John Hays Hammond.

Great American issues, political, social, economic (a constructive study) online

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must he expect to face? In the first place his general
character would fall under the attack of his profes-
sional political opponents, and his name would be as-
sociated with all those insinuations and charges which
are the mean and common weapons of political warfare.
In addition, if he were elected to Congress or to a State
Assembly, the first thing that would happen to him would
be that his net income would be reduced by probably
fifty or seventy-five per cent.

Let us suppose that he accepts this sacrifice as his
contribution to good citizenship, and decides to do his
best toward the furtherance of constructive legislation.
A very short experience in a legislative chamber would
serve to convince him that the majority of his fellow
members were more concerned about party advantage and
reelection than about the public welfare, and that legis-
lative debate was addressed less to the merits of the points
at issue than to the need of placating the animosities and



POLITICS AND THE CITIZEN 37

pandering to the prejudices of a member's constituents.

If such a legislator should decide to hold himself
aloof from the chicanery of politics and to vote only ac-
cording to the dictates of his conscience and the voice
of his reason, he would soon find himself regarded as
a crank by his opponents and a party traitor by his as-
sociates; and the party machine would see to it that he
was defeated at the next election. Nor would his po-
sition be greatly improved if he took the opposite course
and became a staunch party man, a vote that could
always be depended upon. In such a case he could only
hope, as a minimum result, that his district would con-
tinue to retain him so long as the majority of its voters
remained loyal to his party, and, as a maximum, that
he could secure some high political post the governor-
ship of a state, a cabinet position, or a diplomatic office.
On the most favorable supposition he would at the end
of ten years be a poorer man than when he entered
politics, while the attainment of any post would carry
with it no assurance that at the next election the defeat
of his party would not relegate him to private life.

A patriotic man might well face these dispiriting
manifestations of American political life if there were
any strong likelihood that he could render some really
memorable service to his country, or that he would find
in an enduring public esteem some compensation for the
loss of time, of money, and of peace of mind. But no
such prospect is before him. Whatever political power
he may gather into his hands through long years of stren-
uous activity he can scarcely hope to employ in the pub-
lic service, for the energy he has hitherto expended in
securing power he must now largely expend in retaining
it. He will have to meet not only the fatuous criticism
of the opposite party, but also in many cases the paralyz-



38 GREAT AMERICAN ISSUES

ing obstruction of jealous rivalry within his own party.

The commentary of Lord Macaulay upon English poli-
tics applies with vastly greater force to American poli-
tics. Speaking of the Right Honorable T. P. Courtenay,
who had recently retired from Parliamentary life,
Macaulay says: "He has little reason to envy any of
those who are still engaged in a pursuit from which, at
most, they can only expect that, by relinquishing liberal
studies and social pleasures, by passing nights without
sleep and summers without one glimpse of the beauties
of nature, they may attain that laborious, that invidious,
that closely watched slavery which is mocked with the
name of power." Moreover, against the slender pros-
pect that he may serve his country well as a legislator or
as an administrative official, the American politician of
ideals must set the certainty that his efforts will at the
best be rewarded by public opinion with neglect, and
at the worst with contempt.

The situation outlined above is surely not one always
to attract the best type of man to political life. Yet,
to-day, more than ever before, we are faced with prob-
lems of statesmanship which for their successful solution
will require all that is wisest, most humane, most up-
right, most constructive, and most experienced, in Amer-
ican character.

How are these higher elements to be mobilized for the
service of the country ? How are we to redeem our po-
litical life from the state into which it has fallen through
becoming the refuge of mediocrity? Upon finding the
right answer to these questions will depend the fate of
the United States in its dealing with those great moral
and material problems for the solution of which the war
has paved the way, and for the struggle with which the
idealism of a righteous cause for war, the discipline of



POLITICS AND THE CITIZEN 39

war, and the unifying influence of war have prepared
the mass of our people.

If these questions were approached from the stand-
point of political technique, if we were to discuss pri-
maries and conventions, pledges and platforms, party
funds and party bosses, we should merely be entering
upon ground which has been so plowed up by the shells
of controversy that every road has been obliterated. All
these matters, it is true, must be taken into account in
due season, but to entangle oneself in a maze of detail
when fundamental principles are at stake would be to
miss the political resurrection by stopping to fuss over
one's ascension robes.

Our immediate need is not a new machinery, but a
new conception of politics. If we can give the voter a
broader, a truer, a nobler vision of the part which poli-
tics plays in the general welfare of the country, it will
not be in the power of disease in our political system
to blight the harvest of good works. The new era will
dawn when we come to recognize that the foundation of
every political edifice of which democracy is the architect
is the character of its citizens ; that no beauty of design,
no grandeur of scale, no detail of ornament can save
that building from crumbling into ruin if the foundation
is not kept sound.

Once this principle is thoroughly grasped, once it has
become as much a part of our political consciousness as
honesty is of our social consciousness it will be possible
to pave the way for the participation of thousands of
men in political life who now hold aloof, but whose in-
fluence, once they enter politics, will elevate its tone, in-
crease its efficiency, and make a political career as un-
desirable for the undesirable citizen as it now is for the
desirable.



IV1

IDEALS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

MOST men find it hard to explain exactly what they
mean by democracy, although of recent years the term
has been on everybody's lips. It seems to mean one
thing in Great Britain, another in France, another in
Italy, another in Switzerland and another in Russia. It
means, in fact, so many different things that men often
try to steady their bewildered brains by qualifying it as a
"real" democracy or "true" democracy. It is, indeed, an
elusive will-o'-the-wisp, defying definition, and it is not
our purpose here to add another futile attempt to bring
it within the confining limits of a phrase or set of phrases.
We are concerned neither with the abstractions of
philosophy nor world problems, but simply with the prob-
lems which at this time confront the American people.

In the preceding chapter we considered the importance
of insuring a larger participation in politics of the best
elements of American life. National affairs cannot be
adequately handled, in the manner most conducive to our
national welfare, so long as these elements hold aloof.
The course of events during the war demonstrated con-
clusively that there was no lack of good will, no holding
back from whatever public service promised to advance
the national cause. Nor was this patriotism and loyalty
of al} classes a temporary ebullition of sentiment. It is
an old saying that one cannot gather figs from thistles.
If, then, in times of peace we do not have the same re-

40



IDEALS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 41

sponse of all classes to the call of public service, may it
not be because under a cumbersome machinery of party
politics we have so muffled the call that men do not hear
it? Indeed, if American democracy has not made the
progress that we expected of it, is it not because we have
fostered or tolerated parasitical political growth which,
like the barnacles on a ship's keel, impede its progress?
If democracy is to exist and grow stronger in the future,
it can only be by a full realization of this truth, and by
insuring the freest and most conclusive expression to the
mature will and convictions of the people. To show how
this is to be brought about is our present endeavor.

Reduced to its simplest form the goal for which we
must strive is our reestablishment upon a solid founda-
tion of representative Democracy laid down by
the Constitution of the United States. The nature and
extent of our political ills can be measured by the dis-
tance we have traveled from that historic landmark. We
have gradually fallen into the practices of delegated
Democracy, and those who urge upon us the Initiative,
the Referendum, and the Recall, would drive us to that
extreme horizon of direct Democracy from which van-
tage point the pole of representative government is
scarcely discernible.

The direct bearing of these different types of demo-
cratic government upon the question of producing more
intelligent voters and better legislators is easily estab-
lished. In a representative democracy the voters pick out
a man to represent them. The representative is supposed
to have a free hand and to be subject to no direct per-
suasion as to how he shall vote on any particular question.
Under such a system the successful candidate has joined
in him both responsibility to and authority from those
whom he represents, and it is in the union of these two



42 GREAT AMERICAN ISSUES

elements that we find the attraction which draws men of
the highest character and ability to any occupation in
which it is found.

If the representative quality in political choice is firmly
fixed in the voter's mind his sense of responsibility will
be quickened, for he will realize that he is handing a blank
check to another man, trusting that man to fill in the
amount, and foregoing himself the right to stop pay-
ment at the bank. Since the only power he retains over
his representative is that of denying him reelection, he
must face the full consequences of his choice in so far as
the present term is concerned. The representative on
his side must depend upon his general record to secure his
reelection.

In the main, of course, on questions of general policy
the voters of each party select a representative whose
views accord with their own, but regarding many ques-
tions of the highest import he must be allowed to follow
his own judgment, especially if these are complicated, as
in the case of legislation dealing with banking or tax-
ation. With reference to these matters the representative
is in a position to study the details of legislation much
better than can his constituents, and he assumes the posi-
tion of a skilled expert, directing the people's cause as an
engineer or a lawyer represents his clients. Such a rep-
resentative must, of course, hear all that his constituents
have to say, but the decision must be his own.

Another matter of great import is that in the national
government, although representatives are elected by local
constituencies, they must speak and vote in the interest
of the whole country. Usually the interest of the locality
agrees with that of the whole country, but, if these in-
terests are diverse, the representative's oath of office
should compel him to consider his country before his



IDEALS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 43

district. He is a representative, but not a mere delegate,
and the fact that he must in some cases vote against the
will of his particular district in order to conserve the
good of the nation as a whole militates against the dele-
gate theory of democracy as much as do good judg-
ment and political expediency.

Of late years we have witnessed a decrease of faith in
the representative system on the part of a large element
of the population. This phenomenon must be laid to the
fact that with the development of powerful party
machines, and by their seizure of nominating conventions,
it came about that the representative no longer truly
represented the voters, or even the voters' representatives
in convention assembled, but only that portion of the
voters' representatives which controlled the political
machines that dominated the convention. Thus, the po-
litical center of gravity in many cases perhaps gener-
ally, has gradually shifted. It had formerly rested
between the voter and his representative; it has slowly
assumed a position somewhere between the local party
machine and its delegate, the nominee offered to the
convention.

Slow as these changes were to make themselves felt,
they have finally had the effect of leaving us in far too
many cases with a machinery of representative govern-
ment made over to function as a system of delegated
government. The voter, instead of choosing a represen-
tative, chose a party; the party provided him with a
convention, the party machine provided the convention
with delegates; and the delegates provided a candidate
whose allegiance was no longer to the voter, but to the
party machine, and whose vote, after election, no longer
reflected his independent judgment on legislation but only
his agreement to stand v by his party.



'44 GREAT AMERICAN ISSUES

As time passed it became painfully evident that our
political system was going wrong. The flow of legisla-
tion increased to an unprecedented volume, but this im-
mense legislative sowing yielded a very poor harvest of
results. Gradually a new element was added to the gen-
eral discontent : the growth of a conviction in the minds
of the body of voters of all parties that the government
of the country had been taken away from them and had
been vested in the inner cliques of the party machines.
This discontent found its expression in a demand that
the power of government should be "restored to the peo-
ple," and among the methods selected to achieve this
purpose were the direct election of United States Sena-
tors and the substitution of the Primary for the Con-
vention as the means of securing candidates.

These changes represented the views of the moderate
element in the two great parties, but to the mind of the
extremist a more drastic remedy commended itself, no
less than a proposal to accept the failure of representative
government as settled, to ignore the fact that the seeming
failure was due to the gradual disappearance of the rep-
resentative quality in our government, and frankly to
accept the idea of delegated government and set it up in
place of the representative type which it had slowly cor-
rupted.

The instruments by means of which this profound
change in our political institutions was to be effected were
the Initiative, the Referendum, and the Recall. Whether
or not these experiments will make for good government
in the United States in the twentieth century only the
application of them can finally prove, but there can be no
doubt whatever that their general acceptance would com-
pletely alter the character of our government, would de-
stroy the principle of representation on which it was



IDEALS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 45

founded, and would provide us with a system which no
great nation has adopted since the pagan days when
Greece was the center of the world's civilization.

Moreover, the Initiative and Referendum, if frequently
used, would drive from public life a large proportion of
our ablest politicians, and the Recall would drive from
public service on the bench every self respecting lawyer.
Few honest and competent citizens would leave a busi-
ness or professional career to enter one in which the rep-
resentative's part would be hardly better than that of a
messenger boy, and in which personal ability and expe-
rience would count for little or nothing. Applied to the
Judiciary, the Recall would indeed remove the bandage
from the eyes of Justice. It would also strike from one
hand the scales, whilst leaving in the other the sword.
Surely, no lawyer of repute could be found who would
consent to occupy a bench from which he would be called
upon to dispense overnight public sentiment, and from
which overnight public sentiment could drag him any
morning.

The best that can be said of the Initiative and Referen-
dum is that in Switzerland where they have been used
most, the cantons are in some instances so small that the
laws proposed are voted on in mass meeting. In the
large cantons and in the Central Government, the process
is optional on the basis of a large petition. The Swiss
people have had a long experience in self-government and
long practise in the use of the Referendum and Initiative,
but even their experience would not seem to make ad-
visable the extension of the system to this country. They
have usually been very conservative so much so that
they have often defeated, and thus delayed for some
years, essential reforms later adopted. Again, in some
instances, as in the anti-vaccination and anti-Semitic



46 GREAT AMERICAN ISSUES

movements, skilful agitation has swept the voters with a
gust of passion and legislation has been enacted that
later had to be repealed.

Even though the Swiss plan had always worked to the
best advantage, Swiss conditions differ so vastly from
those in the United States that they can hardly be made
the basis of argument or analogy. In addition, it should
not be forgotten that we now have a type of referendum
in the matter of revisions of our constitutions. On broad
simple questions such as really belong in a constitution,
where what the people wish is of more importance than
any special form of expressing it, the referendum is
sound. The people can well judge whether trial by jury
or quartering of soldiers on them is a good thing and
whether or not they wish it. They cannot well judge the
details of a banking law or a tariff schedule or a labor
insurance law. They would be swayed more by a skilful
demagogical appeal against "Wall Street," or "Monopo-
lies," or "Gary," or "Morgan" on the one hand, and
"Socialists," or "Trade Unions," or "Debs," or "Gom-
pers" on the other, than by any careful or well reasoned
study of facts and principles. But they could easily pick
out the man whose trained judgment they could trust on
these technical questions, if only there were fair methods
of electing such men as their representatives.

Each of these revolutionary proposals, the Initiative,
the Referendum and the Recall, breathes a spirit of dis-
trust, not only of the people's representatives, but also of
the people themselves. The representatives, say the pro-
ponents of these radical theories, cannot be trusted to
initiate legislation (although any responsible citizen has
no trouble now in having a bill introduced into any of
our legislative bodies), the people, therefore, must have



IDEALS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 47

the power of initiative. Moreover, since this initiative
by the people cannot itself be trusted to insure proper
legislative action, it must be subject to a referendum.
Even the referendum cannot be trusted, for the recall
must be held over the head of each official legislative,
administrative, and judicial who is charged with the
duty of giving effect to the decree of the referendum.
The whole thing is a nightmare of distrust, a humiliating
spectacle of political panic. Certainly, no argument has
been advanced in favor of the Initiative, the Referen-
dum, or the Recall, which proves that the reforms which
their advocates predict from putting them into operation
could not be effected with equal certainty and without
tearing our political institutions to pieces if we should go
back to the true principles of representative government.
By making only such few changes in its machinery as
experience has proved to be necessary we should be able
to accomplish the reforms desired, and at the same time
be guarded against the Swiss experiences.

It must be admitted that Congress and the State Legis-
latures did at one time justly fall under the suspicion that
they contained too many men who represented special in-
terests rather than the public welfare, and that corruption
had come to play a part in the election of legislatures
and in the votes of legislators. But the past twenty years
have witnessed a great change for the better, and so far
as honesty is concerned our national and state legisla-
tures have never been at a higher level than they are
to-day. This improvement has been effected without the
aid of the Initiative, the Referendum, and the Recall.
It has been brought about by several agencies primarily
by the educational and moral influence of publicity, in
part by the popular election of Senators, and probably



48 GREAT AMERICAN ISSUES

also in part by the adoption of the Primary as a means of
selecting political candidates.

One of the principal causes of dissatisfaction with the
two-party system has been that under the conditions
that have developed along with party organization, neither
party is at times responsive enough to new issues of real
importance to the public. Failing to secure the endorse-
ment of either party, advocates of a new political idea or
measure have from time to time banded themselves to-
gether to form a new party with a platform centered on
this particular measure. The success of a third party, of
course, depends upon the popularity of the principles for
which it stands and upon the influence of its leaders and
principal adherents. Rarely, however, has a third party
succeeded in establishing itself as a political power, and
failing in this, it can influence the already existing parties
only to a small extent, and succeeds only in withdrawing
voters from those parties. The achievement of third
parties even in this particular is relatively small.

Is the third party method after all the best way in
which to institute a needed measure or to bring about a
desirable "reform" ? Granting that the purpose for which
the third party is organized is highly desirable, it .is
proper to take also into consideration the cost in effort,
the diversion of public attention from other matters per-
haps equally important, the disorganization of political
strength, and the confusion of political ideals. If the
same amount of effort were expended within a single
existing party, would not more practical results be ob-
tained ? Unless both of the leading parties have become
utterly unresponsive to a considerable portion of the elec-
torate, the "third-party" method of advancing a political
ideal or a specific measure would seem to be cumbersome
as well as expensive. Of course, if one of the two prin-



IDEALS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY 49

cipal parties has become ineffective even as an opposition
party, a new political organization might eventually be
expected to take its place and gradually absorb it.

The natural alignment of the voters of a State or a
Nation is in the two-party political system the party in
control and the party in opposition and seeking control.
Public opinion crystallizes itself for and against a set of
general political principles and for and against the actual
results arising from such principles when put into prac-
tise. If public conscience is alert, if public interest does
not entirely flag, the alignment of practically all elements
of the electorate along two lines is sufficient to maintain
the proper balance between reactionary conservatism and
radical progressivism. A third party under ordinary con-
ditions tends to disturb this balance.

Honesty in politics will never fall to its former low
estate if our aroused public conscience is kept awake.
Our real task to-day is to secure competence in politics,
and this is difficult of accomplishment. Legislative hon-
esty is easily defined, easily understood, easily made the
subject of public agitation. Legislative dishonesty, when
proved, can be visited with severe punishment. Legisla-
tive competence, however, is a highly complex matter.
As its definition must be framed in terms of opinion and
not in terms of law, no sharp line can be drawn between
competence and incompetence, and it is only when they
are exhibited in an extreme form that they are clearly
distinguishable. Even when they appear in that form the


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Online LibraryJohn Hays HammondGreat American issues, political, social, economic (a constructive study) → online text (page 4 of 20)