Color-Blind Justice: Albion Tourgée and the Quest for Racial Equality from the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson

By Mark Elliott | Go to book overview

7
Radical Individualism in
the Gilded Age

The most tremendous forces have moved with unprecedented
energy toward the subjection of the individual… the segre-
gation of capital in a few hands has been equaled only by the
restriction of opportunity. A few already control one-half the
valuation of the country … fewer still control the opportu-
nities for labor…. Organization has practically eradicated the
individual.

—Albion Tourgée, Murvale Eastman:
Christian Socialist, 1890

The law of the survival of the fittest was not made by man and
cannot be abrogated by man. We can only, by interfering with
it, produce the survival of the unfittest… the sentimentalists
have been preaching for a century notions of rights and equal-
ity, of the dignity, wisdom, and power of the proletariat, which
have filled the minds of ignorant men with impossible dreams.

—Professor William Graham Sumner, Sociology, 1881

THE 1880S WERE CHALLENGING TIMES FOR TOURGéE. A profound intellectual transformation was taking place in the North, and he began to fear that Americans were losing faith in the very egalitarian premise of democratic government. Beginning with the assassination of Garfield, personal and political setbacks ended his brief period of insider influence in national politics after the success of A Fool's Errand. That euphoric experience was soon replaced by a growing feeling of disconnection to his times. This feeling was captured perfectly in Tourgée's collection of satiric essays, A Veteran and His Pipe, published in the mid- 1880s. A wide-ranging rumination on the meaning of the Civil War, filled with cutting sarcasm, these essays extolled the higher ideals of Civil

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