By H. L. Green — December, 1901
We have lost about all our faith in the power of Freethinkers to organize, notwithstanding we have spent a good share of our long life in endeavoring to organize them. The more intelligent people are the more difficult it is to organize them into societies. Each one has ideas of his own that he honestly believes are the most important to be advocated and adopted, and he will insist that these opinions be most prominent in any association he may join; and, besides, he will not tolerate the idea that there shall be any “leaders.” It is not so with church people. They have few ideas of their own—they are willing to take their opinions second-hand-to allow those who they think know more than they do to lead them.
About all that Freethinkers have been able to do, with any success, up to this time, is to form local societies, known as Radical Clubs, Liberal Leagues, and Secular Unions, in which each member has the right to express his individual opinion on all subjects that come up for discussion. We have had in the past a few societies, known as State Associations, that for a time appeared to be a success.
Such was the New York Freethinkers’ Association, which, for some ten years, continued to hold annual conventions, conventions at which hundreds of people attended, at which fifteen or twenty of the ablest speakers in this country, and some from England, enlightened the people from the platform, conventions at which the leading journals of the country were represented by reporters, conventions that were held for five days and attracted the public attention. These conventions were great occasions. Most of the persons who contributed to their success have gone to their long rest.
Among that number were hundreds of others who composed the large audiences that assembled at those conventions. In fact, there are now living but few of the speakers who enlightened, instructed and entertained those assemblies.
We used to pay Mr. Charles Watts of England $75 for his expenses when he attended the New York convention, and when we last met him, at the Secular Union Congress in Chicago, we said to him: “Have you got your seventy-five dollars?” He replied, “Oh, no, Mr. Green, those good old times have passed, never to return.”
On another page we have published the call for a Free Thought convention, by the President of the new “National Liberal League,” and we hope the convention will prove a great success. We shall be much pleased if it does, but not much disappointed if it is a failure. The old association, the American Secular Union, is evidently dead. In the October Magazine we made some suggestions that we thought might improve it, but no attention was paid to them at the congress. That organization reminds us of what used to be said about the Democratic Party in Massachusetts years ago. It was said that, as there was no prospects of the party becoming large enough to carry the State, the leaders planned to keep it so small that when there was a Democratic President elected every member of the party could get an office.
We think that the best thing that Freethinkers can do at the present time is to organize independent local and State societies. When we get a hundred such societies organized, it will be very easy to get together a respectable national convention. All that will be necessary will be to have a general understanding that each society send a number of delegates at a certain time and place for the purpose of organizing a national society. That is the way it looks to us, but we may be all wrong. Our age may have constituted us a “back number.”