day ?
5. Under what conditions may the socialistic stage develop in the United States?
6. What is a state? What is a government? Distinguish clearly between a state and a government.
7. Distinguish between state and State as used in this text.

Questions for Meditation/Discussion

1 . The first function of the state was to protect life and property ; now it provides conveniences and comforts. In the future do you think it should further encourage our sense of the esthetic or beautiful? Do you think it should prohibit billboards on a person’s vacant lot if they mar the beauty of the town or landscape ?
2. In 1914 Congress provided for a railroad in Alaska to be built and owned by the United States. Do you believe that the United States or your State should develop further into the socialistic stage by owning and operating railroads? Express systems? Telegraphs? Telephones? Wireless? Forests? Water power plants? Coal mines? Banks? Insurance companies?
3. Do you think your county should establish a jitney bus systera ? What would be the advantages of such a system?
4. Do you think your town should install a water system? Electric power system ? Gas system ? Jitney bus system ?
5. Do you think your city should establish an ice plant? Heating plant ?
6. There was no great need of laws governing copyrights until long after the printing press began its work. The invention of the steam engine created a need for what character of laws ? The auto- mobile? The moving pictures ?


American History, Lesson 02.  Comprehension Questions