1900 Citizens on the 'Task' of the Century

Politician and lawyer William Jennings Bryan thought it was the defense of individual rights. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie thought it was an end to war. But when asked in 1900 about the most important task of the twentieth century, science fiction writer Jules Verne — accustomed to looking into the future in his fiction — thought it might be too soon to say.

Read on and learn the thoughts of other prominent 1900-era citizens as they appeared in William Randolph Hearst’s Sunday [San Francisco] Examiner Magazine on Dec. 23, 1900.

— Michael S. James, ABCNEWS.com

‘What is the Most Important Task of the 20th Century?’

Ex-Gov. Altgeld

The question is too big for me, but it looks to me as if the establishment of a more equal justice were the great problem of the immediate future.

Susan B. Anthony

If I could return to the earth at the close of the 20th century, I would like best to see this great republic practicing the principles embodied in the declaration, “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” — governed women as well as governed men. I would like to see a time when to be a woman is not a crime to be punished with disenfranchisement.

The Duke of Argyle

That knowledge grow from more to more and more of reverence in us dwell.

Sir Robert Ball

I desire to see a reform of the educational systems as shall give to science its true position. Too much importance is at present given to the study of languages.

William Jennings Bryan

During the last quarter of a century greed for gain has been gradually obscuring the inalienable rights of the individual. I know of no more imperative task for the 20th century than the restoration of man in his rightful position of paramount importance.

Lloyd Bryce

These are the most important tasks: The substitution as a political factor of the school house for the saloon; the abolition in national, State and municipal affairs of the “pull,” a decrease in the hours of labor and the suppression in our lawless border communities of outrages upon negroes, which discredit the name of American civilization.

Jules Cambon

My fondest hope is that the friendship between the government of France and the United States and the sympathy that unites the people of both republics, which were characteristics of the 19th century, may be so continued during the twentieth that they will last forever.

Andrew Carnegie

I should like to see the profession of arms, now considered by many the most honorable, held in the 20th century to be of all human occupations the most dishonorable. I should like to see the killing of men under the name of war abolished and the earth thereby freed from its foulest stain.


The 20th century must produce nations that will give as much evidence of mutual tolerance as intelligent individual have in their relations with one another. Although nations have to maintain proudly their self-respect, they lack sadly now in courteous respect for their respective susceptibilities.

G. Clemenceau

Considering the events of the last years of the 19th century, I would like to see the triumph of justice in all the possible acceptations of that word — the triumph of right over force and human imbecility.

F. Marion Crawford

A modus vivendi which shall assure a just and permanent distribution of wealth and division of labor. He who solves this problem will be the Earth’s greatest man.

Francesco Crispi

The task of the 20th century is Herculean, alas: Europe and America in arms do not make a beautiful promise for the future of the world.

Baron d’Estournelles de Constant

I hope sincerely that the coming century will witness the universal application of the principles adopted by the Peace Conference at The Hague.

Conan Doyle

The union of the English-speaking nations — that will be the first long step toward the millennium.

Carolus Duran

I hope to see humanity more closely follow the doctrine of Christ — “Love one another.” I hope to see wars come to an end and fraternity cease to be a vain word.

Infanta Eulalie

I desire to see the independence of woman more generally asserted in the 20th century. An example is already being set by the young American women, who are neither slaves nor dependents of men. I hope the 20th century will bring all women healthy self-reliance.

Camille Flammarion

Physical astronomy that reveals to as the constitution and habitability of other planets, should be the religion of the future. The Earth in the twentieth century shall be a province of the world as life is a phase of universal movement. The phonograph and the telephone shall be surpassed by the conquests of the spectroscope that will place us in communication with the inhabitants of Mars, a race far superior to ours, whose teachings shall be our regeneration.

Cardinal Gibbons

Let us hope that at the end of the century just dawning Christianity will be established more firmly and extensively, and its principles more faithfully practiced. But let us remember that this will not be accomplished until the principle is honestly admitted and sincerely practiced, that the moral law is binding no less on nations and corporations than on individuals.

Sarah Grand

I hope the 20th century will witness the evolution of a greater statesmanship, and it will be recognized that the nation is and must be dominant which has the most highly developed average man. the riches of a people are not in gold or tinsel, and they cannot be judged by ovations to the conqueror of by a vulgar display.

Rev. F.W. Gunsaulus

I think that the supreme task of the 20th century is to realize in men’s lives the fact that the law of love as laid down by Christ is the law of life and progress. This can be done only by each one’s choice of the unselfish life and the devoted labor of that life to the end that in politics, church, society, school and factory the other man’s worth shall be joyfully defended by each one.

Alfred Harmsworth

I hope for the abolition of physical pain. We have made much progress toward it in the past century, and I hope we shall fully succeed in overcoming it in the next century. It will be the greatest blessing to all mankind that human genius can confer.

George D. Herron

I would like to see the pandemonium and madness we call civilization supplanted by the economic and social order that would spring from the socialistic order of society. I should rejoice in the harmony which would thereby come to human life.

Rear-Admiral Philip Hichborn

It is the discovery of a machine which will successfully cope with the submarine torpedo boat. The submarine torpedo boat will be all powerful in the naval wars of the world if its effects cannot be neutralized. The perfection of the air ship will also be one of the wonders of the 20th century. What can be done with an air ship equipped for war dropping dynamite on armies in the field, on fleets and on cities is now a matter for the imagination, but it will be realized within the next hundred years.

David B. Hill

The great achievement of the next century will be the perfection of international justice. The drift towards arbitration is in direct line with this thought, although the perfection will not necessarily be the only means to the great end to which I have referred.

Marquis Ito

I hope the growing power of civilized sentiment will enable the coming century to witness some effective practical steps toward placing international relations upon a basis more in unison with destiny.

Senator James K. Jones

In my opinion the most important task of the 20th century is the accomplishment of absolutely just government.

Oom Paul Kruger

I hope the 20th century will witness the universal adoption of arbitration, for this is the only means of rightly settling quarrels between nations.

Maitre Labori

The task of the 20th century will be more gigantic than many persons imagine. I wish that in the twentieth century one may have the chance to meet one honest man in one hundred thousand — I mean an honest man, incapable of a disloyal act or word.

Dr. W.J. Leyds

I hope to see a keener appreciation of international justice to the end that the rights of the South African republics may be respected.

John D. Long

In my opinion the greatest achievement of the 20th century will be a perfect news paper.

Edna Lyall

I hope for the promotion of unity by greater simplicity of worship and more inwardness in religion. I hope for arbitration instead of war, and for the triumph of justice and universal brotherhood over our greed of gain.

Ian Maclauren

The hope of the new century is the union of the English-speaking race in the interest of education, liberty, peace and civilization.

Archbishop Martinelli

In the twentieth century the most important task of mankind can be no other than that which has always been mankind’s most important business, that is, to draw near to God, man’s last end, through Christ the Redeemer. The one change to be desired before the end of the 20th century is the return of all men to the unity of faith in Jesus Christ and all His teaching, that there may be “one fold and one shepherd” — the sheep and the lambs all being guided, nourished and protected by him to whom Christ said: “Feed my sheep, feed my lambs.”

Rear Admiral Geo. W. Melville

I think its great achievement will be an invention to do away with the science of navigation. I have been working to that end for forty years. The science of magnetism and electricity may be so thoroughly understood that by floating a sphere in a liquid on a ship’s deck and without the aid of observation of the heavenly bodies, the exact latitude of the ship may be determined.

Sir Edward Monson

I hope for the disappearance of class animosities and for that end a general recognition by the rich of their duties to the poor.

Max Nordau

I wish to see realized in the 20th century the utter stupidity, criminality and uselessness of war.

William O’Brien

The United States, which stood at the head of the world by abolishing standing armies, has fallen back into the ruck of European despots. If governments go on swelling their armies and navies the only remedy will be that some day the armies will turn on the governments. The ideal achievement of the 20th century would be if something would come of M. Berthelot’s idea of supporting human life by electric force.

Rev. Dr. DeWitt Talmage

At the close of the twentieth century I would have no more gathering of alms for the poor, because all the poor will have been enriched; no hospital Sunday, because disjointed bones will have been set and the wounds all healed and the incurable diseases of other times overcome by a materia medica and a pharmacy and a dentistry that have conquered everything that afflicted nerve or lung or tooth or eye or limb. Healthology complete and universal. The good Lord could do it as easily in a hundred years as in a thousand.

Theodore Thomas

The world is moving too rapidly for any one to say what will be the great task of the next century, beyond the ever-present one of teaching higher standards of truth and honesty.

Jules Verne

The most important task of the twentieth century may not be apparent to men now. I wish that the social progress in it may surpass the progress of science for the happiness of humanity.

Wu Ting Fang

The twentieth century is pregnant with great potentialities. If all the great powers on earth will carry out the peaceful principles recognized by The Hague convention and abide by the decisions of an international tribunal, then there is hope for an era of “peace on earth and good will toward men.” Though the millennium seems still far, indications point to the conclusion that the world is making substantial progress toward the attainment of that happy state.