Federal Usurpation (1908)
Franklin Pierce (1853-19XX)
How to Restore the Democratic Republic
“To bid the political machines to do away with corruption in order to save the government is to bid them give up that which to them makes government worth saving.”Anon
“No system of government . . . can ever pretend to accomplish its legitimate end apart from the personal character of the people, or to supersede the necessity of individual virtue and vigor.”Grote
“The durability of liberty owes its greatest security to the constant suspicion of the people.”Hallam
“Nothing, indeed, will appear more certain, on any tolerable consideration of this matter, than that every sort of government ought to have its administration correspondent to its legislature.”Burke
“The most far-seeing statesman will not so trust his own misgivings as to refuse to hope for the regeneration of the institutions into which he is born. He will determine that justice shall be done. . . . Constitutions are never overthrown till they have pronounced sentence upon themselves.”Froude
No people in history ever relied so implicitly upon the making of laws, the creation of constitutions, and the protection of life and property through courts as the American people. Our people are really beside themselves in their belief in the efficiency of law for the correction of evils. Congress yearly passes three or four thousand statutes, and the state legislatures add about twenty-five thousand pages more. We permit the political bosses to select for our suffrages members of assembly, senators, and judges; then we make our choice between their candidates, go home from the polls and get so busy in our own affairs that no one is left to watch the men elected. It is a fundamental error, in our thinking, that evils admit of immediate and radical remedies through legislation. “If you would but do this or do that,” we say, “the mischief will be prevented.” No set of laws, however good, will bring good government unless honestly and intelligently administered, nor unless those responsible for such administration are held strictly accountable at all times for public abuses. The sore spot in our government is right here, do the people really wish good government? Is there sufficient public virtue among our citizens to demand and appreciate good government? If the legislature passes a bad law you can repeal it, if the Constitution is defective you can amend it, but if the “people themselves are lacking in public spirit there is no remedy.”
There is no such thing as remedying existing abuses, or amending our Constitution so as to bring it into harmony with our times and requirements, unless the people really believe that conditions are dangerous. The only way to keep government free is for each individual to presume that government is in the wrong, and that presumption will keep it upon its good behavior. We must become disgusted with the present conditions and desirous for something better before a great change will take place. We have been fed so long on comparisons of our own exalted condition with that of the oppressions of European people, we have been educated to such reverence for our Constitution, that we have arrived .at that condition of sanguine optimism where the worst phases of our life are believed by many people to be the evidence of our superiority. When a people settle down in serene confidence that law and social justice, the preservation of the state, and all such matters have been provided for them for all time through a constitution, and that all they have to do is to ride in the constitutional ship and devote their entire attention to private business, they need to be shocked into the consciousness that their liberties are in danger, and that their very optimism is a temptation to politicians to abuse their confidence.
The political partisan is never a critic. He and his associates are ever engaged in covering the sores of their party. What the people need is a large body of fearless men who ask no favors of government, and who are willing to stand up and ask disagreeable questions, and utter uncomfortable truths, and lay their fingers upon abuses, and attack the men behind those abuses. A people may prefer free government and still be unequal to the exertions necessary to preserve it. Down deep in the nature of the American man is the quality of always trying to avoid trouble and save time. If an American and an Englishman are traveling together in Europe, and a cabman or guide or hotel keeper attempts to extort money from them, the Englishman will say, “I will not pay it; I will fight it out with him.” But the American will counsel, “If we try to fight it out with him it will keep us here a week, and we cannot afford that; let us pay him.” The one method destroys abuses at whatever cost when they first appear, the other permits evils to grow and grow until they become a part of the very life of government, and must be cut out at last, if at all, from the roots.
Goldwin Smith tells us265 that as the body of William the Conqueror was being lowered into the grave, Ascelin Fitzarthur, a private citizen, stood forth and forbade the burial, saying that the ground was his, and that he had been wrongfully deprived of it. He was promised the full value of his land and allowed the burial to go on. Here we have that spirit of resistance against the infringement of one’s rights which has preserved the right of property and liberty among men. There is no such thing as an individual securing his rights unless he is willing to insist upon them at all times; and there is no such thing as a people securing their rights unless they are ready to fight for them at all times. When you can slap a man in the face and he shows no spark of resentment, you can safely shelve that man as an unfit citizen; and when a man can see a cruel injustice done in a law court or in society and not cry out against it, he is always an unfit citizen. “A wise man,” said George Eliot, “more than two thousand years ago, when asked what would most tend to lessen injustice, said that every bystander should feel as indignant at a wrong as if he himself were the sufferer.”
The all-pervasive cause of present conditions is found in our maddening struggle for wealth and the commercial spirit of our countrymen. In 1883 Andrew D. White, in his noble address, The Message of the Nineteenth Century to the Twentieth, delivered at the reunion of his class at New Haven, put his finger upon this danger and advised the development of other great elements of civilization to hold the commercial spirit in check, saying: “The greatest work which the coming century has to do in this country, is to build up an aristocracy of thought and feeling which shall hold its own against the aristocracy of mercantilism. I would have more and more the appeal made to every young man who feels within him the ability to do good or great things in any of these higher fields, to devote his powers to them as a sacred duty, no matter how strongly the mercantile or business spirit may draw him. I would have the idea preached early and late. . . .” The evils of commercialism, comparatively slight when Mr. White said these words, have been increasing with maddening speed ever since. Failure to make a fortune is the unpardonable sin of our country. Wealth makes the man; no person is accounted either great or honored without it.
History presents no country where the people gave themselves up to such commercialism that preserved its liberties for any considerable period of time. The reason for this is that when any such consuming passion takes possession of a people, it absorbs all other powers and grows by what it feeds upon, until it eats out the humanizing virtues and liberty-loving virtues of men. Art, literature, culture, religion, each feels its pressure and finally succumbs to its dominating spirit. The materialistic spirit of our day is atrophying the minds, the consciences, and the imaginations of men. The spirit of poetry, the beauties of mythology, and the delights of art are all sent to the rear by this triumphant force. We have to go back fifty years in our history to reach the time when the great body of our citizens admired poets, orators, philosophers, novelists, and historians. Clay, Webster, or Calhoun, in the United States Senate, were the delight of the people. Emerson, Bryant, Lowell, Holmes, Whittier, had their hundreds of thousands of admirers. Then the millionaire appeared upon the scene, scattering his money for charity, purchasing newspapers, furnishing campaign funds, buying legislators, making all political life a business, and all was changed.
Xerxes, after the battle of Thermopylae, while moving his troops to the south, was assured by Mardonius, the Greek, that the Peloponnesians, even at that moment, were occupied with the celebration of the Olympic games.
“What prize does the victor receive?” he asked. Upon the reply that the prize was nothing more than a wreath of the wild olive, a kinsman of Xerxes, in his presence, is said to have exclaimed, “Heavens! Mardonius, what manner of men are these against whom thou hast brought us to fight! Men who contend not for money but for honor!” Today men do not contend for honor, because if they attain honor without wealth they are of little account. The steel king, the oil king, the railway king, the cattle king, the mining king, attract and absorb the attention of the people. The newspaper columns are filled with their doings because we reverence wealth, and hence reverence the men who have it.
If we wish to check the power of organized and unscrupulous wealth over government, one way will be to change our own personal standards of right and wrong, and our social customs, and through those to affect public opinion. This idea was admirably stated by John Sharp Williams in the House of Representatives in 1905, when he said: “Public opinion in administrative and financial circles is a man’s environment: and the trouble is with public opinion itself. The trouble is with the American people. Down deep at the bottom of our hearts, God help us, nearly all of us somewhat respect and envy the fellow who has ‘financed’ five hundred thousand dollars. We are like Thackeray’s snob was about the nobility when he exclaimed, ‘I dearly love a lord.’ … if every Member of this House to-night should receive an invitation to dine with McCurdy or with McCall, nine tenths of you would cynically say, ‘Is the wine good? Does he roast his ducks well?’ And you would go, the most of you.” We rail against the predatory trusts, but we envy the wealth of the men who are in the predatory trusts. We deal with them, flatter them, and refuse to treat their crimes as we treat those of the poor. Because we have made money our god we do not look forward to having our sons attain fame for learning or eloquence, but we all hope to see them secure wealth. “No home,” says Mr. Lloyd in his Wealth Against Commonwealth, “is so low that it may not hope that out of its fledglings one may grow the hooked claw that will make him a millionaire.”
So thoroughly has commercialism taken possession of our people that we do not appreciate the service of those who labor for the public weal with no expectation of receiving benefits therefrom. The ordinary legislative committee is a representative of public opinion, and the members of it will always listen with more attention to a man of business, no matter how disreputable, than it will to a citizen who is seeking in no manner to further his own interests. We worship business and business success, and our whole theory of legislation is to give some man or some body of men, policemen, firemen, labor-union organizations, trusts, railroads, some advantage through laws. Our legislators care little about the great body of the people, because they are unorganized. They care little about the words of the man who represents unorganized public opinion. Legislation is directed to the security of private property and not to the protection of personal rights and liberties. The attorney who represents a great trust or corporation is looked upon by a legislative committee as a great man, while the man who is giving his whole life to the study of history and of political problems and policies, if he represents no trust or organized party, is considered of little account.
We wonder why our age does not produce such statesmen and orators as we had sixty or seventy years ago. It would produce them if they were appreciated. In the age of Pericles, when all Athenian statesmen met in public assembly and decided public affairs, great men came to the front. Pericles, in his famous funeral oration over the three hundred who died at Thermopylae, according to Thucydides, gave the reason for this. He said: “We call the man who cares not for the public weal a worthless nuisance, not merely an inoffensive citizen . . . for all citizens take a share of the public burdens and are free to urge their opinions on public affairs.” An age of liberty is always an age of appreciation of high public service, and of scrupulous conduct on the part of public men.
After the Revolutionary War Washington turned his attention to improving the intercourse between the different parts of the State of Virginia, and especially between Virginia, Maryland, and the West. “In 1785,” says John Fiske, “he became the President of a company for extending the navigation of the Potomac and James Rivers, and the legislature of Virginia passed an act vesting him with one hundred and fifty shares in the stock of the company, in order to testify to their ‘sense of his unexampled merits,’ but Washington refused the testimonial, and declined to take any pay for his services, be cause he wished to arouse the people to the political importance of the undertaking, and he felt that his words would have more weight if he were known to have no selfish interest in it.” What a noble example for some of our public men today who do nothing unless there is something in it for them. Aristides, when made general receiver of Greece to collect the tribute which each state was to furnish against the barbarians, “was poor,” says Plutarch, “when he set about it; poorer still when he had finished it.” Henry Watterson, in The Compromises of Life, says: “Diogenes, seeking an honest man, might, in the history of the Irish Union, come upon a parallel case in poor old Hussey Bergh, who refused all the gold that England could offer him, abandoned the borough of Kilmainham, for which he sat, and which the British Ministry guaranteed him for life, voted against the bill which robbed his country of its freedom, and was found dead in his bed, with sixpence on the mantel, and a paper on which was scrawled: ‘Ireland forever, and be damned to Kilmainham.'”
Is not such virtue better entitled to the homage of men an hundred times over than the accumulations of the millionaire? There is no immortality of glory connected with millionaire fortunes. Soon, very soon, all the achievements of these men will be forgotten. The Roman Empire in its glory possessed many men with fortunes nearly as great as those of today. The historian of those days describes their chariots, drawn rapidly through the streets of Rome, tearing up the pavements as they went. Probably not one man in a million can mention the name of one of those great millionaires of ancient Rome. It will be just so with our multi-millionaires two thousand years from now, while the memory of Abraham Lincoln, who died poor but wrought so wonderfully for his fellow-men, will still exist, tradition adding to his merits, his glory exempt from mutability and decay, and as immortal as the love of liberty.
It was the rights of man which engaged the attention of political thinkers and of the people at the time of the Declaration of Independence. The people at that time had had so much misery, because of the exactions of the ruling classes, that they were suspicious of power and government. The politician of today knows men, and he knows how to turn their weaknesses to account. He seeks out their little grievances and relieves them, and at the same time he nominates legislators and governors and judges who will carry out the policies of the men who furnish campaign disbursements, and thus put great grievances upon the people. The patriotism which will accomplish results today must come from careful study of our institutions, and must be enthusiastic for greater liberty for the masses of mankind. If mankind is to belong to itself, and not to arbitrary power, it must destroy the power of the boss. If the people of this country are to return to their own again we must cease to tolerate the shams which have always taken so great a hold on the American people. We must do away with the political imposture and quackery which, along with new and strange religions, have thriven in our country.
The destruction of public virtue results more from the oppressive conditions of life than from any other cause. In other countries men are accustomed to retire in middle life, and opportunity is thus given them with leisure to study conditions of government and public affairs. The tendency in our own country is to draw numbers of young men from the country to the city. There the cost of living is so great, and the opportunity for advancement so slight, that all the energies of their life are absorbed in the mere making of a living, and they naturally become bad citizens. So long as the trusts through high prices can absorb the wages of labor and keep men working until the end of life to support themselves and their families, they can manage government as they have in the past. Men must satisfy their physical wants before they will be able to think much about their political rights. The government which allows combinations of corporations to make the cost of living so dear that men must strain their energies to the limit to care for themselves and their families, has no chance of improvement. Free government cannot be reestablished in this country unless monopolies, special privileges, sumptuary laws, and restraints upon trade are abolished. Industrial freedom must come before political freedom can come.
Nor will conditions improve so long as that pernicious fallacy still continues to possess men’s minds, that when they elect public officers the task of solving public questions is upon those public officers. Our President, our Governor, our Congressmen, our assemblymen, will never solve public questions correctly unless there is behind them a vigorous public sentiment demanding that a certain line of action shall be taken. The citizen who attempts to avoid his responsibility by saying that he has done his duty by electing a good man to office, little knows what forces are constantly attempting to influence the action of their public servants. These self-constituted politicians talk much about the dear public, but the thing they fear above all others is a real expression of public opinion. To keep the people quiet, to divert their attention from the sinister forces behind government, to hide their own action behind the doors of legislative committees, is the high art of the latter-day politician. If the people only knew the true conditions and appreciated to what ends they are leading, we almost would have a revolution.
The whole question of restoring democratic government is found in the single problem of how the people can control public men for the public benefit, instead of allowing them to be controlled by combinations for the benefit of those combinations. President Cleveland, in his inaugural address, put the whole problem in two or three sentences as follows: “Your every voter as surely as your chief magistrate, under the same high sanction, though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust. Nor is this all. Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and close scrutiny of its public servants, and a fair and reasonable estimate of their fidelity and usefulness. Thus is the people’s will impressed upon the whole framework of our civil polity municipal, state, and federal; and this is the price of our liberty, and the inspiration of our faith in the republic.” The citizen who keeps aloof from public affairs should receive the condemnation of everyone. To interest men in the discussion of public affairs, and to make that discussion widespread and earnest, is the only efficient means of restoring democratic government. No amendments to the frame of our government, and no laws which legislatures may pass, will avail anything in bringing about a real reform in the condition of our country, unless a change takes place in the performance of our duties as citizens, unless we all come to believe that a trust rests upon each of us individually, and unless the maddening passion of our commercial life is soon abated.
I will now try to indicate one by one some changes in laws and in our Constitution which will aid an effort for better government. The first step which the people of the United States should take is to call a convention through their legislatures in two thirds of the states for proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States. This Constitution is the most undemocratic instrument to be found in any country in the world today. The conditions of its amendment are so difficult as to make amendment impossible unless the people are stirred to their depths over existing conditions. The constitutions of the states have been amended many times to meet the conditions of modern life. The Constitution of the United States, after the first ten amendments at the time of its adoption, was amended twice, and for over sixty years thereafter no amendment thereto was made. The usurpations in government today are largely the result of the rigid provisions of the Constitution and the great difficulty of its amendment. The President strenuously insists that additional powers should be exercised by the national government, and his Secretary of State says that, unless the states do as they ought to do, methods of construction will be found reposing- those additional powers in the national government. “A recent distinguished member,” says Mr. Paul Fuller, “of the department of justice, who has come to practice his profession in New York City, told a body of assembled merchants some time ago that the Supreme Court was a perpetual convention for the amendment of the Constitution.”266
For sixty years Congress, with its committees behind closed doors, each member of which is seeking to get as many pension bills and private bills affecting his district passed as possible, has been appropriating hundreds of millions of dollars of the people’s money, for which there was not the slightest authority in the Constitution. Is it not about time that the people put a stop to these things? The way to do it is to remove all doubt about the provisions of the Constitution by embodying the will of the people today in an amended Constitution. This cannot be done by a single amendment. The only way to stop usurpation is to remodel the whole Constitution, and that can never be accomplished until the right to amend it is less difficult to attain. Let the people arouse themselves to one supreme effort and change the method of amendment so that the legislatures of one third of the states can propose amendments, and a majority of the voters in a majority of the states can approve amendments.
“The whole scheme of the American Constitution,” says Mr. Bryce, “tends to put stability above activity, and to sacrifice the productive energies of the bodies it creates to their power of resisting changes in the general fabric of the government.”267 The object of a constitution in a democratic form of government should be to allow the opinion of a majority of the electors to act as freely and directly as possible upon public questions. Our Constitution checks and defeats popular control, and makes true party government impossible. The result is that a very few men control the parties today, and they control them largely for the private interests who furnish the money for political campaigns.
Washington desired to make his administration represent the whole people, and conceived the idea that in order to do this he must have in his cabinet the representatives of both parties. So he selected Jefferson, the leader of the Anti-Federalists, as Secretary of State, and Hamilton, leader of the Federalists, as Secretary of the Treasury. He found it impossible to carry on government with men whose views were so radically different. William III, of England, selected his first Ministry from both of the political parties, and the result was that he got into trouble with both. But between 1693 and 1696 he dismissed the Tories and confided the affairs of the state to the Whigs, who had a majority in the House of Commons. From that time the ministry has been selected from whatever party had a majority in the House of Commons, and that ruling party has been held responsible by the people for its measures. The leaders of the party in power have been in the habit of formulating the measures of government to be presented to the House of Commons for their approval, and they have had to take the responsibility for the wisdom of those measures. Those measures have been discussed fully in the open House, and the result has been the passage of comparatively few laws each year, those laws being of a general nature affecting the interests of the whole body of the people.
With us the House of Representatives may be Democratic while the Senate and the President may be Republican. This condition has existed for a considerable proportion of the time since the Civil War. Under such conditions neither party is responsible for legislation. Out of such conditions has grown up the extension of the committee system; and literally hundreds of thousands of private bills, and bills conferring special privileges, have been gotten secretly through the committees and then “jammed,” in the last days of the session, through the House. Billions of dollars of the people’s money have been appropriated for purposes unknown to the Constitution, or, if justified by the Constitution, for purposes without the slightest merit.
These conditions might be remedied by making a majority in the House of Representatives supreme in the matter of lawmaking, and giving to the Senate only a suspensive veto, subject to the second passage of a rejected measure through the House. The Committee on Appropriations and the Ways and Means Committee should be merged into one large committee, and given the control of both the amount of revenue raised and the amount appropriated. It should be provided by Congressional act, or by amendment to the Constitution, if necessary, that the head of each of the great departments of the government should occupy a seat on the floor of the House of Representatives, and that they should be present at least one day in each week, on the opening of the sittings of the House, to give information as to the needs of their departments, and to answer the questions of members of the House.
In the year 1881 a select committee of the United States Senate was appointed to consider a bill to provide that the principal officer of each executive department might occupy a seat on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives. The committee consisted of George H. Pendleton, William B. Allison, Daniel W. Voorhees, James G. Blaine, M. C. Butler, John J. Ingalls, 0. H. Platt, and J. T. Parley.268 The report of that committee, which was unanimous, included the proposed bill providing for this change.269 Under our present Constitution the departments of the government are entirely distinct from the legislative body, and yet the needs of legislation are best known by the heads of departments. The ministers of parliamentary governments today are the heads of departments, and are required not only to be present in the popular branch of the legislature, but they are selected from the members of that branch. The separation of the House of Representatives and the Senate from the heads of departments, each working independently for a common end, is entirely out of keeping with modern parliamentary ideas.
Some means should be devised to stop the fifteen thousand bills which come into the House of Representatives in a single session of Congress. Three fourths of these bills would never have had a being had we adopted the modern parliamentary system of government, wherein the ministry representing the prevailing party prepares bills and limits their introduction. Open public discussion of proposed acts has practically ceased to exist in the House of Representatives, and the Congressman, with no opportunity for attaining fame, contents himself by getting on as prominent a committee as possible, and by gaining favor with his constituents through procuring for them private acts and special legislation. These measures are hardly ever discussed in the open House, they are simply an allotment to each member to aid him in procuring support in his district. As a result we have the most extravagant government in the world. Our River and Harbor Bill alone, in the last session of Congress, was greater than the total cost of government prior to 1860. Congress and the President expended about $2,000,000,000 of the people’s money in the Fifty-ninth Congress, at least a billion more than should have been. The way to stop this vast expenditure is to provide that no private pension bill or any other kind of special legislation shall be passed by Congress. The claims for pensions can be adjusted by the Commissioner of Pensions. The other claims upon the government should be adjusted by the Court of Claims. General legislation should originate and be freely discussed in the open House, and the autocratic powers of the Speaker, which we have described, should be taken away.
The true test of a good constitution is that it allows the voice of the people readily to be reflected in legislation, and that it calls into existence and keeps alive the political action of the people. Our Constitution does not permit this. Whenever a majority of the people can easily enforce their will upon the government, we shall have government by the people. With our present Constitution Republicans and Democrats fight a little in the open House, and then connive and collude behind the doors of the committees in aiding each other to pass all kinds of special and private bills requiring extravagant expenditure of the people’s money. There is no such thing as reflecting the will of the people, except by real party government, such as does not exist in this country. The ideas of the ordinary Democrat or Republican in Congress upon public questions are hazy and indefinite. What we need in this country are parties that contend for principles, and not for plunder. What we want more than military or naval academies, are schools where men can learn something of constitutional law, international law, political economy, and principles of government. The ordinary Congressman has plenty of unverified convictions resting upon strong sentiment, and maintains them with perfect confidence, but seldom is he a master in knowledge of government and of public questions. When will the time come in our country that a large body of men, as in England, are able and willing to give thirty or forty years to the study of public questions, with true devotion to the public welfare, and without any other recompense than the approval of their countrymen? In other countries, men born to wealth come into the world surrounded with traditions of public service. Here the only ambition our wealthy young men appear to bring from college is to make more money than their fathers, and to live more luxuriously.
Politics as a trade has been the curse of the United States ever since the Civil War, and will continue to be until a new line of men with new ideas of their duties to their countrymen are heard in the House of Representatives. Democracy will never be strong until it both has opinions on public questions and then has an opportunity to embody those opinions in legislation. Party government in our country will be the curse it has been for many years until our government is so constituted that party principles, reflecting the different opinions of the people, have a chance to come forward in public discussion before being embodied in legislation. Party government will exist only upon the surface so long as the public lives and acts of the members of Congress are hidden behind the doors of a secret committee. Corruption will find in these committees more and more its unfailing shelter, and usurpation will go on as it has unless the whole system of government is rearranged upon a basis where the people can know what is going on.
If the people wish to rid themselves of the rule of a small class of men who control the trusts and railroads in this country, let them make an end of this kind of government. Let all things in their public assemblies, be done in the open. Let them insist that these tens of thousands of private bills shall be done away with absolutely. Let them have an opportunity to know what their representative is doing, and then let them put up an almighty fight against him whenever he goes amiss. This is the one hope for the existence of anything like free government. It is only when the political party in power is obliged to take upon its shoulders all the mistakes of government, and to become the target of all criticism against government, that there is any such thing as party responsibility. Today the people know little about their representatives. They return them for being good fellows, and for their ability to get government jobs for their district leaders, but the merit of the public measures which they support is about the last thing on which their return depends.
Another change which would bring salutary results is to make the term of the President seven years instead of four, and take away the right of reflection. The President should also be given the power to appoint, without the advice and consent of the Senate, the ambassadors, consuls, judges, and other officials of the United States whom he now nominates. The result of requiring the consent of the United States Senate to these nominations has been to make the Senators, to a certain extent, the masters of the executive, and to aid them through this patronage in building up party machines in their several states. The Senators of any particular state, where nominations are to be made, simply say to the President that their consent must be obtained to the nomination or that their associate Senators will not confirm it. In this way they destroy the intent of the framers of the Constitution that the Senate should consent to all the nominations of the President, except where the person nominated was an improper person for the position. This required consent of the Senate to the President’s appointments has united the legislative with the executive department, and tends to destroy that separation of coordinate powers which was the desire and pride of the men who framed the Constitution. The President should be held responsible for appointments; if they are bad appointments he should not be allowed to divide responsibility with the Senate, if good he is entitled to all the credit of making them.
In connection with this change in the appointment of the officials of the United States, the term of all the inferior appointees, which is now four years, should be made indefinite in time; and the appointment of all officials of inferior grade should be transferred from the President to the heads of departments, to whom they should be responsible for the efficient conduct of their work. In all the higher grades of appointments, aside from those of ambassadors, public ministers, heads of Departments, and judges, a high-grade examination in law, economics, and public administration of law, such as is found in the civil service of Germany, should be adopted. There is no greater reproach upon our country than the kind of consuls which we send to foreign countries. If men were selected for those positions because of their acquirements and character they could be most efficient aids to the importers and exporters of our country. With indefinite terms of office established for all appointees, instead of four years, no officeholder should be removed from office except for misconduct. A statement in writing of the particular kind of misconduct complained of should be served upon him, and a real hearing with counsel and witnesses should be given him by the head of the department to which he belongs. A permanent public service of a higher grade could thus be brought about and the spoils system to a considerable extent eradicated.
Another amendment to the Constitution should provide for the election of United States Senators by a majority of the voters in each state. Eighteen states have already passed laws in favor of this measure. Five times has a bill proposing such an amendment passed the House of Representatives by an almost unanimous vote, and on each occasion it has either been lost in the Senate or disposed of without reaching a direct vote. Such an election would have many good results. It would entirely remove the deadlocks which have been seen in the legislatures of the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and other states in recent years; also, it would remove the cause for corrupting state legislatures, which has been so conspicuous in recent elections in Colorado, Montana, and other states. Again, the election of the members of assembly in the different states, in years when a United States Senator is to be elected, is diverted from the real purpose of the legislature. The tendency of such a contest is to array the people in political parties, while about the only difference between the election of the Senator of one party and the Senator of the opposing party, under our present rigid Constitution, is the disposition of the spoils of office to the faithful henchmen who marshal the forces at the polls for the one or the other candidate. Give the people direct nomination of United States Senators, and submit their election to the great body of the voters of the state, and many a present representative in the Senate of the sugar trust, the steel trust, the railroads, the coal barons, the tobacco monopoly, and the express companies would be left in private life to continue his business as an attorney or trusty agent of these organizations.
The sessions of Congress should be so arranged that the second session will not occur after an election wherein a member who has been defeated continues to represent his district. Such a member has no motive, in such a session of Congress, to carry out the will of his constituents who have rejected him at the polls. He can avail himself, if he desires, of the secrecy of the committee to hide his action from the members of his district, and even if it is known, he cares but little, for the people have already declared against him. In the session of Congress of 1906-7, we saw a Representative from the state of New York who was not to return entertaining Congressmen at champagne dinners, thereby seeking the passage of the Ship Subsidy Bill. Another member from Ohio, whom the people had refused to nominate, sought to take the people’s money in the amount of many million dollars and appropriate it to this private enterprise.
By an act of Congress under date of July 13, 1866, a tax of ten per cent was imposed upon the note issues of state banks for the purpose of destroying them. How easily could Congress impose a tax of ten per cent upon the capital of monopolies, and thus end their existence. We suggest this to the attention of our President, who is so strenuous in his opposition to these monstrous combinations of capital, and we also urge upon his attention that by simply removing the duties upon imports of like products to those manufactured by the trusts their power to rob the people would be greatly impaired. But in that case, to what source would the political parties look for the money necessary to carry on national and Congressional campaigns?
We have reduced the responsibility of members of the House of Representatives and of Senators to the lowest point. The Senators of Delaware, of New Jersey, of Rhode Island are responsible only to their own little states. A Representative from a district in the great state of New York is responsible only to his immediate constituents. The Senators from Nevada are permitted to participate in the government of all the rest of the United States, without the slightest responsibility or accountability to those states. As the country grows the separate interests of all the people diminish. The only way to increase responsibility is to cut up by the roots the whole system of private bills and special legislation, and to limit the legislation of Congress to general taxation, war, treaties, foreign and interstate commerce, postal service, bankruptcy, copyrights, patent rights, naturalization, and coinage, objects which are of common concern to all the people. The power to vote the people’s money away in secret committee rooms has resulted in the most extravagant government ever known in all history, and hundreds of millions of dollars are used not only to build and maintain navies and armies, to promote agriculture in the separate states, to prosecute the business of building reservoirs and selling water to farmers, but to hide usurpation in a hundred other different ways. Will the people ever awake to the danger of such government and really assert their power and destroy the existence of the two political machines, not parties, that have so thoroughly betrayed their interests? There is only one way to do it, and that is to shut off the private and special bills, and limit legislation to the subjects over which the states have conferred power upon Congress. With such a limitation, and with legislation carried on in the open session where everyone can see and hear what is going on, there would be a probability of improvement in affairs.
The existence of political parties which really represent the opinions of the people and which act in vigorous opposition to each other is the hope of the country. The parties of today do not represent the opinions of the people, but represent political machines which exist for the purpose of securing to the faithful henchmen the spoils of office. No man who really has convictions on public questions, and who hates corruption, can attain any party standing in any political party today. The party stands for graft and nothing but graft. The pity is that by and by the people will come to regard both parties as seeking spoils of office only, and will become so disgusted with them as to accept for a leader some unscrupulous demagogue, rich in promises and glib of tongue; or it may be that the President, with the consent of the people, will step in and take the entire control of the whole government. Let me give the reader an illustration. In 1894 an exposure was made before the Italian Parliament showing that Crispi, the Italian Prime Minister, had received corruption money from a bank at Rome. Thereupon a struggle commenced between Crispi and his opponents, with the result that parliamentary government was virtually suspended. The King of Italy paroled Parliament, and for a considerable time he imposed taxes without legislative sanction, the people, because of their disgust at the corruptions of the Chamber of Deputies, allowing this to be done without objection.
There is danger of such usurpation in our own country. The way to avert it is to destroy the spoils system, send the bosses and the cheap politicians to the rear, amend the Constitution as indicated above, select a higher class of Representatives and Senators, limit legislation to general subjects of common interest considered in open session, and make the political parties fighting parties upon public measures and not mere machines depending upon corruption and graft. We long have canonized our Constitution, we have regarded the man who condemned it as unpatriotic; let us now learn that a Constitution framed one hundred and twenty years ago must necessarily be imperfect today, that it must be treated like all such productions of man as becoming defective in time, and that it must be amended to meet existing conditions rather than to allow government to be carried on by usurpation of power.
The way to make a state strong is to increase the power of the people and make them partakers through the referendum in the control of important legislation affecting their state, and especially their cities. In the twenty years between 1874 and 1894, the Swiss Federal Assembly passed one hundred and seventy-five laws, nineteen of which were reviewed by the people under the referendum. Besides these nineteen laws, eight amendments to the Constitution were also reviewed under the referendum, and two more laws were brought forward by the initiative, so that in twenty years the people of the Swiss Confederation voted upon twenty-nine different questions. Sixteen of these laws and amendments were rejected and thirteen approved.
The most beneficial result of the referendum is that it separates public issues from men, and gets the people into the habit of considering the advisability of laws upon their merits. It keeps the representatives of the people in close touch with public opinion, because if public opinion is sufficient to petition therefor, the action of the representatives must be submitted to the will of the people. A strange result about the government of Switzerland is found in the fact that whereas in the German and Austrian Empire the people speaking different tongues have been quarreling over their language and their customs, yet in Switzerland, where the people are German, French, Italian, and Romansch, the separate nationalities in recent years have carried on the government with few conflicts. Liberty unites a people; oppression and usurpation divide them. Liberty gives birth to thought and action and develops men; usurpation suppresses individual initiative and destroys liberty. Break down the local and state governments, attempt to control these forty-six states from Washington, and you destroy the manhood of the people and create an intolerable despotism.
The way for the people of the states to protect themselves from the usurpations of the national government is to inaugurate in each state a vigorous state policy. They should resent with indignation every attempt of the nation to infringe upon their rights. They should see that good men are elected to office, and that the legislature does its duty. They should insist that all matters of great concern affecting their cities should be submitted on a referendum for the decision of the voters of each city. Year in and year out they should insist on the rights of localities to control their local matters, and on the rights of the states to govern their state affairs. In this way more than any other will they remove the excuse of the national government for the exercise of usurping powers. The passage of the Muller Bill by the Illinois Legislature, submitting the question of municipal ownership and the operation of city railways to the voters of Chicago, is said with one blow to have struck down graft legislation, and to have destroyed the corrupt organization of the prevailing party in Illinois at that time.
If the citizen would preserve the dignity and importance of his state government, which is the guardian of his liberty, of his property, of all his domestic relations, and of everything which he holds dear in this life, he must be vigilant to see that it is constantly improved and worthy of the people’s confidence. The state government, if honest and vigorous, can alleviate most of the evils of which the people complain, so far as law can alleviate evils. As Machiavelli well said: “There are no laws and no institutions which have power to curb a universal corruption.” The state legislature creates corporations, and the same power which creates can provide that in case of disobedience to its laws the life of the corporation shall be forfeited. The state is under no obligation to allow a foreign corporation to carry on business within its confines.
But for the control of Congress over interstate commerce the states could destroy every oppressive trust in this land. The reason why trusts have become so powerful is that the national government always has insisted that the state should not forbid the bringing of the goods of the trust within the confines of the state, because it interfered with the nation’s control over interstate commerce. Let the people amend the Constitution and take from the national government the power to control interstate commerce, then through their state laws they can make short work of the trusts. The attempt to control these lawless combinations under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution will never prove effectual. The United States courts have no power except such as is given them by the Constitution, and cannot avail themselves of common-law powers. The state courts have unlimited power, except as withheld from them by the state constitutions, and can avail themselves of all the original authority of a sovereign state and of all the rules and customs of the common law. The result of these differences in their judicial power is that the national courts, in their criminal as well as in their civil jurisdiction, are greatly hampered by limitations, while the state courts with original and almost unlimited jurisdiction have the power necessary to root out evils.
But more effective than laws, more effective than courts, is the indignation of many strong men at abuses which the people’s good-natured tolerance have allowed to wax great in power. Until that spirit of indignation is stirred to action all over our land and the people are ready to fight for the vindication of their rights, there is little hope of effective reforms. We need the spirit of old Peter Muhlenberg, who, in Revolutionary days, to the astonishment of his congregation, flung aside his surplice, disclosing a Continental uniform, and exclaimed: “There is a time for all things – a time to preach and a time to pray; but there is also a time to fight, and that time has come!”
265. The United Kingdom, vol. i, p. 41.
266. Fuller, Columbia Law Review, March, 1905, p. 193.
267. Bryce, American Commonwealth, vol. i, p. in.
268. Bradford, Lessons of Popular Government, vol. i, p. 324.
269. Senate Bill, 227 (1881).
“That the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of the Interior, the Attorney-General, and the Postmaster-General shall be entitled to occupy seats on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives, with the right to participate in debate on matters relating to the business of their respective departments, under such rules as may be prescribed by the Senate and House respectively.”That the said Secretaries, the Attorney-General, and the Postmaster-General shall attend the sessions of the Senate on the opening of the sittings on Tuesday and Friday of each week, and the sessions of the House of Representatives on the openings of the sittings on Monday and Thursday of each week to give information asked by resolution or in reply to questions which may be propounded to them under the rules of the Senate and House; and the Senate and House may by standing order dispense with the attendance of one or more of said officers on either of said days.”