Franklin Henry Giddings.

Democracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations online

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from time to time, with the temper of the public mind, as
well as with the character of the question or policy sub-
mitted. On the other hand, so far as cohesion is a fact of
feeling or prejudice, it is conditioned by a thousand circum-
stances of geographical grouping, occupation, and economic
inequality — of inheritance, education, and religious belief.



184 DEMOCRACY AND EMPIRE

Accordingly, it is at least probable that a numerical majority-
is not formed and maintained without much conciliation and
mutual concession, and that while it is far from being that
concurrence of all interests which Calhoun desired, it is yet
the concurrence of so many interests that its conduct can
hardly become arbitrary without peril of disruption or of
complete disintegration.

These probabilities we have now to test by more particular
observations. Even as probabilities, not to claim more for
them, they would not necessarily hold good of small or of
very backward, undifferentiated populations. There the radical
or the conservative element might be out of all proportion to
counteracting influences, and majorities themselves be almost
homogeneous. It is extremely significant, therefore, to find
that both the advocates and the opponents of democracy
habitually draw conclusions from relatively simple or from
special or exceptional social conditions. The prophets of
manifest destiny point to the New England town or quote
Freeman's account of the Sunday morning meeting of Swiss
freemen. Sir Henry Maine assumes that very nearly all the
world thinks and feels like a village community under a
rajah. On the other hand, predictions of the dangerously
radical action of popular power are commonly based on
observations of the politics of compact city states, like ancient
Athens, or of modern municipalities, like Paris. They dwell
on majority action as it may be seen in versatile populations,
living by trade or industry, and often in times of social up-
heaval. Burke said that a perfect democracy was " the most
shameless thing in the world," also " the most fearless " ; ^ but
as his conclusion was avowedly drawn from the French Revo-
lution, a commentator might add that there has seldom been
a more fearless induction from inadequate and exceptional
facts. Bluntschli in Germany and Lieber in America, as
teachers of political science, have warned thousands of pupils
that " the populace cannot long retain its virtue after having
drunk the intoxicating wine of power," ^ and that " the doc-

1 "Reflections on the Revolution in France " (Clarendon Press Edition,
p. 110). 2 " The Theory of the State," p. 437.



NATURE AND CONDUCT OF POLITICAL MAJORITIES 185

trine vox populi vox Dei is essentially unrepublican." ^ But
Lieber's example of all that is unrepublican is France, and
by France be means Paris, and by Paris he means Jacobins ;,
while Bluntschli hardly gets beyond Athens. In 'fact, he
says that "democracy found its most logical expression in
Athens, and its nature can nowhere be better studied than
in the Athenian constitution." ^ We may accept these
examples for all that they can possibly be worth. We may
admit that wherever the Athens of Aristophanes or the Paris
of Dumas jils is reproduced, there democracy will be shame-
less ; but this gives us no warrant for saying that democracy
among the Pennsylvania Dutch or in the Hoosier counties
of Indiana will be shameless in quite the same way — cer-
tainly none to say that it will also be fearless.

So it is unscientific to argue about political majorities as if
their nature and conduct were always the same, irrespective
of social evolution or of the size and complexity of states. I
want to make my meaning at this point very plain. I do
not mean merely that in the large and highly developed state-
majorities vrill be constrained by facts of outward circum-
stance to act as they would not act in the small or backward
state. This every one admits. I mean — what has not been
so distinctly recognized — that the majority will desire to
act in the one case as it would not act in the other. Its
character will be different : it will think differently and feel
differently.

Whatever popular power may have been in the past, the
political majorities that we have to study to-day are coex-
tensive with every stage of social evolution. For politi-
cal purposes, Paris is no longer France. In the United
States, the popular vote in the last presidential election ^
was 11,392,382, of which 5,538,233 votes were cast for
Cleveland and 5,440,216 for Harrison. The Democratic
plurality of 98,017 included pluralities in all the Southern
states; in the Northern commercial ports of Boston, New

1 " Civil Liberty and Self-Government," p. 407.

2 " The Theory of the State," p. 432.

' This article was first published in March, 1892.



186 DEMOCRACY AND EMPIRE

York, Brooklyn, and San Francisco; in the Eastern indus-
trial states of Connecticut and New Jersey ; and in twenty-
five manufacturing, -mining, and farming counties of the
strongly Republican state of Pennsylvania, not to mention
counties of most unlike industries, qualities, and densities
of population, scattered through the other Northern com-
monwealths. The division of the total vote by percentages
shows still more strongly the fact that a modem political
party is created by the concurrence of minds of every type,
of every degree of intelligence and power, and motived by
every possible interest. In no state did the Democrats fail
to poll at least one-quarter of the total vote. The lowest
was 26.96 per cent, in Vermont. In only two states did the
Republicans poll less than one-fourth of the total vote.
These were South Carolina, 17.20 per cent, and Texas,
21.96 per cent. In only twelve states of the thirty-eight
did either of the leading parties poll less than 40 per cent
of the total vote. These, in addition to the three already
' named, were : Alabama, Republicans, 32.27 per cent ; Ar-
kansas, Republicans, 87.67 per cent ; Georgia, Republicans,
28.34 per cent; Kansas, Democrats, 30.75 per cent; Louisi-
ana, Republicans, 26.34 per cent ; Maine, Democrats, 39.37
per cent ; Minnesota, Democrats, 39.64 per cent ; Mississippi,
Republicans, 25.21 per cent ; and Nebraska, Democrats, 39.75
per cent.

While such figures show conclusively the composite nature
of a modern political majority, and by implication the fact
that its cohesion is liable to fatal strain at a thousand points,
the shifting of majorities on questions of personal fitness or of
administrative policy, when neither private business interest
nor class feeling is to any great extent involved, shows ap-
proximately what is the proportion of voters whose action is
governed, to a great extent, by opinion in the true sense of
the word, rather than by associations, habits, and prejudices.
These are the reasoning, mobile fringe of the party, easily
distinguished from the instinct-guided, slowly moving mass.
For examples, we may take the gubernatorial elections of Rus-
sell in Massachusetts and Pattison in Pennsylvania in 1890,



NATURE AND CONDUCT OF POLITICAL MAJOEITIES 187

and of Campbell in Ohio and Boies in Iowa in 1889. Mak-
ing all comparisons, for the sake of uniformity, with the presi-
dential vote in 1888, the shifting, by percentages, was within
these limits : in Massachusetts, in 1888, Cleveland ireceived
44.09 per cent of the total vote ; Russell, in 1890, 49.22 per
cent. In Pennsylvania, Cleveland, in 1888, received 44.77
per cent of the total vote ; Pattison, in 1890, 50.01 per cent.
In Ohio, Cleveland received, in 1888, 46.79 per cent of the
entire vote, and Campbell, in 1889, 48.91 per cent. In
Iowa, Cleveland, in 1888, received 44.50 per cent of the
whole vote, and Boies, in 1889, 49.94 per cent. It would
be an extraordinary upheaval that should result in more
decisive political changes than these elections were; and it
would be too much to claim that in these the entire effect
was produced by a change of opinion. It is, therefore, fair
to conclude that the total possible gain or loss to a political
party through strictly independent voting does not exceed,
■under the most favourable circumstances, five per cent of the
maximum total vote of a presidential year, and that the
number of voters likely to be decisively influenced by mere
opinion, apart from personal, class, or sectional interests,
is not more than tw6 and a half or three per cent of the
whole.

But other forces than opinion may on occasion play a de-
termining part, and an examination of the geographical dis-
tribution of independent voting will show why. The shifting
vote may be very evenly distributed by counties, or according
to density of population, or it may be massed in particular
sections. The contrast afforded by Massachusetts and Penn-
sylvania is instructive. Governor Russell was elected by a
Democratic vote only 11,348 less than was cast for Cleveland
in 1888, while his opponent, Mr. Brackett, received 52,438
votes less than Harrison. This Republican disaffection, as
shown by the vote by counties, was spread with astonishing
evenness from one end of the state to the other. The dense
manufacturing and trading populations of Suffolk, Essex,
Middlesex, Worcester, and Hampden, and the scattered agri-
cultural and fishing communities of Barnstable, Dukes, Frank-



188 DEMOCRACY AND EMPIEE

lin, and Nantucket, were all affected in the same way in their
several degrees. Turn now to Pennsylvania. Here it was
not by staying away from the polls, but by an actual trans-
ference of votes, that Republicans elected Governor Patti-
son, since his total vote was 464,209 as compared with
446,633 cast for Cleveland in 1888. Let us see, then, what
counties changed their pluralities, and in what others con-
siderable Democratic gains were made. Twenty counties
changed their pluralities, namely: Butler, Cameron, Craw-
ford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Jefferson, Lackawanna, Luzerne,
McKean, Mercer, MifBin, Montgomery, Northumberland, Pot-
ter, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, and Wy-
oming. A glance at the map reveals the fact that all but six
of these counties lie in the northern belt, where the influences
of ancestry, tradition, and industry have been conspicuously
different from those experienced in the southern belt. The
northern counties were settled by immigration from New
York and New England, to which was added a considerable
intermixture of the Scotch Irish. Their industries, espe-
cially in recent years, have been of the sort that develop the
instinct of enterprise, and accustom the mind to ideas of
change and progress. The counties in this list not in the
northern belt are in the southwestern corner and in the
middle belt, except Montgamery, near the southeastern
corner. The latter contains a large suburban population,
whose business interests are in Philadelphia, and a large pro-
portion of the independent feeling that was expressed during
the campaign in meetings and in newspaper articles in that
city was felt at the polls, not in the city proper, but in Mont-
gomery County and the neighbouring county of Delaware.

The other counties in which important Democratic gains
were made were Allegheny, containing the great industrial
cities of Allegheny and Pittsburg and lying on the western
border of the state, between Washington County and the
counties of the northern belt ; Beaver, originally included in
Allegheny and Washington ; Blair, Bradford, Huntington,
Indiana, Susquehanna, and Tioga, in the middle and north-
ern belts; Schuylkill, the great anthracite mining county.



NATURE AND CONDUCT OF POLITICAL MAJOEITIES 189-

lying just within the southeastern limit of the middle belt ;.
and Chester, in the southeastern corner of the state.

There remains, besides the city and county of Philadel-
phia, the great wedge of land extending from the Maryland
border well into the interior of the state. Sociologically,
this is one of the most interesting regions of the United
States. It was settled by Germans, Swedes, and Welsh,.
French Huguenots, and people of English descent of a much
less aggressive type than those who pushed their way into-
the state from the north. In many parts of this region the
dialect spoken is unintelligible to persons not to the manner
born. In others, of course, the English influence strongly
predominates ; but, in all, the type of feeling and opinion and
the modes of life are unlike those found elsewhere. This-
entire region was scarcely touched by the Pattison wave.
In the returns by counties we discover hardly a suggestion
of independent voting. In the prosperous counties of Berks^
Franklin, and Lancaster the Democratic vote actually fell
off, as it might fall in any other non-presidential year, while
in Cumberland and York it barely held its own, with gains
of less than two hundred in each.

From such facts as these it is evident that different de-
grees of sensitiveness to opinion may be only one phase of
fundamental differences of mental quality characterizing the
entire populations of large geographical sections. Feelings,
instincts, habits, as well as ideas, may be profoundly differ-
ent. Consequently, when questions arise that appeal to
emotion as well as to intelligence, a disintegration of majori-
ties is possible to an extent that could never be effected by
true independent voting.

What is the implication ? Obviously it is that if, in many
parts of a country, the small portion of a political party which
is sensitive to opinion is separated geographically from the
portion that is governed chiefly by habit, the cohesion of a
majority is almost wholly an affair of feeling rather than of
intelligence, since great numbers of voters may be entirely
untouched by the currents of opinion that influence others.
This is very far, however, from being the whole fact, or even



190 DEMOCEACY AND EMPIRE

the most essential part of the fact. The cohesion is not only
one of feeling apart from opinion; it is one of feeling into
which no radical element enters. It is an affair of a very-
primitive, slowly changing, in a word a very conservative,
feeling, and cannot be anything else ; since segregated masses
of voters that are untouched by the progressive opinions of
more active-minded men are equally unaffected by their more
radical feelings. But all this means that the conduct of a
majority so constituted is strictly conditioned. It must have
and will have a conservative regard for a primitive kind of po-
litical instincts. If it undertakes progressive changes, these
must be only in matters that do not interest unprogressive
communities or disturb their uneventful way of life.

It is desirable, therefore, before going further, to have an
answer to the question whether the geographical segrega-
tion of the progressive and the unprogressive types of voters
is likely to be a general and permanent feature of demo-
cratic republics. Sociology can give this answer : The even
distribution of the independent vote in Massachusetts is
exceptional, and always will be so. It involves either ho-
mogeneity of population or a very even distribution of heter-
ogeneous elements. This last is the fact in Massachusetts,
but not in many other parts of the country. The unequal
distribution seen in Pennsylvania is more typical. Not only
did the earlier stocks in our population show a strong ten-
dency to local segregation as they moved westward across
the continent, but the new elements brought in by immi-
gration are doing the same thing. The outlines of these
groupings may change, but the groupings on the whole will
be permanent, notwithstanding the increasing facilities of
communication and the more nearly perfect diffusion of
knowledge. The people of the eastern shore of Maryland,
the Tennessee mountaineers, the Northern and the Southern
stocks in Indiana, Illinois, and Kansas, will retain their char-
acteristics in spite of a thousand levelling influences. For
population is not a quiescent mass, even after the great move-
ments of migration and immigration have ceased. A sifting
process is ever going on, and it fixes types of character for



NATURE AND CONDUCT OF POLITICAL MAJORITIES 191

entire communities. Young men of push and determination,
that happen to be born and bred in the community that is
satisfied to let well enough alone, get out of it as soon as
Providence permits and their savings enable them to do so.
Young men of the other sort stay where they find them-
selves, and add their inertia to the common stock. So the
progressive are continually drafted off to where the pro-
gressive have already created the better opportunities of life.
If, however, the man of progressive instincts is unable for
any reason to leave the habitat of his birth, another thing
happens. One side of his nature, unused, finding nothing
to stimulate its activity, remains undeveloped. He lives as
much per day as the men about him permit him to live, and
no more. He becomes one of them, to know good and evil
no more than they.

This sifting and character-shaping process would be suf-
ficient, though unsupplemented by other influences, to per-
petuate the geographical segregation of progressive and
unprogressive types. Actually, however, it is supplemented
in a powerful way. The progressive vote, geographically
localized, may be unable to accomplish the legislative or
administrative changes it desires over wide areas, that is, in
national affairs, and yet in local affairs it may be in com-
mand of the situation. From this fact two momentous
results follow. First, under the conditions supposed, de-
mocracy, however radical, the numerical majority, however
powerful, will never destroy or emasculate local self-govern-
ment. Affairs that are not properly local may be transferred
to the central administration; but there need not be the
slightest fear that, in a nation of wide territorial extent, of
varied industries and heterogeneous population, the unin-
stitutional, inarticulate massing of power that Lieber so
dreaded will go far enough to destroy independent local
action in matters that are of strictly local concern. Second,
progressive legislation and administrative reforms in a great
many matters will be accomplished, in a country like our
own, by some of the state governments long before corre-
sponding changes are attempted by the national government



192 DEMOCRACY AND EMPIRE

State governments will set the, example. The abolition of
slavery was a perfect historical illustration, because the con-
ditions were exactly of the kind that I have been describing.
Banking laws, bankruptcy laws, the regulation of railroad
management, are examples from economic interests. But
if thus in some states public policy will be far in advance of
public policy in the nation at large, it will be even farther in
advance of public policy in other states. An examination of
the educational, economic, and punitive legislation of the
different commonwealths of the American Union always
reveals an astonishing range of variation.

Now it is this unequal pressure and influence of public
policy that powerfully supplements the natural selection
which is .all the while increasing the mental mobility of
some communities and confirming the conservatism of others.
The natural segregations of population types do not often
correspond accurately to state lines, but the influence of
county, township, and municipal governments is not to be
ignored, especially in education and in many economic mat-
ters, including taxation. The effect of state legislation,
however, in many cases, is to bring about a close approxima-
tion of natural divisions even to state lines. It transforms
or drives out certain elements ; not always directly, by edu-
cation or by the incidence of taxation, but quite as often
indirectly, by modifying the medium of feeling and ideas
in which the individual is born and nurtured.

We have now the data for a few final conclusions. A
political majority of the voters of a large country, with diver-
sified resources and occupations and a heterogeneous popu-
lation, will be governed mainly by a conservative instinct
and will be modified only very slowly by opinion. It will
carefully respect the fundamental political prejudices of
" slow " people. Among such prejudices are those in favour
of personal liberty in the broad sense of the word, against
the increase of direct taxation, against certain forms of
sumptuary legislation, and against interference with such
traditional political habits as have become a second nature.
In America those legal and political practices that we all



NATURE AND CONDUCT OF POLITICAL MAJOBITTES 193

agree in regarding as fundamental defences of civil liberty
are in little danger from the action of popular majorities.
The common law, the traditional forms of procedure, and
«uch rights as those of public meeting are quite strong enough
in popular respect to be perfectly secure. Written constitu-
tional limitations are of inestimable value for giving definite-
ness to the action of conservative forces, but it is by the power
■of conservative habits that the constitution itself is maintained.

So far, we seem to be in general agreement with the con-
clusions of Sir Henry Maine. Popular government, it would
appear, is likely to be on the whole unprogressive. The feel-
ings and beliefs that hold a majority together are, in sub-
stance, a faith that majority action will defend the elementary
rights, the common interests, and the established political
•customs of the people. But mere faith of this sort would
impart no power of aggressive action, and without some slight
infusion of aggressiveness there can be no progress. Yet
that popular governments will be moderately progressive has
been aflSrmed to be probable, and it has been shown that in
any majority a progressive mental element is united with the
more dominant conservatism. It remains for us to glance at
the conditions that enable this element to hold the majority
in some degree to a positive policy. While everything must
be avoided that conservatism is unitedly or in the mass inter-
ested in having let alone, much can be done in matters to
which conservatism is indifferent, or which it can gradually
^be brought to desire.

One means of progress that has played a momentous part
in history need not detain us, since its effectiveness is one
of the most familiar truths of political science. I refer, of
course, to the unifying and stimulating influence of war.
Nothing else in the same degree rouses a people to positive
action, and its influence is felt in a thousand ways long after
the immediate occasion has disappeared. A condition that
is more strictly sociological is the flow of population to towns
and cities, which bids fair, in time, to give a numerical pre-
ponderance to the voters that are in close and constant touch
Tsdth fresh currents of opinion. But there is yet one other



194 DEMOCRACY AND EMPIRE

condition that is even more definitely sociological, and to this
I wish briefly to call attention. That the organization of
numbers of men for any form of cooperation is subject to
psychological laws, has been from the outset our assumption,
either tacit or express. A law not mentioned hitherto, but
now to be recognized as one of controlling influence, is that
of the relation of activity to cohesion and to coordination.
In the individual mind a logical association of ideas cannot
be perfectly maintained when mental activity slackens. Not
more can an association of individuals be held together with-
out continuous agitation or discussion. A church or a club,
a scientific association or a philanthropic guild fails to hold
the allegiance of its members when it ceases to stimulate
their thought. However predominant feeling may be in the
social bond, it is never wholly dissociated from ideas and be-
liefs, even in the most ignorant individuals or communities.
Whatever power of thought there is must be enlisted and
kept in action, or feeling itself ceases and all interest disap-
pears. The populations of large geographical sections may be
absolutely unresponsive to some movements of opinion, and
it may often be impossible to put them in touch with the
ideas of the larger world ; but now and then they must be
reached, their power to respond must be put to the test, or
they will cease to have any part in the affairs of the world
beyond their local borders.

A majority, then, cannot be held together, even by bonds
of prejudice and habit, if it follows too long a passive policy.



Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 15 of 29)