Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 100: The Supposed Faults of Democracy - The American Commonwealth, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter 100: The Supposed Faults of Democracy - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 2 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). Vol. 2.
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Supposed Faults of Democracy
The question which in one form or another every European politician has during the last half-century been asking about the United States, is the broad question, how does democracy answer? No other country has tried the experiment of a democratic government on so large a scale, with so many minor variations, for the state governments are forty-six autonomous democracies, or with such advantages of geographical position and material resources. And those who think that all civilized countries are moving towards democracy, even though they may not be destined to rest there, find the question an important one for themselves. The reader who has followed thus far the account I have tried to give of the federal Constitution and its working, of the state constitutions, of local government, of the party machinery, on the influence of public opinion as a controlling power over all the institutions of the country, will be content with a comparatively brief summary of the results to which the inquiries made under these heads point.
That summary naturally falls into three parts. We have to ask first, how far the faults usually charged on democracy are present in America; next, what are the special faults which characterize it here; last, what are the strong points which it has developed.
The chief faults which philosophers, from Plato downwards, and popular writers repeating and caricaturing the dicta of philosophers, have attributed to democratic governments, are the following:
I do not say that this list exhausts the reproaches directed against democracy, but it includes those which are most often heard and are best worth examining. Most of them are drawn from the history of the Greek republics of antiquity and the Italian republics of the Middle Ages, small communities where the conditions of social and political life were so different from those of a great modern country that we ought not to expect similar results to follow from political arrangements called by the same name. However, as this consideration has not prevented writers and statesmen, even in our own day, from repeating the old censures, and indeed from mixing together in one repulsive potion all the faults that belonged to small aristocratic republics with all that can belong to large democratic republics, it is worth while to examine these current notions, and try them by the light of the facts which America furnishes.
Weakness and Want of Promptitude.
The American democracy is long-suffering and slow in rousing itself; it is often perplexed by problems, and seems to grope blindly for their solution. In the dealings with England and France which preceded the war of 1812, and in the conduct of that war, its government showed some irresolution and sluggishness. The habit of blustering in its intercourse with foreign powers, and the internal strife over slavery, led Europeans to think it lacked firmness and vigour. They were undeceived in 1861. While it seemed possible to avert a breach with the Southern slaveholders, the North was willing to accept, and did accept, a series of compromises whose inadequacy was soon revealed. The North was ill led in Congress, and the South was boldly if not wisely led. Yet when the crisis arrived, the North put forth its power with a suddenness and resolution which surprised the world. There was no faltering in the conduct of a struggle which for two long years French and English statesmen deemed hopeless. The best blood of the North freely offered itself to be shed on the battlefields of Virginia and Pennsylvania for the sake of the Union; while an enormous debt was incurred in equipping army after army. As everyone knows, the Southern people displayed no less vigour even when the tide had evidently began to turn against them, and the hope of European intervention died away. If want of force, dash, and courage in moments of danger is a defect generally chargeable on popular governments, it was not then chargeable on the United States. But the doctrine is one which finds little to support it either in ancient or modern history, while there are many instances to the contrary: witness the war of the Swiss against Charles the Bold, and the defence of Florence against Charles V.
Fickleness and Instability.
The indictment fails on this count also. The people are open to sudden impulses, and in particular states there have been ill-considered innovations and a readiness to try wild experiments, such as those I have described in California. But taking the nation as a whole, its character is marked by tenacity of beliefs and adherence to leaders once chosen. The opposite charge of stubbornness in refusing to be convinced by argument and to admit the failings of men who have established some title to gratitude, might more plausibly be preferred. Western farmers have been accustomed to suffer from the high price of the clothes they wear and the implements they use, but once they have imbibed the belief that a protective tariff makes for the general good of the country they remained Protectionists down till 1890; and of those who then wavered many have since reverted to that view. The blunders of President Grant’s first administration, and the misdeeds of the knot of men who surrounded him, playing upon the political inexperience of a blunt soldier, scarcely affected the loyalty of the masses to the man whose sword had saved the Union. Congressmen and state officials are no doubt often changed, but they are changed in pursuance of a doctrine and a habit in which the interests of a class are involved, not from any fickleness in the people.1
Insubordination and Contempt for Authority.
On this head the evidence is more conflicting. There are states and cities in which the laws are imperfectly enforced. Homicide is hardly a crime in some parts of the South—that is to say, a man who kills another is not always arrested, often not convicted when arrested and put on his trial, very rarely hanged when convicted.2 One might almost say that private war is recognized by opinion in these districts, as it was in Europe during the earlier Middle Ages. In the mountainous country of eastern Kentucky, and the adjoining parts of Virginia and Tennessee, quarrels are kept up from generation to generation between hostile families and their respective friends, which the state authorities cannot succeed in repressing. In 1890, I was assured when passing the borders of that region, that in one such blood feud more than fifty persons had perished within the preceding ten years, each murder provoking another in revenge. When a judge goes into these parts it has sometimes befallen that a party of men come down fully armed from the mountains, surround the court house, and either drive him away or oblige him to abandon the attempt to do justice on slayers belonging to their faction. In the West, again, particularly in such Southwestern states as Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, brigandage was for a time, and is still in some few places, regarded with a certain amusement, rising into sympathy, by a part of the peaceable population. Having arisen partly out of the border ruffianism which preceded the outbreak of the Civil War, partly among men who were constantly engaged in skirmishing with the Indian tribes, there was a flavour of romance about it, which ceased to gild the exploits of train robbers only when their activity threatened the commercial interests of a rising city. Jesse James, the notorious bandit of Missouri, and his brothers, were popular heroes in the region they infested, much like Robin Hood and Little John in the ballads of the thirteenth century in England. These phenomena are, however, explicable by other causes than democratic government. The homicidal habits of the South are a relic of the semi-barbarism which slavery kept alive long after the Northern free states had reached the level of European order. The want of a proper police is apparently the cause answerable for the train robberies which still, even in such states as Illinois and Ohio, sometimes occur, and these are detected and punished more frequently by the energy of the railroad or express (parcel delivery) companies and their skilled detectives than through the action of the state authorities. Brigandage is due to the absence of a mounted gendarmerie in the vast and thinly-peopled Farther West; and there is no gendarmerie because the federal government leaves the states to create their own, and unsettled Western communities, being well armed, prefer to take care of themselves rather than spend their scanty corporate funds on a task whose cost would, as they think, be disproportionate to the result.3 In the western wilds of Canada, however, the mounted police secures perfect safety for wayfarers, and train robberies seem to be unknown.
Lynch law is not unknown in more civilized regions, such as Indiana and Illinois. A case occurred recently not far from New York City. Now lynch law, however shocking it may seem to Europeans and New Englanders, is far removed from arbitrary violence. According to the testimony of careful observers, it is not often abused, and its proceedings are generally conducted with some regularity of form as well as fairness of spirit. What are the circumstances? Those highly technical rules of judicial procedure and still more technical rules of evidence which America owes to the English common law, and which have in some states retained antiquated minutiæ now expunged from English practice, or been rendered by new legislation too favourable to prisoners, have to be applied in districts where population is thin, where there are very few officers, either for the apprehension of offenders, or for the hunting up of evidence against them, and where, according to common belief, both judges and juries are occasionally “squared” or “got at.” Many crimes would go unpunished if some more speedy and efficient method of dealing with them were not adopted. This method is found in a volunteer jury, summoned by the leading local citizens, or in very clear cases, by a simple seizure and execution of the criminal.4 Why not create an efficient police? Because crime is uncommon in many districts—in such a district, for instance, as Michigan or rural Wisconsin—and the people have deliberately concluded that it is cheaper and simpler to take the law into their own hands on those rare occasions when a police is needed than to be at the trouble of organizing and paying a force for which there is usually no employment. If it be urged that they are thus forming habits of lawlessness in themselves, the Americans reply that experience does not seem to make this probable, because lawlessness does not increase among the farming population, and has disappeared from places where the rudeness or simplicity of society formerly rendered lynch law necessary. Cases however occur for which no such excuse can be offered, cases in which a prisoner (probably a Negro) already in the hands of justice is seized and put to death by a mob. Some years ago there was in several states, and notably in parts of southern Indiana—a rough, wooded country, with a backward and scattered population—a strange recrudescence of lynching in the rise of the so-called White Caps, people who seized by night men or women who had given offense by their immoral life or other vices, dragged them into the woods, flogged them severely, and warned them to quit the neighbourhood forthwith. Similar outrages are often reported from other states to the southwest of Indiana, as far as Mississippi. In Ohio they were promptly repressed by an energetic governor. In 1908–9 disputes connected with the alleged attempt by a powerful corporation to create a monopoly in the purchasing of tobacco for manufacture led to a series of nocturnal outrages by armed men who sought, by whipping or killing those farmers who refused to join them in their resistance to the attempts referred to, to coerce the tobacco growers into joining that organized resistance. These Night Riders gave trouble in Kentucky and parts of Tennessee, though the governor took desperate measures against them.
The so-called “Molly Maguire” conspiracy, which vexed and terrified Pennsylvania for several years, showed the want of a vigorous and highly trained police. A sort of secret society organized a succession of murders, much like the Italian Camorra, which remained undetected till a daring man succeeded in persuading the conspirators to admit him among them. He shared their schemes, and learnt to know their persons and deeds, then turned upon them and brought them to justice. This remarkable case illustrates not any neglect of law or tenderness for crime, but mainly the power of a combination which can keep its secrets. Once detected, the Molly Maguires were severely dealt with. The Pittsburgh riots of 1877, and the Cincinnati riots of 1884, and the Chicago troubles of 1894 alarmed the Americans themselves, so long accustomed to domestic tranquillity as to have forgotten those volcanic forces which lie smouldering in all ignorant masses, ready to burst forth upon sufficient excitement. The miners and ironworkers of the Pittsburgh district are rough fellows, many of them recent immigrants who have not yet acquired American habits of order; nor would there have been anything to distinguish this Pennsylvania disturbance from those which happen during strikes in England, as, for instance, at Blackburn, in Lancashire and, later, during a coal strike at one or two places in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, or in times of distress in France, as at Decazeville in 1886, had there been a prompt suppression. Unfortunately there was in 1877 no proper force on the spot. The governor was absent; the mayor and other local authorities lost their heads; the police, feebly handled, were overpowered; the militia showed weakness; so that the riot spread in a way which surprised its authors, and the mob raged for several days along the railroads in several states, and over a large area of manufacturing and mining towns.
The moral of this event was the necessity, even in a land of freedom, of keeping a force strong enough to repress tumults in their first stage. The Cincinnati riot began in an attempt to lynch two prisoners who were thought likely to escape the punishment they richly deserved; and it would probably have ended there had not the floating rabble of this city of 300,000 inhabitants seized the opportunity to do a little pillage and make a great noise on their own account. Neither sedition had any political character, nor indeed any specific object, except that the Pennsylvanian mob showed special enmity to the railroad company.
In 1892 the same moral was enforced by the strike riots on some of the railroads in New York State and in the mining region of Idaho, by the local wars between cattlemen and “rustlers” in Wyoming, by the disturbances at the Homestead works in Pennsylvania, and by the sanguinary conflict which arose at the convict-worked mines in Tennessee, where a mob of miners attacked the stockades in which were confined convicts kept at labour under contracts between the state and private mine owners, liberated many of the convicts, captured and were on the point of hanging an officer of the state militia, and were with difficulty at last repressed by a strong militia force. The riots at Chicago in 1894 and the more protracted strife between mine owners and striking miners in Colorado somewhat later are other instances. Such tumults are not specially products of democracy, but they are unhappily proofs that democracy does not secure the good behaviour of its worst and newest citizens, and that it must be prepared, no less than other governments, to maintain order by the prompt and stern application of physical force.5
It was a regrettable evidence of the extent to which public authorities have seemed to abnegate the function of maintaining order that the habit grew up among railroad directors and the owners of other large enterprises of hiring a private armed force to protect, at the time of a strike, not only the workmen they bring in to replace the strikers, but also their yards, works, and stock in trade. A firm which began business as a private detective agency was for years accustomed to supply for this purpose bodies of men well trained and drilled, who could be relied on to defend the place allotted to them against a greatly superior force of rioters. This firm used to keep not less than one thousand men permanently on a war footing, and sent them hither and thither over the country to its customers. They were usually sworn in as sheriff’s deputies, on each occasion before the proper local authority. So frequent had been the employment of “Pinkerton’s men,” as they are called (though it is not always from Messrs. Pinkerton of Chicago that they are obtained, and the name, like “Delmonico,” for a restaurant, seems to be passing from a proper into a common noun), that some new state constitutions (e.g., Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Kentucky) and statutes in other states (e.g., Massachusetts) expressly prohibit the bringing of armed men into the state, and a committee of Congress was set to investigate the subject, so far without result, for it is going a long way to forbid a man by statute to hire persons to help him to protect his property when he finds it in danger. These strike cases are of course complicated by the reluctance of a state governor or a mayor to incur unpopularity by taking strong measures against a crowd who have votes. Here we touch a difficulty specially incident to a directly elected executive—a difficulty noted already in the cases of elected judges and elected tax officers, and one which must be taken into account in striking the balance between the good and the evil of a system of direct and pervading popular control. The remedy is in extreme cases found in the displeasure of the good citizens, who, after all, form the voting majority. But it is a remedy which may follow with too tardy steps. Meantime, many large employers of labour find themselves obliged to defend their property by these condottieri, because they cannot rely on the defence which the state ought to furnish, and the condottieri themselves, who seem to be generally men of good character as well as proved courage, are so much hated by the workmen as to be sometimes in danger of being lynched when found alone or in small parties.6
In some states not a few laws are systematically ignored or evaded, sometimes by the connivance of officials who are improperly induced to abstain from prosecuting transgressors, sometimes with the general consent of the community which perceives that they cannot be enforced. Thus some years ago the laws against the sale of liquor on Sundays in the city of Chicago were not enforced. The German and Irish part of the population disliked them, and showed its dislike by turning out of the municipal offices those who had enforced them, while yet the law remained on the statute book because, according to the Constitution of Illinois it took a majority of two-thirds in the legislature to repeal an act; and the rural members, being largely Prohibitionists, stood by this law against Sunday dealing. When in Texas I heard of the same thing as happening in the city of San Antonio, and doubt not that occurs in many cities. Probably more laws are quietly suffered to be broken in America than in either England or Germany. On the other hand, it is fair to say that the credit which the New Englanders used to claim of being a law-abiding people is borne out by the general security of property and person which, apart from the cases mentioned above, and especially from strike troubles, the traveller remarks over the rural parts of the Eastern and Middle states.7 Political disturbances (other than occasional collisions between whites and Negroes) are practically unknown. Even when an election is believed to have been fraudulently won, the result is respected, because it is externally regular. Fights seldom occur at elections; neither party disturbs the meetings or processions of the other in the hottest presidential campaign. To Americans the habit of letting opponents meet and talk in peace seems essential to a well-ordered free government.
The habit of obedience to constituted authority is another test, and one which Plato would have considered specially conclusive. The difficulty of applying it in America is that there are so few officials who come into the relation of command with the people, or in other words, that the people are so little “governed,” in the French or German sense, that one has few opportunities of discovering how they comport themselves. The officers of both the federal and the state governments, in levying taxes and carrying out the judgments of the courts, have seldom any resistance to fear, except in such regions as those already referred to, where the fierce mountaineers will not brook interference with their vendetta, or suffer the federal excisemen to do their duty. These regions are , however, quite exceptional, forming a sort of enclave of semi-barbarism in a civilized country, such as the rugged Albania was in the Roman Empire. Other authorities experience no difficulty in making themselves respected. A railroad company, for instance, finds its passengers only too submissive. They endure with a patience which astonishes Englishmen frequent irregularities of the train service and other discomforts, which would in England produce a whole crop of letters to the newspapers. The discipline of the army and navy in the war was nearly as strict as in European armies. So in universities and colleges discipline is maintained with the same general ease and the same occasional troubles as arise in Oxford and Cambridge. The children in city schools are proverbially docile. Except when strikes occur, employers never complain of any trouble in keeping order among their workpeople while at work. So far, indeed, is insubordination from being a characteristic of the native Americans, that they are conspicuously the one free people of the world which, owing to its superior intelligence, has recognized the permanent value of order, and observes it on every occasion, not least when a sudden alarm arises. Anarchy is of all dangers or bugbears the one which the modern world has least cause to fear, for the tendency of ordinary human nature to obey is the same as in past times, and the aggregation of human beings into great masses weakens the force of the individual will, and makes men more than ever like sheep, so far as action is concerned. Much less, therefore, is there ground for fancying that out of anarchy there will grow any tyranny of force. Whether democracies may not end in yielding greater power to their executives is quite another question, whereof more anon; all I observe here is that in no country can a military despotism, such as that which has twice prevailed in France and once in England, be deemed less likely to arise. During the Civil War there were many persons in Europe cultivating, as Gibbon says, the name without the temper of philosophy, who predicted that some successful leader of the Northern armies would establish his throne on the ruins of the Constitution. But no sooner had General Lee surrendered at Appomatox than the disbandment of the victorious host began; and the only thing which thereafter distinguished Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan from their fellow citizens was the liability to have “receptions” forced on them when they visited a city, and find their puissant arms wearied by the handshakings of their enthusiastic admirers.
Caesarism is the last danger likely to menace America. In no nation is civil order more stable. None is more averse to the military spirit. No political system would offer a greater resistance to an attempt to create a standing army or centralize the administration.
Jealousy of Greatness, and a Desire to Level Down.
This charge derives a claim to respectful consideration from the authority of Tocqueville, who though it a necessary attribute of democracy, and professed to have discovered symptoms of it in the United States. It alarmed J. S. Mill, and has been frequently dwelt on by his disciples, and by many who have adopted no other part of his teachings, as an evil equally inevitable and fatal in democratic countries. There was probably good ground for it in 1830. Even now one discovers a tendency in the United States, particularly in the West, to dislike, possibly to resent, any outward manifestation of social superiority. A man would be ill looked upon who should build a castle in a park, surround his pleasure grounds with a high wall, and receive an exclusive society in gilded drawing rooms. One of the parts which prominent politicians, who must be assumed to know their business, most like to play is the part of Cincinnatus at the plough, or Curius Dentatus receiving the Samnite envoys over his dinner of turnips. They welcome a newspaper interviewer at their modest farm, and take pains that he should describe how simply the rooms are furnished, and how little “help” (i.e., how few servants) is kept. Although the cynics of the New York press make a mock of such artless ways, the desired impression is produced on the farmer and artisan. At a senatorial election not long ago in a Northwestern state, the opponents of the sitting candidate procured a photograph of his residence in Washington, a handsome mansion in a fashionable avenue, and circulated it among the members of the state legislature, to show in what luxury their federal representative indulged. I remember to have heard it said of a statesman proposing to become a candidate for the presidency, that he did not venture during the preceding year to occupy his house in Washington, lest he should give occasion for similar criticism. Whether or not this was his real motive, the attribution of it to him is equally illustrative. But how little the wealthy fear to display their wealth and take in public the pleasures it procures may be understood by anyone who, walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, observes the superb houses which line it, houses whose internal decorations and collected objects of art rival those of the palaces of European nobles, or who watches in Newport, one of the most fashionable summer resorts, the lavish expenditure upon servants, horses, carriages, and luxuries of every kind. No spot in Europe conveys an equal impression of the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, of boundless wealth and a boundless desire for enjoyment, as does the Ocean Drive at Newport on an afternoon in August.
Intellectual eminence excites no jealousy, though it is more admired and respected than in Europe. The men who make great fortunes—and their number as well as the scale of their fortunes increases—are regarded not so much with envy, as with admiration. “When thou doest good unto thyself, all men shall speak well of thee.” Wealth does not, as in England, give its possessors an immediate entrée to fashionable society, but it marks them as the heroes and leaders of the commercial world, and sets them on a pinnacle of fame which fires the imagination of ambitious youths in dry goods stores or traffic clerks on a railroad. The demonstrations of hostility to wealthy “monopolists,” and especially to railroad companies, and the magnates of trusts, are prompted, not by hatred to prominence or wealth, but by discontent at the immense power which capitalists exercise, especially in the business of transporting goods, and which they have frequently abused.
Tyranny of the Majority.
Of this I have spoken in a previous chapter, and need only summarize the conclusions there arrived at. So far as compulsive legislation goes, it has never been, and is now less than ever, a serious or widespread evil. The press is free to advocate unpopular doctrines, even the most brutal forms of anarchism. Religious belief and practices are untouched by law. The sale of intoxicants is no doubt in many places restricted or forbidden, but to assume that this is a tyrannical proceeding is to beg a question on which the wise are much divided. The taxation of the rich for the benefit of the poor offers the greatest temptation to a majority disposed to abuse its powers. But neither Congress not the state legislatures have, with a very few exceptions, gone any farther in this direction that the great nations of Europe. If such abstention from legislative tyranny be held due, not to the wisdom and fairness of the American democracy, but to the restraints which the federal and state constitutions impose upon it, the answer is, who impose and maintain these restraints? The people themselves, who deserve the credit of desiring to remove from their own path temptations which might occasionally prove irresistible. It is true that the conditions have been in some points exceptionally favourable. Class hatreds are absent. The two great national parties are not class parties, for, if we take the country as a whole, rich and poor are fairly represented in both of these parties. Neither proposes to overtax the rich. Both denounce monopolism in the abstract, and promise to restrain capital from abusing its power, but neither is more forward than the other to take practical steps for such a purpose, because each includes capitalists whose contributions the party needs, and each includes plenty of the respectable and wealthy classes. Party divisions do not coincide with social or religious divisions, as has often happened in Europe.
Moreover, in state politics—and it is in the state rather than in the federal sphere that attacks on a minority might be feared—the lines on which parties act are fixed by the lines which separate the national parties, and each party is therefore held back from professing doctrines which menace the interests of any class. The only exceptions occur where some burning economic question supersedes for the moment the regular party attachments. This happened in California, with the consequences already described. It came near happening in two or three of the Northwestern states, such as Illinois and Wisconsin, where the farmers, organized in their Granges or agricultural clubs, caused the legislatures to pass statutes which bore hardly on the railroads and the owners of elevators and grain warehouses. Similar attempts were more recently made by the Populists and must from time to time be expected. Yet even this legislation could scarcely be called tyrannical. It was an attempt, however clumsy and abrupt, to deal with a real economical mischief, not an undue extension of the scope of legislation to matters in which majorities ought not to control minorities at all.
Love of Novelty; Passion for Destroying Old Institutions.
It is easy to see how democracies have been credited with this tendency. They have risen out of oligarchies or aristocratic monarchies, the process of their rise coinciding, if not always with revolution, at least with a breaking down of many old usages and institutions. It is this very breaking down that gives birth to them. Probably some of the former institutions are spared, are presently found incompatible with the new order of things, and then have to be changed till the people has, so to speak, furnished its house according to its taste. But when the new order has been established, is there any ground for believing that a democracy is an exception to the general tendency of mankind to adhere to the customs they have formed, admire the institutions they have created, and even bear the ills they know rather than incur the trouble of finding some way out of them? The Americans are not an exception. They value themselves only too self-complacently on the methods of government; they abide by their customs, because they admire them. They love novelty in the sphere of amusement, literature, and social life; but in serious matters, such as the fundamental institutions of government and in religious belief, no progressive and civilized people is more conservative.
Liability to Be Misled; Influence of Demagogues.
No doubt the inexperience of the recent immigrants, the want of trained political thought among the bulk even of native citizens, the tendency to sentimentalism which marks all large masses of men, do lay the people open to the fallacious reasoning and specious persuasions of adventurers. This happens in all popularly governed countries; and a phenomenon substantially the same occurs in oligarchies, for you may have not only aristocratic demagogues, but demagogues playing to an aristocratic mob. Stripped of its externals and considered in its essential features, demagogism is no more abundant in America than in England, France, or Italy. Empty and reckless declaimers, such as were some if those who figured in the Granger and Populist movements (for sincere and earnest men have shared in both), are allowed to talk themselves hoarse, and ultimately relapse into obscurity. A demagogue of greater talent may aspire to some high executive office; if not to the presidency, then perhaps a place in the cabinet, where he may practically pull the wires of a president whom he has put into the chair. Failing either of these, he aims at the governorship of his state or the mayoralty of a great city. In no one of these positions can he do permanent mischief. The federal executive has no influence on legislation, and even in foreign policy and in the making of appointments requires the consent of the Senate. That any man should acquire so great a hold on the country as to secure the election of two houses of Congress subservient to his will, while at the same time securing the presidency or secretaryship of state for himself, is an event too improbable to enter into calculation. Nothing approaching it has been seen since the days of Jackson. The size of the country, the differences between the states, a hundred other causes, make achievements possible enough in a European country all but impossible here. That a plausible adventurer should clamber to the presidential chair, and when seated there should conspire with a corrupt congressional ring, purchasing by the gift of offices and by jobs their support for his own schemes of private cupidity or public mischief, is conceivable, but improbable. The system of counter-checks in the federal government, which impedes or delays much good legislation, may be relied on to avert many of the dangers to which the sovereign chambers of European countries are exposed.
A demagogue installed as governor of a state—and it is usually in state politics that demagogism appears—has but limited opportunities for wrongdoing. He can make a few bad appointments, and can discredit the commonwealth by undignified acts. He cannot seriously harm it. Two politicians who seem to deserve the title recently obtained that honourable post in two great Eastern states. One of them, a typical “ringster,” perpetrated some jobs and vetoed a few good bills. Venturing too far, he at last involved his party in an ignominious defeat. The other, a man of greater natural gifts and greater capacity for mischief, whose capture of the chief magistracy of the state had drawn forth lamentations from the better citizens, seems to have left things much as he found them, and the most noteworthy incident which marked his year of office—for he was turned out at the next election—was the snub administered by the leading university in the state, which refused him the compliment usually paid to a chief magistrate of an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.
This inquiry has shown us that of the faults traditionally attributed to democracy one only is fairly chargeable on the United States; that is to say, is manifested there more conspicuously than in the constitutional monarchies of Europe. This is the disposition to be lax in enforcing laws disliked by any large part of the population, to tolerate breaches of public order, and to be too indulgent to offenders generally. The Americans themselves admit this to be one of their weak points. How far it is due to that deficient reverence for law which is supposed to arise in popular governments from the fact that the people have nothing higher than themselves to look up to, how far rather to the national easygoingness and goodnature, how far to the prejudice against the maintenance of an adequate force of military and police and to the optimism which refuses to recognize the changes brought by a vast increase of population, largely consisting of immigrants, these are points I need not attempt to determine. It has produced no general disposition to lawlessness, which rather tends to diminish in the older parts of the country. And it is sometimes (though not always) replaced in a serious crisis by a firmness in repressing disorders which some European governments may envy. Men who are thoroughly awakened to the need for enforcing the law, enforce it all the more resolutely because it has the whole weight of the people behind it.
 See Chap. 20 in Vol. I.
 Thirty years ago a distinguished American lawyer said, “There is no subject within the domain of legislation in which improvement is so needed as in the law against murder. The practical immunity that crime enjoys in some sections of the country, and the delay, difficulty, and uncertainty in enforcing the law almost everywhere, is a reproach to our civilization. Efforts to save assassins from punishment are so strenuous, the chances of escape so numerous, and the proceedings so protracted, that the law has few terrors for those disposed to violate it.”—Address of Mr. E. J. Phelps to the American Bar Association, 1881.
More recently President Taft observed, “I grieve to say that the administration of the criminal law is in nearly all the States of the Union a disgrace to our civilization” (address at Yale University), and in 1906 he repeated, “No one can examine the statistics of crime in this country and of successful prosecutions without realizing that the administration of the criminal law is a disgrace to our civilization, and without tracing to this condition as a moving and overwhelming cause for them, the horrible lynchings that are committed the country over, with all the danger of injustice and exhibition of fiendish cruelty which occurrences involve” (address to Pennsylvania State Bar Association, 1906).
Upon this whole subject see Professor Garner’s article, Crime and Judicial Inefficiency.
 There is always a sheriff, whose business it is to pursue criminals, and hang them if convicted, but much depends on his individual vigour.
 The savageness which occasionally appears in these lynchings is surprising to one who knows the general kindliness of the American people. Not long ago the people of East Kentucky hunted for a murderer to burn him to death, and the White Cap and Night Riding outrages are sometimes accompanied by revolting cruelty.
 There is a great difference between different states and cities as regards police arrangements. The police of New York City are said to be very efficient and indeed sometimes too promptly severe in the use of their staves; and in many cities the police are armed with revolvers.
 It is probably this popular hostility to the employment of Pinkerton’s men that has caused them to figure little if at all in the more recent strike troubles. They are now seldom heard of.
 There is little use in comparing the aggregate of crimes reported and of convictions with the aggregates of European countries, because in disorderly regions many crimes go unreported as well as unpunished.