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Dyer D. Lum

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My dear Sir,—The opponents of Rome are growing alarmed at the rapid increase of wealth of that mighty and unscrupulous hierarchy that stands today faithful to the ideas of its past. The astute Bismarck has long seen the nature and significance of the impending struggle between modern and mediaeval ideas, and sought to arouse the Protestant mind to a sense of the danger. The ex-Premier of England (Gladstone) has startled Protestant England with his earnest words and prophetic warnings. Are they alarmists? The supposition is absurd. Is it a mere appeal to religious fanaticism as a stepping-stone to power? The general prevalence of the feeling of danger among all the Protestant nations evinces that the causes of these fears lie far deeper. America, too, is agitated by the same questions. Church-and-State independence and the preservation of our common-school system have become vital questions in politics. From the West already we hear these questions discussed in political gatherings; State conventions expressing themselves on the subject, and the party orators growing eloquent over the threatened danger. In other States we can see evidence that the feeling is by no means a local one; for leading journals, such as the Evening Post, Times, and Tribune, of New York, are giving their attention to the subject, and adding to the feeling of insecurity. Day by day it acquires new prominence, and bids fair soon to be the vital question of the hour.

What position will the Liberals occupy in the contest? Will it be a prominent or a subordinate one? For years Mr. Abbot has sounded the alarm through THE INDEX, and sought to enlist our sympathies. A League has been formed in Massachusetts—one solitary League,—and the State flooded with petitions to obtain a popular protest against the exemption of church property. Yet while Liberals are complacently smiling at the extravagance of Mr. Abbot’s zeal, Roman Bishops continue to add to their already immense possessions, and smile incredulous at the idea of taxation.

But the question is no longer a trivial or forced one; it has gained legitimate entrance into the political arena, and it requires no very profound mind to see that, with the settlement of the currency question, it bids fair to overshadow any question of tariff and revenue reform.

While all indications point to the Republican party as the self-chosen “defenders” of civil liberty in the impending conflict, it is not at all likely that the question will ever be presented so baldly, or at least that the lines will ever be drawn so closely, as to constitute the Democratic party the “defenders” of the Roman hierarchy. Even now in Ohio the Democratic platform demands “the complete separation of Church and State; religious independence and absolute freedom of opinion; equal and exact justice to all religious societies; and purely secular education at the expense of the tax-payers, without division among or control by any sect, directly or indirectly, of any portion of the public-school fund.” Political parties are not proverbially guided by great moral principles so much as by expediency, and platform resolutions offer but a slender reliance where political chicanery and Jesuitical craft have a controlling influence.

Is it possible to forecast the future? However hazardous the attempt, I cannot resist the temptation to point out a few of the results that may be likely to arise in the near future. Is it not true that the law of motion, “following the lines of least resistance,” is not only applicable in the domain of physics, but also in the social organism? This law, so important in the explanation of mental action by rendering the psychological acts of the individual subject to the universal law of evolution, may enable us to forecast the social actions of the future; inasmuch as a clear apprehension of the course of individual mental action leads us to see more clearly the actions of society. In the social organism, the “lines of least resistance” are more readily discerned than in the individual; and, however changeable they may be under special causes in the individual, the laws of sociology but exhibit the general average of individual action, and consequently offer us a relatively constant quantity.

While firmly believing that the social organism cannot be radically changed, even by the most zealous reformer, except by efforts made in unison with the prevalent spirit of the age—in other words, unless the motive force of the idea be in the well-defined “lines of least resistance” presented by society,—still the task of the reformer is not a hopeless one, if he confines his efforts to pointing out the laws of health to which the social organism must conform, and does not seek to accelerate the process of Nature by unnatural methods; it still remaining true, if I have to whisper it, that disease (or disordered action) often becomes chronic, and even incurable, in both the physical and social organisms alike.

A few of the results of my efforts at prognostication I offer for your amusement, though with no thought that your fervid faith will accept my by no means cheerful conclusions.

I. The designs of Catholicism will be pushed without an open avowal of the ends desired, and the opposition to its claims will continue divided and led astray by party glamour and side issues. Where political leaders do not see or act clearly, the masses will not manifest a superior sagacity. While false issues will probably be the leading ones, yet, if party platforms should be eventually driven to a clear expression of the great underlying principles involved, the Romish designs will be aided by dominant men within the party, supporting the party platform for party ends (vide Thurman in Ohio), yet consciously or unconsciously aiding and abetting the Roman hierarchy.

II. To meet successfully the threatened danger to our institutions requires the dominance of moral principles. Their intellectual acceptance will not suffice; they must become assimilated into our moral natures—must become a vital and controlling force. Where have we such a vital force? Force can exist only in its manifestation, and with radicals the controlling force is mainly a negative one; but philippics against “old Orthodoxy” will avail nothing. Can we rally to save under the banner of an anti-something? The Spiritualists, intoxicated with the eloquence of “Red Jacket,” “Big Thunder,” and other departed worthies, offer us but a sorry spectacle and a slender hope.

III. The leadership of the organized opposition will naturally devolve upon the Protestant Church: and under the fervor of their appeals the cry of “No Popery” will sweep the land in the avowed interest of Protestant liberty and the Protestant religion. One of the direct results of such appeals to the religious sentimentalism of the age would undoubtedly be what is known as a “revival of religion,” and a host of Moodys and Sankeys,—a “revival” on so grand a scale that the designs of Rome would be effectually frustrated, and the Protestant religion preserved.

IV. Out of such a struggle the Protestant cause would come with such acquired momentum, so to speak, that, “following the lines of least resistance,” there would be required new guarantees for Protestant liberty, and the country would be formally dedicated to the “Cause of Christ.” Our government would become a Christian government; and the dream of the Liberals of a contest for religious and civil liberty would become a fact only in so distant an age, that I frankly confess my inability to forecast either its advent or result.

V. Will you tell me that the principles of truth and justice forbid the betrayal of the cause, and repeat the old and hackneyed sentimentalism that “Truth is mighty, and will prevail?” I listen incredulously, and ask for its verification in the pages of history. Has truth always prevailed? Is “truth” a clearly defined force among the factors of social evolution, and of so potent a character that it will inevitably prevail, and determine the result? Will you tell me that I have not embraced all the factors in my calculation? The main factors upon which I have relied are (1) Romish persistence; (2) Protestant zeal, embracing the moral force of the country, as auxiliary factor; (3) political chicanery; and (4) Liberal indifferentism,—its force spent in negative assertions. Are not these constant quantities? While zeal and moral enthusiasm are alone to be found in the “religious” camp, where shall we look for the “vanguard of liberty”?

Therefore, I frankly confess, the struggle to which you invite us, or rather which you discern as inevitable, appears to me to be a struggle between Rome and “Christ,” rather than Rome and Reason. On whichever side Liberals range their forces, it must still be under the standard of the cross, and they will eventually find themselves ground to the dust under a moral enthusiasm that now but provokes their derision.


NORTHAMPTON, Mass., Aug. 23, 1875.

  • Dyer D. Lum, “Prognostications,” The Index 6, no. 296 (September 9, 1875): 429.