An Autobiography HTML version

Impressions Of America
Alfred Cridge, who reminded me so much of my brother David that I felt at home with
him immediately, had prepared the way for my lectures on effective voting in San
Francisco. He was an even greater enthusiast than I. "America needs the reform more
than Australia," he used to say. But if America needs effective voting to check
corruption, Australia needs it just as much to prevent the degradation of political life in
the Commonwealth and States to the level of American politics. My lectures in San
Francisco, as elsewhere in America, were well attended, and even better received. Party
politics had crushed out the best elements of political life, and to be independent of either
party gave a candidate, as an agent told Judge Lindsay when he was contesting the
governorship of Colorado, "as much chance as a snowball would have in hell." So that
reformers everywhere were eager to hear of a system of voting that would free the
electors from the tyranny of parties, and at the same time render a candidate independent
of the votes of heckling minorities, and dependent only on the votes of the men who
believed in him and his politics. I met men and women interested in public affairs--some
of them well known, others most worthy to be known, and all willing to lend the weight
of their character and intelligence to the betterment of human conditions at home and
abroad. Among these were Judge Maguire, a leader of the Bar in San Francisco and a
member of the State Legislature, who had fought trusts, "grafters," and "boodlers"
through the whole of his public career, and Mr. James Barry, proprietor of The Star.
"You come from Australia, the home of the secret ballot?" was the greeting I often
received, and that really was my passport to the hearts of reformers all over America.
From all sides I heard that it was to the energy and zeal of the Singletaxers in the various
States--a well-organized and compact body--that the adoption of the secret ballot was
due. To that celebrated journalist, poetess, and economic writer, Charlotte Perkins
Stetson, who was a cultured Bostonian, living in San Francisco, I owed one of the best
women's meetings I ever addressed. The subject was "State children and the compulsory
clauses in our Education Act," and everywhere in the States people were interested in the
splendid work of our State Children's Department and educational methods. Intelligence
and not wealth I found to be the passport to social life among the Americans I met. At a
social evening ladies as well as their escorts were expected to remove bonnets and
mantles in the hall, instead of being invited into a private room as in Australia--a custom
I thought curious until usage made it familiar. The homeliness and unostentatiousness of
the middle class American were captivating. My interests have always been in people and
in the things that make for human happiness or misery rather than in the beauties of
Nature, art, or architecture. I want to know how the people live, what wages are, what the
amount of comfort they can buy; how the people are fed, taught, and amused; how the
burden of taxation falls; how justice is executed; how much or how little liberty the
people enjoy. And these things I learned to a great extent from my social intercourse with
those cultured reformers of America. Among these people I had not the depressing
feeling of immensity and hugeness which marred my enjoyment when I arrived at New
York. My literary lectures on the Brownings and George Eliot were much appreciated,
especially in the East, where I found paying audiences in the fall or autumn of the year.