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An essay by Charles Dudley Warner

Art Of Governing

Title:     Art Of Governing
Author: Charles Dudley Warner [More Titles by Warner]

He was saying, when he awoke one morning, "I wish I were governor of a small island, and had nothing to do but to get up and govern." It was an observation quite worthy of him, and one of general application, for there are many men who find it very difficult to get a living on their own resources, to whom it would be comparatively easy to be a very fair sort of governor. Everybody who has no official position or routine duty on a salary knows that the most trying moment in the twenty-four hours is that in which he emerges from the oblivion of sleep and faces life. Everything perplexing tumbles in upon him, all the possible vexations of the day rise up before him, and he is little less than a hero if he gets up cheerful.

It is not to be wondered at that people crave office, some salaried position, in order to escape the anxieties, the personal responsibilities, of a single-handed struggle with the world. It must be much easier to govern an island than to carry on almost any retail business. When the governor wakes in the morning he thinks first of his salary; he has not the least anxiety about his daily bread or the support of his family. His business is all laid out for him; he has not to create it. Business comes to him; he does not have to drum for it. His day is agreeably, even if sympathetically, occupied with the troubles of other people, and nothing is so easy to bear as the troubles of other people. After he has had his breakfast, and read over the "Constitution," he has nothing to do but to "govern" for a few hours, that is, to decide about things on general principles, and with little personal application, and perhaps about large concerns which nobody knows anything about, and which are much easier to dispose of than the perplexing details of private life. He has to vote several times a day; for giving a decision is really casting a vote; but that is much easier than to scratch around in all the anxieties of a retail business. Many men who would make very respectable Presidents of the United States could not successfully run a retail grocery store. The anxieties of the grocery would wear them out. For consider the varied ability that the grocery requires-the foresight about the markets, to take advantage of an eighth per cent. off or on here and there; the vigilance required to keep a "full line" and not overstock, to dispose of goods before they spoil or the popular taste changes; the suavity and integrity and duplicity and fairness and adaptability needed to get customers and keep them; the power to bear the daily and hourly worry; the courage to face the ever-present spectre of "failure," which is said to come upon ninety merchants in a hundred; the tact needed to meet the whims and the complaints of patrons, and the difficulty of getting the patrons who grumble most to pay in order to satisfy the creditors. When the retail grocer wakens in the morning he feels that his business is not going to come to him spontaneously; he thinks of his rivals, of his perilous stock, of his debts and delinquent customers. He has no "Constitution" to go by, nothing but his wits and energy to set against the world that day, and every day the struggle and the anxiety are the same. What a number of details he has to carry in his head (consider, for instance, how many different kinds of cheese there are, and how different people hate and love the same kind), and how keen must be his appreciation of the popular taste. The complexities and annoyances of his business are excessive, and he cannot afford to make many mistakes; if he does he will lose his business, and when a man fails in business (honestly), he loses his nerve, and his career is ended. It is simply amazing, when you consider it, the amount of talent shown in what are called the ordinary businesses of life.

It has been often remarked with how little wisdom the world is governed. That is the reason it is so easy to govern. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" does not refer to the discomfort of wearing it, but to the danger of losing it, and of being put back upon one's native resources, having to run a grocery or to keep school. Nobody is in such a pitiable plight as a monarch or politician out of business. It is very difficult for either to get a living. A man who has once enjoyed the blessed feeling of awaking every morning with the thought that he has a certain salary despises the idea of having to drum up a business by his own talents. It does not disturb the waking hour at all to think that a deputation is waiting in the next room about a post-office in Indiana or about the codfish in Newfoundland waters--the man can take a second nap on any such affair; but if he knows that the living of himself and family that day depends upon his activity and intelligence, uneasy lies his head. There is something so restful and easy about public business! It is so simple! Take the average Congressman. The Secretary of the Treasury sends in an elaborate report--a budget, in fact--involving a complete and harmonious scheme of revenue and expenditure. Must the Congressman read it? No; it is not necessary to do that; he only cares for practical measures. Or a financial bill is brought in. Does he study that bill? He hears it read, at least by title. Does he take pains to inform himself by reading and conversation with experts upon its probable effect? Or an international copyright law is proposed, a measure that will relieve the people of the United States from the world-wide reputation of sneaking meanness towards foreign authors. Does he examine the subject, and try to understand it? That is not necessary. Or it is a question of tariff. He is to vote "yes" or "no" on these proposals. It is not necessary for him to master these subjects, but it is necessary for him to know how to vote. And how does he find out that? In the first place, by inquiring what effect the measure will have upon the chance of election of the man he thinks will be nominated for President, and in the second place, what effect his vote will have on his own reelection. Thus the principles of legislation become very much simplified, and thus it happens that it is comparatively so much easier to govern than it is to run a grocery store.

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Charles Dudley Warner's essay: Art Of Governing