Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XLV: recent reforming movements - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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CHAPTER XLV: recent reforming movements - 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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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.
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.