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attention to public affairs, on their part, is necessary to ensure a faithful administration by their representatives; they can secure all that is possible under any law or system of laws.
Simplicity is one great requisite in the charter of a city. Without it, responsibility can never be clearly and unmistakably defined and fixed. All complicated schemes which aim to secure to the minority an equal or unequal portion of the executive and administrative offices of a municipality, and so to make it share with the majority the responsibility of government will prove failures.
PURITY OF ELECTIONS. At its last session, the Legislature adopted concurrent resolutions proposing au amendment of the Constitution relative to bribery. They have been duly published, and will, I trust, be favorably acted upon by you, so that they may be submitted to the people for their approval at the next general election. The proposed amendment relates to the corrupt expenditure of money to influence electors in voting, and, if it shall be adopted, laws may be enacted which will, if rigidly enforced, tend to check an evil which has assumed proportions of great maguitude. If I may believe current rumors, men of otherwise good repute are in the practice of standing at the polls in many portions of the State-even in this city, the seat of government—with money carried openly in their hands, and of paying it, on the spot, to electors for their votes. No such open and shameless use of corrupt means has been charged in the city of New York, much as is said of election abuses there.
The fact that large sums of money are expended throughout the State at every election is well known. Much of it must be spent for corrupting the electors. In city and in country, men are nominated to office because they have been able to purchase a majority in nominating conventions in the first instance, and because it is known they can expend large sums, afterwards, to promote their own election and that of their associates on the same ticket. Men, not candidates, but who take an interest in public affairs, are called upon to contribute, and do contribute liberally toward securing party success. Individuals and parties are aided by moneyed corporations, who hope in this way to secure favorable legislation for their own interests, or to buy the countenance and support of the government from which they receive their privileges. In this way the moneyed power of the country is brought in to control elections and secure to itself what it deems strength; but it does so at the risk of its own safety; for it thus debauches the moral sentiment of the community. The love of money, we are told, is the root of all evil. It is, assuredly, the root of all evil in free governments; and the lavish expenditure of money in elections is the chief cause of the corruption in our politics. A man who expends large sums of money to secure an office is apt to seek to make it up himself when in office. I do not doubt that the multiplication of officers to be elected by the people has had much to do with introducing or increasing this corruption of our polities. The struggle between candidates for local offices is apt to be more intense than the competition for higher place before larger constituencies. It is easier, too, to calculate the influence of corrupt means, and it is easier, by them, to effect the election of candidates, when the constituency taking part in the election is limited in number. The amendment submitted to you will enable the Legislature to deprive of the right of suffrage every one who shall be convicted of receiving a bribe for his vote or of bribing an elector; and to pass laws providing that any candidate guilty of bribing the electors shall be deprived of the office to which, at any election where he was guilty of this offense, he may have been chosen.
The inconvenience occasioned to the electors, by registry laws, is not to be counted against them, if, by their means, we can insure pure elections. I have little faith in them to prevent fraud at the polls. They have been tried and have failed to prevent it. More frequent charges of fraud and of frauds of a grosser character, have been made since registry laws were put in operation than before. Many who have watched their working insist that they can be easily made, and have been made, a convenient cover for frauds, which, without them, could not have been committed. They have this effect, certainly, that the vigilance necessary to detect illegal voting has to be extended over several days, instead of the one day of election, requiring more time for this purpose than men will spare from their private business; and so the watchfulness over the poll list is, ordinarily, less general and probably less complete than under the syslem of challenging on the day of election.
Upon principle, a registry law, if any be passed, should apply to all parts of the State alike. Yet I am satisfied that intelligent public opinion in the rural districts, among men of all parties, does not favor one there. The inconvenience and expense to the electors in such districts, from such a law, are very great, with no adequate good result in compensation. The conviction, however, prevails extensively among intelligent men that, in large cities, registry laws can be made useful in securing the purity of the ballot; and this conviction is so strong that the continuance of the system in the larger cities may be advisable. All laws requiring a registry of the electors, previous to an election, should be made as little vexatious and oppressive to honest voters as is possible, consistently with securing proper identification of the person claiming the right to vote and due examination of his right. It must be borne in mind that it is not the province of a registry law to define the qualifications of voters, or to confer or restrict the right of voting. That right is conferred by the Constitution, and cannot be taken away by act of the Legislature, except in the few cases specified in the Constitution. Any law which you may pass, therefore, ought not to be framed so as to work the actual disfranchisement on the day of election of any elector who, for good reasons, such as sickness or absence from home, or his not having arrived at full age until after the last day of registry, was unable to have his name registered.
The complaints with regard to the late election in New York and Brooklyn, made through the press, are chiefly of false counting of ballots and false returns by inspectors of election. The general suspicion of the existence of such an evil is almost as injurious as the practice itself; our people, if led to believe that it is carried on extensively, wili neglect to vote, and will lose their habit of submitting quietly to the result of an election. The crime is, under our form of government, one of the worst, in its nature and in its effects, and should be punished accordingly. It is a practice which, persisted in, is more likely to overturn our government than any open war that can be levied against it. We have wisely, in our statutes, restricted the definition of the crime of treason to acts of open war against the State government, and to combinations of one or more persons to overturn it by force. The crime of making false returns of votes cast at an election is, nevertheless, of the nature of treason;
for it seeks to take away the lawful power and destroy the rights of the true sovereign in our government, the people.
You have the power to attach what penalty you think necessary to any species of offense against the laws; and those imposed should be sufficiently severe to deter men from committing crimes, yet not so extreme as to be likely to protect them from conviction.
Effectual laws against bribery of the electors and to take away an office obtained by bribery, thorough protection of the right of challenge on election day, severe penalties against miscounting of rotes and against illegal voting, ought to suffice for the protection of the ballot, and will suffice if citizens,
juries and public officers will do their duty.
PURITY OF LEGISLATION. The people cannot be too fully awakened to the dangers inseparable from the growth of moneyed power in this country, whether wielded by individuals or corporations. It makes itself felt everywhere in our polities, and aims to control, and too often does control, legislation in Federal and State capitals. We cannot directly strike at it in other States, or at Washington, but we can begin at the capital of our own State, and set an example to others. There is a popular belief that much important legislation, in past years, here, has been influenced by the direct use of money. This belief is so general and wide-spread, that it is due to the people that there should be a prompt and thorough legislative inquiry to ascertain whether it is well founded. If it be so, guilty men should be brought to justice under existing laws, if that is possible. If not, then proper laws should be passed to meet cases which may hereafter arise. The people will be slow to obey laws which, they believe, are enacted by a corrupt Legislature. Their demand to-day is not for municipal reform only, but for reform in every department of government, State and Federal, in which abuses may be shown to exist. Authority, whether executive or legislative, to be cheerfully obeyed, must be respected and honored.
CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. A few years ago the people of this State voted in favor of holding a convention to frame a new Constitution; thus expressing their dissatisfaction with the existing Constitution. The convention was held; but, on the result of its deliberations being submitted to a vote, the people rejected the proposed new instrument, with the exception of one article, to wit, that relating to the judiciary. It is not in 'fair inference from this action of the people that they desired a convention for the single end of amending the judicial systein of the State. That could have been done by the simple process of submitting, after due consideration by the Legislature, a single amendment, covering the one subject. The vote of the people calling a convention indicated that they recognized many defects in our existing Constitution. The vote rejecting the substitute proposed by the convention indicated that, in the popular judgment, the remedies suggested for these defects were not sufficient or satisfactory.
In my opinion the present Constitution of the State is very defective as a frame work of efficient republican government.
In considering this subject, it must be borne in mind that the population of this State is now larger than that of the whole Union when the Constitution of the United States was put into operation, and that our State has, in fact, in the number of its people and the great interests protected by its
laws, the proportions of a nation. It must also be remembered that the comfort, welfare and happiness of the people are affected in a very much greater degree by the laws of the State, and the manner of their enforcement, than by the operations of the general government. The title to property and the rights of, and the restraints upon, the owners of property, are regulated by State laws. The enforcement of business contracts of every nature are, in the main, in the hands of the State courts. The detection and repression of crime are dependent, except in a few rare instances, upon the enactment of proper criminal laws by the State Legislature and their due enforcement. The order of the community is under the guardianship of State laws, and dependent upon State authorities for its preservation. The powers of our municipal governments, whose action influences still more sensibly the peace and comfort of every man's home, are conferred and defined by the State government. It is obvious, therefore, that it is a matter of transcendent importance to every citizen of this great commonwealth, that it should possess a wisely constructed frame-work of government, adapted to secure the most wholesome legislation, the most efficient enforcement of law, the most faithful administration of its affairs, and an uninterrupted maintenance of order.
I do not recommend the calling of another convention to revise the Constitution, at this time. The attention of the people will be much engrossed this year by the presidential election; but I trust that, immediately after that event, the efforts of our best citizens, of all parties, will be united to effect a thorough revision. Nor am I sure that a convention is a necessary or the best means by which to attain the end.
A commission of thirty-two (32) eminent citizens, to be made up by selection of an equal number from each of the two great political parties, would, it seems to me, be as likely to work out a good result as a larger body.
Such a commission could have all the benefit of the debate incident to a larger body through intelligent discussions in the press and the voluntary suggestions of thoughtful citizens; and would be almost certain to agree upon amendments which would secure the popular approval.
If you should be of the opinion that it is wise to appoint a commission, there can be no objection to your creating it at this session. Its report would not be made until after the presidential election, when the public mind would be in a condition to examine calmly, and to decide wisely. True, it is not the mode provided in the present Constitution for a revision of that instrument, but it cannot be doubted that a Constitution prepared by such a commission and submitted by them to the Legislature and by the Legislature submitted to the people in due form, would, if approved by a vote of the people, be regularly established and become substituted for the present Constitution.
You have, moreover, the constitutional power to originate any amendments to the existing Constitution, and if the same shall be concurred in by the Legislature to be chosen in eighteen hundred and seventy-three (1873), they may be submitted to a direct vote of the people, and if approved by them, will become a part of the Constitution.
My couvictions are so strong that the present organic law of this State is full of serious defects, that I feel justified in calling your attention to the subject and pointing out the particulars in which, in my judgment, it fails as a means of securing to us the best possible administration of our public affairs.
The Constitution of the United States was constructed by a convention made up of the wisest and ablest men to be found in the thirteen States which then composed the Union. Each of these States had been obliged, some years earlier, to frame a Constitution for its own government. The delegates from the several States did not, therefore, come together as men inexperienced and new to the work they were called upon to perform. They brought with them, from their several constituencies, varying and indeed conflicting ideas of the powers which ought to be conferred upon the new government about to be established, and the manner in which those powers onght to be distributed among its several departments.
There is, of course, this difference between that instrument and the Constitution of a State: that the former originated a special government and conferred on it certain powers and none other, while in the State government all the powers of
except such as, by the Coustitution of the United States or by its own Constitution, it may be forbidden to exercise. This difference does not affect the question of how the powers of government may wisely be distributed among the different departments, executive, legislative and judicial, nor that of how to provide the instrumentalities through which the government is to be administered. In most of these particulars the Constitution of the United States may wisely be followed.
Under the existing Constitution, the executive department of the State is not so organized as to insure the most efficient administration of affairs, and the most complete and direct responsibility. The duty of the chief executive officer, the Governor, is to see that the laws are faithfully executed. It is obvious that in the selection of the subordiDate officers upon whom, within their separate departments, the duty is devolved of executing the laws of the State and administering its affairs, the chief executive ought to have a controlling voice. The experience alike of public affairs and of private business prove the expediency of a single executive. The laws and the rules under which public or private business is to be managed are to be carefully laid down and precautions taken against their violation; but when, subject to these rules and within their limits, the chief direction of affairs is given to one person, the best safeguard for faithful administration is provided by concentrating responsibility. The Governor ought to be held responsible for every branch of the actual administration of the State's affairs. Under our present Constitution, all the important departments are separated from bis control. In the management of the finances of the State, of the canals, of the State prisons, in the prosecution of crime, the chief executive of the State has not, as he should have, the directing power. In order that responsibility may be full, direct, and unmistakably fixed, and that the people may always know who is to blame for any maladministration, all the heads of administrative departments should be subject to the supervision and the correcting power of the Governor. The duties of the Secretary of State are so directly connected with the details of executive action, especially in the matters of appointment to office and the issuing of pardons, that he ought to occupy the position of chief assistant and adviser of the Governor; and ought to be selected by bim. The Attorney-General is the legal adviser of the Governor. The chief executive officer of the State should be allowed the privilege which all men exercise, of selecting for a legal adviser such person as is,