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UNITED STATES PREFATORY NOTE - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 2. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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UNITED STATES PREFATORY NOTE
The chapters that here follow are not an abridgment of the full description of the constitution and government of the United States presented in my book entitled The American Commonwealth which was first published more than thirty years ago, and has been since enlarged and frequently revised. They have been written as a new and independent study of American institutions, considered as founded on democratic theories and illustrating in their practice the working out of democratic principles and tendencies. Desiring to present a general view of what popular government has achieved and has failed to achieve, I have dealt with those details only which are characteristic of democratic systems, omitting as beyond the scope of this treatise all matters, such as the structure of the Federal Government and its administrative methods, which do not bear directly upon it or illustrate its peculiar features. Neither has it been my aim in these or any other chapters to bring contemporary history up to date. It is safer not to touch, and I have carefully abstained from touching the controversial questions of the moment, questions which indeed change their aspects from month to month. My wish has been throughout the book to give the reader materials for estimating the merits and defects of each form which popular government has taken, and for this purpose events that happened ten or twenty years ago are just as profitable as those of to-day, indeed more profitable, for we can judge them by their consequences
Though the main conclusions to which I was led when writing on the United States in 1888 seem to me to be still true, new phenomena have since appeared which throw further light on the nature of popular government, and these I have endeavoured to set forth and comment upon, studying the facts afresh and unbiassed by the judgments of thirty years ago. Since that year much has been done in America to vivify public interest in political theory and history by many books, excellent in plan and execution. To these, and to the American friends who have aided me by their criticisms and comments, I gratefully acknowledge my obligations.
the beginnings of democracy in north america
Of all modern countries the United States supplies the most abundant data for the study of popular government. It has been a democracy for a century and a quarter, and is now by far the largest of the nations that live under self-governing institutions. It shows the working of these institutions, on a great scale in its Federal Government and in the governments of the most populous States, on a smaller scale in the lesser States, as well as in counties, townships, and cities, some of which latter have a frame of government that makes them resemble autonomous republics. It has exerted an immense influence on other countries, for its example fired the French people at the outbreak of the Revolution of 1789, and its constitution has been taken as a model by the new republics of the Western hemisphere. Since Tocqueville published in 1832 his memorable book on American democracy, the United States has stood before the minds of European thinkers and statesmen not only as the land to which the races of the Old World are drawn by hopes of happiness and freedom, but also as the type of what the rule of the people means when the people are left to themselves, and as the pattern of what other peoples are likely to become as they in their turn move along the fateful path to democratic institutions. Whoever in Europe has wished to commend or to disparage those institutions has pointed to the United States, and has found plenty of facts to warrant either praise or blame.
No nation ever embarked on its career with happier auguries for the success of popular government. The friends of liberty in Europe indulged the highest hopes of what Liberty could accomplish in a new land, exempt from the evils which the folly or selfishness of monarchs and nobles had inflicted on the countries of Europe. The Americans themselves, although the Revolutionary War left them impoverished as well as vexed by local jealousies, were full of pride and confidence. There was much to justify this confidence. Their own racial quality and the traditions they inherited, the favouring features of their physical environment and the security from external dangers which isolation promised, made up, taken in conjunction, a body of conditions for a peaceful and prosperous political life such as no other people had ever enjoyed. Those who settled Spanish America had an equally vast and rich territory open before them. Those who settled Australia and New Zealand had an equally noble inheritance of freedom behind them. But in neither of these cases were the gifts of Nature and those of a splendid Past bestowed together in such ample measure on the founders of a State.
Let us pass these gifts in brief review.
Temperate North America was a vast country fit to be the home of a North European race, and a practically unoccupied country, for the aboriginal tribes, though most of them fierce and brave, were too few to constitute an obstacle to settlement. There was land for everybody; and nearly all of it, as far as the Rocky Mountains, available for cultivation. It is only to-day, three centuries after the first English colonists settled in Virginia and on the shores of Massachusetts Bay, nearly a century and a half after the Declaration of Independence, that the unappropriated arable areas have become scarce. Besides the immense stretches of rich soil, there were superb forests and mineral deposits it will take many centuries to exhaust.
In such a country everybody could find means of sustenance. Among the earlier settlers and almost down to our own time there was no economic distress, no pauperism nor ground for apprehending it. Nobody was rich, nobody very poor. Neither were there any class antagonisms. Though the conditions of colonial life had created a kind of equality unknown to old countries, certain distinctions of rank existed, but they were not resented, and caused no friction, either social or political. The people were nearly all of English or (in the Middle States) of Dutch or Scoto-Irish stock, stocks that had already approved themselves industrious in peace, valiant in war, adventurous at sea. All were practically English in their ways of thinking, their beliefs, their social usages, yet with an added adaptability and resourcefulness such as the simple or rougher life in a new country is fitted to implant. In the northern colonies they were well educated, as education was understood in those days, and mentally alert. The habit of independent thinking and a general interest in public affairs had been fostered both by the share which the laity of the northern colonies took in the management of the Congregational churches and by the practice of civil self-government, brought from England, while the principles of the English Common Law, exact yet flexible, had formed the minds of their leading men. Respect for law and order, a recognition both of the rights of the individual and of the authority of the duly appointed magistrate, were to them the foundations of civic duty.
Though there were wide economic and social differences between the Northern colonies, where the farmers and seafaring men constituted the great bulk of the population1 and the Southern, in which large plantations were worked by slave labour, these differences did not yet substantially affect the unity of the nation: for the racial distinctions were negligible, and no language but English was spoken, except by some Germans in Pennsylvania. Such divergences in religious doctrine and church government as existed were too slight to be a basis for parties or to create political acrimony. Finally, it was their good fortune to be safe from any external dangers. The power of France had, since 1759, ceased to threaten them on the side of Canada, and on the south neither from Florida nor from Louisiana, both then in the hands of Spain, was there anything to fear.
With conditions so favourable to peace only a small navy and still smaller army were needed, circumstances which promised security against the growth of a military caste or the ascendancy of a successful general.2 These fortunate conditions continued to exist for many years. Once, however, the unity of the nation was imperilled. The maintenance of negro slavery, which wise statesmen had hoped to see disappear naturally, and the attempt to extend its area so as to retain for the Slave States an equal power in the government, led to a long struggle between the Free and the Slave States which ended in the War of Secession, a war that retarded the progress of the South and has left behind it a still unsolved internal problem. Nevertheless, the cohesive forces proved strong enough to reassert themselves when the fight was over. The present generation knows no animosities, and honours alike those who, between 1860 and 1865, fought on one or other side. The old Slavery issues belong to a dead past, and need seldom be referred to in the pages that follow, for the tendencies that characterize popular government have developed themselves upon lines with which slavery had little to do, so the phenomena which we have to-day to study would (except as respects the suffrage in, and the political attitude of, the Southern States) have been much the same if no slave-ship had ever brought a negro from Africa.
What were the tendencies of thought and feeling wherewith the nation started on its course and which constituted the main lines of its political character? Some were inherited, some the outcome of colonial conditions.
There was a strong religious sense, present everywhere, but strongest in New England, and there fostering a somewhat stern and almost grim view of duty. This has continued to be a feature which sharply distinguishes native American thought and conduct from all revolutionary and socialistic movements on the European continent. There has never been any anti-Christian or anti-clerical sentiment, such as has embittered politics and disrupted parties in France, Italy, Spain, and Mexico.
There was a vehement passion for liberty, dating, in embryo, from the early Puritan settlements in New England and keen also among the Scoto-Irish of Virginia, the Carolinas and Pennsylvania, who had fled from the oppressions suffered by the Presbyterians of Ulster. Intensified by the long struggle against King George III., this passion ran to excess when it induced the belief that with Liberty in the van all other good things would follow. During the War of Independence the men of conservative opinions, branded as enemies of freedom, had been mostly silenced or expelled. The victory of the People over arbitrary power had glorified both Liberty and the People. It was natural to assume that the one would be always victorious and the other always wise.
With the love of Liberty there went a spirit of individualistic self-reliance and self-help, not indeed excluding associated action, for that they possessed in their town meetings and colonial assemblies, but averse to official control or supervision. In the great majority of the people these tendencies co-existed with a respect for law and a sense of the value of public order. But there were, especially in the wilder districts, restive elements which gave trouble to the Federal Government in its early days and obliged it to use military force to overcome resistance to the enforcement of revenue statutes. Lawlessness has never been extinguished in the mountainous regions of East Kentucky and East Tennessee.
Neither did the respect for constituted authority, general in the older and best-settled parts of the country, prevent a suspicious attitude towards officials, including even members of the legislatures. Here the individualism characteristic of the Puritan and of the settler asserted itself. Any assumption of power was watched with a jealousy which kept strictly within the range of their functions those whom the people had chosen for public service.
Lastly, there was a spirit of localism which showed itself in the desire to retain as much public business as possible under local control and entrust as little as possible to a central authority. The attachment to self-government in each small community was rooted, not in any theory, but rather in instinct and habit. Nobody thought of choosing any one but a neighbour to represent him in an elected body. This showed itself especially in the northern colonies which had grown up out of little rural Towns. The Town was not a mere electoral area but a community, which thought that no one but a member of the community could represent it or deal with its affairs.
These tendencies were fundamentally English, though more fully developed in America, as an orchard tree grown for centuries in one country may, when placed in a new soil under a new sun, put forth more abundant foliage and fruit of richer flavour. The Americans, however, began soon after the Revolution to think of themselves, and the less instructed sections among them have continued so to think, as a new people. They fancied their history to have begun from 1776, or at earliest from 1607 and 1620, forgetting, in the pride of their new nationalism, that both their character and their institutions were due to causes that had been at work centuries before, as far back as Magna Charta and even as the Folk Mots of their primitive ancestors in the days of Ecghbert and Alfred. Rather were they an old people, the heirs of many ages, though under the stimulus of a new nature and an independent life renewing their youth even as the age of an eagle.
Such was the land and such the people in which the greatest of modern democracies began to build up its frame of government. On what foundations of doctrine was the structure made to rest?
The Americans of the Revolution started from two fundamental principles or dogmas. One was Popular Sovereignty. From the People all power came: at their pleasure and under their watchful supervision it was held: for their benefit and theirs alone was it to be exercised. The other principle was Equality. This had from the first covered the whole field of private civil rights with no distinctions of privilege. Equality of political rights was for a time incomplete, voting power being in some States withheld from the poorest as not having a permanent stake in the community, but in course of time all the States placed all their citizens on the same footing.
Along with these two principles certain other doctrines were so generally assumed as true that men did not stop to examine, much less to prove them. Nearly all believed that the possession of political rights, since it gives self-respect and imposes responsibility, does, of itself make men fit to exercise those rights, so that citizens who enjoy liberty will be sure to value it and guard it. Their faith in this power of liberty, coupled with their love of equality, further disposed them to regard the differences between one citizen and another as so slight that almost any public functions may be assigned to any honest man, while fairness requires that such functions should go round and be enjoyed by each in turn. These doctrines, however, did not exclude the belief that in the interest of the people no one chosen to any office must enjoy it long or be allowed much discretion in its exercise, for they held that though the private citizen may be good while he remains the equal of others, power is a corrupting thing, so the temptation to exceed or misuse functions must be as far as possible removed.
the frame of government : state, local, and federal constitutions
Holding these dogmas and influenced by these assumptions, the people began after they had declared their independence to create frames of government for the colonies they had turned into States, and then in 1787–9, to substitute for the loose Confederation which had held them together, a scheme of Federal Government. To use the terms of our own day, they turned a Nationality into a Nation, and made the Nation a State by giving it a Constitution.
The instruments which we call Constitutions are among the greatest contributions ever made to politics as a practical art; and they are also the most complete and definite concrete expressions ever given to the fundamental principles of democracy. What we call the British Constitution is a general name including all the laws, both statutes and common law doctrines embodied in reported cases, which relate to the management of public affairs. But an American Written or Rigid Constitution is a single legal instrument prescribing the structure, scope, powers, and machinery of a government. It is, moreover, an instrument set in a category by itself, raised above ordinary laws by the fact that it has been enacted and is capable of being changed, not in the same way as statutes are changed by the ordinary modes of legislation, but in some specially prescribed way, so as to ensure for it a greater permanence and stability. This was virtually a new invention, a legitimate offspring of democracy, and an expedient of practical value, because it embodies both the principle of Liberty and the principle of Order. It issues from the doctrine that power comes only from the People, and from it not in respect of the physical force of the numerical majority but because the People is recognized as of right the supreme lawgiving authority. Along with the principle of Liberty, a Constitution embodies also the principle of Self-restraint. The people have resolved to put certain rules out of the reach of temporary impulses springing from passion or caprice, and to make these rules the permanent expression of their calm thought and deliberate purpose. It is a recognition of the truth that majorities are not always right, and need to be protected against themselves by being obliged to recur, at moments of haste or excitement, to maxims they had adopted at times of cool reflection. Like all great achievements in the field of constructive politics, and like nearly all great inventions in the fields of science and the arts, this discovery was the product of many minds and long experience. Yet its appearance in a finished shape, destined to permanence, was sudden, just as a liquid composed of several fluids previously held in solution will under certain conditions crystallize rapidly into a solid form.
The Constitutions of the States
The student of these American instruments must note some features which distinguish the State Constitutions from that of the Federal or National Government, which we shall presently examine. The former came first, and express the mind of the people in the days of the Revolutionary War, when liberty seemed the greatest of all goods. These early constitutions have been from time to time amended, or redrafted and re-enacted, and thus they record the changes that have passed upon public opinion. Those dating from the years between 1820 and 1860 show a movement towards a completer development of popular power, while those from 1865 to our own time present certain new features, some of a highly radical quality, some enlarging the functions of government, some restricting the powers of legislatures.
To describe in detail the variations in these instruments and the changes each underwent might confuse the reader's mind. It will suffice to indicate in outline the principles from which the authors of the first Constitutions set out, and to which the nation has in the main adhered, though the mode of their application has varied according to the particular aims it has from time to time striven to attain and the evils it has sought to cure.1
These principles were:
To secure the absolute sovereignty of the People.
To recognize complete equality among the citizens.
To protect the people against usurpation or misuse of authority by their officials.
In particular, with a view to this protection, to keep distinct the three great departments of government — Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.
What a very high authority2 says of the Federal Constitution applies to the State Constitutions also. “The peculiar and essential qualities of the Government established by the Constitution are:
“It is representative.
“It recognizes the liberty of the individual citizen as distinguished from the total mass of citizens, and it protects that liberty by specific limitations upon the power of government.
“It distributes the legislative, executive, and judicial powers into three separate departments and specifically limits the powers of the officers in each department.
“It makes observance of its limitations necessary to the validity of laws, to be judged by the Courts of Law in each concrete case as it arises.”
These leading characteristics of the Constitutions as documents flow from the aforesaid three fundamental principles. Let us now see how these principles were worked out, and in what forms these characteristic features appear in the Constitutions, taking first those of the States, both as elder in date, and as most fully expressing the democratic ideas of the time which saw their birth.
Every State has to-day:
The salaries of these officials vary according to the wealth of the State and the importance of the particular post, but are mostly small, averaging about $6000 (£1200).
Local Government has had such profound importance for democracy in America that the forms it has taken deserve to be described. Though every State has its own system, both for rural and for urban areas, all systems can be referred to one or other of a few predominant types. Those in force for rural areas, while varying from State to State, are the three following:
The New England type has its basis in the Town, a rural circumscription, dating from the first settlement of the country, which was originally small in population as well as in area. The Town, corresponding roughly to the English Parish, is governed by a general meeting of all the resident citizens, held at least once a year, in which the accounts of town expenses and receipts are presented, the general affairs of the community are discussed, the Selectmen (a small locally elected administrative council) are interrogated, and the officials for the ensuing year are elected. This Town meeting corresponds to the general meeting of the inhabitants of the Commune (Gemeinde) in Switzerland, and is the child of the old English Vestry, which was already decadent when the first settlers came to New England. No American institution has drawn more praise from foreign as well as American observers, and deservedly, for it has furnished a means of political training and an example of civic co-operation to every class of citizens, all deliberating together on the same level. It has been both the school and the pattern of democracy. It still flourishes in the agricultural parts of the six New England States, but works less well where a large industrial population has sprung up, especially if that population consists of recent immigrants. Above the Town stands the County which exists chiefly for the purposes of highways and as a judicial district, and which (in most States) elects its judges. It is governed by officials elected by the citizens for short terms, each official (or Board) having specific statutory functions. There is not, as in Great Britain, a County Council.
In the Southern States there are (broadly speaking) no Towns or Townships, and the County has always been the unit of local government. It has no council, but a number of officials elected by the citizens, each with his own prescribed functions. The most important of the smaller local authorities are the elected School Committees.
In the Middle and Western States both the Townships (for this is the name here given to the small local areas) and the Counties are important. In the latter single officials or small administrative Boards are elected for short terms. As their respective duties are prescribed by statute it has not been deemed necessary to have a council to supervise them. In those States which have been settled from New England, a Township has its Town meeting working on the old New England lines, but enlisting to a less extent the active interest of the people. The many different forms of local government that belong to this third type need not detain us. It is enough to say that in all the Northern, Middle, and Western States, though in varying degrees, the management of local affairs is entirely in the hands of the inhabitants, and thus receives more attention, and stimulates more sense of public duty, than it does in most of the free countries of Europe.
In Towns and Townships elections are generally conducted without reference to political parties, but County offices are frequently contested, this being due not so much to zeal for the public interest as to the influence of party spirit desiring to reward party services. The salient feature of rural local government is that everywhere local affairs are in the hands of persons locally elected, not, as in many parts of the European continent, of officials appointed by the Central Government. The citizens looking to no central authority for guidance, nor desiring (except for special purposes, such as education) the supervision which the central government gives in England, are content with such directions as general statutes give to the officials.
The principles of popular government are applied with unswerving consistency to the political arrangements of cities both large and small.1 There are two forms of municipal government. One, which till very recently was almost everywhere the same in its general lines, follows in most respects the model of a State Government.
There is a Mayor, but he is elected not by the City Council but by the whole body of citizens at the polls, and for a period nowhere exceeding four years.
There is a Legislature consisting in some cities of one Chamber, in others of two, elected in wards for a period which nowhere exceeds four years, and receiving salaries.
There are, in the larger cities, or many of them, officials, or Boards, also directly elected by the citizens for a period nowhere exceeding four years, as well as other inferior officials appointed either by the Mayor or by the Legislature.
There are judges and police magistrates elected by the citizens for terms of years, generally short.
All these elections are on the basis of manhood, or universal, suffrage. The Mayor, being directly chosen by the people, enjoys large powers, and has in many cities a veto on acts of the city legislature. He receives a salary which in the greater cities is large.
The other form of municipal government was introduced in 1901 in the city of Galveston in Texas, and having worked well there has spread widely, especially in the form of City Manager government into which it has recently developed. As it was adopted in order to cure evils conspicuous under the pre-existing system, and is an offspring of the new reforming movement, I reserve the account of it till these evils have been described (see Chapter XLV.).
The Frame of National Government
The Federal or National Constitution was drafted in 1787 when the country was depressed by economic troubles and the State legislatures had shown signs of feebleness and unwisdom, was enacted in 1788, and took effect in 1789. It resembles in its general lines the Constitutions of the thirteen original States (as they existed in 1787), subject to those variations which the nature of the case prescribed. The Convention which prepared it was not only under the influence of a reaction from the over-sanguine temper of war time, but contained many men of larger experience and more cautious minds than those who had led the States in the work of constitution making. Thus the National Constitution is not only a more scientifically elaborated but also a more “conservative” document, in the American sense of the word, than the State Constitutions. Moreover, some of the more “radical” or “democratic” provisions which were suitable to small communities, such as the States then were — only one had a population exceeding 500,000 — were ill suited to a country so large as the whole Union, and were therefore omitted. Ten amendments were made in 1791 in order to satisfy those who disliked some features of the instrument, two others in 1798 and 1804 respectively, and three others just after the War of Secession in the years 1865–70. Four others have been made between 1911 and 1920,1 yet none of these materially affects the structure of the National Government. Under this Constitution there exist in the United States —
This Frame of Government is less democratic than that of the States in respect of the length of the Senatorial term, of the life-tenure of the judges, and of the provision that both administrative officials and judges are appointed, instead of being directly elected by the people, but is equally democratic in respect of its placing the source of executive as well as legislative power in direct popular election, and of the shortness of the term of service allowed to Representatives.
Let us note how consistently the general principles have been followed, both in the State Governments and in that of the nation.
In the States the principle of Popular Sovereignty is carried out (a) by entrusting as many offices as possible, even (in most States) judgeships, to direct popular election, so that the official may feel himself immediately responsible to the people, holding office by no pleasure but theirs; (b) by making terms of office short, in order that he may not forget his dependence, but shall, if he desires a renewal of his commission, be required to seek it afresh; and (c) by limiting as far as possible the functions of each official to one particular kind of work. Similarly the doctrine of Equality is respected in the wide extension of the electoral franchise, in the absence of any kind of privilege, in the prohibition of all public titles of honour, and practically also in the usage which, taking little account of special fitness, deems everybody fit for any office he can persuade the people to bestow. Both in the States and in the National Government the apprehension felt regarding the possible abuse of power by holders of office, found expression (a) in the division of the Legislature into two Houses, (6) in the granting of a veto on legislation, in the State to the Governor and in the nation to the President, (c) in requiring the consent of the Federal Senate, and (in some States) of the State Senate, to appointments made by the Executive, (d) in the provisions for the removal of officials by impeachment, (e) by the Constitutional restrictions placed upon legislative and executive action. In these points we are reminded of the desire of the Athenian democracy to retain all power in the hands of the Assembly, and to watch with suspicious vigilance the conduct of all its officials, short as were the terms of office allowed to them.
Note also how the same principles run through the schemes of Local Government. Officials are all chosen by the direct election of the people, except those (a now increasing number) whose functions are of a technical character, such as surveyors or city engineers or public health officers. Many matters which would in Europe be assigned to elective county or city councils are left to the elected officials, who, uncontrolled by the supervision of a representative body, are simply required to act under statutes prescribing minutely to them their respective duties. This is supposed to guard the rights of the people, though in fact it makes the due discharge of those duties depend on whatever vigilance, often far too slight, some one in the people may display in instituting a prosecution for neglect or misfeasance.
The fact that the United States is a Federation in which there are everywhere two authorities, the National Government and the State Government, each supreme in its own sphere, concerns us here only in so far as it emphasizes and illustrates the American practice of limiting all elected authorities, whether persons or bodies. The powers of the National Government are defined and limited by the National Constitution, just as the powers of each State Government are defined and limited both by the National Constitution, which has taken from them some of the attributes of sovereignty, and by the Constitution of the particular State.1 Furthermore each branch of the Government, executive and legislative, both in Nation and in State, is limited. Congress has no such range of power as belongs to the legislature of Great Britain or of a British self-governing Dominion, but is debarred by the Constitution from interfering with the functions allotted to the executive and to the judiciary. So in each State the legislature, executive, and judiciary are each confined by the State Constitution to a particular field of action, which is further narrowed, as respects the legislature, by the exclusion of a long list of subjects from legislative competence. This fundamental principle of American public law needs to be constantly remembered, because it has not only restrained popular impulses, delayed changes, and protected vested rights, but also created a strongly marked legal spirit in the people and accustomed them to look at all questions in a legal way. It has, moreover, by placing many matters outside the scope of legislative action, compelled the direct intervention of the people as the ultimate power capable of dealing with such matters. Whatever powers cannot be exercised by an elected authority have been reserved to the people, who exert them by amending the Constitution. That stability in great things coexistent with changefulness in small things, which is characteristic of the United States, is largely due to this doctrine and practice of limited powers, a feature foreign to the French scheme of government, and less marked in some other Federal Governments with Rigid constitutions, such as those of Switzerland, Canada, and Australia.
Other points in which the observance of democratic principles appears are the following:
All members of legislatures receive salaries, so that no one shall be debarred by want of independent means from entering them.
Elections are frequent, so that no one shall ever forget his constant dependence on the people.
No official of the Federal Government is eligible to sit in Congress, no official of the Government of a State to sit in its legislature. This provision, a tribute to the famous doctrine of the Separation of Powers, was meant to prevent the Executive from controlling the Legislature. Its effect has been to make the two powers legally independent of one another; but (as will be seen presently) it has not prevented the exercise of extra-legal influence, for just as Congress may hamper a President (or a State Legislature its Governor) by legislation narrowly restricting the sphere of his action, so a President may put pressure on Congress, or a Governor on his State Legislature, by appealing to the people against them; while a President may act upon the minds of individual legislators by granting, or refusing, requests made to him by them for the exercise of his patronage in the way they desire.
We have now seen (1) what were the favouring physical and economic conditions under which the United States began its course as a nation; (2) what were the doctrines and beliefs, the hopes and apprehensions with which the schemes of government — State and Local and Federal — were framed; and (3) how these ideas and sentiments found expression in the institutions of which the frames consist. To test the soundness of the doctrines we must examine their results as seen in the actual working of the American government. But before considering these let us regard another factor, viz. the economic and social changes which have passed upon the United States during one hundred and thirty years of national life. The machinery has worked under conditions unforeseen when it was created. Never, perhaps, has any nation been so profoundly affected by new economic and racial phenomena, while retaining most of its institutions and nearly all its original political ideas.
The first of these changes was territorial extension. In 1789 the United States stretched westward only to the Mississippi, and did not reach the Gulf of Mexico, the coasts of which then belonged to France. The area of the thirteen States was then about 335,000 square miles, and the present area of the forty-eight States is now nearly 3,000,000 square miles. Its (free) population was then about 3,000,000, and is now (1920) over 110,000,000.
As the settlers moved into the interior, amazing natural resources were disclosed, an immense expanse of extremely fertile soil, vast deposits of coal, iron, silver, copper, and other minerals, forests such as had never been known to the Old World. The native free population grew swiftly, and had by 1840 risen to nearly 15,000,000. Soon afterwards a flood of immigrants began to come from Europe.1 They and their descendants now form a majority of the American people. But as they came from many countries, and much the larger number from well-educated countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Scandinavian kingdoms, and as those who settled on the land were quickly intermingled with and assimilated to the native population, the general standard of intelligence and conduct did not suffer in the rural districts. It was otherwise in the cities and mining regions. The growth of manufacturing industries, with the volume of trade that poured outward and inward from the great seaports, created enormous aggregations of labouring people fresh from the more backward parts of Europe, who being herded together were but slowly diffused into the pre-existing population. The gift of American citizenship, hastily conferred, found them unfit for its responsibilities. Another new factor was introduced by the Civil War, when slavery was first practically and then legally extinguished. The States were in 1870 forbidden to withhold the electoral suffrage from any citizen on the ground of “race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment to the Constitution placed under Federal sanction the right of voting conferred by Acts of Congress and State constitutions previously enacted upon a large mass of coloured citizens, the vast majority of whom were unfitted to exercise political rights with advantage either to the State or to themselves.
Meanwhile the material progress of the country had produced other not less significant changes. The development of agriculture, mining, and manufactures, the growth of commerce, foreign and domestic, which the use of steam for navigation and the construction of railroads had raised to gigantic proportions, created immense wealth, and concentrated a large share of it in the hands of comparatively few men.1 Three results followed. The old equality of fortunes disappeared, and though such distinction of ranks as had existed in colonial days melted away, the social relations of different classes lost their simplicity and familiarity when the rich lived in one quarter of great cities and the poorer were crowded together in others. That personal knowledge which made the feeling of a common interest a bond between the citizens was weakened. The power which money inevitably carries with it went on growing as the means of using it multiplied. Railroads and other business enterprises came to be worked on so vast a scale that it was worth while to obtain facilities for starting or conducting them by the illegitimate expenditure of large sums. The number of persons rich enough to corrupt legislators or officials increased, and as the tempters could raise their offers higher, those who succumbed to temptation were more numerous. Thus the power of money, negligible during the first two generations, became a formidable factor in politics.
As material interests grew more prominent and the passion for money-making more intense, policies and projects were more and more judged by the pecuniary prospects they opened up. That this did not exclude the influence of moral or humanitarian ideals is shown by the history of the Slavery controversy, for America, like England, is a country in which two currents of feeling have been wont to run side by side, sometimes apart, sometimes each checking or disturbing the course of the other. While the economic aspect of every question came more insistently into view, and tinged men's opinions on public issues, so also business enterprises had a greater attraction for men of ability and energy, diverting into other careers talents and ambitions which would in earlier days have been given to the service of the State. Men absorbed in business did not cease to vote, but were apt to leave their votes at the disposal of their political leaders. None of these changes could have been foreseen by the framers of the early Constitutions, for although Jefferson and some of his contemporaries predicted for America a boundless growth of wealth, population and prosperity, they did not envisage the social and political consequences to follow.
The results of these geographical and economic changes may be summarized in a brief comparison:
The political institutions of the United States were created —
For a territory of which only about 100,000 square miles were inhabited.
For a free white population of little over 2,000,000.
For a population five-sixths of which dwelt in rural tracts or small towns. For a people almost wholly of British stock.1
For a people in which there were practically no rich, and hardly any poor.
For a people mainly engaged in agriculture, in fishing, and in trading on a small scale.
These institutions are now being applied —
To a territory of 2,974,000 square miles, three-fourths of which is pretty thickly inhabited.
To a nation of over 110,000,000.
To a population fully one-third of which dwells in cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants.
To a people less than half of whose blood is of British origin and about one-tenth of whom are of African descent.
To a people which includes more men of enormous wealth than are to be found in all Europe.
To a people more than half of whom are engaged in manufacturing, mining, or commerce, including transportation.
It would not be strange if these institutions should bear signs of the unforeseen strain to which they have been subjected. The wonder is, not that the machinery creaks and warps, but that it has stood the strain at all. But before examining the results of the changes referred to we must take note of a phenomenon of supreme importance which has affected in many ways the development of the institutions aforesaid. This is the growth of Party, and in particular of Party Organizations the most complete and most powerful that the world has seen. They constitute a sort of second non-legal government which has gained control of the legal government.
the party system
The three chief contributions which the United States has made to political science regarded as an Applied Science or Practical Art have been:
Rigid or so-called Written Constitutions, which, as being the expressions of the supreme will of the people, limit the powers of the different branches of government.
The use of Courts of Law to interpret Rigid Constitutions and secure their authority by placing their provisions out of the reach of legislative or executive action.
The organization of political parties.
Of these the first two are precautions against, or mitigations of, faults to which democracy is liable; while the third has proved to be an aggravation of those faults, undoing part of the good which the two former were doing, and impairing popular sovereignty itself. Yet party organization is a natural and probably an inevitable incident of democratic government. It has in itself nothing pernicious. Its evils have sprung from its abuses. We can now perceive that these evils are an outgrowth of the system likely to appear wherever it attains full development. But are they inevitable evils? Could they have been prevented if foreseen? Can they now be cut away without impairing such utility as the system possesses? This is a problem the American people have been trying to solve; and their efforts deserve to be studied.
Before describing the structure of the Organizations, let us enquire how Party came to cover the field and affect the working of politics more widely in America than elsewhere.
The political issues on which parties formed themselves after the establishment of the Federal Constitution were Rational issues. The first of these arose between those who sought to give full scope to Federal power and those who sought to limit it in the interest of the rights of the States. This issue presently became entangled with that of the tariff; some groups desiring to use import duties for the protection of home industries, others preferring a tariff for revenue only. The question of the extension of slavery into the States which were from time to time formed out of the unorganized territories of the Union induced that bitter antagonism which ultimately led to the war of Secession. These issues overtopped and practically superseded all State and other local issues, and marked the lines of division between parties over the whole country. The fact that the Federal senators were chosen by the legislatures of the States made it the interest of each National party to fight every election of a State legislature on party lines, in order to obtain in that body a majority which would secure the choice of senators of its own persuasion, so State legislatures came to be divided on strict party lines, i.e. the lines of the National parties, though nearly all the questions which these legislatures dealt with had nothing to do with National issues. From the States the same habit spread into local elections, so that contests in cities and counties were also fought on party lines, though the work of these local bodies lay even more apart than did that of the States from the questions which divided the nation. It became a principle to maintain the power of the National parties in all elected bodies and by all means available, for the more the party was kept together in every place and on every occasion for voting, so much the stronger would it be for national purposes.1
Thus the partisan spirit extended itself to the choice of those administrative officials who were directly elected by the citizens, such as the State Governor and State Treasurer, the mayor of a city, the county commissioners. These elections also were fought on party lines, for a victory redounded to the credit and strength of the National party. Personal character and capacity were' little regarded. The candidate was selected, in manner to be presently described, by the Primary or the Nominating Convention (as the case might be), as a party man, entitled to party recognition; and the party machinery worked for him as zealously as it did for the candidate seeking election to Congress.
A further downward step was to require any official who had to appoint subordinate officers, or even to employ persons for some humble public service, to prefer members of his party for selection to the office or work. The official, himself chosen as a party man, was expected to serve the party by filling every place he could with men bound to vote for party candidates and otherwise serve the party. Even a labourer paid by weekly wages got employment on the condition of his voting and working for the party. Thus politics came to mean party politics and little else. People thought of party success as an end in itself, irrespective of the effect it would have upon the administration of many matters into which no party principle could enter. These evils were aggravated by the fact that the public service was not permanent. As the elected officials served for short terms, posts became frequently vacant. The tenure of those who were not directly elected but appointed lasted no longer than that of the authority who had appointed them, so when power passed from one party to another after an election, the employees appointed by the outgoing party had, however efficient they might be, no claim to be continued. They were dismissed, and their places given to successors appointed by the incoming party, which thus rewarded its friends and strengthened its influence. This practice, known as the Spoils System,1 began in the State of New York early in the nineteenth century, and thence spread not only to other States but into the National Government also, so that the President, who by this time had an enormous number of posts at his disposal, was expected to use them as rewards for party services.
The Frame of Government, the outlines of which have been already described, was constructed in the belief that the people, desiring, and knowing how to secure, their own good, would easily effect their purposes by choosing honest legislators, and also by choosing officials who would be trustworthy agents, administering public affairs in accordance with the people's wishes. In a New England township, and even in the far larger county area of Virginia, the men of the eighteenth century knew personally the fellow-citizens whom they trusted, and could select those whose opinions they approved and whom they deemed capable; so, though the existence of parties was recognized, as were also the dangers of party spirit, the choice of legislators and officials seems to have been regarded as a simple matter, and it was not perceived that when population increased and offices became more important the old simple methods would not suffice, since elections must involve more and more work, and the selection of candidates be more difficult. Party organizations grew up unnoticed because unforeseen. There had been none in England, the only country where popular elections were known and party spirit had sometimes been furious. Thus it befell that in the United States, though parties appeared from the early days of the National Government, and their antagonisms were already fierce when the fourth presidential election was held in 1800, party organizations grew slowly, and attracted little attention. Tocqueville, writing in 1832, never mentions them, yet they were already strong in his day, and had covered the whole country before the Civil War broke out in 1861.
Some sort of associated action is incidental to every representative government, for wherever power is given to elected persons, those citizens who desire their particular views to prevail must band themselves together to secure the choice of the persons best fitted both to express their own views and to attract the votes of other citizens. Whether they devise a method for selecting a candidate or simply accept the man who presents himself, they must work in unison to recommend him to the voters generally, canvassing for him and bringing up their friends to the poll. Without concerted action there will be confusion, disorder, loss of voting power. An Election Committee formed to help a candidate pledged to its cause is the simplest form of party organization, legitimate and possibly inexpensive. Beyond this form party organization in England did not advance till our own time.
In the United States it was found necessary to go further. Under the constitutions of the several States elections were frequent, because many administrative as well as all legislative posts, both State and municipal, were filled by popular vote, and because these posts were held for short terms. As the population of cities and electoral areas generally grew larger, so that most citizens ceased to have personal knowledge of the candidates, it became more needful to inform them of the merits of those who sought their suffrages; more needful also to have lists of the voters and to provide for “getting out the vote.” The selection of candidates also became important In England, so long as the structure of rural society retained an old-fashioned semi-feudal character, some one belonging to an important land-owning family was usually accepted, while in the towns (after pocket boroughs had vanished) a wealthy merchant or manufacturer, especially if he had filled some municipal office, was likely to find favour. But in America, where Equality prevailed, neither wealth nor rank gave a claim to any post. The principle of Popular Sovereignty suggested that it was for the citizens not only to choose members or officials by their votes, but to say for what persons votes should be cast. Hence where any post was to be filled by local election, the local adherents of the party were deemed entitled to select the man on whom their voting force was to be concentrated. This was a logical development of the principle. Instead of letting a clique of influential men thrust a candidate upon them, or allowing a number of candidates to start in rivalry and so divide their votes, the party met before the election to choose the man they preferred to be their local standard-bearer, and it was understood that the votes of all would be given to whomsoever the majority chose. A meeting of this kind was called a Party Primary, and it became the duty of the party committee which managed elections to make the arrangements for summoning, and naturally also for advising, the Primary.
These being the two aims which called party organization into being, I pass to its main features, substantially, though not in minor details, the same over the whole country, and will describe it as it stood in 1888, before recent changes which cannot be understood till an account has been given of the system as it existed before their adoption. Though it has been almost everywhere altered, it may revert to type, and in any case it has been a product of democracy too remarkable to be ignored, for it showed how organizations essentially oligarchic in structure, though professing to be democratic, can become tyrannical under democratic forms.
The work of every Party Organization is twofold, corresponding to the two aims aforesaid. One branch of it was to select party candidates by the process called Nomination, as practised before the recent changes. The other is to promote the general interests of the party in every electoral area. Each party has, in most States, a party Committee in every city ward, in every city, in every township and State Assembly district and Congressional district, in every county, in every State, and at the head of all a National Committee for the whole United States, appointed to fight the approaching Presidential Election.1 Each of these Committees is elected either by those who are enrolled as members of the party in its meeting in a Primary (to be presently described) or else by a Convention composed of delegates from the Primaries. The Committees are appointed annually, the same persons, and especially the Chairman, being usually continued from year to year. They have plenty to do, for the winning of elections is a toilsome and costly business. Funds have to be raised, meetings organized, immigrants recruited for the party and enrolled as its members, lists of voters and their residences prepared, literature produced and diffused, and other forms of party propaganda attended to, and when the day of election arrives party tickets must be provided and distributed,2 canvassers and other election workers organized and paid, voters brought up to the polls. Each Committee keeps touch with the Committee next above it in a larger electoral area, and with that below it in a smaller, so that, taken together, these bodies constitute a network, strong. and flexible, stretching over the whole Union. They are an army kept on a war footing, always ready for action when each election comes round; and everything except the nomination of candidates and formulation of party programmes is within their competence.
Nominations belong to the other set of party authorities. These are either Primaries or Conventions. The Primary was — until recent legislation, of which more hereafter — the party meeting for the smaller election areas, in which a large proportion of the voters belonging to the party could be brought together in one room. It had two duties. One was to select a candidate or candidates for any elective office within its area, thereby putting its official stamp upon each person chosen as being the “regular candidate” entitled to the votes of all good and true members of the party. The other duty was to choose delegates to proceed to, and represent it in, a Nominating Convention for some larger election area or areas within which its own area lay. Thus a Ward Primary in a city would send delegates to a City Convention which nominates candidates for the mayoralty and other municipal offices, and also to a State Assembly District Convention, a State Senatorial District Convention, a Congressional District Convention, which nominates a candidate for Congress, and a State Convention which nominates a candidate for the Governorship and other elective State offices.1
The Nominating Convention consists (for Conventions are not extinct) of the delegates from the Primaries (or minor Conventions) within some large election area. Its function is to select candidates for elective offices within that area, such as members of the State Legislature, members of the Federal House of Representatives, the Governor and higher judges of the State. It selects and stamps as “regular” the candidate it prefers, and in some cases it also selects delegates to proceed from it to a Convention of higher rank and wider compass, viz. a State Convention or the National Convention which nominates the party candidate for the Presidency. A Convention also passes resolutions enouncing the views and aims of the party. These, however, being usually cut and dried, seldom arouse discussion.
All these arrangements scrupulously respected the Sovereignty of the People. No member of a Committee, no delegate to a Convention, was self-appointed. All were chosen by the members of the party. Nobody was recognized as a candidate unless he had been chosen by a party meeting. In theory, nothing could be more correct. Now let us look at the practice.
Even before the system had matured and still more after its full development, tendencies appeared disclosing inherent dangers. Those new phenomena, due to the growth of population and wealth, which have been already described, strengthened these tendencies, giving rise to grave perversions.
The Primary was in theory open to all members of the party resident within its area, but in order to prevent persons who did not belong to the party from entering and turning it into a public instead of a private party meeting, it became necessary to have a roll of party members, so that every one claiming to vote could prove his title. Now the rolls were kept by the local party Committee already referred to, a body composed of the most active and thoroughly partisan local politicians. Wishing to make sure of a subservient primary, this Committee took care to place on the rolls only those whom it deemed to be trusty party men, so any citizen suspected of independence was not likely to be enrolled. If he were alleged to have failed to vote for the “regular” party candidate at the last preceding election, that might be taken as a ground for omitting him, and if, discovering that he was not on the roll, he demanded to be entered, the demand might be evaded. Prima facie, therefore, the Committee could make pretty sure that when a Primary was held, it would choose the persons they desired to have nominated.
Now the Primaries were usually held in the evening, especially in the cities, and it was chiefly in the cities that the nomination methods here described were employed. The attendance was seldom large, but it was sure to include all the local party “workers,” and others on whose votes the managing Committee could count. Often it consisted entirely of persons belonging to the humbler strata of the party. The richer sort, including the larger taxpayers, though they had the strongest interest in entrusting administration to men who would conduct it economically, seldom attended, preferring their social engagements, or a quiet evening at home with their families. Few troubled themselves to see that their names were on the roll. Still fewer desired the local posts, or cared to serve as delegates to a Convention, so the choice of nominees for the offices, and for the function of delegate, was usually left to the Committee, who bringing their list cut and dried, proposed and carried it without trouble. Now and then there was opposition, if there happened to be a feud within the party, or if some among the better sort of citizens, fearing the nomination of exceptionally unfit men, thought it worth while to make a fight. However, the Committee could usually command a majority, and as the chairman was ready to rule every question in their favour, opposition rarely succeeded. Thus the Committee, being master of the situation, almost always put through its nominations both for the local posts and for the choice of delegates. That having been done, the Committee itself was reappointed, and the rule of the local managers thereby duly prolonged from one year to another.
When the delegates proceeded to the Convention they met other delegates from other Primaries within the Convention area, persons similarly chosen, and similarly bound to carry out the instructions which their respective Primaries had given them. Sometimes these instructions directed them to vote in the Convention for the nomination of the person whom the party managers had already fixed on as the party candidate for any particular office, but even if no direction had been given, they followed the managers' lead. It need hardly be said that the petty local politicians who managed the Primaries were in close touch with the larger political figures in charge of the party business of the county, and with the still more exalted beings similarly charged with its interests in the State. If the Primary elections had been well handled, there was little trouble in getting the Convention to accept the list of nominations prepared by the managers, and this list, being official, then commanded the votes of all sound party men. The whole procedure was, in point of form, strictly democratic. The Voice of the People rang out in the Primaries. The delegates transmitted it to the Convention; so those whom the Convention nominated as party candidates were the people's choice. Hence the trouble taken to secure the Primaries was none too great. They were the key of the position.
Why did these methods succeed? Since about 1870, if not earlier, the more observant and thoughtful citizens had known the realities which previously, cloaked under democratic forms, had passed almost unnoticed. Yet for many a year they submitted tamely to the perversion of those forms, taking no pains to have good candidates selected, and voting for whatsoever candidates the Organization presented to them.
Several reasons may be assigned for this tolerance:
All this implies that the citizens did not live up to the standard of civic duty which their democratic system contemplated. It does not mean that they were below the level of citizens elsewhere. On the contrary, they were probably above the point at which that level stands in Europe. What it does mean is that the legal duty imposed on them of voting frequently and the non-legal duty of sharing in party management were, taken together, too numerous and troublesome for average human nature. Overmuch was demanded from them. If less had been asked, more might have been given.
Nevertheless a time came when the combined influence of all these causes could no longer stifle discontent. The worm turned. From about 1890 onwards, dissatisfaction grew so strong that a demand for a reform of the Primaries, beginning in the great Eastern cities, spread over the country and secured in nearly every State the enactment of statutes intended to root out the abuses described and deliver the party voter from his tyrants. These changes will be described when we come to a general survey of the efforts recently made to improve the working of American institutions.
These vast party organizations, covering the country from ocean to ocean with a network of Committees, managing Primaries and Conventions, fighting the endless elections, raising and spending large sums of money, needed, and still need, a number of men to work them said to exceed that of all the elected officials of the country, if we omit those of ward and township. “The machinery of [party] control in American Government probably requires more people to tend and work it than all other political machinery in the rest of the civilized world.”1 These workers, except the secretaries and clerks, are almost all unpaid. Many chairmen of the more important Committees give their whole time to the work. Many of the humbler sort, who look after voters in the wards of crowded cities, throw zeal as well as labour into the duties assigned to them. What are the inducements? Whence comes the remuneration? One must distinguish three classes of persons.
From time to time, when some exciting issue rouses hope or alarm, men will work out of disinterested attachment to party doctrines. Many more, especially among the humble and less educated, are stirred by party spirit pure and simple, fighting for victory as in a football match. Keen is the pleasure of strife and competition, especially in America. The sympathy that springs from co-operation feeds this spirit. It is a joy to stand shoulder to shoulder, especially with a prospect of success. But the largest number of workers in all ranks work for their own interests, those at the top aiming at high political office, which may carry with it opportunities of gain exceeding its salary, those lower down desiring either a humbler public post or perhaps a profit to be made out of the Administration when their friends are installed in it, those at the bottom seeking employment in the police, or the fire service, or the gas service, or some other department of municipal work.
Thus the main inducement is Office, or the assured prospect of receiving an office when the party one serves is in power. “What are we here for except the offices?” was the oft-quoted deliverance of a politician at a National Convention. The Organization can confer the office and recognizes the obligation to do so, because it controls nominations and can require its nominees, when elected, to reward service rendered to it by bestowing any emolument, legitimate or illegitimate, that lies within the range of their official power or covert influence. It is largely self-supporting, like an army that lives off the country it is conquering, but while the party forces are paid by salaried posts, legislative, administrative, or judicial, the funds of the Organization are also replenished by contributions exacted from business firms or corporations which its power over legislation and administration can benefit or injure. In this material aspect, the Organization is called by Americans the Machine, because it is a well compacted and efficient set of contrivances which in its ordered working provides places for the professional staff who serve its purposes by helping to win elections.
Who were responsible for the rule of professional politicians? Where were the good citizens while all these things were going on? Why did they vote at State and City elections for candidates of whom they knew nothing except that they were the Machine nominees?
The system had grown up naturally as the business of winning elections became more and more a matter needing constant attention and labour. Those who had created the original Committees came to be permanent party managers, and had worked out of party spirit before they began to work for their selfish interests. The “good citizens,” occupied in making money and developing the resources of the country, acquiesced and became unconscious accomplices. Many of the urban constituencies had grown so large by the increase of population that very few of the voters knew, or could know, who were the fittest candidates. The bulk were too much engrossed with their own business to be at the trouble of enquiring for themselves, so when the party gave them guidance by nominating candidates, they took thankfully what was given. In exciting times the vehemence of their party spirit disposed them to overlook a candidate's defects and accept any one who had received the party stamp from nomination by the Primary or the Convention. In duller times, they cared so little about the matter that while many stayed away from the polls, others voted the ticket like automata. Seldom was any protest raised in a Primary or Convention.
From time to time questions arose which so deeply touched either the emotions or the pocket of the good citizen as to make him ready to swallow any candidate and turn a blind eye to a want of honour in party leaders. The zealous Anti-Slavery men of New England pardoned everything for the sake of that cause; and in later days the Protectionists of Pennsylvania allowed their State to be dominated by a succession of unscrupulous chiefs because the unity of the high tariff party must be at all costs maintained, and, even apart from any such motives, the loyalty to his old historic party was more deeply ingrained in the American nature than it had ever been in any other country where Party had no racial or religious basis. Thus it befell that party spirit supported the Organization through evil-doing and well-doing. Without such a spirit the Machine could not have won and kept power. But neither could the spirit have shown such tenacity of life without the Organization which gathered in and drilled recruits from the masses, turning into fervent Republicans or Democrats crowds of brand-new citizens who, neither knowing nor caring what the tenets of their party were, liked to be associated in a body which brought them into the life of their adopted country. They became partisans without principles, the solidest kind of voters. It must also be remembered that the party managers were not all professionals, at least in the lower sense of the term. Some were eminent statesmen who loved the party for the party's sake, and who, though not soiling their own hands, could not afford to scrutinize too closely the methods of the Bosses who controlled the votes which the party needed.
This brings us to another aspect of the subject. Who were those that led and ruled each Party, not as a professional machine with pecuniary aims, but as an association of citizens desiring to shape the policy of the nation? Who determined in what wise its traditional principles should be from time to time adapted to the circumstances and needs of the moment? Since a main object of every party is to foresee and follow the public opinion of the majority so as to catch votes at elections, it must, for this purpose, consider what views on current issues should be announced beforehand, what plans formulated and promises made.
The fundamental doctrine of democracy prescribes that the only authorized exponent of the views of the people is the People itself, and this means, for a party, all its members assembled by their representatives in a Convention. Accordingly every State Convention held before a State election adopted a Platform, which, though it might touch upon any important State issue, was chiefly concerned with national issues, and professed to express the national policy of the party. Still more authoritative of course is the platform adopted by the National Convention when it selects the party candidate for the Presidency. But in neither body is there any real discussion of the planks in the platform. There is not time enough, and a National Convention is a body of more than a thousand delegates meeting in the presence of ten thousand spectators. The State Committee or National Committee (as the case may be) prepares the platform in advance, and the Convention usually adopts it after two or three declamatory speeches, though alterations are often made especially if needed to “placate” any critical or possibly recalcitrant section of the party that may be represented in the hall. The part played by the Convention is formal.1 Those who determine beforehand the contents of the platform are, though the real leaders of the party, persons whom it is hard to define and impossible to enumerate. In England the Prime Minister and Cabinet declare the policy of the party in power, and are usually accepted as speaking on its behalf; while the leader of the parliamentary Opposition and the ex-Cabinet do the like for the party in opposition. But the existing Cabinet in America counts for little in such a matter, and the last preceding Cabinet for nothing at all. So far as there is a leader of the “party in power,” it is the President, because he is the choice of the people, assumed to retain their confidence till some event shows that he has lost it. Next to him in authority would come the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but only if personally influential, together with a few of the leading senators of the party, and some other adroit and experienced politicians, especially if they are in touch with the President. But with such men leadership depends on personal qualities and reputation, not upon any official position. They will often be found in the permanent Congressional party Committee, which includes the shrewdest of the party men in the House of Representatives; and also in the National Committee, which though formed only for the temporary purpose of each Presidential election, has become a sort of permanent party executive. But the public, knowing little of many among the members of these two Committees, is disposed to look chiefly to the President for leadership. Congress is not the centre of America's political life, as the House of Commons still is in England, and as are the Chambers in France, while the rank and file of those who fill the Conventions are not primarily concerned with policy but with the getting and keeping of places.
Two phenomena that have struck European observers deserve only a passing mention, because they are due to causes which have little or nothing to do with democracy. One is the fact that two great parties have since 1836 maintained themselves (except, of course, during the Civil War) in tolerably equal strength, neither able to disregard its opponent.1 The other is that the minor parties which have been from time to time created have either died down or been pretty quickly reabsorbed, like the Know Nothings of 1852, the Populists of 1890-96, and the Progressives of 1912, or else have failed to attain truly national importance. This latter fact shows that democratic governments do not invariably, as some have inferred from the cases of France and Italy, cause the splitting up of parties into groups.
Note that this party organization forms another government, unknown to the law, side by side with the legal government established by the Constitution. It holds together an immense number of citizens in small party aggregates all over the country, each subordinated to and represented in larger State aggregates, and these in their turn represented in one huge party meeting, the National Convention which assembles once in four years to declare party policy and choose a presidential candidate. Thus the whole vast body is induced to follow a few leaders and to concentrate its voting power upon the aims and purposes which the majority prescribe. Though Bills are sometimes mentioned in a platform, legislation is not one of the chief aims of party, and many of the most important measures, such as the Prohibition amendment and the Woman Suffrage amendment, have had no party character.2 Its chief purpose is to capture, and to hold when captured, the machinery, legislative and administrative, of the legal government established by the Constitution. That machinery, when captured, is used, mainly of course for discharging the normal routine work of legislation and administration, most of which has nothing to do with party doctrines and proposals, to some extent also for carrying out those doctrines by legislative action, but largely also for putting into public office “sound men,” being those who profess the tenets of the party, and have rendered service to it. If the constitutional government of the country be compared to a vast machine set up in a factory to be worked by electric power, the party system may be likened to the dynamo engine that makes the electric current which, when turned on, sets all the machinery in motion. The two governments, the legal and the party, are in their structure very different things, but it is from the non-legal party machinery that the legal machinery of government derives its motive power.
Party organization has done much to unify the people of the United States and make them homogeneous, for it has brought city and country, rich and poor, native American and Old World immigrant into a common allegiance, which has helped them to know, and taught them to cooperate with, one another. Had the parties been based on differences of race or religion, those elements of antagonism which existed in the population would have been intensified. But they have been in fact reduced. Most of the Irish immigrants joined the Democratic party, most of the German the Republicans, but there were always plenty of German Protestants among the Democrats and of Irish Catholics among the Republicans. So, too, the Organizations have mitigated such inconveniences as arise from the provisions of the Constitution which disjoin the Executive from the Legislative power, for when the President belongs to the same party as the majority in Congress, he and the latter, having a common interest in the prestige of the party, are likely to work well together, though, conversely, when they belong to different parties, the majority in Congress become the more disposed to “play politics” against him.
As compared with the legal Frame of National Government, the party system is more compactly built together and attains a completer concentration of power. It is an admirable contrivance for centralizing control and making effective the rule of a majority, and indeed the best instrument for the suppression of dissident minorities democracy has yet devised. Thus it has generally shown itself a conservative force, for in order to command a majority at elections, it is obliged — except when it can take advantage of some sudden impulse sweeping over the country — to conciliate various sections of opinion and try to keep them within its fold. It will even condescend to suffer cranks gladly, or to exploit temporary fads and follies, so long as it can do so without alienating its saner members. When a new question emerges, raising serious differences of opinion, the Organization usually tries to hedge. It fumbles and quibbles and faces both ways as long as it can. But when one section has gained the mastery of the party, the Organization may become almost ferociously intolerant, and enforce by the threat of excommunication1 whatever it then declares to be its orthodoxy. It is conservative in another sense also, for it tends to restrain personal ambition and imposes a check upon the too obtrusive selfishness of prominent men. One who has risen by party support is rarely so indispensable, or so great a hero to the mass of voters, as to become dangerous by leading his party into violent courses or making it the accomplice in his schemes of personal ambition. He will have learnt that only by watching and following general opinion can power be retained.
Thus it may be said that Party Organization, which has done some great disservices to America, shows also a good side. It has, so far as concerns the lower strata, demoralized politics, and made them sordid. It has fallen under the control of an oligarchy. But it has also steadied the working of government over a vast country wherein are many diverse elements, by giving an authoritative solidity to popular majorities. The tendency to abuse power, frequent in small communities, is reduced in this large country, because the party majority is held together by respecting the various elements of which it is composed, while as the party for the time being in the minority has also a strength and cohesion through its organization, it can criticize those who hold the reins of power and deter them from extreme courses. The greatest fault of the system, next to the selfishness and corruption its perversions have bred, has lain in the irresponsible secrecy of its influence over the official organs of government. An American party is, in one sense, so far made responsible that when its policy has been condemned by the results, it loses support, and may suffer defeat But the leaders who direct its policy are usually so numerous, and some of them so little known, and the share of each in a misdeed committed so unascertainable, that it is hardly too much to say that in the State Governments only one person can be held responsible as a party leader, the Governor,1 and in the National Government only one person, the President.
It may be thought that the description here given exaggerates the novelty of the American party system, seeing that Party rules both in Britain and her self-governing Dominions, and in France, and in some of the smaller free countries. But it must be remembered not only that the American Organization is incomparably more fully developed, but also that it stands forth more conspicuously as a system standing quite outside of the legal Government. In France, legislation and administration are carried on not by one party but by combinations of groups frequently formed, dissolved, and then re-formed. In England party conflicts fought all over the country, come only once in three, four, or five years, at a General Election; and when one party goes under and another comes to the top, only some thirty or forty persons change places, so the general machine of administration seems but slightly affected, and few are those who directly lose or gain. Party policy, moreover, rests with a half-dozen Parliamentary figures on each side, i.e. the leaders of the two Houses and their closest advisers and associates, whereas in the United States the National Convention is the supreme exponent of party doctrine and policy, universally recognized as the party oracle, though its deliverances may in practice be conveniently forgotten. Thus the American system, though it purports to regard measures rather than men, expends nearly all its efforts and its funds in getting men into places, and though it claims to give voice to the views and will of the whole party does in reality express those of an oligarchy which becomes, subject to the necessity of regarding public opinion, the effective ruler of the country, whenever the party holds both the Legislature and the Executive.
the actual working of the national and state governments
We may now return to the legal frame of Government, examining each of its branches, and noting how the working of each has been modified, and to some extent warped from its original purpose, by the influence of the parallel non-legal government constituted by the Party Organization.
First, as the foundation of all else, comes the part assigned by the Constitutions, State and Federal, to the direct action of the People at elections.
The electoral suffrage is left by the Federal Constitution to the States. In them, it was at first limited to citizens possessed of some property, often freehold land or a house, but in the period of the great democratic wave which passed over the country between 1820 and 1840, it was almost everywhere extended to all adult men; and since 1869, when Wyoming (then a Territory) gave it to women, many States have followed that example.1 In 1919 Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution granting equal suffrage everywhere to women, and this was ratified by the requisite number of State Legislatures in 1920. The change is the longest step towards pure democracy ever taken in America.
Whether the admission of women has made any, and if so what, practical difference remains still obscure, a matter for conjecture rather than proof, since under the ballot there is nothing to show how far women vote differently from men. It was, however, believed that, in 1916, the women electors (who voted in ten States) had turned the Presidential election, they being more eager than men to keep the United States out of the war then raging in Europe. Though it is often said that women generally vote for restricting or forbidding the sale of intoxicants, occasions are mentioned when this does not appear to have happened. Such evidence as is available indicates that women mostly vote much as men do, following the lead of their husbands or brothers and of the party organizations, that administrative government is in the woman suffrage States neither better nor worse than in others, and that the general character of legislation remains much the same. Nowhere does there seem to be any Women's Party, specially devoted to feminine aims. Only one woman has so far been elected to Congress, and few to State Legislatures.
In 1868 and 1870 Constitutional amendments were passed (Amendments XIV. and XV.) intended to secure the suffrage to the (then recently emancipated) negroes, but the apparently sweeping provisions of the latter enactment have been in nearly all of the former Slave States so far nullified by State Constitutions ingeniously contrived to exclude the coloured people, that less, perhaps much less, than one-fifth of these now enjoy voting rights. Members of Congress from the North and West at first resented, and sought means of defeating, these contrivances, but when a new generation arose, little influenced by memories of the Anti-Slavery struggle and the Civil War, interest in the question subsided. Common sense regained its power, and the doctrine that every adult human being has a natural right to a vote, though never formally abandoned, has been silently ignored.
The question whether any educational qualification should be prescribed, and how soon immigrants should be allowed to vote, is still discussed.1 Some States prescribe such a qualification, some fix a term during which the immigrant must have resided in America. Others register him as a voter even before he has been naturalized as a citizen, arguing that this tends to accelerate the process of Americanization. There is force in this view as respects rural areas and small towns, where the newcomer quickly learns English and acquires the habits and ideas of his native neighbours. But in great cities and thickly-peopled mining districts, where he remains one of a mass of Italians, or Greeks, or Serbs, or Finns, or Rumans, or Polish Jews, he learns far less readily how to use his new citizenship, and falls an easy victim to the party agents, often of his own race, who sweep him into their net and use him as so much voting stock.
The number of direct elections by the people is far larger in America than in any other country, (a) because there are three sets of elections, Local (in which many offices may have to be filled), State, and National; (b) because the terms of office are short, so that the elections to each post recur frequently; (c) because many offices (including judgeships), which in other countries are filled by Executive appointment, are here filled by the direct act of the People. This constant summoning of the citizens to vote has one of two results. If National and State and Local elections are held at different times, the elector, teased by these frequent calls, is apt to refuse to go to the poll. If, on the other hand, these elections are fixed for the same day, he is bewildered by the number of candidates for various posts between which he is expected to choose. The American practice has usually been for each party to put on one piece of paper, called a Slip Ticket, and often adorned with a party symbol, the names of all the candidates it nominated for the various offices to be filled at the election. The voter could mark with his cross all the names on the list, or could “vote the ticket” simply by dropping it as it stood into the ballot box. If, however, he approved, of some of the candidates, but disapproved of others, preferring some candidates appearing on another party ticket, he erased from his party slip ticket those names (this is called “scratching") and substituted other names from the other ticket or tickets. Where, however, as is now frequently done, the names of all the candidates of all the parties are printed upon one sheet, each name opposite the office for which each has been nominated, that sheet becomes enormous, and the voter cannot, with the best will in the world, exercise an intelligent choice by selecting the man he thinks best from the different party columns in which their names appear; so he usually abandons the task in despair and votes the names the party recommends. With the rise of every new party, however numerically weak, the confusion becomes greater by the addition of a new set of candidates. The result is to make all but impossible that judicious selection of the fittest men for each particular post which the system of popular elections was meant to secure, a result which has of course played into the hands of the party managers.
The gravity of the evil has provoked demands for curing it by expedients to be presently mentioned. Meantime note that a democratic principle may be so pushed to excess as to defeat itself. The more numerous are the nominations a party makes, the less likely are the bad to be detected. Where the voter is expected with scarcely any personal knowledge to select men fit for fifteen or twenty posts, he ceases to try. Had there been only five he might have succeeded. To ask too much may be to get nothing. A beast of burden that will carry half a ton's load to market will get nowhere if the load is doubled.
Elections are now quietly conducted, neither side disturbing the meetings of its opponents (as often happens in England), nor are voters at the polls molested, unless perhaps in a Ring-ruled city where the police are directed by an unscrupulous party superintendent. Personation and repeating used to be frequent in some States. Ballot-box stuffing and false counting were habitually employed in the South until less troublesome and more effective means were invented for reducing the negro vote. All these malpractices have diminished, except, perhaps, in a few ill-governed cities, in one of which an effective remedy was found by providing glass ballot-boxes, so that the voters who came as soon as the polls opened in the morning could assure themselves that the officials in charge had not been beforehand with them. The proportion of electors who vote, naturally much affected by the interest which the issues before the country excite, is highest in Presidential elections, and varies from 65 to 80 per cent, a figure which compares favourably with every other constitutional country except perhaps Switzerland. No State has adopted the plan of a Second Ballot, to be taken in case no candidate obtains an absolute majority of the votes cast, nor has proportional representation, though much discussed, already adopted in some cities, and regarded with growing favour, been tried long enough or on a large enough scale to enable its merits to be judged.
The cost of elections varies greatly, but is in general lower than in England. Official expenses connected with the polling do not fall on the candidate, and he is seldom, unless personally wealthy, left to bear the whole of the other expenses. Each party is required by Federal law to render at all Federal elections a full official account of its “campaign expenditure,” with the names of the contributors and the sums they pay; while business corporations are now forbidden to subscribe to party funds. Similar legislation has been enacted in some States. The practice, now regrettably frequent in England, of gifts by members or candidates to various local purposes, such as charities and athletic clubs, gifts made at other times than elections, but with a purpose not purely altruistic, hardly exists in America.
Bribery is, or recently was, common in some districts,1 such as parts of Ohio and South-Eastern New York, as well as in some cities, where a section of the less intelligent voters, especially the negroes in the Middle States, have been corruptible. Though prosecutions are sometimes instituted, the offence more often goes unpunished, the two parties agreeing not to rip up one another's misdeeds. The commonest method of corruption has been to give an agent a lump sum for all the votes he can deliver, and many of these he got without payment, perhaps by persuasion, perhaps, until Prohibition began to conquer State after State, by drinks and cigars.
Regarding elections as the means by which the will of the sovereign people is expressed, we may say that in the United States that will is —
From the People, acting directly by their votes, we may now pass to those whom they choose as their representatives to act on their behalf, that is to say, to the Legislatures. Here there are four topics to be considered:
1. The Members of the Legislatures
These are a great multitude, for besides the two Houses of Congress there are forty-eight State Legislatures, each of two Chambers.
They are citizens little above their fellows in knowledge and intellectual gifts. The average is higher in Congress than in any State, because a seat in Congress has a higher salary, carries more power, opens a better career, draws to itself a much larger proportion of well-educated men. About one half of them are lawyers. But even Congress, drawn from more than one hundred and ten millions of people, and wielding wide authority, contains few men who, uniting conspicuous talents to a well-stored mind and width of view, possess the higher gifts of statesmanship. It is not that such men are wanting in the nation, for they abound. It is that they either do not wish, or are not able, to find their way into the National Legislature. The three reasons for this cast so much light on the working of democracy that they need to be stated.
A seat in Congress fails to attract many men of high intellectual quality because much of the work it involves is dull and tiresome, for it consists in satisfying the demands of constituents for places, pensions, and help in their business undertakings, as well as in trying to secure grants of public money for local objects. One who has experience of the British House of Commons, where few such services are expected, is astonished to find how many of the calls upon a Congressman, or even a Senator, have nothing to do with the work of legislation. Moreover, the methods by which business is conducted in Congress, nearly all of it in Committees whose proceedings are not reported, allow few opportunities for distinction and give a member, at least during his earlier legislative years, few chances of proving his powers. Add to this the fact that a man of eminence who follows a profession, such as that of law or university teaching or journalism, cannot leave the city where he practises or teaches to live in Washington. Such a man living at home in London or Paris may continue his profession with a seat in Parliament.
The obstacles that block the path by which Congress is entered have still more to do with reducing the quality of its members. A custom old, universal, and as strong as law itself, forbids any aspirant to offer himself for election in any Congressional district except that in which he resides, and the same rule obtains in elections to State Legislatures. It is mere usage that imposes the restriction, for legally any citizen resident within the State is eligible for Congress or for the State Legislature, but the electors hardly ever dream of going outside the district. To do so would be to give away a good thing, and would seem to cast a slur on the district, as implying there was no one in it fit for the post. Eloquence, wisdom, character, the fame of services rendered to the nation or the party, make no difference. Europeans are surprised at the strength of this habit, and Englishmen especially, for they remember that nearly all the most brilliant members of the House of Commons during the last two centuries had no connection of residence, perhaps not even of family or previous personal acquaintanceship, with the constituencies they represented, and they know also that even where local interests are concerned — little as these come up in British parliamentary life — a capable man residing elsewhere is quite as fit to understand and advocate such interests as a resident can be. In the United States, as in other countries, the ablest and most energetic men have been drawn to the cities, and especially to the great cities where opportunities for success abound. New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, could furnish eminently gifted candidates for more than all the seats in the States in which these cities are respectively situated, but such men could be chosen only in those cities themselves. Moreover, the city where such men are obliged by their professions to reside may be so entirely in the hands of one party that no member of the other party can find in it a district offering a chance of success, so that half or more of the talent such a city contains is lost to political life. This is the result of a habit deemed democratic.
The habit is perhaps more natural in a Federation than in countries which have long had only one supreme legislative body, for in a Federal country each man is apt to feel it his first duty to represent his own State or Canton or Province, and this spirit of localism extends its influence to smaller divisions also. Where a State or a district thinks itself interested in a particular protective duty on imports, its representative is expected to fight hard for that object without regard to the general interest. There is said to be more of this spirit now than before the Civil War, when national issues filled men's minds. Local feeling disposes the member to deem himself a Delegate rather than a Representative. Being chosen not solely or chiefly because he is qualified by talent, but largely because his residence in his district enables him to declare its views and wishes, he comes to think that to “voice” them is his chief duty, and is all the more disposed to subordinate his independent judgment to what is called in America “the opinion of the corner store.” Yet with all this eagerness to catch and obey the slightest indication of public opinion, Congress is a less perfect mirror of the opinion of the nation than are some European Parliaments of countries, because its members have been not the spontaneous choice of their constituents but the nominees of party organizations with of the constituency as a whole, and feel a more direct responsibility to the party managers than they may do to their electors. The Organization is interposed as a sort of imperfectly conductive medium between the member and the citizens by whom he is chosen.
This spirit of localism becomes explicable when one remembers the circumstances of the early colonies and States. In New England the Towns were autonomous communities out of which the State was built up. The settlers who went West carried their local feelings with them, and similar conditions strengthened the original habit So too the County meant a great deal to the men of the South and they did not think of going outside it for a representative. Perhaps it is rather the English habit of going outside than the opposite American habit which is exceptional, and the habit did not, till recently, hold good in the English counties. It is right to add that although American localism excludes many of the best men from politics, it may be credited with also excluding such undesirable adventurers — city demagogues, for instance — as might by money or by plausible rhetoric win support from electors who knew little of their character, and thereby obtain access to legislatures they would be ill fitted to adorn. In the United States the constituency, however far away from Washington, expects the member to keep a residence within its bounds, and thus, having him among them for a part of the year, can form a personal judgment of his quality. If they wish him to be as like themselves as possible, thinking less of the interests of the United States than of what is desired in Oshkosh, Wis., they attain that end. There may be less knowledge and wisdom in the legislature, but they may deem it a more exact sample of the electors as a whole.
I do not suggest that a great deal of first-rate talent is needed to make a good legislature, for such a body might easily have too much of some kinds of talent. An assembly composed of orators all wishing to speak could ruin any country. But Congress has not enough either of that high statesmanship which only the few attain, or of those sensible men, mostly silent, who listen with open yet critical minds, and reach sound conclusions upon arguments presented.
2. Methods of Legislation
The methods by which legislation is conducted in Congress require a brief notice, not because they are specifically due to democratic principles, but because their defects have reduced the effectiveness of Congress, exposing it, and the whole Frame of Government, to strictures which ought to be directed rather against the methods than against these principles.
The mass of work which the National Legislature has to deal with, and the want in it of any leadership such as the President or his Ministers could give if present, has made it necessary to conduct all business by means of Committees. Many of these are small, consisting of from seven to fifteen members, and they are usually smaller in the Senate than in the House. They deliberate in private. The party which has a majority in the Chamber has always a majority in the Committee, and the Chairman belongs to that party, so that a sort of party colour is given to all Bills into which any controversial issue may enter, while even in dealing with non-partisan Bills there is a tendency for the members of each party to act together. Ministers are sometimes asked to appear before these Committees to explain their views on bills, and especially on the estimates for the public services, such as the army and navy, and on any administrative matters falling within the sphere of a Committee. But the Committee need not follow the advice tendered by the Minister nor grant his request for an appropriation, and it can recommend appropriations for which he has not asked. The Chairman, usually a man of some experience, enjoys a larger power than is yielded to the Chairman of a Parliamentary Committee in England or even to the rapporteur in a French Commission. He always belongs to the party holding a majority in the House (or Senate), and, in the case of some important Committees, practically occupies the position of a minister, independent of the President's ministers, and sometimes quite as powerful, because he can influence Congress more than it may be possible for a Minister to do, especially if the party opposed to the President has a majority in either House. Thus the Chairmen of the Committees on Ways and Means and on Appropriations have at times more control of finance than the Secretary of the Treasury or the heads of the spending departments, a consequence of the disjunction of the Executive from the Legislature.
Another consequence is the want of that official leadership which in parliamentary countries such as England, France, Canada, and Australia is given by the Ministry. Since every legislative Chamber would without guidance be a helpless mob, means have been found in Congress for providing a sort of leadership. In the House of Representatives the Speaker, who is always not only chosen by the majority but allowed to act as a party man even in the Chair (though required by usage to give a fair share of debate to the minority), was formerly allowed to exercise great power over the course of business, especially in and since the days of Thomas B. Reed, an exceptionally able and resolute man. In 1910, however, the stringent rule of one of his successors provoked a revolt, which transferred the arrangement of business to the Committee on Rules (familiarly called the Steering Committee), while also transferring the selection of members of the Committees to the House itself. Another figure, now almost as prominent as the Speaker, is the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, who is recognized by the Majority Party as their “floor leader,” though they do not always follow him. Finally, when a question of importance arises on which the members of either party are not agreed, they meet in a separate room to debate it among themselves and decide on their course. This is called “going into caucus,” and the decision arrived at is usually respected and given effect to by a vote in the Chamber. In these ways a general direction is given to the majority's action, and business goes on, though with a loss of time and waste of energy which the existence of a recognized and permanent leadership vested in a Cabinet might avoid. The rules for closing debate and for limiting the length of speeches are in constant use, being an indispensable instrument against obstruction, here called “filibustering.”
3. The Quality of Legislation
Few Bills, except those relating to finance, are adequately debated, and the opportunities for members to distinguish themselves are scanty. All have a chance of doing useful work in Committees, but it is work unknown to the public.
The great majority of the Bills introduced1 are what would be called in England “private,” i.e. they have a local or personal object; and most of these used to be “Pension Bills” to confer war pensions upon persons who had, or were alleged to have, served in, or had perhaps deserted from, the Northern armies in the Civil War, and who for some reason or other did not come within the scope of the general Pension Acts, wide as that scope was. Members found in such a Bill an easy way of gratifying a constituent and his relatives. The practice was grossly abused, and indeed the Pension Acts as a whole, both general and special, have been a public scandal. In the fifty years that followed the Civil War (1865–1915) more than $4,000,-000,000 (£800,000,000 sterling) were expended in this way. Nothing like this could have happened had there been in Congress any Minister of Finance charged with the duty of protecting the public treasury. Private Bills in general have been a source of endless waste and jobbery, because regulations similar to those which exist in England have not been prescribed for examining into their provisions and for securing their impartial consideration by a small Committee which no lobbyist and not even a Parliamentary colleague should be permitted to approach.
As in most modern countries, many public bills are unsound in principle and meant to earn credit for their introducer from some section of the people.
So far I have spoken of Congress as a whole, and in its character of a legislative body. The Senate, however, enjoys executive functions also, and is so peculiar and important a part of the general frame of government as to need a more particular description, being indeed the most original of American institutions, and one whose example has influenced other countries. It owes its origin to the Federal character of the United States, and was created primarily in order to allay the fears of the States that they would be absorbed or overridden by the National Government, partly also from a wish to provide a check both upon the imagined impetuosity of the popular House and upon the possible ambitions of a President trying to make himself a dictator. It was meant to be a cool, calm, cautious, conservative body composed of elder statesmen, and chosen not by the people but by the legislatures of the States who, being themselves picked men, would be qualified to choose as Senators their own best citizens. This mode of choice was supposed by European observers, following Tocqueville, to have been the cause of its superiority in personal quality to the House, and thereby also of the preponderance over the House which it acquired. This superiority was, however, really due not to the mode of choice but to the fact that its longer term of service, six years instead of two, its continuity, for it is a permanent body, constantly renewed but never dissolved, and its wider powers, made a seat in it specially desirable, and therefore drew to it the best talent that entered political life. In course of time the plan of choice by State legislatures disclosed unforeseen evils. It brought national politics into those bodies, dividing them on partisan lines which had little or nothing to do with State issues. It produced bitter and often long-protracted struggles in the legislatures over a senatorial election, so that many months might pass before a choice could be made. It led to the bribery of venal legislators by wealthy candidates or by the great incorporated companies which desired to have in the Senate supporters sure to defend their interests. Thus after long agitation an amendment to the Constitution was carried (in 1913) which transferred the election to the citizens of each State, voting at the polls.1 This change has been deemed likely to reduce the partisan character of the State legislatures. But this may not happen: habits often outlive their original causes. Whether popular election will fill the Senate with better men remains to be seen. The labour and cost of an election campaign conducted over a large State is heavy, and gives an advantage to wealthy men and to those who command the support of powerful newspapers.1
The strength of the Senate consists not only in the higher average talent in its members, but also in their longer experience, for they have not only a six-years' term, but are more likely to be re-elected than are members of the House, while the small size of the body offers to able and pushful men better opportunities for displaying their gifts. There was no closure of debate until, in 1917, a rule was passed permitting it to be imposed by a two-thirds majority.2 Real debate, which in the House is practically confined to financial Bills, exists upon all Bills in the smaller Chamber, and attracts some attention from the public Even in finance the Senate has established itself as at least equally powerful with the House, although this does not seem to have been contemplated by the Constitution. Leadership belongs not to the presiding officer, who is the Vice-President of the United States, nor to any officially designated leader of either party, but falls to the man or the group deemed best able to lead, seniority being also regarded. Important issues are debated in a party caucus, while much influence is exercised by the chairmen of the principal Committees, who have now and then, when they added capacity to experience, become a sort of ruling oligarchy. The deference paid to seniority in the United States is a product of the respect professed for the principle of Equality. To prefer one man to another on the ground of superior ability would seem to offend against that principle, so length of service in a Committee gives, often with regrettable results, a title to its Chairmanship. That which makes a seat in the Senate the goal of a politician's hopes is the wider range of its powers, which are executive as well as legislative, since the more important administrative and judicial appointments made by the President require its concurrence. A Senator has thus a means of asserting his position in his State and in his party by threatening to “hold up” the President's nominations unless a certain number of these go to the persons whom he recommends. This control of patronage is the subject of a constant process either of bickerings or more frequently of what is called a “trade,” i.e. a give and take between the President and the Senators of his own party. Every treaty negotiated by the Executive is laid before the Senate, and requires for its validity the approval of two-thirds of the Senators. Here is another engine of power, which can be effectively wielded to induce the President to oblige the Senators in various ways.
Though the Senate has filled a useful part in the constitutional scheme, it has never been, and is certainly not now, an assembly of sages. Jealous of its own power, it often allows that power to be misused by Senators who care more for the interests or demands of their own State than they do for the common good. It is as much moved by partisanship as is the House, and just as ready to “play politics,” even in the sphere of foreign relations, when some party gain is expected. But the critics who have drawn from these defects conclusions adverse to the principle of a Second Chamber ought to consider what might have happened had there been no Senate. Neither the exercise of patronaw nor the conduct of foreign affairs could safely have been left to a President irremovable (except by impeachment) for four years, and whose Ministers do not sit in the Legislature and are not answerable to it, nor could those matters have been assigned to a body so large and so short-lived as the House, which would have been even less responsible to the nation, and which is, under its stringent rules, unable to debate either Bills or current administrative issues with a thoroughness sufficient to enlighten the country. It is no more conservative in spirit than the House, contains fewer rich men than it did twenty years ago, and is no longer in marked sympathy with wealth. While with its smaller size, it gives men of talent more chance of showing their mettle and becoming known to the nation at large, it also does something to steady the working of the machinery of government, because a majority of its members, safe in their seats for four or six years, are less easily moved by the shifting gusts of public feeling. Whatever its faults, it is indispensable.
4. Position and Influence of Congress, and the feeling of the People towards it
How far has the Federal Legislature, considered as a whole, lived up to the ideal of a body which shall represent the best mind of a democratic nation? Does it give the kind of legislation that the people desire? Does it duly supervise administration, advising, co-operating, restraining, as the case may require? Does it truly mirror the opinion of the people, and enjoy their respect?
It is not that hasty and turbulent body which the Fathers of the Constitution feared they might be creating. Storms of passion rarely sweep over it. Scenes of disorder are now unknown. Party discipline is strict, an atmosphere of good-fellowship prevails, the rules of procedure are obeyed, power rests with comparatively few persons. It is eager, even unduly eager, to discover and obey the wishes of its constituents, or at least of the party organizations. Partisanship is no stronger than in Canada, and apparently weaker than in England. The tendency to split up into groups, marked in France, and now visible in England, hardly exists, for the two great parties have held the field. Though there is plenty of jobbery and log-rolling, the latter not necessarily corrupt, but mischievous and wasteful even when no bad motive is present, and though some members are under suspicion of being influenced by wealthy corporations, there is little direct corruption and the standard of purity has risen in recent years.
Nevertheless Congress does not receive the attention and enjoy the confidence which ought to belong to a central organ of national life. It is not, so to speak, the heart into which blood should flow from all sections of the people represented in it, and whence the blood needed to nourish all the parts should be constantly propelled to every part of the body.
Why is this?
One cause is to be found in its imperfect discharge of the functions allotted to it. It seldom “faces right up” to the great problems, not even always to the lesser problems of legislation. It fumbles with them, does not get to the root of the matter, seems to be moved rather by considerations of temporary expediency and the wish to catch every passing breeze of popular demand than by a settled purpose to meet the larger national needs. In the handling of national finance it is alternately narrow-minded in its parsimony and extravagant in its efforts to propitiate some class or locality. The monstrous waste of money on war pensions, a waste for which both parties are almost equally to blame, was prompted by mere vote-catching. Every year sees the distribution from what is called “the Pork Barrel” of grants of money to particular districts or cities for so-called “local public works"— it may be for making a harbour which is sure to be silted up, or improving the navigation of a stream where there is just enough water to float a canoe.1 These things bring money to the neighbourhood, and “make work,” so a member earns merit with his constituency by procuring for them all he can. It is nobody's business to stop him; and others who wish to earn merit in a like way would resent the discourteous act. Another cause may be found in the fact that Congress does not impress the nation by its intellectual power any more than by its moral dignity. Men who care for the welfare of the country as a whole — perhaps more numerous in the United States than in any other free country — do not look to it for guidance. The House scarcely ever enlightens them by its debates, and the Senate less now than formerly. Its proceedings, largely conducted in the dim recesses of committee rooms, do not greatly interest the educated classes, and still less the multitude. The Legislatures of France and England and Canada, whatever their defects, have a dramatic quality, and can be watched with ceaseless attention. They bring striking personalities to the front, turning on them a light which makes the people know them and take them for leaders. The House and Senate want that scenic attraction; and they have a rival in the President. The people read his speeches and do not read the Congressional Record. He is a Personality, a single figure on whom the fierce light beats.
We must also remember that Congress does not draw into itself enough of the best political talent of the nation. How often is the observer surprised to find that in the House there is a difficulty in finding any men marked out for the posts of Floor-leader or Speaker? How often do the parties realize, when the time for presidential nominations comes, that neither in the House nor perhaps even in the Senate do they discover more than two or three persons who can be thought of as candidates available for the great post, though Congress ought to be the arena in which the champions of parties or causes might have been expected to display their gifts? Why, then, does a Congressional career fail to attract?
One explanation has already been indicated. In no country are there so many other careers which open so many doors to men of ambition, energy, and practical capacity. The opportunities for power, as well as for winning wealth in the world of business, are proportionate to the size and resources of the United States, that is to say, they are unequalled in the world. To be president of a great railway system, covering many States, or of some vast manufacturing industrial company, gives a scope for financial and administrative talent which touches the imagination. The Bar is another career in which the pecuniary prizes, as well as the fame, are immense, and it can seldom be combined with political distinction, as it so frequently and successfully is in Europe. If a man who loves study feels that he has also the power of attracting and guiding young men, the large number of the American universities and the influence their leading figures can exert as presidents or professors, an influence greater than anywhere in Europe, offers another attractive prospect to one who desires to serve his country. In America political life can hardly be called a career, for it is liable to be interrupted by causes, irrespective of personal merits, which the lawyer, the university teacher, and the man of business have not to reckon with.
It is also a career the entrance to which is in most places neither easy nor agreeable. Services are exacted, pledges are demanded, which a man of high spirit does not like to render or to give. The aspirant to a seat in Congress, unable to make his way alone with a constituency, must get the party nomination, which is generally obtainable only by the favour of a Boss. The path is sentinelled by the party machine, which values party loyalty more than ability, and usually selects in each district the man who either possesses local influence or has earned his place by local party service.
It may seem paradoxical to suggest that in a country where every representative comes from the place of his residence, and he is eager to win favour by deference to every local wish, there is nevertheless a certain want of contact between the member and his constituents. Yet this impression does rise to the mind of whoever, having sat for many years in the British House of Commons, compares the relation a member holds towards his electors with that which seems to exist between the American Congressman and his district. The former is in direct touch with his constituents, holds his own meetings, manages his own canvas, and though of course on good terms with the local party organization, need not cringe to it. Many a Congressman seems to feel himself responsible primarily and directly to the Organization, and only secondarily to his constituents.
European critics used to attribute the defects of American legislatures in Nation, State, and City to the fact that the members, instead of working from motives of patriotism or ambition, receive salaries. Though it might be wished that no temptation of personal interest should draw a man to politics, or influence him there, it is doubtful whether, other things being what they are, the United States legislatures would be better if unpaid. Cynics used to say “Perhaps they would steal worse.” Anyhow, the question is purely academic. In a country so large, and with a leisured class so relatively small, men could not be expected to quit their homes and avocations to reside in Washington without a remuneration to compensate for the loss of their means of livelihood as well as to defray the cost of residence in one of the most expensive places in the world. Even in the State legislatures the farmer or lawyer who leaves his work for weeks or months to do the business of the State must be paid for his time.
That popular election has not succeeded in producing efficient legislative bodies is undeniable. But in America the people have other means of showing their capacity as judges of men. They elect the heads of the Executive, a President for the nation, a Governor in every State. To these let us pass, enquiring what it is that they look for in a high executive official, how they proceed to find what they desire, how they treat the man of their choice when they have found him, and what place he fills in the working of their system. The Presidency is one of the two or three greatest offices in the world; for only to the Pope do a greater number of human beings look, and it is the only office to which a man is chosen by popular vote. What are the gifts which commend a man to the people, and to those party managers who search for a candidate likely to please the people? These are matters in which we may study the tastes and discernment of the nation as a whole.
That which most attracts the people is the thing we call a Strong Personality. They want a Man, some one who is to be more than a name or a bundle of estimable qualities, a living reality whom they can get to know, to whom they can attach themselves, with whom they can sympathize, whom they can follow because they trust his ability to lead. Courage and energy are accordingly the gifts that most attract them. Some measure of intellectual power, some cleverness and command of language, are required, for without these qualities no man could have got high enough to come into the running. But neither statesmanlike wisdom, nor eloquence, though often deemed the road to power in popular governments, is essential. The average citizen has seldom either the materials or the insight that would enable him to judge the presence of the former. He does not think of his statesmen as above his own level. Eloquence he can feel, and by eloquence he is sometimes captivated. Yet it is not indispensable. No President, except Lincoln, has been a true orator: many, and good ones too, have not risen above the level of sensible and effective talk.
Honesty, or at least a reputation for honesty, there must be. It is assumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, and rightly assumed. A few Presidents have been surrounded by corrupt men, and have been too lenient to their faults. But against none has any charge of personal turpitude or of making any gain out of his office been seriously pressed. Such an offence would destroy him. Not far behind these prime essentials of Honesty and Force comes what is called Geniality, the qualities whether of heart or only of manner which make a man popular — the cheery smile, the warm handshake, the sympathetic tone in the voice. This gift seems to count for so much in England as well as in American electoral campaigns that people are apt to deem its absence fatal. Nevertheless, there have been Presidents who wanted it, and some who failed even in the tact which, if it cannot always make friends, can at least avoid making enemies.
A forceful will, honesty, and practical sense being the chief qualities needed, what evidence of fitness do the Parties look for, since some is required, whatever the field of action whence it is drawn? The candidate must be a man known as having “made good” in some branch of public life — it may be in Congress, it may be as State Governor, or Mayor of a great city, or a Cabinet Minister, or possibly even as an ambassador or a judge, or as an unusually prominent journalist. The two first-named careers provide the best training for the Presidency, and the best test of fitness for it. To be successful, a State Governor needs firmness, judgment, leadership, and the skill required for dealing with that troublesome body, his State legislature. A man who has had experience and won authority in Congress has the advantage of knowing its ways. Of the Presidents chosen since Lincoln only four (Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley) sat there. Hayes, Cleveland, Eoosevelt, and Wilson had been State Governors.
These being the merits looked for, the party leaders proceed to make their selections of candidates by searching not so much for a good President as for a good candidate, i.e. a man likely to rope in votes in the largest measure from the largest number of quarters. To ascertain this vote-gathering quality other things have to be considered besides talent and experience, so the choice may fall on a person with neither force nor brilliance. There is the reputation already acquired or the hostility a man may have incurred, according to the French dictum, “It is an advantage to have done nothing, but one does not abuse it.” There are the popular gifts summed up in the word “magnetism.” There is also the hold which a man may possess over a particular State which has a special importance for the election, because its electoral vote is large, or because the parties in it are so equally divided that if one of its citizens is selected as candidate he will make sure of its vote.1 These considerations may militate against the selection of the person fittest in respect of character and talents, and often draw the selection to States like Ohio and New York.
It goes without saying that the party must be united on its candidate, for division would mean defeat. Who then shall decide between the various aspirants? In the early days of the Republic this function was assumed by the members of Congress who belonged to each party, and their decision was acquiesced in. But presently this assumption was resented as an usurpation of the rights of the people. In 1828 extra-Congressional gatherings began to make nominations, and ever since 1840 party conventions of delegates from the whole country have met, discussed the claims of their respective party aspirants, and nominated the man whom they preferred. The plan is so plainly conformable to democratic doctrine that it is accepted as inevitable. The power of the people would not be complete if it failed to include not only the right of choosing its Chief but also the right for the members of any section to determine on whom the section should concentrate its voting force. Thus the Party Convention which nominates a candidate has become as real and effective a part of the constitutional machinery as if it had formed a part of the Constitution.
The framers of the Constitution contemplated nothing like this. They committed the election of the President to a College of Electors specially elected for this sole purpose, men who, possessed of wisdom and experience and animated by pure patriotism, would be likely to select the citizen whom their impartial judgment preferred. Boards of this type were twice elected, and on both occasions chose George Washington, who was the obvious and indeed the inevitable person. But the third College was elected (in 1796) largely, and the fourth (1800) wholly on party lines, and being expected to choose a party leader acted in a partisan spirit. Their example has been followed ever since, and what was to have been a council of impartial sages has consisted of nonentities, a mere cogwheel in the machinery of election, recording mechanically the wishes of the people.
Much depends on the questions before the nation at the time when the election approaches, and the amount of interest these questions evoke from those who think seriously about them, and influence their fellow-citizens. Such men desire to have in the Head of the Nation some one who will worthily represent their ideals, not merely a skilful party leader or administrator, but a man likely to guide the nation by his wisdom and courage along the lines which its needs prescribe. The mood of the nation influences its judgment on the candidates presented to it.1
During two years or more before each election of a President, rumour and criticism are busy with the names of those persons in each party who are deemed “available,” or to use the popular term, “Presidential Timber.”1 Sometimes there is one leader who so overtops the rest that his adoption is a foregone conclusion. But more frequently party opinion divides itself between several competitors, the adherents of each drawn to him either by sympathy with his views or by something captivating in his personality. Thus before the moment for choice arrives there are practically several factions within the party, each working for its own favourite.
The decision between these favourites is entrusted to a body called the National Convention, which meets about four months before the Presidential election in some great city, and consists of more than one thousand delegates from State Conventions. These State Conventions, it will be remembered, themselves consist of delegates from smaller local conventions or from those Primary meetings which have been already described, so the National Convention is a body representing the party over the whole United States, and representing it upon a population basis just as Congress does. It is in fact a sort of Congress, not of the nation but of a Party, charged with the double function of selecting a candidate and of discussing and enouncing that legislative and administrative programme upon which the party makes its appeal to the nation.2 Most of the delegates come instructed by their respective State Conventions, or by so-called Direct Presidential Primaries, to vote for some particular person, since the merits of each aspirant have been already canvassed in those Conventions; but if they find themselves unable to carry their own favourite, they must ultimately turn over their support to some other aspirant, perhaps under instructions from their State Convention, or from the Direct Primaries,3 perhaps at their own discretion, because not all the contingencies that may arise can be foreseen. All the delegates from a State are expected to vote together, but do not always follow this rule. They meet from time to time in secret to review the situation and discuss their course, for the situation changes from hour to hour, according to the rising or declining prospects of each aspirant. In the hall the proceedings are public — secrecy would be impossible with such numbers — and are watched by some ten thousand eager spectators. The presence of the multitude, acclaiming everything said in praise of the aspirant in whom each section rejoices, adds to the excitement which prevails, an excitement which, stimulated by bands of music and by displays of colours, badges, and emblems, grows hotter the longer the contest lasts and the more doubtful its issue appears. Sometimes this excitement, blazing into enthusiasm for one name proposed, sweeps like a prairie fire over the crowd and makes his nomination inevitable. But more frequently each faction persists in fighting hard for its favourite, so ballotings may continue for days or even weeks. As many as forty-nine and even fifty-three have been taken in the Convention of one or other party. When the struggle is thus prolonged, and it is seen that the knot cannot be cut but must be untied, efforts are made to reconcile the opposing factions and effect an arrangement which may unite them in the support either of one or other of the leading aspirants or of some other person not objectionable to either. Negotiations proceed in the vacant hours before and after the forenoon and afternoon sittings of the Convention, sometimes even within the hall while speech-making goes on. Compromises which might be impracticable if principles were at stake become possible because the party managers who support one or other aspirant have a personal interest in the unity of the party stronger even than their attachment to their own man, since a disruption of the party would in destroying its chance of success shake their own influence and extinguish their hopes for all that victory could bring them. Each (or at least most) of the influential party chiefs commands a large number of delegates from one or more States, and can turn over a number of their votes to the aspirant who seems most likely to be either acceptable to the party as a whole, or to have a good chance of winning the election. Thus the few leading men — for here, as always and everywhere, real direction rests with a few — usually arrive, in secret conclave, at some sort of settlement, even if the candidate ultimately nominated be one for whom at the opening of the Convention no one prophesied victory. That such a method of choice, a strange mixture of Impulse and Intrigue, should not have borne worse fruit than it has in fact produced, may excite surprise. Now and then a Convention has seemed to be drifting straight on to the rocks. There have been cases when a majority of the delegates persisted in voting for an aspirant whom all men of discernment knew to be unfit to be President, and hardly fit to be even talked of as a candidate. But somehow or other the minority, just strong enough to hold out, prevailed at last and averted a disastrous choice. Sometimes the need for a compromise gives the prize to a mediocre, but never to a palpably incompetent man, nearly all having had a creditable if possibly commonplace record: and when the selections have been least happy, the candidate has been rejected by the people.
I have gone into these details because they show how the power of the party machine is limited by the need for pleasing the People, and show also how out of all the confused cross-currents of sentiment and interest, patriotism, selfishness, and partisanship, there may emerge a tolerably good result. A nominating Convention is the supreme effort a vast democracy makes to find its leader, and the difficulties of the process are instructive. The experience of eighty years has not lessened them.
It is a fear of the people that deters Conventions, bodies mainly composed of professionals, from nominating persons whom the more unscrupulous among the party manager would prefer. The delegates may be subservient or short-sighted, but the people have a sort of instinct which, asserting itself when a serious issue arises, saves the nation from windy demagogues and plausible impostors. The choice purporting to be democratic, because made by the citizens through their delegates, is at least as much oligarchic, arranged by a few skilful wire-pullers. In each delegation there are a very few only who count, and real control may rest with one man, perhaps belonging to another delegation or to none. Yet the influence of public opinion remains in the fact that no one can be chosen to be candidate who is not likely to attract the people. He must be a man to win with. Thus things have on the whole gone better than might have been predicted. Not many Presidents have been brilliant, some have not risen to the full moral height of the position. But none has been base or unfaithful to his trust, none has tarnished the honour of the nation.
The fear, once loudly expressed, that the President might become a despot has proved groundless, and this is due, not merely to the fact that he has no great standing army at his command but rather to the skill with which the framers of the Constitution defined his powers, and above all to the force of general opinion which guards the Constitution. The principles of the American Government are so deeply rooted in the national mind that an attempt to violate them would raise a storm of disapproval. It may seem unfortunate that the head of the nation, having been elected by a party, is obliged to be also that party's chief, and to look specially to it for support.1 He is, however, expected not to let his duty to the party prejudice his higher duty to the nation; and a politic President will try to win from the public opinion of both parties the backing he may need to overcome sectional opposition within his own. When he gives bold leadership in an evidently patriotic spirit he will find that backing, sometimes even among those who voted against him. The nation values initiative, loves courage, likes to be led, as indeed does every assembly, every party, every multitude.
The power which the Executive can exert over legislation is conditioned by the party situation in Congress. If his own party controls both Houses he can accomplish much; if either House is hostile, and especially if there is a strong hostile group in the Senate, comparatively little, so far as regards controversial topics. But in any event he possesses five important powers.
He is Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy.
He suggests to Congress topics on which legislation is required, setting forth in his message or in speeches the substance of the measures needful, and getting some member to embody them in a Bill. This function, little used previously, has become frequent within the last twenty years, and helps to cure defects in the frame of government due to a too rigid deference to the doctrine of the Separation of Powers.
He has, and uses freely, the right of Veto, i.e. of refusing to sign Bills passed by Congress. His dissent can be overridden if the Bill is repassed by a two-thirds majority in each House, but as such a majority is seldom attainable, and the President is likely to have some good reason for his action, he is rarely overruled.
He has the function of nominating to the more important administrative diplomatic and judicial posts in the National Government.
Lastly, he has the conduct of foreign affairs. In these two last-mentioned functions, however, his power is limited by the right of the Senate to refuse its consent to appointments, and by the provision that the consent of two-thirds shall be needed for the approval of a treaty. The power of declaring war is reserved to Congress, but the Senate cannot prevent Executive action dangerous to peace from being taken, or negotiations from being brought to a point where war becomes almost inevitable.1
Into questions bearing on the personal relations of the President to Congress I need not enter, for they throw no direct light on those aspects of democracy which concern us. It may suffice to say that both the want of co-operation between the administrative departments and the Committees of Congress and the imperfect touch between the President himself and Congress as a whole have come to be recognized as defects to be cured. President Roosevelt was more active than his predecessors in pressing Congress to deal with matters he deemed urgent. President Wilson went further, for he frequently addressed Congress in person. In both cases the nation showed no disapproval. There is nothing in the Constitution to limit the interchange of views between the Executive and the Legislature. Congress has been jealous of its rights, but it might well gain rather than lose by more frequent personal intercourse with the President.
It used to be feared that a President, moved by personal ambition, or desiring to strengthen his position at home, might lead the nation into a policy of aggression abroad. That danger seems to have vanished. More recently alarm has been expressed that his influence might be used to bring about projects of sweeping constitutional or legislative change. This, however, he could not do without the support of Congress and of public opinion. In all these matters public opinion must be the ultimate safeguard.
The powers of the Executive, considerable at all times, are of course most important in a crisis of domestic strife or foreign war, when prompt and decisive action, such as an assembly can rarely take, is demanded from the executive head of the nation, and is acquiesced in, even if it seems to go beyond the lines of the Constitution. At all times, however, much depends on the personal character of the President. It might almost be said that his powers are what his employment of them makes them. Looking at the succession of Presidents, and noticing how the nation is influenced by a chief magistrate whose energy impresses it or whose gifts take its fancy, we are reminded of the great emperors of the Middle Ages, such as Henry the Third and the two Fredericks of Hohenstaufen, whose personal character made all the difference to the support they could evoke, and still more reminded of those monarchs who ruled by the Word and not by the Sword, such as Pope Gregory the Seventh and Pope Innocent the Third. These latter ruled because they could command spiritual allegiance. A President prevails just so far as he can carry public opinion with him, according to the familiar dictum, “With the people everything succeeds: without the people, nothing.” With opinion behind him, he may prove stronger than both Houses of Congress. Cases have arisen in which, when a Congress and the President were at variance, the sympathy of the people seemed to go more to the latter than to the former. Both he and they are the choice of the people, but if he is forceful and attractive, they take a personal interest in him which they do not feel for a large number of elected representatives, the vast majority of whom are to them mere names. If the elected king who governs as well as reigns during his allotted term shows himself worthy of the great position, he draws to himself, as personifying the Nation, something of that reverent regard which monarchs used to inspire in Europe.
the state governments in their working
From the National Government let us turn to the State Governments and observe how the democratic principles on which they were constructed have worked out in practice. Though the earliest State Constitutions existed before the Federal Constitution, they have been so often amended and so many new Constitutions have been enacted for both the older and the newer States, that the State Constitutions as a whole are now of a more democratic colour than is that National constitutional system whose workings have just been examined.
We have already seen that every State Legislature is elected either by manhood suffrage (except so far as coloured citizens are excluded1 ) or by universal suffrage, that each has two Houses, with practically equal legislative powers, and that neither the Governor nor any other official can sit in either. The men who compose the smaller House (Senate) and the larger one, both of them selected by the party Machines, are of the same quality, a quality nowhere high, but in which three grades of merit, or demerit, may be distinguished.2 The legislatures of some of the older Eastern States where there is a large rural element are respectable, with a small proportion of half-educated men and a still smaller one of corrupt men. This grade shades off into a second, including the newer States in the Middle West and North-west. Their legislatures contain many farmers and many petty lawyers from the smaller towns, who are mostly honest, well-meaning persons, but of a limited outlook and a proneness to be captured by plausible phrases and to rush into doubtful experiments. Here, too, the quality of the legislatures is highest where the rural element is largest, and the party machines are least powerful. The third class, more distinct from the second than is the second from the first, includes States whose politics have been demoralized by large cities where Kings flourish and party Bosses distribute spoils to their adherents. Six or seven State Legislatures, among which those of Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois are the worst, belong to this category. In these the level of honour and probity is low, for few men of public spirit, likely to disobey the party organization, would be permitted to enter them wherever the Bosses could close the door. Still their virtue has risen a little of late years, and in some of them a group of reformers may be found.
Legislation is conducted by a system of Committees resembling that of Congress, which in most States gives little opportunity for debate in public, though in many (as in Massachusetts) a Committee sits with open doors and receives evidence from all who come to offer it.1 Debates excite little interest. Finance plays a smaller part here than in Congress, for the State revenue is not large, local requirements being provided for by county and municipal taxes. The tendency to borrow recklessly for public improvements, marked at one time, was checked by amendments to the State Constitutions. The stream of statutes flows freely, especially in the Western States, where new ideas “catch on” readily, the ardour of philanthropic progress being much in evidence. These social reform Acts are better than the men who pass them, because they are often dictated by groups of moral reformers whose zeal, though it outruns their discretion, is a wholesome factor in the community. If not defeated by the covert arts of persons interested in defending the abuses they are aimed at, they are passed with a glow of conscious virtue by those who find this kind of virtue easy; but such laws often fail to be enforced, sometimes because it is the business of nobody in particular, sometimes because they are practically unenforceable, so that, as an American philosopher has observed, “Western statute books are a record rather of aspiration than of achievement.”
It is the special or “private Bill” legislation (to use the English term) which is the happy hunting-ground of the professional politicians who mostly compose the membership of these bodies, especially those of the six or seven States above mentioned. This is what draws most of these professionals into the Legislature, for it is in this quarter that the opportunities for illicit gain are to be found. The special or private Bills confer privileges or exemptions upon particular individuals or corporate bodies, authorizing them to do things the general law might not permit, as for instance to take private property for a public utility. Such Bills are brought in and put through by any member, just as are public Bills of general operation, being subject to no such provisions for a quasi-judicial scrutiny of their preambles and enacting clauses as the system of Standing Orders and the rules of Private Bill Committees established long ago in England. In these legislatures there is no duty thrown on any one to criticize faults or secure protection for any interest which the Bill may affect, so the door stands wide open to abuses of legislative power for the benefit of private persons or companies. Through that door many filch their gains.1
The carnival of jobbery and corruption which such Bills have induced in State legislatures has done more than anything else to discredit those bodies. Secret arrangements are made between the lobbyists who act for the promoters of the Bill, the members whom these lobbyists approach, and other members who usually have similar jobs of their own, and thus by the system called “log-rolling” support is obtained sufficient to put the Bills through. Unscrupulous members use their powers in another way, introducing Bills designed to injure some railway company or other wealthy corporation, and then demanding to be bought off. This form of blackmail is called a Strike, and has been frequent in almost every State where there are large corporations to be squeezed. The threatened interests, obliged to defend themselves, justify their methods by the plea that their shareholders must be protected; and when legitimate means fail, because the composition and rules of the legislatures afford no protection, illegitimate means must be employed. When a Governor happens to be upright, courageous, and vigilant, he applies a remedy by vetoing the Bills he knows to be bad. But not all States have such Governors, nor can the most vigilant keep an eye upon every trick. In States where on the one side stand railway companies, street-car companies, and other great corporate undertakings commanding immense capital and anxious to obtain from the State what the Americans call “public franchises,” rights of immense pecuniary value, and on the other side a crowd of men, mostly obscure, from whose votes these rights can be purchased with scant risk of detection and little social slur upon either the briber or the bribed if detection should follow, corruption must be looked for. The best evidence of the gravity of these evils is to be found in the attempts made by the better citizens to extirpate them, efforts which began many years ago and have taken more and more drastic forms. I reserve an account of these for the general survey of reform movements on a later page.
Every Governor is elected by the people of the whole State, having been nominated by a party convention. The qualities he ought to possess, while generally similar to such as are required in a President, are more distinctly those of a good man of business, viz. firmness, tact, common sense, alert watchfulness, and of course a pleasant manner, which helps to soften his refusals of the insidious requests that beset him. He need not have a creative mind, but must have a strong will. His chief tasks are those of vetoing bad private Bills, and inducing the legislature to pass good public Bills. His activity in this direction has recently increased in many States, and with good results, for legislatures need leading, and what he gives is likely to be better than that of party Bosses. The temptation to abuse his patronage is not great, since the chief State officials and Boards are directly elected by the citizens, and appoint their own subordinates, but that system is faulty, for it impairs administration, which might be more efficient if the Governor were to appoint the heads of the chief departments and use them as a sort of Cabinet. As head of the Executive he is responsible for the maintenance of order, no easy function when industrial disputes lead to rioting, and he has to choose between doing his duty under the law and the anger which his enforcement of it will rouse in a large section of the voters. Most Governors have done their duty. So in the Southern States the merit of a Governor is tested by his determination to protect the coloured population and enjoin a spirit of good feeling towards them.
As in these various ways a strong man may show his mettle, the office attracts those who have begun to dream of the Presidency of the United States, the possibility of reaching that giddy eminence being always in the background of ambitious minds. It trains a man for the post, for it needs, though in a narrower sphere, the same gifts of leadership, firmness, and insight into men, coupled with the skill needed in dealing with legislatures, singular bodies which are both better and worse than are the individuals who compose them. The judgment of the citizens on a Governor after his first year of office is almost always fair and sound.
The tendency for the State Governor to overshadow his legislature illustrates afresh the disposition of the masses to look to and be interested in a Man rather than an Assembly. The Man becomes real to them, gets credit for what he accomplishes, can be held accountable for failure or neglect. Much is gained by fixing on a conspicuous official the responsibility which a hundred inconspicuous representatives elude. When he appeals to the people against the politicians, the politicians may complain of his autocratic ways, but the people are pleased and generally side with him, as they did with Mr. Hughes when he defied the powerful party machine which controlled his own party in New York State. As he was their own direct choice, they did not care how much he threatened legislators who had been forced upon them by the Organization rather than chosen by themselves.
Yet the Governor may not be the chief power. States could be named in which there may stand above him, as there has often stood in New York and has stood for many a year in Pennsylvania, the mightier figure of the Boss, who as head of the Machine commands the Legislature, its members sitting by his favour. His extra-legal power is greater than any the laws of the State confer. So the State of California was ruled for a generation by a railway company, one of whose officials exercised the authority though he did not bear the name of a Boss; and that yoke lasted unbroken into the present century, till at last the Company grew tired of maintaining it.
the judiciary and civil order
Two features in the American judicial system have a special interest for the student of institutions. One is the part, more important here than in any other country, which the Judiciary holds in the constitutional frame of government, its functions under the Constitution making it, in fact as in name, an independent branch of the government side by side with Executive and Legislature. The other is the different effects on the quality of the persons chosen to the Bench which are traceable to the different methods of choice, and to the longer or shorter tenure of office. Let us note the results of the way in which certain principles held to be democratic have been applied.
(a) The place assigned to the Judiciary by the Constitution has turned out to be greater than the founders foresaw, because no country had, in 1787, tried the experiment of setting up a Rigid Constitution to limit the powers of a legislature.
In the United States, as also every State in the Union, a supreme Instrument of Government, the Constitution, stands above ordinary laws, so that if the Legislature should pass any statute or resolution contravening the Constitution, that piece of legislation is null and void, because inconsistent with the higher law contained in the Constitution. Whether such inconsistency exists in any given case is a pure matter of law, to be determined by examining their respective terms, setting the two documents side by side so as to ascertain whether and in what respects the law of less authority passed by the Legislature transgresses the law of greater authority enacted by the people in the Constitution. It is a question of legal interpretation. The interpreting Court does not review matters of policy, i.e. the intrinsic wisdom or propriety either of the statute or of the Constitution itself, but merely decides whether the former conflicts with the latter. But as it is often hard to decide whether the general words used in a Constitution are, or are not, consistent with the terms of the statute which is alleged to transgress those general terms, there is often room for difference of opinion as to what the Constitution really means, i.e. what the people who enacted it meant by the words they have employed. This may seem to leave a discretion to the judges. It is hardly to be called a discretion, for the honest and competent judge tries only to ascertain the meaning and allows no personal bias to affect his decision, but many persons are ready to think that interpretation has been coloured by a Court's own views, and may therefore complain when it decides against what they desire. Thus the charge is made that the judges are legislating under the guise of enactment, and are, when they declare a statute invalid, overruling the will of the people as expressed by the legislature. The answer is that the will of the people is expressed in the Constitution also, and there expressed directly, not through representatives, so that the Constitution is a law of higher degree, the legislature having no more power than the Constitution allows to it. Only a Court can decide whether the two enactments in question conflict, for if that decision were left to the legislature, a Constitution would be useless, because the legislature would always decide in its own favour.1
Any one can see what importance this duty of interpretation gives to the American Courts. They become what may be called the living voice of the people, because they are in each State the guardians of that Constitution through which the people have spoken and are still speaking till such time as it pleases them to amend the fundamental instrument. The judges need to be not only able and learned, but also courageous, firm to resist any popular agitation, faithful to the constitution they are set to guard. This is true of State Judges, who have to interpret the constitutions of the several States in which they hold office. It is especially needed in the Federal Judges, who have to interpret the Federal constitution, declaring invalid any provision of a State constitution or of a State law, or of a Federal act passed by Congress, which transgresses that Constitution which is the supreme law of the land. Most of all is it needed in the Supreme Court of the United States, to which all questions affecting the Federal Constitution come ultimately either directly or by way of appeal from inferior Courts. Though that Court has been expounding and applying the Constitution for one hundred and thirty years, new questions raised by changing economic and social conditions are continually coming before it for determination. Its decisions as to what Congress may and may not do, and as to what the State legislatures may and may not do, have often an importance greater than any Act either of Congress or of a State legislature.
And now as to the judges and their tenure. The Federal judges, as already observed, are all appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate, and all hold office for life, though removable by impeachment. Those who constitute the Supreme Court, at present nine in number, always have been men of high character and distinguished ability. Those of inferior rank, Circuit and District judges, are sound lawyers, though seldom first-rate, for the salaries do not suffice to attract the most eminent men. Their integrity has been usually, though not always, above suspicion.
The State judges of every grade are elected by the citizens, except in seven States in which they are appointed by the Governor (with the approval of the Council or of the Legislature), and in four in which they are elected by the Legislature. Where the people elect, either by a State vote or in local areas by a local vote, the candidates are nominated by the political parties, like other elective officials, and usually stand on the same ticket with those officials as party candidates, though occasionally a non-party judiciary ticket is put forward by citizens dissatisfied with the party nominations. Such action, when taken, is apt to proceed from leading members of the local Bar. It seldom succeeds, and as a rule the best chance of securing good candidates is through the influence of the Bar upon those who control the party nominations.
The tenure of judicial office varies greatly. In two of the seven States where the Governor appoints, the judge sits for life, i.e. is removable only by impeachment or upon an address of both Houses of the legislature. In one of those where the legislature elects this is also the practice. In the remaining forty he is either elected or appointed for a term which varies from two years1 to twenty-one, eight or ten years being the average. Re-elections are frequent if the judge has satisfied the Bar of his competence and honour.
The salaries vary in proportion to the population and wealth of the State, $6000 (about £1200) being the average. Only in one State (New York), and only to some of its judges, is a salary so large as $17,500 (£3500) paid,2 even this sum being less than one-fifth of what some lawyers make by private practice.
No one will be surprised at what is, in most States, the combined effect on the quality of the Bench of these three factors — low salaries, short terms, and election by a popular vote controlled by party managers. The ablest lawyers seldom offer themselves: the men elected owe their election and look for their re-election to persons most of whom neither possess nor deserve the confidence of the better citizens.
We must, however, discriminate between different sets of States, for the differences are marked. Three classes may be roughly distinguished.
In some six or seven States, including those in which the Governor appoints, the judges of the highest Court, and as a rule the judges of the second rank also, are competent lawyers and upright men. Some would do credit to any court in any country.
In most of the other States (a majority of the total number) the justices of the highest Court are tolerably competent, even if inferior in learning and acumen to the ablest of the counsel who practise before them. Almost all are above suspicion of pecuniary corruption, though some are liable to be swayed by personal or political influences, for the judge cannot forget his re-election, and is tempted to be complaisant to those who can affect it. In these States the justices of the lower courts are of only mediocre capacity, but hardly ever venal.
Of the few remaining States it is hard to speak positively. A general description must needs be vague, because the only persons who have full opportunity for gauging the talents and honesty of the judges are the old practitioners in their courts who see them frequently and get to “know their ins and outs.” These practitioners are not always unbiassed, nor always willing to tell what they know. All that can safely be said is that in a certain small number of States the Bench as a whole is not trusted. In every court, be it of higher or lower rank, there are some good men, probably more good than bad. But no plaintiff or defendant knows what to expect. If he goes before one of the upright judges his case may be tried as fairly as it would be in Massachusetts or in Middlesex. On the other hand, fate may send him to a court where the rill of legal knowledge runs very thin, or to one where the stream of justice is polluted at its source. The use of the mandatory or prohibitory power of Court to issue injunctions, and of the power to commit for some alleged contempt of Court, is a fertile source of mischief. Injunctions obtained from a pliable judge are sometimes moves in a stock-gambling or in a political game, especially if the lawsuit has a party colour.
Taking the States as a whole, one may say that in most of them the Bench does not enjoy that respect which ought to be felt for the ministers of justice, and that in some few States enough is known to justify distrust. In these the judges of lower rank are not necessarily less scrupulous than are those of the highest Courts, but their scanty equipment of legal knowledge means that justice is not only uncertain, but also slow and costly, because the weaker the judge the greater the likelihood of delay and appeals, since American practitioners can always find some technical ground for a postponement or for trying to upset a decision.
All these things considered, it is surprising not that the defects described exist, but that they and the results they produce are not even worse. Worse they would be but for the sort of censorship which the Bar exercises, making all but the blackest sheep amenable to the public opinion of their State or neighbourhood.
How do these defects tell upon the daily administration of justice between man and man? As respects civil cases, seeing that the great majority of cases in contract or tort, or affecting property, come into State Courts, one hears fewer complaints than might have been expected. Evils of long standing are taken for granted: people have in many parts of the Union ceased to expect strong men except in the Federal Courts and those of a few States. Law is a costly luxury, but it is costly in all countries. In America its march is slow, but in many States the rules of procedure are antiquated and absurdly technical, and most of the codes of procedure adopted in some States have been ill-drawn and cumbrous. The intelligence of juries, the learning and ability of the Bar (legal education is probably nowhere so thorough as in the United States) help the weak judge over many a stile; while favouritism and corruption, at all times hard to prove, attract little notice unless the case affects some public interest. Nevertheless, even if things are less bad than the causes at work might have made them, clear it is that the incompetence of judges does in many States involve immense waste to litigants through appeals and other delays, and through the uncertainty into which the law is brought by decisions in inferior courts likely to be reversed on appeal.
Though the administration of civil justice leaves much to be desired, that of criminal justice is far worse. There are few States, perhaps only two or three outside New England — New Jersey is one — where it is either prompt or efficient. All through the rest of the country, South and West, trials are of inordinate length, and when the verdict has been given, months or years may elapse before the sentence can be carried into effect. Many offenders escape whom everybody knows to be guilty, and the deterrent effect of punishment is correspondingly reduced. From among the high authorities who have described and deplored this state of things it is sufficient to quote ex-President William H. Taft, who with exceptional experience, and a judgment universally respected, has pointed to “the lax enforcement of the criminal law” as one of the greatest evils from which the people of the United States suffer.1
Many causes have combined to produce this inefficiency. One is the extreme length of trials, especially trials for murder. First of all, there is the difficulty of getting a jury. In some States the jury lists are not fairly made up; but even where they are, the exercise of the right of challenging, on the ground that the person summoned is prejudiced or has already formed an opinion, is carried to extreme lengths. Sometimes hundreds of persons are rejected by one side or the other. There was a State prosecution in California a few years ago in which more than two months were spent in challenges before a jury was at last impanelled. Then there are the numerous intricacies of procedure and the highly technical rules of evidence. Every possible point is taken and argued on behalf of the prisoner if he has the means of retaining a skilful counsel. Objections taken to the judge's rulings on points of evidence, or to the terms of his charge, are reserved for subsequent argument before the full Court; and it is often a year or more before the Court deals with them. Distrust of authority and “faith in the people” have led nearly all States to limit strictly the functions of the judge. He may declare the law and sum up the evidence, but is not permitted to advise the jury as to the conclusions they ought to draw from the evidence, and he has generally less power than an English judge enjoys of allowing amendments where a purely technical mistake, not prejudicing the prisoner, has been committed.
Juries themselves are not always above suspicion. There are in many cities lawyers who have a reputation as “jury fixers"; and where unanimity is required by the law of the State, the process of fixing may be none too difficult.
If a verdict of guilty has been delivered, and if, months or possibly even years afterwards, all the legal points taken for the defence have been overruled by the Court, the prisoner has still good chances of escape. There is in the United States an almost morbid sympathy for some classes of criminals, a sentiment frequently affecting juries, which goes on increasing when a long period has elapsed since the crime was committed.1 A conviction for murder, especially if there was any emotional motive present, is usually followed by a torrent of appeals for clemency in the press, while the Governor is besieged with letters and petitions demanding a reprieve or commutation of the sentence. Hardly a voice is raised on behalf of the enforcement of the law. Sometimes the matter gets into politics, and a Governor's sense of duty may be weakened by those who urge that his leniency will win popular favour.
The sentimental weakness which is indulgent to crime because it pities the individual offender while forgetting the general interests of society is common in democratic peoples, and perhaps even commoner in America than in Italy or France. It now and then appears in Australia, When to all these causes we add the intellectual mediocrity of so many among the State judges, the frequent failures of criminal justice become intelligible; and one wonders not at the practical impunity accorded in many States to violent crime, but at the indifference of the public to so grave an evil. Recently the Bar Association of New York has bestirred itself to secure reforms; but there are States where the conditions are far worse than in New York, and where the frequency of homicide and the feebleness of the law in coping with it rouse little comment. This is especially the case in the Southern States where the habits of violence formed in the days of slavery have not died out, and where racial feeling is so strong that it is just as difficult in many districts to secure the punishment of a white who has injured or even killed a negro as it has been to obtain justice in a Turkish court for a Christian against a Muslim. The practice of lynching is the natural concomitant of a tardy or imperfect enforcement of the law. Though not rare in some parts of the West, and sometimes applied to white offenders, it is specially frequent in the Southern States, but not confined to them. In 1910, at the little town of Coatesville in Pennsylvania, a negro criminal lying in the town hospital awaiting trial was seized by a mob, dragged out of the town, and roasted alive, no one interfering. Several persons were indicted, but all escaped punishment. This is one of the many cases in which there was no excuse for a violent interference with the regular process of law, for the victim would undoubtedly have been found guilty and executed for murder.
It is not solely from the incompetence of State judges and the defects of criminal procedure that public order and the respect for law have been suffering. In some States the executive officials fail to arrest or bring to trial breakers of the peace. In some few, bands of ruffians have been allowed for months or years to perpetrate outrages on persons whose conduct displeased them; and this, in the case of the White Caps in Indiana and the Night Eiders in Kentucky, with practical impunity, the legislatures having provided no rural police. Train robberies by brigands resembling the dacoits of India have not quite ceased in parts of the West, though they no longer receive that indulgent admiration of their boldness which made Robin Hood a hero in mediaeval England. On the Pacific coast the Federal Government has found it hard to induce the State authorities to secure to immigrants from Eastern Asia the rights which they enjoy by treaty or by a sort of common law of nations. It is urged by way of extenuation, both for the prevalence of lynching and for other failures to enforce the law, that habits of disorder — being a legacy from the days when a wild country was being settled by bold and forceful frontiersmen, and men had to protect themselves by a rude justice — disappear slowly, that the regard for human life is still imperfect, that the custom of carrying pistols is widespread, and that the cost of policing thinly peopled regions is disproportionate to the frequency of the offences committed. Whatever weight may be allowed to these palliations, it remains true that in many parts of the United States facts do not warrant the claim that democratic government creates a law-abiding spirit among the citizens.
Why is there not a stronger sense of the harm done to the community by failures of justice and the consequent disregard of human life? Why does not a public opinion which is in most respects so humane and enlightened as is that of the American people, put forth its strength to stamp out the practice? As respects the defects of criminal procedure in general, it must be remembered, that an evil which has become familiar ceases to be shocking. The standard custom has set comes to be accepted: it is only the stranger who is amazed. Those good citizens in the States referred to who are shocked and desire a reform find it hard to know how or where to begin. The lower sort of lawyers, numerous in the legislatures, dislike reforms which would reduce their facilities for protracting legal proceedings to their own profit, and are apt to resist improvements in procedure. The ordinary legislator has not the knowledge to enable him to prepare or put through bills for the purpose. No body in a State is responsible for pushing reforms forward, for the Governor is not represented in the Legislature and the members are often jealous of his intervention. These explanations, the best that are supplied to the enquirer, leave him still surprised at the tolerance extended to the enemies of public peace and order.1
Some one may ask, “Since the inferiority of the State judges is a palpable and evident source of weakness, and one which could be removed by improving their position, why is that not done? Why not give better salaries with longer terms and drop popular election? Cheap justice may be dear in the long run.”
The answer to this question casts still further light on certain features of democratic government.
When the thirteen original States separated from England all of them left the appointment of judges in the hands of the State Governor, except two, where the legislature, and one, Georgia, where the people chose them. The system of appointments worked well: the judges were upright and respected, and it might have been expected that when new States made constitutions for themselves they would have followed the lead given by their predecessors. But between 1830 and 1850 a wave of democratic sentiment swept over the nation. The people, more than ever possessed or obsessed by the doctrine of popular sovereignty, came to think that they must be not only the ultimate source but the direct wielders of power. The subjection of all authority to theirs was to be expressed in the popular choice of every official for a term of office so short that he must never forget his masters, and with a salary too small to permit him to fancy himself better than his neighbours. The view has persisted, and still governs men's minds in most States. It is not argued that the plan secures good judges. Obedience to a so-called principle disregards or ignores that aspect of the matter. Being in Kentucky in 1890, attending a State Convention called to draft a new Constitution, I enquired whether no one would propose to restore the old method of appointment by the Governor, and was told that no such proposal would be listened to. It would be undemocratic. In California in 1909 when, after hearing severe comments upon most of the judges, I asked whether the citizens could not be induced to secure better men by larger salaries and longer terms, the answer was that the only change the citizens would make would be to shorten terms and reduce salaries still further in order to prevent the judges from feeling class sympathy with the rich and the business corporations. Whether appointment by the Executive would work as well in Western and Southern States, or for the matter of that in New York and Pennsylvania as it works in Massachusetts and New Jersey it would be hard to say, for in the last-named States a tradition exists which the Governor is obliged to live up to; whereas in States where the elective system has set a lower standard a Governor might prostitute his patronage. But it is an indefensible system.
The Civil Service
Something must be said, before we pass away from the working of Government, about the Cabinet and the permanent Civil Service, for both differ widely from the institutions which bear those names in Europe.
The Cabinet is not a ruling group, as in France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Canada, Australia. It consists (1920) of ten heads of administrative departments, who act under the directions of the President in their several branches of work, and whom it is his habit, though not his legal duty, to consult. He appoints them, subject to the approval of the Senate, which is scarcely ever refused, and dismisses them at pleasure. They are responsible only to him, not to Congress. As they cannot sit in it, and are not obliged to address the people, they need not possess oratorical gifts, so it might be supposed that they would be selected as experts specially competent for the business of their respective departments.
This, however, is not so, any more than it is in England and France. Political, i.e. electioneering, considerations prevail, and men are appointed chiefly for the sake of pleasing particular sections of the country or of recognizing services rendered in the last preceding campaign.1 Thus it may happen that the members of a newly formed Cabinet are most of them personally unknown, not only to the nation at large but to one another, some of them perhaps to the President himself. Though not necessarily men of outstanding ability, they have that American adaptiveness which enables them to get along almost as well as the average European Cabinet minister, and they are free from the parliamentary duties which distract him from his office work. As they may not have figured in politics before, so probably they drop out of politics when their four years' term ends, resuming their former profession or business.2
The Federal Civil Service comprises three classes of persons, (1) an enormous number of minor officials, such as custom-house officers and postmasters all over the country, (2) a considerable number of employees in the departments at Washington, including a large staff of scientific experts, and (3) diplomatic envoys and consuls. All these classes formerly held their posts at the pleasure of the President for the time being and vacated office when his term expired, unless he, having been re-elected, prolonged their service. The posts were party patronage, “Spoils of Office,” which went to the victors in a presidential campaign. This system produced not only an inefficient civil service, but many other incidental results strange in a popular government. These may be summarized as follows:
The Party Machine filled the offices with men who were often incompetent and always untrained. These men were changed whenever the Administration changed. Their allegiance was due primarily to the Organization, not to the nation. They were bound to contribute to its funds. Their first duty was to work for the party, and this duty they were compelled, on pain of dismissal, to discharge, so their efforts went to maintain the system by which the Machine paid its way and riveted its yoke upon the Government in Nation, State, and City. Public office was turned into a means of gain, not only to the Organization funds, but to its individual members through their opportunities of using their power for selfish ends. What went on in the National Government went on in the State Governments and in the city governments also, the same principles being applied everywhere by the same professional politicians, who indeed often reaped in the cities their largest harvests.
Through the operation of these causes, the Civil Service of the United States long remained not only inferior to that of the chief European countries, but far less efficient than the administration of great industrial and commercial undertakings, such as railways or department stores, in America itself. Specially trained men were not looked for, because they were not desired: the salaries offered would not have secured them, and the places were wanted for partisans. Of experience there was little, because when a man had come to know his work he was likely to be dismissed to make room for some adherent of the opposite party. Neither was there a prospect of promotion as a reward for zealous service, since the service most required by the political heads of department was that rendered not to the public but to the Democrats or the Republicans, as the case might be. Yet the system was maintained, not so much because Congress was parsimonious, but rather because Congressmen, valuing patronage as a means of strengthening their hold on their constituencies, refused to part with it. At last, however, the pressure of a more enlightened public opinion, roused by a small but earnest group of reformers, compelled Congress to yield, the fact that the then dominant party feared to lose an approaching election contributing to make the majority in both Houses willing to save some at least of its partisan officials from the impending displacement. So in 1883 Congress, with a few growls, passed an Act empowering the President to place certain classes of offices under Civil Service rules which created examinations and gave permanence of tenure. This power, sparingly used at first, has been so far exerted that more than a half of the total number in classes I. and II. aforesaid are now “taken out of politics.” This number includes most of the higher posts in the Washington departments, but the Assistant Secretaryships and some others of importance are still changed with the Administration as are also the foreign missions, and some of the consulates. The quality of the employees has improved as more and more have come in under the new system and been allowed to remain at the work they have learned. They are no longer compelled to toil for the party between elections as well as at elections; though some, especially among those who were appointed on the old system or still belong to the category of removables, may continue the practice. So, too, the custom by which the Organizations levied assessments, proportioned to the salaries, on the office-holders whose appointment party influence had secured, is now forbidden by law.
I have described what was one of the weakest points in the American government in order to show not merely how the interests of the people may be disregarded in a democracy, but also how in America the forces that make for righteousness can at last prevail. From the small beginnings of 1883 things have gone on improving, the professional politicians still snarling, but the reforms more and more carrying public opinion with them. The economic development of the nation, the swift diffusion and improvement of University instruction, the discoveries in physical science, the extension of State action into new fields, and a growing sense of the value of scientific methods in every kind of work, have combined to make the need for a competent Civil Service recognized.1 While in the older departments the quality of the persons employed is rising as the old spoilsmen are superannuated or die out, fresh lines of work have been created in which men of special competence are sought for. Some of the new scientific departments in Washington, such as that of the Geological Survey, and that which has charge of the national collections, are now staffed by a large number of accomplished men equal in their respective lines of study to any whom the Old World possesses. As a home of science, Washington is no whit behind London and Paris.
A similar change has come over the public service of the more advanced States. The State Civil Service is comparatively small, and less organized than that of the National Government, partly because there has not been a Cabinet, the (few) chief State officials being elected along with the Governor, and not subject to his direction. As the functions of State Governments expand under the pressure for social reforms and for a development of the agricultural, pastoral, and mineral resources of each State by the provision of more elaborate technical instruction, new offices are created, and a new class of trained officials grows up. In 1920 ten States had good Civil Service laws, and there is an appreciation of the resulting benefits. In some States, as notably in Wisconsin, the State University has discharged with eminent success the functions of a State Bureau for education in many branches of applied science.1 The leading State Universities of the West are a promising offspring of popular government, repaying its parental care by diffusing a wiser judgment and a more enlightened zeal for progress than is to be found elsewhere in the mass of citizens.
Local Government Rural and Municipal
From the States I turn to the working of Local Government in cities and in rural areas. To what has been already said2 regarding the latter only this remark need be added that the party system has been mischievous in some parts of the country, where local Rings put their adherents into local offices and perpetrate local jobs. In the rural areas one hears that officials, unwilling to offend persons of influence, are sometimes lax in enforcing the laws, and that defalcations are frequent; but as the revenues of townships and counties are mostly small, as their appropriation to public objects is prescribed by law, as the public works to be locally provided for are not costly, and the conduct of business tolerably well watched by the inhabitants who know the officials and usually get to hear of malpractices, the Rings and Bosses do no great mischief.1 The large sphere of independence allotted to local authorities has, at least in the Northern and Western States, been so useful in maintaining a sense of civic duty and a capacity for discharging it, that the advantages thus secured compensate for the harm which the party system has done by bringing national issues into the sphere of local administration.
The working of City government needs a fuller study, for the United States is the country in which municipal affairs have furnished the most striking illustrations of dangers incident to democracy. Those who have in our time sought to disparage it always base their charges on the record of city scandals during the last eighty years.
Americans themselves, however proud of the successes of their system as a whole, admit that here is to be found its one conspicuous failure. If Europeans knew what were and are the conditions under which the government of the cities has to be conducted, they would throw less of the blame on democratic principles, though they might well condemn the form in which those principles have been heedlessly applied. What were these conditions? They were unique in the world. In Europe the great cities have grown comparatively slowly — Berlin is the only exception — and their civic organizations, economic and social, have grown up with them, expanding as they expanded. In all but the largest there have been families in whom the mass of the people recognized a sort of leadership; neighbourhoods have had neighbourly feelings; local divisions, such as parishes and wards, have meant something; nearly all the inhabitants have belonged to the same race and spoken the same language.
American cities have grown with unprecedented rapidity.1 Men of the last generation who remembered New York as less than a mile in length and a half a mile in width, lived to see it fill the whole of an island fourteen miles long and spread out still further over an adjacent island and on the mainland. Chicago began as a tiny frontier port on Lake Michigan, and had after eighty years a population of two millions. This growth was due not only to industrial development and the building of railroads, but also to the flood of immigrants which began to pour in from about 1840 till 1910, most of whom could not speak English, very few of whom knew anything of the country or its institutions, and practically all of whom had no experience of the exercise of civic rights and no conception of civic duties. They formed a heterogeneous mass, at first chiefly of Irishmen and Germans, to whom were presently added Italians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Magyars, Russians, Greeks, Finns, Armenians, Syrians, and vast swarms of Russian and Polish Jews.2 This crowd knew as little of the men into the midst of whom they came as they did of the city government. But they found themselves, within a few weeks or months, turned into citizens and entitled to vote at elections — City, State, and Federal. Each political party wanted voters, and bestirred itself to rope in the newcomers and enrol them as adherents. With no social ties in their new home, living in quarters removed from the better-housed native inhabitants, having no notions about voting or for whom they ought to vote, they were an easy and indeed a willing prey, pleased to find themselves of some consequence in their humble surroundings, glad to make acquaintance with the lower sort of professional politicians in the liquor saloons, and knowing no other public opinion than that which pervaded those resorts.3
While the volume of ignorant voters was thus swelling, the cities grew faster than ever in wealth, and new work was being thrust upon their governments as docks had to be improved, public buildings erected, street railways constructed, drainage, paving, and other city needs cared for on a large scale. Taxation rose almost as fast as did wealth, lucrative contracts were being placed, immense sums disbursed. All this had to be done under the pressure which the quick growth of population and expansion of trade involved. The richer people could not spare time from money-making to attend to these things. Rarely did one of them think of standing for any city office, or entering a City Council, so the management of affairs was left to a set of persons with whom educated men had no social relations and whose action they were too busy to watch. Such men, moreover, or at least the public spirited among them, were in the years from 1835 to 1865 so keenly interested in the great national issues that city politics were neglected, or regarded only in so far as the victory of one or other political party affected its prospects in congressional or presidential elections. Good citizens, themselves upright and disinterested, turned a blind eye to the offences of those who professed to be working for the party whose success seemed supremely important. Not only were city elections fought on national lines, but party spirit gripped city politics in another way also. The Organization which controlled a city because it could deliver a heavy vote in State elections influenced the State Legislature, and probably the State Governor also, and this meant that the heads of the organization could procure from the State legislature the kind of municipal legislation which they desired in order to fasten their yoke more tightly on the city and carry through whatever schemes promised benefit to themselves. This habit of interference with the structure and working of city governments, instead of leaving them to take their regular course under the general statutes, entangled the city in a web of secret and sordid intrigues.
These then were the conditions:
A swiftly growing population of ignorant citizens, paying no city taxes, having no interest in good administration, tools in the hands of party leaders.
A rapid increase in the wealth of individuals, as also in the revenues of the city and in its expenditure on a multiplicity of public services.
A neglect of city affairs by the well-to-do and educated citizens, except in so far as the success of their party in the city promised to strengthen it in the nation.
An inveterate habit of voting the national party ticket, irrespective of the particular State or City issues involved, and practically irrespective of the personal merits of candidates.
The party managers whose methods have been described in a preceding chapter were not slow to profit by such a situation. Every city had a government framed not with a view to efficiency and economy but on political lines similar to those of the State Governments. The differences between one “City Charter” (as the frame of government is called) and another were numerous, but the general character of these instruments was the same, and so were the economic and social phenomena which the cities presented. There was a Legislature, sometimes of one, sometimes of two Councils, composed of persons most of whom belonged to the half-educated class and were unknown to the respectable citizens. There was a mayor and a number of other officials, each directly elected by the people for short terms; and there were judges elected also for short terms with a wide civil as well as criminal jurisdiction.1
The process by which a little group of selfish professional politicians gained in each city, first the control of the party organization and then through it the control of the city, can seldom be traced, for the Ringsters conspired in secret, and the public records give only the outer aspect of their actions. Usually a few of the wiliest and most plausible who became prominent in the primaries were elected to the managing committees. There, getting to know one another, and having a common aim, they found it profitable to work together, filled the committees with dependants on whose obedience they could rely, and so grew to be a small irresponsible junta, who kept power because they proved themselves fit to use it. Sometimes they formed a sort of ruling Ring, always small. But in this Ring there was generally some one conspicuous either by his craft or by the popular talents which disposed the rank and file to follow him. If he had the gifts of leadership, boldness, self-confidence and the capacity for quick decision, he became the Boss. Democracies talk of Equality, but Efficiency is after all the first requisite in all governments, be they governments of a nation or of a faction; so in the midst of equality oligarchies and autocracies rise by a law of nature. Where the control of one strong, swift will makes for success, that will brings its possessor to the top. Thus the party organization, based on democratic principles, and respecting those principles in its rules, fell under what may be called an autocratic oligarchy with the Boss for its head, while the rest of the Ring formed his Cabinet council. So highly do American business men value efficiency, that they are more disposed to vest wide powers in a single hand than are the English, witness the concentration of the management of railroads in a President instead of a Board of Directors, and the far larger authority given to the President of a University than that allowed to the head either of any British university or of a college at Oxford or Cambridge. Thus, despite the sacred principle of equality, Bossdom prevailed in the party organizations; and in New York, for instance, the dynasty of Bosses who during eighty years have reigned purely by the gifts of political leadership may be compared with that line of monarchs, neither hereditary nor elective, but most of them rising by their military talents, which ruled the Roman Empire from Nero down to Constantine.
The party organizations laid hold of the city governments. They managed the Primaries and Conventions, nominated the party candidates, looked after the elections, resorting, when necessary, to personation, repeating, and other frauds, and adding to these, if their party controlled the officials in charge of the elections, intimidation at the polls, ballot stuffing and false counting. Most of their candidates were so obscure as to be unknown to the majority of the voters, who were thus obliged to vote the party ticket. Thus a Ring might by the use of those ignorant masses who constituted its voting stock, fill the offices with its creatures, the chief among whom found many ways of making illicit gains out of contracts or the sale of franchises (such as the laying of street railways) or by levying blackmail on firms who desired permission to transgress the law. Sometimes these practices went long unchecked, for the system grew up silently, unnoticed by good citizens who were thinking of the Slavery question or the Tariff. It was hard to fix responsibility upon offenders. Who could say which of the members of the Councils were the most guilty parties, who could examine records and documents in the custody of dishonest officials, who could hope much from legal proceedings likely to come before a judge who owed his election to the party dominating the city? While ward politicians made their petty gains in the lower strata of city life, and the ward leader directed his voting regiment like a colonel, members of the Ring installed themselves in offices where money could be scooped in by large operations; and the chiefs of the party in the State, seldom soiling their own fingers, winked at the methods of the professionals and profited by the voting power placed at their disposal.
These things, which need description because they have been used to discredit democracy, went on in practically all the great and most of the smaller cities, being generally worse in proportion to the population and the wealth of each. I take New York as a sample, because the largest, and because the facts of its case, though they have drawn the attention of the world, are little understood outside America.
In New York there was founded in 1789 a social and charitable club which after 1805 described itself as the Tammany Society, the name being taken from an Indian Sachem called Tammanend. It soon acquired a political character, and in 1822, having then thrown out tentacles all over the city, put its government on a representative basis, the General Committee being composed of delegates elected at meetings of the enrolled (Democratic) party voters. Its members were at first native Americans, many of them men of good social standing; but after 1850 the rank and file came more and more to consist of immigrants from Europe, while leadership passed to adventurers of a low type, native and foreign. Since then Tammany Hall has included a great mass of the new citizens — Irishmen, Germans, Jews, Italians, and Slavs. It came to be practically supreme in the Democratic party in the city, as well as the mainstay of that party in New York State, being therewith also a power in the National Democratic Convention, since the vote of New York State often turns the scale in presidential elections. In 1863 a man named William Marcy Tweed, who had failed in business as a chairmaker, a jovial, boisterous, swaggering fellow of vulgar tastes and scanty education, became Chairman of the General Committee, and therewith virtual ruler of the city, for (manhood suffrage having been introduced in 1842) the Tammany vote was omnipotent. He and his three leading associates who formed a ruling group called the Eing “had at their disposal,” wrote Mr. S. J. Tilden a few years later, “the whole local Government machinery, with its expenditure and patronage and its employment of at least 12,000 persons, besides its possession of the police, its influence on the Judiciary, its control of inspectors and canvassers of the elections.” This last-mentioned power was used to manipulate the taking and counting of votes on a gigantic scale, while three unscrupulous lawyers, creatures or confederates of the Ring, were placed on the City Bench to facilitate its operations. The press was largely muzzled by lavish payments made to it for advertisements, and some of the minor journals were subsidized. Confident in their strength, the “Boss of the Hall” and his three associates began to rob right and left. In thirty-two months they raised the city debt by $81,000,000 (£16,200,000), more than twice the figure at which the debt had stood before. This was done chiefly by means of payments for public works which were divided among the confederated Ringsters, with practically nothing to show for the expenditure.
A trifling quarrel between some of the accomplices led to the discovery of these frauds, and an uprising of the “better element” among the citizens of both parties (1871) drove the thieves out of power and sent to prison two of them, as well as two of the three corrupt judges. But what happened thereafter? Within six years Tammany Hall was again in power under another Boss. Its voters did not care how much the city was robbed, for few of them paid taxes, and many regretted Tweed as a good fellow. The “better element,” having once asserted itself, relapsed into apathy, and was again immersed in business excitements and social enjoyments. Tammany, however, was thereafter less audacious, and has had to fight hard for its power.
The history of New York since 1876 has been a chequered one. When the good citizens have exerted themselves and effected a fusion of the reformers with the Machine of the Republican party they have been able to defeat Tammany.1 When the Republicans ran a party candidate of their own, Tammany triumphed. Now and then, however, it put forward respectable candidates for the mayoralty. The new Frame of Government introduced in 1902 cut at the roots of some mischiefs. Election frauds are now almost gone, nor can the treasury be robbed with impunity, but some branches of administration, including the police department, remain unsatisfactory.
What has been said of New York may, as respects the essential features of municipal misrule, be said of every great city, though of course with endless local variations. San Francisco, with its mixed and changeful population, has been conspicuous for violent oscillations. At the end of last century it was ruled by a formidable Boss, a blind man, but of remarkable gifts for organization, who had at his command the votes and the partisan work of the employees of the Fire Department. After his fall — he fled when indicted for peculation — the city fell for a time under the dominion of a Ring chiefly composed of labour leaders. Some of these leaders were convicted of corruption, and a period of better government followed. Space fails me to speak of Pittsburg and Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans and Cincinnati. The phenomena are everywhere substantially the same, as are their causes: the Rings are similar: the reformers fight and win and flag and fail and prepare to fight again. The combatants come and go, but the combat is always the same. As used to be said of revolutions in France, “plus cela change, plus c'est la même chose.” The case of Philadelphia was peculiarly instructive, for comparatively few of its inhabitants are foreign, and the poorer classes are better off than in most cities, the number who own their houses being so large that it is called “The City of Homes.” In it maladministration and corruption have been flagrant: and though the “good citizens” have frequently risen against and overthrown their oppressors, every success has been followed by a collapse, and a new Ring has climbed into power. A great victory was won in 1912, yet in a few years its results seemed likely to be lost. Misgovernment has, however, been not quite so bad since 1881 as it was before the defeat then inflicted on the Gas Ring, and in 1920 the sky had once more brightened under a new charter and a capable Mayor.1
Be it noted that in the cities generally there has been nothing to choose between the political parties, neither of whom has been better or worse than the other. The Tammany Ring is Democratic. The Philadelphia Ring has always been Republican, and has held its power mainly because the wealthy manufacturers have so valued the maintenance of the protective tariff as to be ready to support in their city the party which contributed to make Pennsylvania a safe Republican State. The moral which the student of democracy may ponder is well conveyed in words which the most eminent Philadelphian of our time (Mr. Henry C. Lea, the distinguished historian) wrote to me in 1888. They are still applicable:
“In existing social conditions it would be difficult to conceive of a large community of which it would appear more safe to predicate judicious self-government than ours. Nowhere is there to be found a more general diffusion of property or a higher average standard of comfort and intelligence, nowhere so large a proportion of landowners bearing the burden of direct taxation and personally interested in the wise and honest expenditure of the public revenue. In these respects it is almost an ideal community in which to work out practical results from democratic theories. The failure is not attributable to manhood suffrage, for in my reform labours I have found that the most dangerous enemies of reform have not been the ignorant and poor, but men of wealth, of high social position and character, who had nothing personally to gain from political corruption, but showed themselves as unfitted to exercise the suffrage as the lowest proletariat, by allowing their partisanship to enlist them in the support of candidates notoriously bad who happened by control of party machinery to obtain the ‘regular’ nominations.
“The spirit of party blinds many, while still more are governed by the mental inertia which renders independent thought the most laborious of tasks, and the selfish indolence which shrinks from interrupting the daily routine of avocations. In a constituency so enormous the most prolonged and strenuous effort is required to oppose the ponderous and complicated machinery of party organization, which is always in the hands of professional politicians who obtain control over it by a process of natural selection, and are thus perfectly fitted for the work. Recalcitrants are raw militia who take the field with overwhelming odds against them both in numbers and discipline. Even though they may gain an occasional victory their enthusiasm exhausts itself, while the ‘regular’ is always on duty and knows, with Philip the Second, that time and he can overcome any other two.”
Among the consequences of municipal misgovernment two stand out conspicuous. The progressive and philanthropic spirit, now active in America, has been demanding an extension of the functions of city authorities. Better provision is needed for the health of the masses, for their comfort, for their delectation by music and by art exhibitions, for a still further extension of public parks and all sorts of city amenities. The so-called “public utilities,” such as street railroads, gas, and electric lighting, might be taken out of the hands of grasping private companies, who are in league with the Rings, and be run more cheaply or made to yield a revenue for city purposes. But there is an obvious objection. Can the Machine politicans who control the cities be trusted with functions they are sure to abuse? Must not municipal reform precede attempts at municipal socialism?
The other palpable consequence of the recurring palpable scandals in city government has been to lower the standard of political morality. Sins frequent and patent which go unpunished cease to excite reprobation. The “Doodling alderman,” and the aspiring young lawyer who, coming from a pious home, succumbs to temptation and becomes a “grafter,” are familiar figures on the American stage and arouse more amusement than blame. Since nobody expects virtue in a city politician, nobody is disappointed when he fails to show it, and many live down to the level expected from them.
The warning which the phenomena of American cities teach is essentially the same everywhere. The so-called “good citizens” are scarcely less responsible than the bad citizens for the maladministration and corruption of which they complain. A democratic frame of government assumes, and must assume, that at least a majority of the ruling people will know and discharge their duty. The richer and larger a community the more will birds of prey flock to it. But though vigilance is all the more needed, experience shows that the larger the community, the more apt is the citizen to neglect his duties, because there are so many others equally bound to discharge them. The habit of letting base politicians make their gains out of the cities was formed before people realized how great those gains might become. With indolence there went a good-natured tolerance, commoner in America than in Europe, which perpetuates the evils it endures. Thus was city democracy turned into a sordid city oligarchy.
Another reflection is suggested by the history of these cities. Without asking what Democracy meant to those who founded it in Athens, to Pericles who guided or to Aristotle who described it there, or to Rousseau whose theories gave it a new birth in the modern world, let us consider what a City meant to the inhabitants of an Italian or German town in the Middle Ages, or to those of an English borough in the seventeenth, or those of an American borough in the first half-century of the United States. It meant a community organized for common aims by men who had a long experience of rights they claimed and duties they were expected to discharge, a community held together not only by traditions but also by a sort of social cement, one in which, even after the trade guilds had become obsolete, men had a personal knowledge of one another, where the humbler classes respected the prominent figures to whom leadership belonged, sometimes by wealth, sometimes by intelligence and superior talents and education, or by the eminence which office, worthily discharged, secures. In such a community men had grounds for trusting one another. Workmen knew their employers, and employers felt some responsibility for their workmen. The churches put the rich and the poor in some sort of touch with one another, and helped to create a sense of human fellowship. Those were real Communities, because men had something tangible in common. When citizens had to choose a man for an office, they had grounds for preferring A to B or C. Merit (or the semblance of it) told: there was a record behind the candidate from which the likelihood of performance could be conjectured.
But what is a modern American city? A huge space of ground covered with houses, two or three square miles appropriated by the richer sort, fifteen or twenty, stretching out into suburbs, filled with the dwellings of the poorer. More than half of these lower strata had lately come from their far-off Old World homes, leaving their former social ties behind them, and having not yet formed new ties in the strange land whose language many among them could not speak, and of whose institutions they knew nothing. They were not members of a Community, but an aggregation of human atoms, like grains of desert sand which the wind sweeps hither and thither. They got work, but they knew nothing of the man they worked for: probably he was the manager of a great corporate company. They began to read the newspapers, but the only part of the news that they could follow was the record of crimes and accidents with which the meaner newspapers are filled. Naturalization made American citizens of them, and they were pleased, for it seemed to improve their position. But when election day came, and their fellow-workmen who had lived longer in the city told them they could vote, they did not know for what to vote, or indeed what voting means, any more than they had done in Lithuania.
Not long, however, are they left thus unguided. The ward politician appears, tells the newly fledged citizen to join his party, enrols him, takes him to the poll, gives him a ticket, shows him how to mark his ballot-paper. He casts his vote accordingly, and it counts for as much as does that of the best instructed among his fellow-voters. Having no other advice, no interest in good government, or in anything except protection from the consequences of any breach of law he might, perhaps unwittingly, commit, knowing nothing of the candidates whose names are on the ticket, he takes such advice as is proffered, that of the Party. He is now part of the “voting stock” by means of which Tammany or some other such organization fills the city offices, counting this stock by many thousands. The facts being what they are, and human nature being what it is in the wily party manager and in the passive voter, could any other result have been expected than that which the American cities present? Democracy cannot be fairly judged under such conditions. Yet the voters were the People. Statesmen continued to flatter them, and to repeat that the People can do no wrong. Carlyle would have observed that Nature takes her revenge on those who live by shams.
What lessons are to be drawn from these scandals — the thefts from the city treasury, the jobbing of contracts, the sale of public franchises, the malign influence of those whom President Roosevelt used to call “malefactors of great wealth,” the granting of immunity, for payment, to lawbreakers, the complicity of the police with one of the most odious classes of criminals, and all the evils of fraud or violence that were needed to perpetuate the rule of Rings and Bosses?
They teach nothing that was not known before, though never before on so grand a scale.
A mass of ignorant voters, untrained in self-government. becomes the natural prey of unscrupulous leaders.
A government controlled by those who have no interest in economy will not be economical. It was said by them of old time, “No taxation without representation.” Here was representation without taxation.
Where men practically irresponsible dominate those nominally responsible, responsibility disappears.
The members of a self-governing community need to have some social bonds of union, and if the men whom talent and character mark out for leadership stand aloof, their places will be filled by the less worthy.
There is no better test of the excellence of a Popular Government than the strength of public opinion as a ruling power. I have sought to explain (see Chapter XV. ante) wherein its rule differs, and differs for the better, from that of a numerical majority acting by votes only. In the United States, though votings are more frequent than in any other country, yet Public Opinion is, more fully than elsewhere, the ruling power. The founders of the Republic expected from the average citizen a keener sense of his duty to vote wisely than he has shown, but in the function of giving, by his opinion, a general direction to public policy he has done well. The doctrine of Popular Sovereignty and the structure of the Government made it specially necessary that he should respond to the call made upon him of giving such direction, because the functions of government are divided and parcelled out between its several organs. There are many checks and balances. Where each organ is watched and restrained by others, where terms of office are short, and changes in the persons who administer are consequently frequent, the watchfulness and directive control of the citizens are essential in order to keep the complicated machinery working and to guide each of its parts to a common aim. The citizen must feel his constant responsibility, both to form an opinion and to make it known between the periods at which he delivers it by an electoral vote. Though this duty is not perfectly discharged, public opinion is on the whole more alert, more vigilant, and more generally active through every class and section of the nation than in any other great State. The Frame of Government has by its very complication served to stimulate the body of the people to observe, to think, and to express themselves on public questions.
To explain why this is so, and what are the wholesome results it has produced, let us note some features of public opinion as determined by the character of the national mind.
Not even in the United States are politics the first thing in the citizen's thoughts. His own business, his domestic life, his individual tastes, come first, yet more here than elsewhere does one discover a people seriously interested in public affairs. Nobody says, as men so often say in France, Germany, and Italy, “I never trouble myself about politics.” Current events are constantly discussed among the ordinary rural folk, and though the country newspaper is chiefly filled by farming topics and “local happenings,” still the affairs of the nation figure somewhere in the landscape of nearly every native American. It is, moreover, the good fortune of the country to possess a real national opinion as well as an ardent national patriotism; that is to say, there exists on most political topics a certain agreement which rises above and softens down the differences between the various sections or types of view. In some countries — France for instance — those differences are so marked that no such general concurrence of opinion can, as regards domestic issues, be discerned. It is usually antagonisms that are conspicuous. But in the United States, vast as the country is, there are many matters on which the great majority seem to be of one mind all the way from one ocean to the other. During the first two years of the late war there were diversities of attitude and feeling between the North Atlantic States and the South and the Middle West and the Far West, easily explicable by the fact that the first-named were in much closer touch with Europe and felt themselves more affected by what was passing there. But America's entrance into the conflict effaced these diversities. The same wave of feeling, sweeping over the whole continent, brought its sections into full accord. Considering how dissimilar are the conditions of economic and social life in the East, in the South, and in the West, this similarity of opinion is remarkable. It is qualified only by the feeling, still strong in the South, that, whatever happens, the coloured men must not be allowed to regain any considerable voting power. Racial diversities may be found everywhere, for one-third of the inhabitants were born abroad or of foreign parents, but such diversities affect but slightly the opinion of the nation, because the most recent immigrants have neither the education nor the experience needed to enable them to influence others; while those who have been born and bred in the country have already become substantially American in their interests and ways of thought. Though in some cities masses of Slavs or Italians remain unabsorbed, the only large minorities which retain an attachment to the country of their origin sufficient to have political importance are a section of the Germans and a section of the Irish. It is, however, only in so far as questions of foreign relations are affected that these two elements stand out of the general stream of opinion. The solvent and assimilative forces of education, of companionship, of all the things that make up social environment, are stronger in America than in any other country. Religious differences also count for very little. In some few matters Roman Catholics may be influenced by respect for the head of their Church, and they usually support the demand of their clergy for grants to denominational schools. But there is nothing resembling that strength of ecclesiastical sentiment which used to affect the political attitude of many Nonconformists and many members of the Established Church in England, much less any manifestations of the bitterness which in France arrays in hostile camps the Roman Catholics and the anti-clerical or the non-Christian part of the population.
Class distinctions have during the last hundred years become in Continental Europe the forces which chiefly split and rend a people into antagonistic sections of opinion. This tendency has increased with the spread of the revolutionary school which preaches the so-called “class war” of the “proletariate” against the “bourgeois.” It is only within the last three decades that this doctrine, brought from Europe by German and Russo-Jewish immigrants, has been making way, and what support it receives comes almost wholly from the still unassimilated part of the immigrant population. America had been theretofore exempt from class antagonisms, because opinion had been divided, not horizontally along the strata of less or greater wealth, but vertically, so that each view, each political tenet, was common to men in every social class. The employer and his workmen, the merchant and his clerks, were not led by their different social positions to think differently on politics any more than they would think differently on religion. They have been Republicans or Democrats for reasons unconnected with pecuniary means or station in life, neither of these two parties having any permanent affinity either with the richer or with the poorer, though from time to time one or other might, in some parts of the country, enlist the support of the moneyed class on a particular party issue, like that of Free Silver in 1896.1
This fact suggests another reflection. In many of the largest and gravest questions, public opinion does not move on party lines. This is partly because the tenets, or at least the professions, of the opposite parties sometimes come very near to one another. A famous journalist observed to me in 1908: “Our two parties are like two bottles, both empty, but bearing different labels.” He spoke truly, for though there were strong currents of opinion discernible, none was flowing in a party channel. One observes in America that men accustomed to support their party by their votes, frequently disapprove both its acts and its promises. Thus the power and cohesiveness of party does not prevent the existence of a common sentiment in the bulk of the nation, often more united than the vehemence of party language leads foreigners to suppose. There are, in fact, only two fairly well-defined types of class opinion. One is that of the small financial class, including the heads of great industrial concerns, the other that of the advanced Socialist party,2 largely under the influence of European syndicalistic or even anarchistic ideas. Among the rest there are no sharp and permanent oppositions of political tenets or of social sympathies.
Political opinion is better instructed than in Continental Europe, because a knowledge of the institutions of the country and their working is more generally diffused here than there through the rank and file of the native population. This is mainly due to the practice of local self-government and to the publicity given by the newspapers to all that passes in the political field. Something may be attributed to the active part in public affairs that has always been played by members of the legal profession, and even more, in recent times, to the influence of college teaching. The number of men who have graduated in some place of higher instruction is probably ten times as large (in proportion to population) as in any part of Continental Europe, and much more than twice as large as in Great Britain. These men have done much to leaven the voting mass. Most of them have not received what Europeans would call a complete university education, and the so-called literary or humanistic studies have been often neglected. But they have been led into the realms of thought, and their horizons have been widened. They are often the leaders in reform movements, with higher ideas of good citizenship than the average business man used to possess, and they are less inclined to a blind support of their party. One of the most significant and most hopeful features of American life has been the increase during the last forty years of the number and the influence of the universities, and of the extent to which their alumni, business men as well as lawyers, teachers, and clergymen, make themselves felt in the higher forms of political activity.1
What, then, of the Press, which is in all modern countries the chief factor in forming as well as in diffusing opinion? This is not the place to describe its general features, nor to enquire how far it deserves the censures which many Europeans, repelled by the faults of the worst newspapers, have unfairly bestowed upon it as a whole. These faults are due not to democracy, but to the social and economic conditions of the lower strata in city populations, conditions that produce in all countries results generally similar, but more marked here, because nowhere are there so many newspapers which find their circulation in that vast reading mass which is chiefly interested in records of crime and of events in the field of sport.
The press, including many weekly and some monthly magazines which handle political questions, is a chief agent in forming opinion by letting everybody know what everybody else is saying or is supposed to be thinking. This tells on the minds of undecided or unreflective people. Having neither the time nor the knowledge to think for themselves they feel safe in thinking with the majority. In this sense the press makes opinion more effectively here than in any other country, because the habit of reading is more general, and prominent men, though less given than are the English to writing letters to the newspapers, are more wont to confide their views to an interviewer. The papers have their defects. The reporting of even the best speeches is full and exact only in a very few of the best journals, the rest confining themselves to abridgments which often miss the really important points. As everything is done in haste, the truth of facts fares ill; but in the general result the whole opinion of the country is mirrored more completely than anywhere in Europe. It is the statements of events and of the opinions of public men that tell. They would tell even more but for the inaccuracies frequent in papers of the second rank and rarely corrected, yet here, as elsewhere, these do not prevent the average man from assuming that what he sees in print is likely to be true. Editorial articles count for less than in England or France: few people swear by their favourite paper, as many still do in England, and the names of editors and of writers of leading articles are scarcely known to the public. Hardly more than six or seven men have, during the last thirty years, become familiar and personally influential figures in the world of political journalism, great as is the literary talent which many have displayed. Thus the profession does not offer that opening to a public career which it has often done in France and sometimes in England, though the proprietor of a widely circulated paper or group of papers may become a political figure, and even seek high office by bringing himself before the public. Scarcely ever has a leading statesman controlled, as in France, a newspaper which habitually pushed his views or urged his personal claims, so it may be assumed that this form of advocacy or advertisement would prove unprofitable. Press hostility directed against a statesman, not by mere abuse, which seldom tells, but by persistently recalling errors he has committed, or (more rarely) by inventing and repeating gross calumnies, can injure his prospects more than praise, however lavish, can improve them. Men have been “boomed” into popularity and power more frequently in England than in America. Does this argue the presence of more discernment in the public?
Partisanship also, i.e. the indiscriminating support of a political party, is rather less marked in American than in European journals, the former holding a more independent attitude, and bestowing their censures on one or other party with reference less to their professed political principles than to their action at any particular time or their attitude on any particular issue. This increases their weight with thoughtful readers, and has a wholesome influence on party chiefs, who know they must expect criticism even from the organs to which they usually look for support. To be wounded in the house of your friends, though a painful, is sometimes a profitable experience.
Though the Press as a whole is at least as important a factor in the working of government as it is anywhere else in the world, no single paper is as powerful as some have been in England, in France, in Italy, in Australia, and in Argentina. This is due to the size of the country. The range of a journal which can be read in the forenoon of its issue is confined to some few hundreds of miles, and though the utterances of the very best papers are widely read and largely quoted much further off, or may have their views telegraphed all over the Union, they have no great hold on a distant public. The ascendancy of any wealthy proprietor or group of proprietors influencing a large proportion of the voters by impressing on them, day after day and week after week, one set of views and the same one-sided statement of facts or alleged facts, is a danger only in the sphere of foreign relations. In that sphere plausible falsehoods and persistently malignant misrepresentation of the character and purposes of another people may do infinite mischief. One form of such misrepresentation is to pick out and reprint any unfriendly utterances that appear in the newspapers, perhaps contemptible and without influence, of the country which it is desired to injure.
The exposure and denunciation of municipal misgovernment and corruption is among the greatest services which the American Press — including some religious and other non-political weeklies — performs. We have seen how largely these evils sprang from the ignorance or apathy of the “respectable classes,” who constantly need to be awakened from their torpor, and driven to support the too scanty band of civic reformers. European observers, offended by the excesses to which the passion for publicity can run in the United States, sometimes fail to realize how many evils the incessant vigilance of the press prevents or helps to cure. Whether its faults, which were thought to have been aggravated with the upspringing of some papers of a low type in the end of last century, have tended to decrease in later years is a question which some judicious observers answer by saying that the best papers have grown better and the worst papers worse. On several great occasions, and notably during the course of the recent War, the Press rendered conspicuous services to the nation as an exponent of instructed and thoughtful opinion.
Since it was on the Average Man and his civic virtue that the founders of the Republic relied for the working of its institutions, it is well to consider that generalized being, taking a sort of composite photograph from many individuals, and enquiring how far his power of forming a sound opinion has justified the confidence reposed in him. As the characteristic type of the Average Man, take the native American landowning farmer in the Northern and especially in the Middle Western and North-Western States, where he is seen at his best, for in New England he has been largely replaced by the new immigrant not yet thoroughly Americanized. With the farmer one may couple the storekeeper or artisan of those smaller towns which have, a sort of rural colour. These two classes, and particularly the former, are specifically American products, the like of whom one finds nowhere else, independent and fairly well educated. Though sometimes querulous, as are agriculturists generally, accustomed to complain of the weather, they would, but for their resentment at the exploitation they suffer at the hands of financial interests, he as nearly satisfied with their lot as man is ever likely to be.
The normal member of these classes has a great pride in his country and a sense of his own duty to it. He follows the course of national and State politics, not assiduously, but with fair intelligence and attention, usually voting at elections, though apt to leave political work to be done by the party organization. He is overprone to vote the party ticket, whatever names are put on it, and needs to be made to feel his own interest affected before he will join in a reforming movement. Shrewd, and critical of the motives and character of politicians, he is rather less suspicious than is the English or French peasant, because he has confidence in his own shrewdness, is socially the equal of the politicians, and quite as well instructed as most of them. But his horizon is limited. His thought, like his daily work, moves in a small circle; his imagination fails to grasp conditions unlike those of his own life. Thus he is not well qualified to form a judgment on the larger questions of policy. Working hard to secure decent comfort for his family, he does not understand the value of special knowledge, thinks one man as good as another for official work, refuses to pay salaries to a judge or an administrator twice or thrice as large as his own net income. Not versed in economic principles, and seldom fitted by education to comprehend them when stated, he may fall a prey to plausible fallacies and be captured by vague promises to redress grievances of which he feels the pinch.
But if he be no good judge of measures, he is no bad judge of men. Here his shrewdness helps him: here his respect for honesty and courage comes in. When he recognizes in any public man uprightness, firmness, and a sincere desire to serve the public, he is ready to trust and to follow, rarely withdrawing a confidence once given. A strong State Governor or Mayor who fights the politicians of the Legislature in the public interest, speaking clearly to the plain people, and above the suspicion of selfish motives, can count upon his vote, even against the party organization. It was by the confidence of average men of this type that Abraham Lincoln was carried to the Presidency, and that Governor Hughes of New York was enabled to bend to his will the party machine that had been ruling that great State. These men who till the land they own are solid and intelligent, one of the great assets of the republic.
Of some qualities which the American people as a whole show in their political life little need be said, because it is hard to determine how far these are due to democratic habits, how far to national character, i.e. to the original English character as modified by physical and economic conditions in a new country, as well as (in a lesser degree) by admixture with other races. Still, as we are considering how American democracy works, it may be observed that they are an impressionable people, among whom excitement rises suddenly and spreads fast, quickened by the contagion of numbers. Communication is so easy and swift over the Continent that the same impulse seems to possess every one at the same moment, as if all were assembled, like the Athenians, in one huge public meeting. It is then that the cunningly devised divisions of power and other constitutional checks are found serviceable, for at such moments opinion is apt to be intolerant of opposition, and may even resort to extra-legal methods of suppressing it. But this seldom happens. In ordinary times that tyranny of the majority1 which Tocqueville described and feared as an evil inherent in democracies no longer exists. Independence of mind is respected. Even cranks are borne with, nor does any country produce a richer crop. Americans are, moreover, a kindly and in normal times an indulgent people.2 This was seen half a century ago when after the Civil War an unprecedented clemency was extended towards those who were then talked of as rebels. Still less are they, as most Europeans suppose, a materialistic people. The race for wealth, not really greater than in Western Europe, is a passion rather for success in making than for pleasure in enjoying a fortune. Nowhere is money so freely given to any charitable or other public purpose. Nowhere, except perhaps in Italy and France, are intellectual attainments so widely honoured. These two last-named characteristics may be credited to Democracy, which has here instilled a sense of a rich man's duty to return to the community a large part of what individual energy has won, and which respects achievements that reflect credit upon the nation and give it a pride in itself. Both sentiments flourish wherever, as here, class antagonisms are overborne by the sense of a higher common national life.
In saying that Public Opinion is the real ruler of America, I mean that there exists a judgment and sentiment of the whole nation which is imperfectly expressed through its representative legislatures, is not to be measured by an analysis of votes cast at elections, is not easily gathered from the most diligent study of the press, but is nevertheless a real force, impalpable as the wind, yet a force which all are trying to discover and nearly all to obey. As Andrew Marvell wrote:
There is on earth a yet diviner thing, Veiled though it be, than Parliament or King.
In and through it, not necessarily at any single given moment, but in the long run, irrespective of temporary gusts of passion, the conscience and judgment of the people assert themselves, overruling the selfishness of sections and the vehemence of party. Illustrations of its controlling power are supplied by the progress of the various reform movements I must now describe, beginning by a short account of the most noteworthy changes which have passed upon American public sentiment during the last fifty years that have elapsed since I had first the opportunity of studying the country.
The Civil War (1861–1865) was a turning-point in the history of opinion, because for the twenty years that preceded it the growing gravity of the Slavery conflict had distracted men's minds from those constitutional and administrative questions which were not directly related to that issue. After 1865, and still more after 1877, when Federal troops were finally withdrawn from the South, the people were set free to think of many domestic topics that had been neglected. It is a testimony to the vitality of the nation that opinion is always changing not merely because new questions emerge, but because the national mind has been constantly, and is now increasingly active. Few of these changes have been due to the recognized leaders of the parties. They began, like most American movements, from a small group, or several small groups, of thinkers who saw the evils and sought a cure. Wheresoever they started, they usually found support in both parties, because the evils were felt to be real. The professional party politicians, high and low, at first discountenanced them, fearing for party solidarity. Various was their fate. Sometimes, like the seed that fell in dry places, they withered away, because the public feeling they tried to appeal to was hard ground, and failed to respond. Sometimes, slowly pervading one party, they captured it, and their doctrines passed into its orthodoxy. Sometimes they caused a schism and created a new party, which did its work in affecting the views of both the older parties, and then subsided, its adherents returning to their former allegiance without abjuring their tenets. These phenomena, which may be traced far back in the annals of America, illustrate the tendency of its party organizations to become ossified when left to themselves. They need to be shaken up and have new life breathed into them by the independent thought of individuals or groups. They exist for Offices rather than for Principles. If the party system had exerted the same power over minds as it did over offices, it would long ago have ruined the country.
Among the changes and tendencies characteristic of the democratic spirit in America, none has been better worth studying than the dying down of the old tendency to aggression abroad. The sentiment which favours peace and respects the rights of neighbouring States has grown slowly but steadily. It is true that there have been two wars within the last twenty-two years. That against Spain might probably have been avoided, for with a little more patience Spain could have been forced to retire from Cuba, the long-continued misgovernment of which had roused American sympathy, but the war, though it brought about the annexation of the Philippines, had not been prompted by the lust for conquest. A significant evidence of disinterestedness was given when the United States abstained from annexing Cuba, and again when having been subsequently obliged to despatch troops thither to restore order, those troops were soon withdrawn. From 1911 onwards the disturbed condition of Mexico, where American citizens were frequently injured, suggested armed occupation, to be probably followed by the acquisition either of the northern provinces or of the whole country. But the temptation was resisted. A financial protectorate has been established over the so-called “republics” of Haiti and San Domingo, whose disorders seemed to call for a benevolent intervention, but there are no signs of any wish to take over the general government of communities, one of which is no better than a piece of savage Africa placed in the Caribbean Sea.1 The old talk about forcing or tempting Canada into the Union has ceased to be heard, and the relations between the two peoples, dwelling peaceably along an undefended frontier of three thousand miles, are more cordial than ever before. Of the unselfish motives which brought America into the Great War to defend what she held to be a righteous cause, there is no need to speak. The immense army which she raised and the prowess which her soldiers and sailors showed have fostered among the people no militaristic spirit, no desire for the conquest of new dominions.2
When he turns to the domestic sphere, the observer discerns two tendencies that may seem, but are not really, divergent. One is the disposition to leave the Southern States alone to deal with the difficulties which the presence of a large negro population creates. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, intended to secure equal electoral rights to the negro, has been successfully evaded by the whites of the South, yet the proposals made thirty years ago to restore those rights by Federal action have been quietly dropped. But while in this matter Federal intervention was disapproved, the powers of the National Government were simultaneously growing in other directions, and the rights reserved to the States by the Constitution have been correspondingly narrowed. Decisions of the Supreme Court have extended, and Federal legislation by Congress has made more effective, the powers exercisable over railways and commerce. Public sentiment went still further and induced Congress to pass Acts for the regulation of child labour, which the Supreme Court held invalid because invading a province clearly reserved to the States. An Amendment to the Constitution (the Sixteenth) has authorized Congress to levy an incometax, another (the Seventeenth) has changed the mode of electing the Senate, and more recently (1919) the world has been startled by an Amendment (the Eighteenth) prohibiting the production and sale of intoxicating liquors over the whole Union, this having been hitherto a matter which seemed, on the old constitutional lines, to be altogether within the sphere of the States.1 So, too, an Amendment extending the electoral suffrage to women over the whole Union was carried in 1920, a change which, whatever its merits or demerits, deprives the States of what the framers of the Constitution held to be an essential principle of the Federal system.
This apparently light-hearted readiness to alter a Fundamental Instrument which had, save for the three Civil War Amendments, stood unchanged from 1804 till 1912, and the proposal of other amendments now treated as matters for serious discussion, indicate a decline in that veneration for the time-honoured Constitution which had ruled the minds of preceding generations. The three first-named amendments were carried by large majorities, neither party organization opposing.
The United States has felt, quite as fully as any European country, the influence of that philanthropic impulse which has stirred the more advanced peoples of the world within the nineteenth century, growing stronger with the years as they pass.
The legislation which that impulse has prompted seems to he the result of three converging forces — the sentiment of human equality which creates and accompanies democratic government, a keener sympathy with human suffering, and a fear among the educated classes that if they do not promote laws securing better conditions of life to the masses, the latter will attain those conditions for themselves by an over-hasty use of their votes, or, failing legal methods, by violence. For more than half a century American public opinion, warmly philanthropic in the more advanced and best educated parts of the country, has caused the enactment of many measures for bettering the health, comfort, and education of the poorer classes, and improving in every way the conditions of labour. As these things have to be effected by laws, and laws have to be administered by public authorities, reformers invoke the State; while the Labour organizations, desiring to throw more and more into its hands, advocate the nationalization of some great industries. The old doctrines of individual self-help and laissez faire have been thrown overboard, and the spirit of paternalism waxes strong. So far as respects regulation of conduct and the protection of the worker, the State has already become a significant factor, though it does not police the citizen as in Germany, nor undertake the direct management of industries after the manner of Australia and New Zealand.1 All this has been the doing not of the parties, but of a public opinion at work in both parties, which aims at amending institutions, because it is hoped to obtain from them when amended certain social and economic benefits which the people desire. The machinery is to be repaired in order to secure a larger output.
Though often described as socialistic, this movement has had its source in a sense of human brotherhood seeking to mitigate the inequalities of fortune, rather than in any Collectivistic theories imported from Germany by the disciples of Marx. The professedly Socialist parties of America count some native Americans among their leaders, but find most of their support in the recent immigrants from Europe, and they grow slowly. One of them runs candidates in national elections, but its vote has hitherto been small.1
More important, and more directly operative in politics, are three streams of opinion so intimately connected each with the others that they must be considered together. These are: (1) hatred of the Money Power, and especially of those large incorporated companies and monopolistic combinations through which wealth chiefly acts; (2) disgust at the workings of the party Machine, and the methods of nomination by which it distributes offices to its adherents; (3) anger at the corruption and maladministration which have prevailed in the great cities. These three sources of evil are linked in the minds of public-spirited and energetic citizens as three heads of the hydra which must be shorn off together if the monster is to be destroyed. The great corporations have used the party Machine to get what they want. The party Machine is seen at its worst in the cities, and draws from their bad conditions most of its illicit gains, so to kill the Machine would be both to reclaim the cities and to cripple the power of money in politics.2 Three voices of discontent or aspiration were heard: Tree the people from the yoke of the Money Power and the monopolies; Free the voters from the tyranny of the Machine; Free the masses from the depressing conditions of their life. How were these objects to be attained? By the People itself, that is, by its direct action in law-making. Legislatures have been tried, and failed, for they have been corrupted by the money power and controlled by the Machine. Let us invoke the People to set things right. Thus there arose a wave of democratic sentiment which swept over the country, prompted by the sense of practical grievances, but drawing strength also from that doctrine of Popular Sovereignty to which the multitude respond now as they did in the days of Jefferson, and again in those of Andrew Jackson.
recent reforming movements
Effortsto reform thePrimaries
The changes which this reforming spirit seeks to effect in the structure and working of the government (National, State, and Municipal) may be classed under four heads:
Reforms in the working of party organizations.
Reforms in the modes of appointing officials.
Reforms in the structure of city governments.
Transfer of legislative power from representative assemblies to the citizens voting at the polls.
The second and third of these are closely connected with and largely dependent on the first, which may be briefly described as the reform of the system of party organization by breaking the power of the Machine and restoring to the people at large that right of choosing candidates which the Machine had wrested from them. Its history is instructive.
It will be remembered that the scheme of party organization was based on the Primary meeting of all members of a political party within a given electoral area for the purpose of (a) selecting party candidates, (b) naming delegates to sit in a party convention, and (c) appointing a Committee to take charge of local party work. This scheme, sound in principle, for it was a recognition of the right of the members of a party not only to formulate their own policy, rejecting the dictation of leaders, but also to settle beforehand who should be their candidate, rested on three postulates:
All good citizens will attend their Primary.
When met in their Primary they will honestly try to find the best candidates, i.e. those trustworthy men who are most likely to win the election.
Capable and trustworthy men will be willing to become candidates if chosen by the other members of the party.
The second and third postulates seem to follow naturally from the first. If the members of the party as a whole attend the Primary, the sense of public duty which brings them there will make them take pains to select trustworthy men, and will dispose such men to accept the candidacy tendered. There may be mixed motives, as everywhere, but since the aim of the majority will be to secure a good choice, the meeting will go right.
None of the conditions which theory postulated had been in fact fulfilled. Comparatively few members attended, while some who would have attended were excluded because too independent. Thus the Primaries did not truly represent the party. When the Primary met, opposition, if any, to the names put forward by the Committee was over-borne by its henchmen, and often outwitted by a partisan Chairman who ruled questions of order against them. Accordingly in the cities and wherever there was a pretty dense population dominated by a Ring, the choice of candidates, delegates, and Committee men was dictated by the Ring. The reform needed, therefore, was to eliminate fraud in making up the party roll, and force as well as fraud in the conduct of business at the Primary. This was sought by the novel and drastic method of turning what had been a (private) party Meeting into a (public) Election (by polling) at which the citizens should be entitled to vote (a) for the selection of party candidates, (b) for the selection of delegates to a party Convention, (c) for the members of the local party Committee. All this has now been done in practically every State, though with an endless variety of details in the provisions of the various State laws. Rules are laid down for the making up of the roll of members of a party, for the conduct and modes of voting at the Direct Primary election (as it is now called), for the prevention of bribery, fraud, and violence, in fact for all the matters that have to be prescribed as respects the regular public elections to a legislature or any public office. This legal recognition of Party as a public political institution, this application of statutory regulation to what had theretofore been purely voluntary and extra-legal associations of citizens, strikes Europeans as a surprising new departure in politics. American reformers, however, had been so long accustomed to regard their parties as great political forces, national institutions which for good or for ill ruled the course of politics, that they jumped at any method of overthrowing a corrupt system, and were not in the mood to be arrested by anything savouring of constitutional pedantry. Nothing weaker than the arm of the law seemed to them capable of democratizing that nominating machinery which had been worked by a selfish oligarchy.
The movement, which began in the last decade of the nineteenth century, ran like wildfire from State to State over the Union, for much as the professional politicians disliked it, they found it hard to resist what upon the face of it was meant to enlarge the freedom of the ordinary citizen. Some States, however, went further than others, applying a Primary Election to candidacies for all State offices, including those of Governor and Senator, and allowing the voter, in a Presidential year, to indicate his preference for a particular party man who aspires to be selected, in the nominating National Convention of his party, as its candidate for the Presidency. Some States recognize what they call “unofficial Primaries,” and some allow Conventions to retain nominating functions which others transfer to Direct Primaries.1 The most important difference between these State laws is that between the Open and the Closed Primary. In the former kind of election citizens belonging to any political party are admitted to vote together for any of the persons put forward to be chosen as candidates, so that a Democrat may vote for a Republican, or a Republican for a Democrat, though it is sometimes provided that all votes cast for any person shall be counted for him only as a candidate of the party upon whose ticket his name is written. The power to vote irrespective of party may seem in so far good that it enables members of one party to “give a lift” to able men or moderate men who belong to the other, but it might doubtless be turned to less worthy uses. The Closed Primary permits the enrolled members of a party to vote only for persons who belong to their own party, and this is sometimes secured by requiring each party ticket to be of a distinctive colour, so that no Republican can use a Democratic ticket, his vote being rejected if he does. Some State laws require every voter to declare himself to belong to a particular party before he can vote; some go so far as to make him pledge himself to support that party at the election next following with a view to which the Primary is held. The persons whose names are on the ballot-paper have of course been nominated as the law directs, either by their respective party organizations or by a prescribed number of citizens through a petition, this latter giving a chance to independent candidates. The whole process is hedged round by an elaborate code of rules often so complicated as to invite quibblings and evasions, opening doors to controversy and litigation.
The Direct Primary is, constitutionally regarded, a large addition to the electoral machinery of the country, throwing upon it a new function the practice of which had become too formidable to be left as a custom unregulated by law. It prefixes to the election for office a preliminary secret election by which the electors determine who are to be the party candidates for or against whom they are subsequently going to vote, i.e. they vote to decide for whom they are going to vote subsequently. An elector enabled to vote for any person, no matter by whom proposed, whose name appears on the list of candidates for nomination, is set free from one of his former difficulties, that of finding himself obliged to choose between two sets of men whom he probably equally distrusts, the candidates of his own party, whom its Organization has forced upon him, and the candidates of the other party, presumably no better. But the other old difficulty remains. How is he to know when he comes to vote at the Direct Primary which of the men on the tickets are, and which are not, capable and trustworthy? Unless the office to be filled is an important one, like that of Senator or Governor, he may know nothing of the names on a ticket.1
He needs to be informed and advised. Who so fit, or at any rate so ready, to advise him as the Organization of his party? It knows everything about everybody. It has put on the ticket the names of those upon whom it wishes the candidacy to fall. Accordingly, while the educated “good citizen” who gives constant attention to public affairs has more independence than under the old system of packed Primaries, the average members of the party — and they are the vast majority — will still be inclined to follow the lead the Organization gives. Thus the new Direct Primaries have not killed — perhaps not even crippled — the Machine, though they have given it a great deal of trouble, compelling it to add the worry of a preliminary campaign and preliminary polling for nominations for office to the pre-existing campaign and polling at the election to office, and obliging it to devise new contrivances for hoodwinking and roping in the voters. Some one has remarked, “A new set of reforms will always be needed so soon as the professional politicians have learnt how to get round the last set.” It is not, however, the Machine only that is worried. Although the official expenses of a Direct Primary are a charge (like those of the elections to offices) on the public treasury, the other expenses which a man desiring to be selected as candidate must incur, and the labour of the campaign he must oratorically conduct if he aspires to such an office as a Senatorship, are practically doubled.1 He must create a special campaign organization for the Primary elections and must travel over the State recommending himself to the electors of his own party as the fittest man to be their standard-bearer in the fight. If he wins, a second campaign against the candidates of the other parties awaits him.2
Which is the best form of the Direct Primary and how much good its introduction has effected are questions, much debated in the United States, on which it may be still too soon to pronounce a final judgment. The power of the Machines in the cities has not been overthrown, and it may be feared that the professional politicians are discovering how to circumvent the new laws and regain all the power which these have tried to wrest from them.1 For European readers the details just given have little interest, but they point two morals for Europeans as well as for Americans. The enactment of such laws witnesses to the influence which the zeal of a few earnest reformers, well served by the press, can exert upon a public which has begun to feel that something is wrong. Yet on the other hand the remedy adopted seems almost a counsel of despair, for it is an admission that the bright illusions of those early days, when it was believed that good citizens would bestir themselves to find good candidates and elect fit men, have been so belied by events that when the faults of a bad system have been long tolerated it becomes scarcely possible for the action of individual citizens, honest, but busy with other things, to effect a cure. That must be expected not from them but only at the hands of the law.
Why is this so? Wherein lies this extraordinary strength of the party Machine which enables it, like one of the giant climbing plants of a Brazilian forest, to grasp so tightly the tree which it encoils that it has grown to be strong as that tree itself?
The American party Organization has four roots, each of which has struck deep, and from these it draws its sustenance.
One is the Spoils system, which supplies what may be called the fuel for stoking the furnace.
The second is the existence of opportunities for illicit gain which attach to the position of a legislator in a State or a city, and to many city official posts.
The third is the multiplicity of elections, so confusing to the ordinary man that he needs to be told for whom, among a large number of names on the ticket, he is to cast his vote, and involving such a mass of organizing work that a large body of active workers, directed by superior officers, is needed to keep the party going and give it a chance of winning elections and rewarding its adherents with offices.
The fourth, itself partly due to the immense number of elections, has been the habit of voting at all elections the ticket of one or other of the National parties, whatever the local issues, a habit the more remarkable because few of the really significant issues coincide with the lines which divide the parties. To the rank and file party allegiance became a sort of religion, but one consisting in external observances rather than in feeling.
Reforms in The Method of Choosing State Officials
A capital fault of the electoral system has been the practice of requiring the citizens to vote at the same time for an enormous number of elective posts, Federal, State, and Municipal, the names of the candidates for all of these being on the same ballot-paper, with the inevitable result that the voters, unable to judge between the fit and the unfit, were obliged to vote as the party Organizations bade them. The remedy of placing these two latter elections at a different time from the Federal1 is open to the objection that the calling the citizens too often to the polls leads to abstentions. For State elections another expedient is available. It is to reduce the number of elective posts, transferring all but the most important of these to the nomination of the State Governor. To give to the voters the election of a State Secretary of State, who may in some States be little more than a head clerk, or of a Surveyor-General or State Printer, or State Superintendent of public instruction, is merely to hand over these posts as spoils to the party Machine, which puts on its ticket the men it selects for them. Better leave these offices to the appointment of the Governor, who will be responsible to the opinion of the people for the exercise of the function.1 The nominal power of the citizens when they have to mark a ballot-paper containing many names, only two or three of whom they know, acquires some reality when officials, whom the Governor can use as a sort of Cabinet, are appointed by him, for he is the one prominent figure whose action the public can watch, and who can be judged by the quality of the men he chooses as well as by the sort of work he does. This so-called “Short Ballot” movement, applicable also to municipal elections, has made great progress of late years. It deserves support, for the more the voting paper is reduced by taking out of it offices whose occupants can be as well or better chosen in some other way, the more efficiently can the voter discharge his functions.
The discontent which seeks to remedy economic hardships by using the State to oust the action of companies held to be oppressing the people has recently been found in a remarkable new departure made by North Dakota. There recently arose among the farmers, who constitute the majority of the inhabitants of this vast but thinly peopled State, a movement embodied in an organization called the People's Non-Partisan League, which captured the legislature and the governorship, ousting the old parties, and entrusted to State authorities the management of those branches of work in which the farmers are most interested, such as the running of grain elevators and the handling of freight consigned to Eastern markets. This experiment, prompted by a sense of grievances suffered — that, for instance, regarding the use of elevators was a very real one — is the boldest which any State has yet tried in the field of economic action. Europeans would call this State Socialism, but it is meant to be merely a practical attack on existing evils, and there is no sympathy, beyond that which one kind of discontent may have with another, between the Socialistic Communism of a theoretic European type and these landowning farmers who are thinking of their own direct interests. The movement has seemed to be spreading in the North-Western States; but it may not last.
Want of space forbids me to describe with the fulness its significance might demand another notable improvement in State Government which consists in a reorganization of the administrative departments, placing these under heads appointed by the Governor, making these heads into a sort of Cabinet (resembling the President's Cabinet in the National Government), which while discharging executive functions under his supervision can also act as his advisers on general policy. They are appointed by him, so that he is responsible to the people for their conduct; and they serve for the length of his term, but may be reappointed by his successor, as they will probably often be if they have “made good.” Each of them is also morally answerable to public opinion, because the scope of his work is clearly marked out. This reform is, or will be, in many States, accompanied by the presentation of an annual Budget setting forth in a clear and orderly form the items of revenue and expenditure.1 Five or six States have already adopted schemes of this nature, and others are following in their wake. The plan, while it reduces the undue number of popular elections, and conduces to economy and efficiency, has the further merit of strengthening the foundations of the Federal system by checking the tendency towards centralization, and by giving the State Governments a further hold on the people, stimulating their interest in honest non-partisan administration.2
For the Judiciary, though it is the branch of State government which most needs attention, the reform movement has not yet accomplished much. In some States terms of judicial service have been lengthened, larger salaries allotted to the judges of the higher courts, and efforts made to simplify procedure.1 So in some States there have been attempts to “take the Judiciary out of politics” by announcing that candidates for the Bench are not being run by the parties or included in the party ticket. But the plan of choosing State judges for life, or long terms, and giving the choice to a responsible Governor instead of to popular election, makes little way against the inveterate suspicion which assumes the Bench so likely to be influenced by the “interests” that the people must needs retain and frequently exercise the power of direct choice. In retaining it, the people defeat their own wishes wherever a Ring rules, because since it is to the King that the judge looks for re-election, he is more its servant than if he sat for life either by election or by appointment.
Reforms In City Government
It was in the cities, and especially the larger cities, that the reforming spirit found the grossest evils and the hardest tasks. Those evils, sprang from two sources, the defective forms of city government, and the power of the party system. The division of power and responsibility between an elected Mayor, elected municipal councils, and officials directly elected on the model of the State governments, offered abundant opportunities for peculation, corruption, and jobbery, offences it was hard to discover, and the blame for which it was even harder to fix. After many experiments, the view prevailed that simplicity was the best security: the functions of councils were narrowed and their power reduced, while that of the Mayor was increased by entrusting appointments to him and giving him a general responsibility for the control of affairs. Along with this the pernicious practice of interfering by State statutes with municipal governments was checked and the principle of “Home Rule for Cities” largely enforced. This concentration of power in a Mayor, tried in various forms, gave good results whenever the “better element” among the voters could be worked up to rise out of their apathy and vote for a strong and honest man irrespective of party affiliations.1
Before this improvement had spread widely another plan was invented, which the reformers seized upon and used to good purpose. First tried at Galveston in Texas, where a tidal wave had destroyed half the city and driven the citizens to extemporize some plan for rapid reconstruction, it worked so well as to excite general attention, and was adopted by a large number of cities both great and small. Under this plan the whole body of citizens elect a small body of persons, varying, in different cities, from three to nine, the most frequent number being five, as Commissioners to take charge of the chief branches of municipal administration, one branch being specially allotted to each. The terms of office vary from city to city, two or four years being the most frequent. Usually one of the Commissioners (or Council) bears the title of Mayor, but his powers are much less wide than have been those of nearly every Mayor under the older scheme. The election works best when made by a general vote over the whole city and not by wards. Now and then there is a “freak election,” but on the whole the men chosen are capable and honest. The principle of accountability yields its appropriate fruit, for the officials are made more fully responsible to the people than when they are subordinated to a city legislature, perhaps so numerous that it is difficult to fix blame on any members in particular. The ordinary administrative work is better done, especially when the Commissioner at the head of a department works it by experts whom he chooses, and the blame for jobs is more readily fixed on the person in whose department they occur. A new development of this form has been to appoint five directors of city affairs, taken from the prominent commercial men of the city, at small salaries, empowering them to engage and pay salaries larger than their own to business managers as heads of the city departments, or even to commit the whole administrative work to a single highly paid “City Manager” under the control, in matters of policy, of the Commission, or other supreme elective authority, whatever name it may bear. This plan, being believed to save money and promote efficiency as well as to take the city offices out of politics, has found much favour and been widely adopted.1 It is the latest word in municipal reform.
I have dwelt upon these details, some of which may have little interest for the European reader, because they indicate the active spirit of reform which has arisen in America, where for many years people had “let things slide,” and also for the sake of showing how public opinion can effect reforms outside the parties and with no help from them, relying solely on the appeal to reason and a sense of civic duty. These victories for good government were won in principle before legislatures began to carry them out by law.
Direct Legislation by The People
From the attempt to mend the party system I pass to a change of wider import for the world at large, a reform which cuts deep into the framework of representative government. The faults of nearly all State Legislatures, such as corruption, log-rolling, the passing of laws at the instance of powerful corporations, and the “side tracking” by the intrigues of the liquor trade or other selfish interests of bills for effecting social and moral reforms, have long excited popular displeasure. The first remedy applied was the imposition of constitutional restrictions on the powers of the Legislature. Sessions were shortened and made less frequent, while public opinion more and more encouraged Governors to veto bad bills and to coerce the legislatures into passing those which the reformers demanded. These modes of action proved insufficient, because constitutional restrictions could be evaded. However few or short the sessions might be, the legislatures found time to play their old tricks, for the members were no better, and the temptations offered to them increased with the wealth of the tempters and the value of the benefits they intrigued to secure. The more drastic method sought for was ultimately found by the bolder Western States in the supersession of legislatures by the direct action of the whole body of citizens when invited either to enact laws at the initiative of some among their own number, or vote on the acceptance or rejection of laws which the legislature has passed. These methods are called the Initiative and the Referendum. With them a third scheme has also been brought forward and adopted in some States. This is the Recall of legislators, officials, and judges by a popular vote before the expiry of the term of office for which they were elected. As this last affects not merely the Legislative but also the Executive and Judicial departments of government, I reserve an account of it till the Initiative and Referendum have been dealt with.
The origin of the demand for Direct popular legislation is traceable to three sources.
First: A deep-rooted distrust of the State Legislatures as not truly representing and obeying the popular will, because they fail to pass bills which the people desire, and do pass bills which the people do not desire.
Secondly: Anger at and suspicion of the power of wealth, and especially of great incorporated companies which, by their influence over legislators, officials, and party organizations, are believed to oppress the people and to enrich themselves at its expense.
Thirdly: A desire on the part of certain sections of opinion to carry certain particular measures which — so these sections believe — could be carried by popular vote more easily than by pressing them on the Legislatures. Instances have been the Single Tax Law and, in some States, anti-liquor laws.
Fourthly: A faith in the wisdom and righteousness of the People which expects from their direct action better work for the community than can be had from persons chosen to represent them. It is thought that a sort of mystical sanctity not susceptible of delegation dwells in the Whole People. Its sacramental quality is deemed to be weakened in an attempt to transmit it, as if it were a wire so imperfectly conductive that the electric current was lost in transmission.
The idea of direct popular legislation is of course not new. From the early days of the Republic, Constitutions were enacted by popular vote, and the practice of amending them by submitting amendments, proposed by a Convention or by the Legislature to a vote of the whole State, has never been intermitted. Such a submission was in effect a Referendum similar to that of Switzerland; and it existed before the Swiss Confederation had begun to refer to the people bills passed by the Assembly.1 The two things that are new in American State practice are the provisions which allow private citizens to prepare and propose to the people, without the intervention of the legislature, a bill or an amendment to the State Constitution, and those which enable a prescribed number of private citizens to demand that an act passed by the legislature shall be submitted to the people for its approval or rejection. The former of these methods, the Initiative, was in the year 1919 in force in 19 States for laws and in 14 States for Constitutional Amendments, while the latter, the Referendum, was in use in 21 States. Most of the States exempt from the application of the Referendum any acts which the legislature may declare to be urgent, and this power was so often resorted to in Oregon that the Governor felt bound to check its abuse by vetoing some bills which contained an urgency clause not justified by the nature of the measure. The number of citizens who may submit an Initiative proposal varies in different States, ranging from 5 per cent to 15 per cent; and the number who may demand a Referendum varies from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. (There are States in which a fixed number is prescribed.) Many complaints have been made in some States regarding the methods employed to obtain signatures.2 Associations, some political, some consisting of interests that conceive themselves to he threatened, spend much effort and large sums in hiring persons who go round pressing citizens to sign, often paying them at the rate of five cents (twopence halfpenny) and upwards, for their names. The average cost of an Initiative petition in California is given as $7500 (£1500). It is admitted that many sign on the mere request, some who sign adding that they mean to vote against the proposal when the time comes. A more serious evil has been here and there discovered in the insertion of large numbers of forged or unreal signatures; and as an illegible signature is not held invalid, the temptation to resort to this form of fraud is obvious. “Log-rolling” between the promoters of different proposals intended to be submitted at the same time is common.1
Little or no distinction is made in practice between the use of the Initiative in the form of an Amendment to the Constitution and in the form of the proposal of an ordinary law, so matters which properly belong to the category of Laws are constantly put into the form of Amendments, because this places them, if carried, out of the reach of repeal or alteration by the legislature. The natural result is to fill the Constitution with all sorts of minor or even trivial provisions un-suited to what was originally meant to be a Fundamental Instrument.2 This process had, however, already gone so far as to have practically effaced the distinction between the two kinds of enactment. A graver abuse is that of trying to mislead the people by hiding away some important change, likely to excite opposition, among other proposals calculated to win support, while describing the amendment by the name of one of these latter. This trick has been attempted in Oregon. Many proposals made, and some adopted, are what Americans call “Freak Legislation,” originating in the “fads” of small sections of the citizens, lightly accepted under the pressure of zealous advocates, and likely to be before long repealed. Moreover, the amendments and bills submitted are often so unskilfully drawn as to be obscure or even self-contradictory. But in both these respects popular action is hardly worse than has been that of the legislatures, for the latter frequently pass freak bills, at the instance of some persistent group, merely to escape further worry, and many statutes have been so loosely expressed as to keep the Courts busy in trying to give them a rational interpretation.
For the guidance of the citizens summoned to vote on amendments or bills a pamphlet is in some States circulated by the State authorities containing the arguments adduced by promoters and opponents respectively. These documents have in Oregon, where they are published fifty-five days before the voting, run to a length so great as to deter all but the most conscientious citizens from studying them. They are generally well composed, though with occasional lapses from truth in the statement of facts. The more important propositions to be voted on are copiously discussed in the press and sometimes at public meetings, yet one is told that only a small percentage attend the meetings or follow the discussions. The average citizen who goes unprepared to the poll often takes up his voting paper in doubt and great perplexity, so large is the number of issues presented. At the election of 1912 Oregon set no less than thirty before him,1 in addition to the names, often numerous, of the candidates for offices or seats in the Legislature. Colorado and California have sometimes laid nearly as heavy a burden on their citizens. How can any man, however able and earnest, think out and give an intelligent vote on half of issues so numerous, some of the Bills being intricate and technical, some relating to matters outside the range of his knowledge. The voter, if he does not modestly abstain, or in a fit of temper write “No” against every proposition, must be guided by what he has heard from some one else, perhaps no better informed. The ballot he marks conveys no judgment that can be called his own. But it was to elicit the judgment of each individual citizen that the plan of Direct Popular Legislation was devised.
As to the practical results of the system, the evidence is conflicting. The only incontestable data are those furnished by the figures showing the number of proposals submitted to the people, the total number of persons who vote, and the majorities for or against each proposition. Space fails me for these; but the general result may be briefly stated.1 The votes cast are usually much smaller than those cast at the same time for the State Governor or other chief officials to be elected at the same polls, and bear a still smaller proportion to the number of registered voters. In Colorado the percentage of voters on an Initiative has sunk as low as less than half of the largest number voting at the same time. In Oregon and California it is higher, but everywhere it indicates that the people take more interest in, or have a clearer view regarding, the choice of men than the enactment of laws.2 The same holds good as to the Referendum, which in these States is less used than the Initiative, whereas in Switzerland the reverse is the case. Many proposals have been carried by a majority consisting of less than half the registered voters. Some complain of this as being anything but “majority rule,” but others retort that those who fail to vote have only themselves to blame. Roughly speaking, the number of Initiative proposals rejected is slightly larger than that of those accepted, and the same holds true of the Referendum.3
The other arguments most frequently used against Direct Legislation, especially in Oregon, which has experimented more boldly than any other State, may be summed up as follows:4
One argument only, an argument formerly used by Swiss opponents of the Initiative, is never heard in Western America. No one alleges that the people in judging of proposals laid before them by the Initiative lose the enlightenment that might have been derived from debates on it in the legislatures, for nobody, except as Mark Twain said, a person suffering from senile decay, reads those debates.
The friends of the Initiative reply to these strictures by insisting that it brings government nearer to the people; that it prevents the legislature from refusing to submit to the people reforms which a large section desire; that it takes legislation out of those committee rooms and purlieus of the legislature where private interests intrigue with pliable members; that it gives measures a chance of being considered on their merits apart from the influence of political parties and their Bosses; that it is necessary in order to carry out schemes of social welfare; and that the opposition to popular legislation is led by selfish plutocrats who fear that business would suffer from those reforming schemes which the people would enact if they could give prompt and direct effect to their will. They point to the fact that no State which has once adopted the Initiative and Referendum has repealed either, or seems likely to do so. Such defects as have been revealed in working are, they affirm, due to inexperience, and will disappear as political education advances.
True it is that the people relish their power and are unlikely to relinquish it; nor can it be doubted that the habit of frequently voting on many kinds of questions does stimulate thought and strengthen a sense of civic responsibility, for though many vote heedlessly, and many more are unfit from want of knowledge to vote on most of the propositions submitted, there are enough left whose sharpened intelligence tends to permeate the mass and raise the level of political capacity. It is a noteworthy illustration of the trend of public feeling that in 1918 the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts, after a very long and exhaustive discussion of the subject,1 recommended to the people the enactment of both Initiative and Referendum, though in a form less wide than that which the Western States have employed. Nobody can think of Massachusetts as what Americans call a “Wild Cat State.” Her Western sisters would rather describe her as a sedate old tabby; so her adhesion to this new idea is good evidence of the hold it has laid on the national mind.
As in a later chapter the general merits of Direct Legislation by the People will be discussed on the basis both of Swiss and of American experience, a few brief observations may be enough to sum up the results as visible in the United States.
In those States which have used the Initiative most freely, many amendments and laws passed have been clumsy and confused, raising difficulties of interpretation, and some enactments carried have been, so far as a stranger can judge, unnecessary or unwise.
The character of the State legislatures has become neither worse nor better by the lessening of their powers. It is alleged, though with what truth I do not venture to pronounce, that the fear of the Referendum prevents many bad Bills from being passed. Yet one also hears that members still job when they can.
Some measures which well deserved consideration and which the legislatures had failed to pass have been submitted by Initiative, and some jobs which the legislatures were likely to perpetrate have been prevented. The people have, considering the number and the intricacy of many of the questions submitted, shown more care and discrimination than was predicted by the opponents of the Initiative. They have rejected not a few extreme and ill-considered proposals, and, although less conservative than the Swiss, who use the Initiative less, they do not make it an instrument of revolution. Mistakes have been made, some of which, as shown by subsequent reversals, are recognized as mistakes, yet no State appears to have suffered permanent injury.
The application of the Initiative might be safeguarded by provisions excluding it from topics outside the knowledge or experience of the citizens at large, such as details of judicial procedure; and by forbidding more than a small number to be submitted at the same voting.1 Moreover, the form in which proposals are put to the vote could be improved by previously submitting these to draftsmen qualified to bring them into an intelligible shape, free from the vagueness, confusion of thought, and obscurity of expression charged against them.
It need hardly be said that the experience of American States even so large as Ohio and Michigan, throws little light on the suitability to the great countries of Europe of either Initiative or Referendum.
Not less significant of the spirit which seeks to cure by the direct action of the people the misuse of delegated authority is the institution, new to modern politics,1 which is called the Recall. It extends that action from the legislative into the executive and judicial spheres, empowering the citizens to remove by popular vote, before the expiry of his term, a person who has been chosen to fill the post of a representative, of an administrative official, or of a judge, and thereupon to proceed to the election of another to fill the place from which the deposed occupant has by transgression fallen. The Oregon law — for there are differences between the laws of different States, though the general effect is similar — provides that where a prescribed percentage of citizens in any local elective area have signed a petition demanding a vote on the dismissal of an official, such a vote shall, unless the official promptly resigns, be forthwith taken. If the vote is taken and goes against him, a fresh vote is thereupon held for the election of his successor for the unexpired residue of his term. This procedure has during the last few years been applied in a good many cases, chiefly in cities for the displacement of a Mayor or some other administrative officer, very rarely to displace a member of a legislature. It has in a few cases been abused, from motives of personal enmity. But there have more frequently been grounds for a belief that the official impugned was perverting his functions for selfish ends, and the vote has in most of such cases ejected him. The arguments used against the Recall are obvious. It will — so the opponents declare — create in officials a timorous and servile spirit. Executive authority will be weakened, for every official will be at the mercy of any agitation started against him, possibly supported by groundless allegations in the press. A Governor or Mayor will hesitate to deal firmly with a strike riot, lest labour leaders should threaten a proposal to depose him; or he may be attacked in respect of some administrative decision which, though taken for the general good, displeases any section of the citizens. A courageous official striving to protect a city against the Interests is no less exposed to such charges than is the corrupt official whom the Interests have captured, for the interests themselves may start a campaign against him. Few will be strong enough to stand up against such tactics: public-spirited men will refuse to accept office, and reformers be less than ever disposed to enter political life. The experiment has not been tried long enough to enable these predictions to be tested. There have been instances in which the Recall has worked well, especially as against a corrupt Mayor, but the older and more cautious States have hitherto looked askance at it. Massachusetts rejected it when she accepted the Initiative.1
So far of the Recall as applied to administrative officials and representatives. A wider question is raised by its application to judges, for this is advocated not only for the sake of ridding the community of a bad magistrate, but also for another reason peculiar to the United States. Statutes passed by a State Legislature being inferior in authority both to the Constitution of the United States and to the State Constitution, may, if and so far as they transgress either of those instruments, be pronounced invalid by a Court of Law. This is the duty of the Court as the authorized interpreter of the laws which are alleged to be in conflict, and the views of the judges as to the intrinsic merits of the statute have nothing to do with the matter. Now it sometimes happens that when a Court, in a case raising the point, decides a State statute to be invalid because it transgresses the State Constitution, there is an angry outcry from those who procured its enactment, as, for instance, from farmers or handworkers. Complaints arise that the judges are over-technical or old-fashioned, or that they are moved by class prejudice, or perhaps even that they have been “got at” by incorporated companies whose interests as employers would suffer from the statute.
It is partly a deficient respect for the judiciary in general, partly this resentment at decisions which cut down statutes popular with some section of the citizens, that have produced a demand for the power of dismissing a judge before the expiry of his term. Why, it is asked, should not the people who have chosen the judge be able to unmake him so soon as he has lost their confidence? The legal method of removing is by impeachment, but, apart from the uncertainty of a trial, you cannot impeach a man for having interpreted a law in a particular sense.1 Popular feeling calls for something prompter and more flexible, in order to secure that the judge shall be in harmony with that feeling. This demand, which in a few States derives strength from the belief that there are judges in office fit for nothing but to be turned out of office, has secured the embodiment in the constitutions of some Western States of amendments providing that a judge may, like any other official, be “recalled” by a popular vote taken upon a requisition signed by a prescribed number of voters in the area for which he has been elected.2 The plan has evoked strong disapproval from the bulk of the legal profession, especially in the more conservative States. All the arguments against Recall in general apply with special force to a method which would subject the Bench to popular caprice and prevent the best men from consenting to sit on it. Such opposition led to a proposal put forward as an alternative compromise. Instead of getting rid of the judge whose decision is disapproved, why not get rid of the decision by enabling the public through a vote to reverse the decision and declare that the law does not transgress the Constitution and shall accordingly be deemed valid? 3 As the people — so it is argued — have enacted the Constitution, why should not they be the best judges of what they meant by its terms? Such a Recall of Decisions would be a shorter and simpler process than that of amending the State Constitution, and would give effect to the purpose with which a statute was passed without dismissing the judges who delivered the decision, delivering it in good faith, but with minds warped by their professional love of technicality.4
So far of the State Courts. Bold apostles of change desire to apply this device even to the Federal Courts, whose decisions have from time to time limited the operation of acts of Congress, passed to gratify what was thought to be, a popular demand, even when the constitutional power to pass them was more than doubtful. At the election of 1896 certain radical politicians argued that the interpreting power of the Supreme Court should be reduced, and more recently it was proposed to amend the Federal Constitution by inserting a provision permitting the people to reverse interpretative decisions of that Court.
These proposed changes, both as respects the States, in some of which they have been effected, and as regards the National Government, in which they have been generally disapproved, are of far-reaching significance, for they affect the foundations of the Frame of Government. A Constitution is the expression of the settled and permanent will of the people, reached after full deliberation, and expressed in a carefully considered form. The true meaning of such an instrument is a matter of legal construction fit only for minds trained by learning and practice. To allow a majority of persons voting at the polls, by a vote taken hastily and possibly in an excited mood, to over-rule the interpretation which these trained minds had given, would not only introduce confusion into the law, but also destroy the utility of constitutions.1 The legitimate authority and regular application of the Constitution, as a supreme law, would be gone, and questions involving both personal rights and rights of property, as guaranteed by the Nation and the States, would be placed at the mercy of chance majorities, who would think only of the particular case, not of the general principles involved. Such a majority might, moreover, be a minority of the whole body of citizens, voters brought to the polls by the exertions of an eager section, while the bulk stayed away indifferent. Thus regarded, the Recall of Judicial Decisions might, if less' dangerous to the Bench, be more dangerous to the general scheme of government than the Recall of Judges, and would virtually destroy what has been one of America's chief contributions to the art of orderly government.
This outline of the forms which efforts for the bettering of political conditions have been taking indicate not only the present tendencies of democracy but also the difficulties incident to movements of reform in an enormous country where organized and responsible leadership may at any given moment be wanting. Plans put forward are not always the fruit of mature reflection. The remedies suggested are often crude, and may be as bad as the disease they are meant to cure. Popular Initiative in legislation may seem needed where a legislature is corrupt, but it strikes a blow at representative government. The Recall of administrative officials and judges are a confession that the direct election of officials works little better than the election of legislators has worked; so the critic asks why, if the people are heedless in exercising their power of choosing men for administrative and judicial work, should they be less heedless in exercising a power of dismissal. The Direct Primary, from which much was hoped, has annoyed the professional politicians and driven them to new devices, but it has not, so far, sterilized the bacilli of the party Machine nor secured appreciably better nominations. These schemes of reform deal rather with the symptoms of the malady than with its root in the indifference, or subservience to party, of a large part of the voters. To raise the standard of civic duty is a harder and longer task than to alter institutions.
Nevertheless, every effort, even if imperfectly successful, to improve machinery which has worked ill, is an evidence of healthy discontent. The present generation will not tolerate evils which the last generation bore submissively. Fifty years ago administration was worse and politics more corrupt than they are to-day, but reformers were fewer and found far fewer listeners. To-day they are heard gladly, because the public conscience and the public sense of what America means for the world is more sensitive. Every fresh effort stimulates these feelings and keeps the need for improvement before the minds of those who lead. When I compare the volume of discussion of political, social, and economic subjects which issues from the American press today, descriptions of present evils, analyses of their sources, suggestions for their extinction, with the scanty consideration these matters formerly received, and with the spirit of lugubrious despondency that chilled the reformers of those days, I am astonished at the change, and welcome it as auguring well for future progress.
General Review of American Democracy
We may now review and sum up the points in which defects have revealed themselves in the working of popular government in America, indicating the causes to which each of these defects is attributable and dwelling on some of the lessons which American experience provides for the instruction of other countries, lessons that may be profitable for a time which sees many old institutions thrown into the melting-pot, and sees many peoples trying to replace them by something better.
To what cause shall we attribute each of these failures of democratic practice to attain the standard required by democratic theory? Has it lain in some misconception or misuse of democratic principles, or is it to be found in the emergence of unforeseen economic phenomena which have injured the working of institutions sound enough in principle, but not built to bear the new strain? After indicating in each case the proximate cause of the defects noted, we can enquire what relation such cause bears to the fundamental doctrines of Popular Government.
Some of the causes I have indicated are the outcome of phenomena with which democracy has nothing to do. A new land with immense sources of undeveloped wealth, in creating opportunities for swiftly acquiring wealth, creates temptations larger than the virtue of European legislators has had to resist. The vast areas and scanty population of many Western States make the maintenance of law and order by an efficient police more difficult than it is in Europe. The flooding of cities by hosts of immigrants imposes unusually heavy tasks upon municipal governments. Thus the defects that have been numbered (5), (6), (8), (9) and (10) are partly explicable by causes not political. So the portentous power of the party Organization owed its development to what may be called a historical and almost accidental cause, the absorption of men's minds in business during the years from 1830 to 1870 to an extent which made them neglect to notice weeds striking root so deeply that it became hard to rid the field of them. But the other defects are referable either to an undue confidence in the power of democratic principles to overcome the permanent weaknesses of human nature, or to the particular forms given to the institutions in which it was sought to apply those principles.
Take the doctrine of Equality in civil rights and political rights. It had to be asserted in 1776, and still more in France in 1789, as against the systems of privilege which then covered the world. But it was misconceived and misapplied when it induced the notion that any citizen was good enough for any public function, and when it refused deference and stinted honour to the occupants of high public posts. Thus the conception of public office as a public trust, worthy of respect because the people had committed to it a part of their power, was suffered to decline.
So the principle of the Sovereignty of the People was taken to require that the people should restrict as much as possible the functions of their legislatures, and should directly elect as many as possible of their officials. The application of this doctrine, along with the Equalitarian tendency already described, led directly to the popular election of judges and to the provisions (short terms and small salaries) which were intended to keep them in constant subservience to popular sentiment. The doctrine was further misapplied when taken to mean, not indeed by the founders of the Constitution, but by a later generation, that every human being has a natural and indefeasible right to share by his vote in the government of the country where he resides, irrespective of his fitness to use that right to the advantage of the community. Hence the fond illusion that to confer a right is to confer therewith the capacity to exercise it. In politics it is not false principles that have done most harm. It is the misconception of principles in themselves sound, prompting their hasty application without regard to the facts of each particular case.
Against the defects noted in the working of the American Government let us set some of the points in which democracy has shown its strength and attained a success the more remarkable because the Republic has been at times exposed to perils no one foresaw. Though its material progress must be mainly ascribed to the immense natural resources of the country and the stimulus their development has applied to an energetic and inventive race, much of its present greatness remains to be credited to the ideas with which the people started and to which they have sought to remain faithful. Americans have been true to the principle of Liberty in its social as well as its political sense. The right of the individual man to lead his own life in his own way is better recognized now than ninety years ago, when Tocqueville noted what he called the Tyranny of the Majority. Many regard the prohibition of intoxicating liquors as an infringement of these rights, but since the principle of protecting a man against his own propensities, when these are injurious to the community also, is deemed legitimate if sufficient grounds for legal interference have been shown, the question comes in each case to be what grounds are sufficient, and how to balance the admitted discomfort to some individuals who need no protection against the admitted benefit to others who do need it. The Prohibition movement has not proceeded from any one class or section of the community. Neither party took it up, because both feared to alienate a part of their supporters. It grew partly because employers thought it made for efficiency, partly perhaps because Southern men desired to stamp out the risks of intoxication which make the negro dangerous, but mainly because it appealed to the moral and religious sentiment of the plain people.
The love of peace and a respect for the rights of other nations have gone hand in hand with the love of liberty. Such aggressive tendencies as belonged to United States policy two generations ago have disappeared. The temptations to encroach upon Mexico have been resisted. No State possessed of gigantic power has shown in recent years so little disposition to abuse it.
If a faith in the doctrines of political equality has been pushed too far in some directions, it has in others worked for good, preventing the growth of class distinctions and enmities, and enjoining a respect for the lawful claims of every section in the community which gives to the nation a unity and solidarity of incomparable value. This was most conspicuously seen in the quickness with which the Northern and Southern States became reconciled when the first ten years of resettlement after the War of Secession had passed. To this solidarity has been due the stability of American institutions. No great State has suffered less, perhaps none so little, from the shocks of change. Almost the only revolutionaries are those who bring from Europe a bitter fanaticism born of resentment at injuries suffered there.
The risks arising from the presence of masses of immigrants, many of whom cannot speak or read English, and the majority of whom, possessing no experience of constitutional government, have not had time to acquire a knowledge of the institutions they are admitted to bear a share in working, cannot be discussed here, and it may not yet be possible to form positive conclusions on the subject. The argument used to defend the policy of extending the suffrage to them has been that since they are in the country, the sooner they are made to feel themselves at home in it the better, for they might be more dangerous if left unenfranchised. It is, however, to be remembered that, enfranchised or not, they are specially liable to be led astray by misrepresentations and demagogic incitements, and that the influence of native American opinion has not yet been able to play fully upon them. The danger, whatever it may be, to be apprehended from their voting power, will probably be slighter in the next generation, which will have been to some extent Americanized by the public schools and other assimilative influences.
To the peaceable fruits of democracy above described let us add the education in political thought and practice which democratic institutions have been giving. Though the citizens have not rendered all the civic service which those institutions demand, the deficiency seems great only in proportion to the greatness of that demand. If we test their fairness and good sense not by an ideal standard, but by what is seen in other free countries, we shall find that nowhere (except in Switzerland) is a sane, shrewd, tolerant type of political opinion so widely diffused through the whole native population. There have been more learned men in the great European countries. There have been in those countries as many men who have thought and written wisely on political subjects. What is peculiar to America, and what makes its political strength, is the practical good sense and discriminative insight of the native citizens taken in bulk, qualities which appear not so much in their judgment of ideas or proposals — for they are, like other nations, liable to be fascinated by phrases or captured by fallacies — as in their judgment of men. Nowhere does there exist so large a percentage who have an opinion, and can say why they have an opinion, regarding the merits of a question or of politicians. In listening to their talk one is struck by their shrewdness in “sizing up” (as they say) a statesman, and estimating his courage, honesty, and power of “getting there.” To judge well of men is, in a democracy, more essential than to judge well of measures, for the latter requires more knowledge than can be expected from the average man, who must be mainly guided by his leaders. In no form of government therefore is the faculty to choose leaders wisely so much needed.
Some other conclusions, drawn from American experience, may be suggested as fit to be considered in other countries, especially in those States of the Old World which are now (1920) making their first essays in popular government.
It is not wise to overburden the people with functions to be frequently exercised. If too much is expected from them the results obtained are scantier than they would have been had less been demanded. Citizens required to vote incessantly between candidates of whom they know little or nothing, will end either by neglecting to vote or by blindly following the party lead. Few of those who are frequently summoned to the polls to deliver an opinion on a crowd of candidates as well as on matters submitted by Initiative or Referendum possess the knowledge to cast a well-considered vote or the leisure to acquire that knowledge. Votes so delivered do not truly express the opinion of a community.
The effective control of administration by the people is not necessarily secured by the direct election of officials, not even when elected for short terms. If seven officials have to be chosen for various administrative posts, the voters, unable from want of knowledge to select, will vote for those whom their party recommends. But if one head official is to be elected, and the selection of the other six who are to be his subordinates is left to him, with the power of dismissal if they fail to make good, responsibility will attach to him. It will be his duty to find good men, and his own conduct in office will be judged by his selections and by their discharge of their functions. The people will, through their right to call him to account, exercise a more real power than if they chose all their officials by direct vote. The fixing of responsibility upon the agents of the people, whether for administration or for legislation, is specially needed in a democracy. In a monarchy or an oligarchy there is little difficulty, for power is concentrated in few hands. Such governments as those of France or Canada, framed on the British model and having grown up out of monarchies, throw responsibility on the Cabinet, a small body, which leads in legislation as well as administration. But in the United States power is so much divided between public authorities each independent of the others, that it is hard to find any to whom praise or blame can be definitely allotted except the President as respects the Union, and the State Governor as respects his State. Each of these, moreover, is so restricted by Congress (or the State legislature) that it might be unfair to charge on either what was perhaps the fault of the legislators. Very often real authority dwells not with any official or body but with the party Organization which secretly controls officials and legislatures. Being a government outside the law, legally responsible to no one, and scarcely even morally responsible for those who control it, it may work in darkness and remain unknown except to a few behind the scenes. But within the Organization, responsibility exists, for in that well-compacted oligarchy there are always some few fit to comand the many who obey.
The founders of the American Constitution feared to entrust huge powers to one hand, and in creating a President they imposed a check upon him, finding that check in the Senate. They did well, for they could not foresee that a check and guide wiser and stronger than the Senate would ultimately grow up in the power of public opinion. In France there is still some dread of one strong magistrate, for the republic has seemed not yet absolutely secure, and public opinion is too deeply divided on some great issues to play the part it plays in America, where the Frame of Government stands “firm as Ailsa Craig.” Opinion is in the United States so sure of its strength that it does not hesitate to let the President exceed his constitutional rights in critical times. It was the same with the dictatorship in the earlier days of the Roman Republic and for a like reason.
Free peoples, like those of Switzerland, Canada, and Australasia, do not need to be reminded of the value of traditions and of training in self-government, but those new States which are only now beginning their free constitutional life have still their traditions to make, and may profit by American experience, finding in it many things to imitate and some things to beware of. They can learn the importance of cultivating from the first those habits of strictly observing constitutional forms, and that respect for every legal right of every citizen and class of citizens which have built up for America, as for Switzerland, the principles that guard freedom and secure internal peace. These habits were formed in the field of local government before any national government was created, and in that field also the new States may profit by American and Swiss examples. Politics should not be allowed to become a source of private gain. The salaries paid to administrative officials must be sufficient to secure the abilities which each particular kind of work requires; and all officials, except the few at the top who must from time to time be chosen as chiefs to direct general policy, ought to stand apart from party politics and be neither chosen nor dismissed for their opinions, but required to serve the country and their departmental heads with equal loyalty whatever party may be in power. The neglect of this principle was a fertile source of mischief in America, and the recent disposition to respect it is becoming one of the best auguries for purity and good administration in the future.
All the democratic peoples may learn from America that no class in the community can with impunity withdraw from active participation in its political life. In the United States the business and professional classes did not indeed withdraw, for they voted with their party and subscribed to its funds. But they did not take the share that naturally belonged to them in the work either of political thinking or of legislation or of administration. Not many entered the Legislatures; few were candidates for any but the highest posts; few gave their minds to the solution of the social and economic as well as political problems that were thickening on the country. This aloofness contributed to bring about that degradation of politics, and especially of city politics, from which the country has now begun to recover. A new spirit is happily now visible; such non-partisan bodies as the Good Citizens' Clubs and Civic Federations, and on some occasions the Bar Associations, the Chambers of Commerce, and the University Clubs have become potent agencies for reform, and for the promotion of social betterment in the interest of all classes alike.
There are clouds in the American sky to-day, threatening labour troubles such as exist in other great industrial countries; and if I have not discussed them here, it is not from any failure to note them, but because they are in substance the same as those which vex the internal peace of European States. These troubles are in the United States rather imported than of native growth. Comparatively few of the extremist advocates of the General Strike and the Class War are of American birth; most of the votes which support them come from recent immigrants crowded into the great cities. America is better fitted than are European countries to face any industrial strife that may arise, for no other people, except the Swiss, values so highly its institutions and the principles of ordered liberty embodied therein. In America Democracy has been the best guarantee against Revolution.
The history of the Republic furnishes an instructive example of the perpetual conflict between the forces of Idealism and the forces of Selfishness. The first generation set out with an idealistic faith in Liberty, in Equality, and in the Wisdom of the People. The second and third generations, absorbed by the passion for the development of their country's resources and distracted by the struggle over negro slavery, allowed abuses and corruptions to grow up, left practical politics to be dominated by a self-constituted oligarchy of professionals, and without losing their theoretical devotion to Liberty forgot that monarchs are not its only enemies, and that it may be threatened by money as well as by arms. Then in the fourth and fifth generations there came an awakening. The recuperative forces in the nation reasserted themselves. Both the old parties (so far as their Organizations went) failed to give the guidance needed, and there was much groping and stumbling in the search for remedies to cure the evils which all had begun to perceive. But the forces that were making for good have continued to gain strength. The old ideals of a government which shall be pure as well as popular, and shall unite the whole people in a disinterested patriotism that values national righteousness as well as national greatness, have again become beacon lights of inspiration.
No Englishman who remembers American politics as they were half a century ago, and who, having lived in the United States, has formed an affection as well as an admiration for its people,— what Englishman who lives there can do otherwise? — will fail to rejoice at the many signs that the sense of public duty has grown stronger, that the standards of public life are steadily rising, that democracy is more and more showing itself a force making for ordered progress, true to the principles of Liberty and Equality from which it sprang.
There were very few negroes in the North, though slavery existed in 1783 in all States except Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and possibly (for the point seems doubtful) in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The European Wars, which began in 1792 and ended in 1814, raised controversies with Britain which culminated in the war of 1812–14, but thereafter questions of foreign policy affected but slightly the politics and general constitutional development of America down till our own time.
This outline of the scheme of American government is given in order to enable those readers who have not time to study the Federal and State Constitutions to understand the institutional conditions under which democracy works and which have influenced countries so different as Switzerland, Australia, and Argentina.
Mr. Elihu Root in an admirable little book entitled, Experiments in Government and the Essentials of the Constitution (1913).
There have been a few cases in which there was no direct popular enactment. See the author's American Commonwealth, vol. i. chap. xxxvii.
There is also usually a Lieutenant-Governor, who succeeds to the Governor if the latter dies or resigns, and who, in some States, presides over the Senate.
“City” is the term used in the United States to describe any community organized as a municipality.
One of these transfers the right of choosing senators from the Legislatures to the Peoples of the States, another forbids the production and sale of intoxicating liquors, and a third extends the suffrage to women over the whole Union.
In S. Carolina and Mississippi it was in 1911 rather more than half.
They may be elected either by a “general ticket” vote over the whole State or in districts, according to the laws of each State. But the “general ticket” system is now universal.
But whereas Congress possesses only such powers as have been expressly granted, a State legislature possesses all that have not been expressly withheld.
Many have recently come from Western Asia also.
The improvement in the condition of the poorer class has, however, more than kept pace with the growth of millionaires, and it may be doubted whether these will be so numerous and play so large a part in the future as they have done during the last half-century. It is not true to say of America that the poor are poorer and the rich richer, for the number of persons moderately well off increases faster in proportion than does that of the wealthy, and the total wealth of the nation becomes more widely diffused.
There were about 150,000 Germans in Pennsylvania, but the other small non-British elements had been pretty thoroughly Americanized by 1789.
This was, however, never the ease in the “Towns,” the smallest areas of local self-government, and is not so generally the case in local bodies to-day as it was forty years ago.
The phrase, “the spoils to the victors,” was first used by Marcy of New York, who described it as the practice in force in his State. It had been disapproved of in principle by the statesmen of the first generation, such as Jefferson and Madison, who saw its dangers, and desired to give the holders of Federal offices a permanent tenure. But President Jackson employed it freely, and the general treatment of offices as spoils dates from his time, 1829–1837.
In some States it is only the larger areas that have Committees, the county being the most important one after that for the State. There is also a permanent Congressional Committee appointed by members of the two Houses from their own number.
This part of the work has, however, now generally passed to the officials who superintend elections. Party processions, once extensively used, are obsolescent.
The State Convention has now been in many States abolished by recent legislation, but while it existed it was an important part of the machinery. Sometimes, as in New York City, there may be a Primary for an Assembly District and in small cities a Primary may suffice for the whole city. It would be impossible to present, within reasonable limits, an account of the arrangements now in force in the several States, for these are nearly everywhere regulated by statutes, which vary from State to State. Federal legislation does not touch the subject.
Professor H. J. Ford, Rise and Growth of American Politics, p. 312.
Although large gatherings claiming to speak on behalf of each party meet annually, little weight attaches (except in the case of the Labour or Socialist parties, virtually without authoritative personal leadership) to their deliverances.
The Republican party was founded in 1854 on the ruins of the crumbling Whig party, and maintained the two-party tradition.
It is related that a noted politician, who was surveying the landscape from the back platform of a railroad car in motion, was warned by the coloured porter that he must not stand there, and when he remarked that he thought a platform was meant to stand on, the darky replied, “Oh no, sah, a platform ain't meant to stand on. It's meant to get in on.”
Thus in 1896 the “Free Silver” Democrats crushed opposition, and (for a time) drove the Gold Standard men out of the party, just as, after 1903, the Protectionists expelled the Free Trade men from the Conservative party in England.
Nevertheless, a State Governor, though the choice of his party and presumably entitled to the support of his party friends in the legislature, may have less power than the State Boss who holds in his hands the threads of the Organization.
In 1919 eleven States had given the suffrage to women, viz. Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, N. Dakota, S. Dakota, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, California, New York, Massachusetts.
As a rule, a citizen can in the United States vote only in one place, that where he resides and pays local taxes.
A remarkable instance occurred very recently at a senatorial election.
This number is enormous. In the sixty-second Congress (1913) it had reached 29,000 in the House of Representatives and 9000 in the Senate. Few pass.
As is well observed by Prof. Gannaway (Comparative Free Government, pp. 129–130), this 17th Amendment finally disposed of the old theory, which, however, had scarcely counted in later practice, that a Senator represents his State as a distinct political entity. But it does not affect the justice of Mr. Woodrow Wilson's remark that the equal representation of States in the Senate has had the excellent result of securing full expression of the wishes of the less populous and especially the newer regions of the country. Under an election by large districts based on population these regions would have been virtually swamped.
The “senatorial primaries” to be hereafter mentioned have increased the fatigue and expense of a candidacy.
After closure has been imposed each speech is limited to one hour. This rule leaves an opening for filibustering when undertaken in the interests of a minority amounting to one-third.
Some instructive facts regarding the Pork Barrel and the amazing expenditure of public money in appropriations for local purposes and in the distribution of pensions by private or special Bills (as distinct from the general Pensions Acts) may be found in the National Municipal Review for December 1919 in an article entitled Pork.
The voting is by States, each having as many votes as it has representatives and senators, and the smallest majority in a State is sufficient to give all the votes of that State (New York has 45 and Pennsylvania 38) to the candidate who has carried it; New York and Ohio have long been doubtful States: Pennsylvania safely Republican ever since the Civil War.
“The Convention picks out a party leader from the body of the nation, not that it expects its nominee to direct the interior government of the party, but that it expects him to represent it before public opinion and to stand before the country as its represenative man, a true type of what the country may expect of the party itself in purpose and principle. … There is no national party choice except that of President. No one else represents the people as a whole, exercising a national choice, and inasmuch as his strictly executive duties are in fact subordinated so far as all detail is concerned, the President represents not so much the party's governing efficiency as its controlling ideas and principles. He is not so much part of its organization as its vital link of connection with the thinking nation. … His is the only national voice in affairs. … His position takes the imagination of the country."—Constitutional Government in the United States by Mr. Woodrow Wilson (then President of Princeton University), published in 1908.
This term conveys the same idea as the Italian word papabili, used of men who may be thought of for the Popedom.
A full description of the National Convention may be found in American Commonwealth, vol. ii. chaps, lxix. and lxx.
Recently the laws of some States have superseded the choice of delegates by a State Convention, and have provided for “Preferential Primary” elections, which are not private party meetings but public votings by ballot, at which the party voters in the State are given an opportunity of declaring their preference for a particular aspirant as the person to be chosen by their delegates as the party candidate. This effort to place the choice of a candidate in the people's hands has, however, not so far worked perfectly, for, apart from other objections, it does not meet the difficulty that circumstances may so change before, or in the course of, the sittings of the National Convention that the chances of the aspirant indicated may have been reduced, perhaps to a vanishing point. It has, moreover, developed the practice of starting preliminary popular campaigns in behalf of particular aspirants, a process which may involve heavy expenditure. In the National Convention of 1916 not much regard, and in that of 1920 (when these Primaries were used in twenty States) still less regard was paid to the preferences declared. Many think the plan a failure.
“In the view of the makers of the Constitution the President was to be legal executive; perhaps the leader of the nations; certainly not the leader of the party, at any rate while in office. But by the operation of forces inherent in the very nature of Government he has become all three, and by inevitable consequence the most heavily burdened officer in the world” (Constitutional Government in the U.S., already quoted).
As to the conduct of foreign affairs by the joint action of the President and the Senate, see American Commowealth, vol. i. chaps. vi. and xi. The plan of the U.S. Constitution does not work smoothly, for the Senate has frequently rejected treaties negotiated by Presidents, but neither has any other plan given satisfaction in other constitutional countries, for though wherever, as in France, Italy and England, a Ministry leads a Parliamentary majority, that majority almost invariably accepts the engagements contracted by the Ministry, these engagements are sometimes distasteful to the people, and shake such confidence as it may have in the Ministry.
A very recent decision of the Supreme Court has declared invalid one of the laws, adopted in some Southern States, which had the effect of excluding a number of coloured citizens from the Suffrage, but it remains to be seen what practical effect this decision will have in increasing the coloured vote.
The new Direct Primaries (see Chap. XLV., pp. 141–145) have improved matters a little, but in most States there is a large “professional” element, and as the other members, especially the often inexperienced and credulous farmers, hold their seats for a short time only, the professionals have everywhere an influence disproportionate to their numbers.
This plan is most fully applied in Massachusetts, where it has worked usefully. See Mr. A. L. Lowell's book, Public Opinion and Popular Government, p. 250, for an instructive description and estimate.
I describe these evils, as they were twenty years ago, because they indicate one of democracy's diseases, but they have now been reduced in many States.
See as to the Swiss view of this subject Vol. I. Chap. XXVIII.
In England a judge of the High Court receives £5000, nearly $25,000.
Popular Government, its Essence, its Permanence, and its Perils, 1913.
Says Mr. Taft (p. 225 of book above referred to): “The lax administration of the criminal law is due in a marked degree to the prevalence of maudlin sentiment among the people and the alluring limelight in which the criminal walks if only he can give a little sensational colouring to his mean or sordid offence.”
The growing demand for judicial reforms in the States recently led to the formation of a body called the American Judicature Society, supported by many leading judges, lawyers, and professors of law. It advocates a simplification of legal procedure, longer tenure and better salaries for judges, and some method of selection more satisfactory than popular election has proved to be. Progress has been made in improving the municipal court systems, and it is believed that public opinion on the subject is being by degrees educated.
The Attorney-General is of course always, and the Secretary of State is frequently, a lawyer. Now and then a President may select a personal friend for the sake of having his constant counsel.
The total volume of ability to be found in a Cabinet varies markedly according to the capacity a President shows for selecting able men. When a Cabinet is poor in talent, not only does administration suffer but fewer men of force and talent have the chance of becoming known to the nation, and the choice which a party has to make of a person to be put forward as its candidate for the Presidency is accordingly more restricted. In the early days this was less seen. Jefferson and John Adams had sat in Washington's Cabinets, Madison had been Jefferson's Secretary of State, and Monroe Madison's, and J. Q. Adams Monroe's, and Van Buren Jackson's.
In 1914 there were more than 482,000 employees under the National Government, of whom 292,000 were in the Classified Civil Service, under the control of the Civil Service Commission. An interesting address to the National Service Reform Association, delivered in 1919 by Mr. Richard H. Dana, estimates the annual gain in efficiency as amounting to $30,000,000 per annum.
See as to Wisconsin the book of Mr. Charles M'Carthy entitled, The Wisconsin Idea.
See Chapter XXXV.
County offices seem in many States to be too numerous and their functions not well defined. See as to the defects of County government especially in Middle Western States an interesting address by Mr. Walker D. Hines to the Chamber of Commerce at Topeka, delivered March 30, 1917.
The nearest parallels to this growth may be found in Buenos Aires and in some of the cities of Siberia, such as Novo Nikolaievsk.
The vast majority of Swedes and Norwegians did not remain in the cities, but went to take up farms, chiefly in the north-west.
This describes conditions as they were before the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution had been passed.
A high authority, Dr. F. J. Goodnow, President of Johns Hopkins University, says: “By not providing for either property or educational qualification, and by requiring merely a short term of residence, the United States city election laws thus generally bring it about that the number of voters at city elections is from eight to fifty per cent greater than elsewhere. Finally, the fact that these laws do not accord the vote to non-resident tax-payers prevents the exercise of a possible conservative influence on city elections.
Why, it may well be asked, did not the Republican party organization always work with the Reformers against Tammany? Because the Republican Bosses wished to keep their own Machine in good working order by running only their own candidates, because many of their wealthier supporters were too indifferent to turn out to vote, perhaps also because some of their party managers had a secret professional sympathy with the Democratic Ringster opponents. Pure government is distasteful to Machine men in both parties alike, and party antagonisms do not prevent private co-operation, according to the dictum, “There's no politics in politics.”
The charter of 1919 is described as a considerable improvement on any preceding scheme of city government, and likely to deliver Philadelphia from the control of contractors. In a short sketch of its provisions Mr. Penrose, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, and long a prominent leader in his party, remarks, “Municipal government increases in efficiency in the exact ratio in which it is divorced from partisan politics; party efficiency and capacity for public services increases in the ratio in which it disentangles itself from municipal politics.”
This statement is not inconsistent with the fact that in the Eastern cities most of the rich belong to one party, and that in the former Slave States nearly all of that class belong to the other, but in the latter case this predominance is due not to economic reasons but to recollections of the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.
Socialism has made less progress among the Labour Unions than it has among the working men of European countries. Some of the chiefs of the American Unions are definitely opposed to it, and occasionally denounce doctrines of a revolutionary tendency.
Complaints are sometimes heard that the Universities are too much controlled by the boards of trustees drawn from the business world and occasionally intolerant of opinions they dislike; but whatever foundation there may be for these complaints so far as regards the academical staff, the services rendered to the political life of the nation are evident.
As to this, and as to that tendency to acquiesce in the overmastering power of a large majority which I have ventured to call the Fatalism of the Multitude, see American Commonwealth, vol. ii. chaps. lxxxiv and lxxxv.
The intolerance of opposition occasionally shown during and just after the Great War was perhaps no greater than might have been expected in any country in like circumstances; and these were so exceptional that it would be hardly fair to judge the people generally by such an incident as the expulsion from a State Legislature of certain members whose views had roused hostility.
Some measure of financial control has also been assumed over Nicaragua and Honduras.
Upon the changed attitude of the U.S. to world questions the recent book of Professor Max Farrand, The Development of the United States, and upon the relations of the U.S. to Great Britain and Canada the book of Professor Dunning entitled A Century of Peace, may be usefully consulted
Experienced observers declare that this amendment which was enacted by Congress and the requisite number of State Legislatures would unquestionably have been carried if submitted to a popular vote. Its success is ascribed partly to the dislike for the “saloons,” as owned and run by powerful incorporated companies, but is also deemed to be largely due to the belief that it would not only diminish crime and poverty but would increase the productive power of the nation. Both these results are said to have shown themselves within the last few months.
As to the movement in N. Dakota, see p. 136 post. There is no great tendency towards “nationalization” of industries except in the advanced sections of the Socialist party.
Anarchism and Syndicalism are of course also at work here and there, and labour disputes have led to some murders and to much violence, especially in the mining districts, where there are large masses of new immigrants. But both the volume of industrial unrest and the strength of extremist sections are less than in France, Italy, or England.
Speaking of the action of the money power, ex-President W. H. Taft said: “Not all was brought about by direct corruption, but much was effected through more insidious influence, and by furnishing the funds that political exigencies in important electoral contests called for. The time was, and we all know it, when in many of the directorates of the great corporations of the country, orders for the delivery of delegates in a convention and of members of the legislature for purposes of corporate control were issued with the same feeling of confidence in their fulfilment as an order for the purchase of machinery or the enlargement of the pay-roll” (The Signs of the Times, address before Electrical Manufacturer's Club, November 6, 1913, pp. 11–12).
The general use of Direct Primaries has not destroyed Conventions. These continue to be held for the purpose of adopting a platform and selecting members of the State Committee, and in some States they choose delegates to the National (Presidential) Convention. Sometimes, moreover, they are used for securing party agreement upon the persons to be voted for at the legally provided Direct Primaries for the selection of candidates, since the party voters need guidance as to how they shall vote thereat. Thus a third or preliminary voting is added.
On the official ballot for the Primary Election of one of the parties in New York County in March 1912, in the 15th Assembly District, there were 157 names of persons proposed to be voted for as the persons to be nominated as party candidates for delegates and alternates to the State Convention, for members of the State and County Committees, of the Congressional District Committee, of the Fifth Municipal Court District Committee, and for delegates and alternates to the National Convention.
The cost of a Primary Campaign in Wisconsin some years ago cost the candidates more than $800,000 (about £160,000).
Though the Primary Campaign is a contest not between parties but between rival aspirants for office within the same party, it often happens that the views of the candidates are not the same, so there may be a certain amount of political as well as of personal controversy involved, which creates feuds within the party, and reveals a dissidence which is made the most of by opponents when the parties contend at the official election.
Professor Merriam says: “Some Bosses are wondering why they feared the Direct Primary law, some reformers are wondering why they favoured it.” (Quoted by President Goodnow, Municipal Government, p. 147.)
These, however, are only (a) of the Presidential electors, (b) of representatives in Congress, and (c) of a Senator.
One of the most prominent Governors of recent years, Governor (now Senator) Johnson of California, has observed: “The minor offices on a State ticket are not really chosen by the people, because in the nature of things the people cannot know the candidates or their qualities. With the attention of the Electorate focussed on one or more of the conspicuous offices, the power with respect to these minor offices is much more certainly in the hands of the people.” (I quote from a book entitled Story of the California Legislature of 1911, by Mr. Franklin Hichborn, worth reading for its interesting details regarding the workings of a State Legislature.)
This improvement, interesting as a further illustration of the reforming spirit in the States, had up till 1919 been adopted in 39 States, the preparation of the Budget being entrusted (in most of them) either to the Governor or to a Board of which he is a member.
Of this reform in the great State of Illinois, Governor Lowden writes in his Message of 1919. “The Civil Administrative Code amounted to a revolution in Government. Under it a reorganization of more than 125 Boards, Commissions, and independent agencies was effected. Nine departments with extensive real power vested in each head have taken the place of those bodies which were abolished… The scheme has more than justified the expectations formed of efficiency and economy under it. The Governor is in daily contact with his administration in all its activities. Unity and harmony of administration have been attained, and vigour and energy of administration enhanced.” I quote from a Supplement by Mr. A. E. Buck to National Municipal Review for Nov. 1919. Mr. Buck's article presents an interesting view of the various forms this reform is taking in different States.
In some States such as New York, the civil procedure in cases involving small sums has been simplified and cheapened so as to bring justice more within the reach of the poor.
Chicago voted in November 1919 to make its ballot non-partisan in municipal elections.
This new “City Manager” plan had in December 1919 been adopted by charter in 106 cities, and by ordinance or in a modified form in 59 others (National Municipal Review for December 1919).
As to the Referendum in Switzerland, see Chap. XXIX. in Vol. I. Its use there deserves to be compared with the American practice.
See Burnett, Operation of the Initiative, Referendum nad Recall in Oregon, pp. 64–74.
Another unfortunate result of the exercise of the Referendum power has been the uncertainty produced as to the continuance from one year to another of an appropriation to a public purpose, such as a State university.
This has happened in Switzerland also. See Vol. I. Chap. XXIX.
Including six Constitutional Amendments which had been proposed by the Legislature to be voted on by the people. In 1909 the voters in the city of Portland voted on 35 measures at an election in which they chose a mayor and other municipal officers.
It seems needless to discuss what is called the Local Referendum, i.e. the taking of a vote of the people of a city or rural local area on a question affecting them only, such as the expenditure of local taxation on some local purpose. This is an old institution, and usually works well, especially in rural areas.
A case, however, recently occurred in which an amendment to the constitution of Michigan relating to the sale of intoxicants elicited a vote larger by 200,000 than that cast for the election of a Governor. The size of the vote is, of course, usually proportioned to the interest the question evokes.
Oklahoma requires an Initiative proposal to be first sent to the Legislature which, if it does not pass the measure so proposed, may prepare an argument against it which will then go to the advocates of the measure and be circulated along with the counter arguments they adduce in favour of their proposal.
Oregon would appear to have voted on as many Initiative proposals between 1904 and 1913 as had been submitted in all the other States put together.
Sometimes, it would seem, the friends of a Bill petition for a Referendum, in order, when they expect a favourable vote, to prevent the Governor from vetoing it.
Reported at full length (1062 closely printed pages) in vol. ii. of Proceedings of Massachusetts Constitutional Convention.
The advocates of Direct Legislation, however, deprecate any such restriction, alleging that it would enable the opponents of measures proposed to be submitted to prevent them from being voted on by bringing forward a large number of trivial propositions which would jostle out those which they sought to defeat.
Some of the Greek republics occasionally deposed their elected officials, and it was proposed during the course of the first French Revolution to provide for terminating the mandate of a delegate by those who had elected him.
When the people of Arizona applied to be admitted to the Union as a State, Congress insisted that a provision for the recall of judges should be struck out of the Constitution. To obtain admission, the people submitted and struck out the provision, but, after the State had been duly admitted, it was restored by an amendment to the Constitution.
In a few States a Judge may, without impeachment, be removed by a vote of both houses of the Legislature, but only for improper conduct.
The recall of all elective officers (including judges), is in force in 6 States, that of such officers except judges in 10.
The Recall of decisions has been adopted in Colorado only.
The Courts may sometimes be unduly conservative in temper, but whatever may be said of a particular Judge here and there, I know of no case in which a majority of the highest Court in any State have been improperly influenced in any decision on the constitutionality of a statute.
“How could uniformity of fundamental or any other kind of law be possible under such a system? Instead of a Constitution consistent in its construction and uniform in its application, it would be a Government by special instances, a Government that in the end leads to despotism” (Ex-President Taft, Popular Government, p. 179).
It is a proverb in the Far West that the man who is “developing the country” thinks that he may appropriate whatever is not screwed on, and that whatever is screwed on may be unscrewed.