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The Place of Parties in the Process of Government.1

A CITIZEN might know all the written provisions of the federal and state constitutions, and the names of all the legislators and public officers, their terms, qualifications, emoluments, and statutory duties; he might be familiar with the decisions of the Supreme Court on every important point of constitutional law and with the organization of every department of the federal and state governments in short, he might be intimately acquainted with law and juristic theory—and yet not understand the government as a going concern; because the government is not a group of rules but a group of persons engaged in various public occupations, one portion devoting its attention principally to making laws and another to carrying them into execution. Blackstone, therefore, had a very precise notion of the true nature of a government when he treated it as an aggregate of persons having rights and duties. However much we may talk of a "government of laws and not of men," it remains a fact that every act of the government is an act of a certain person or of certain groups of persons; and in official, as in private life, men do not always observe formal rules. They make agreements among themselves, they have many temporary and permanent understandings, and they hold innumerable conferences of every sort which are unknown to law but which are nevertheless indispensable in carrying on the operations of government. It is apparent, therefore, that government is not a mechanical thing, but when properly understood is simply an association of men engaged in doing certain things which we separate from the ordinary occupations of life and call "political."

1 1 On this important topic, see Bentley, The Process of Government.

The particular individuals who shall be selected to constitute the governing group; the organization of the various subdivisions of the government; and the character of the laws the group in power shall make and enforce are matters which very deeply concern social welfare and impinge upon many private interests. Inevitably those who possess the power of determining these matters, which affect some favorably and others unfavorably, become divided into groups. Thus political parties originate; and inasmuch as the necessity of choosing officers and deciding upon policies of government are constantly recurring, each political party tends to become a permanent organization, with officers and privates standing beside and mingling with the group engaged in the governing process. It sometimes happens that the leader of a party in a city is more powerful than the mayor;1 that the chairman of a state committee controls the governor; and that the chairman of the national committee may dictate terms to the President of the United States. Furthermore, it often happens that the officials of the government are at the same time officials in some party organization; and, generally speaking, the party leaders are men who hold, or have held, or hope to hold political positions.

The relations between the group of men actually engaged in governing and the group of men constituting the party in power are so intimate and so subtle that no one can draw the line separating them, and say, "Here the government begins and the party ends." Even the chief executive of the United States is coming to be regarded as the greatest leader of his party, and on this account recent Presidents have felt justified in taking a prominent place in party councils, and bringing their personal influence to bear in the formulation of party policies. Moreover, each party in Congress has its congressional committee charged with the function of propagating the principles of the party, advancing its interests at each congressional election, and securing the control of the federal legislature.

It is not only in elections that there is an intimate relation between government and party. Under ordinary circumstances, the President, in performing his constitutional duties, is bound

1 See Readings, p. 125.

2 Ibid., p. 169.

3 For Mr. Taft's view, see below, chap. x; Readings, p. 265.

to consult the interests of his party, by taking the advice and counsel of its leaders; and this influence of party runs throughout the entire government. Theoretically, the President nominates officials with the advice and consent of the Senate; but in actual practice the President does not have a free hand in making nominations. Quite to the contrary; the nominations for most of the offices are made in close consultation with the members of the President's party in the Senate or in the House of Representatives. Theoretically, the President should formally consult with the Senate on the making of treaties; practically many an important treaty is settled at a dinner-table, where the influential party members in the Senate are present. Theoretically, laws are made by the Senate and House of Representatives; practically they are made by the party in power under the direction of the party leaders, and in the actual process of law-making there are innumerable joint and separate party


To many persons this intimate relation between government and party seems undesirable, and no doubt many evils arise from the fact. Nevertheless, inasmuch as a government is not a mechanical thing to be operated with scientific precision, but a human institution, with a policy to execute and duties to perform, parties are inevitable — as inevitable as the separate groups and interests from which spring different opinions on the functions and policies of the government.

Moreover, three features in the structure of our federal system make party government and strong party organization indispensable if the will of the voters is to be realized. In the first place, the legislative powers are divided between the federal Congress and the state legislatures, so that if a party has a policy that requires federal and state legislation it must be in power in both governments. For example, if a party wants an interstate commerce law, it must go to Washington; if it wants a supplementary law regulating commerce within the state in a manner consistent with the federal law, it must go to the state legislatures. If a party, therefore, has a systematic and rational policy with regard to the important questions of our day relative to railway, insurance, and trust regulation, it must embrace

This is the thesis of Professor Goodnow's Politics and Administration.

within its plans federal and state laws; and in order to realize completely its policy, it should be strong enough to control state and national legislatures.

In the second place, the theory of the separation of executive and legislative powers serves to strengthen the political party; for popular government, as is now generally recognized, requires the coördination of the executive and the legislature.' To take a homely example from daily life: no business man who has made up his mind that a certain thing should be done would think for a moment of choosing to do his will an agent who was bitterly opposed to the plan; and yet this is exactly what may happen and does often happen in American government. It frequently occurs that the legislature of a state is Republican and the governor Democratic; that is, men are chosen to make laws which are to be enforced by an executive whose party may be in violent opposition to those very laws. In order, therefore, for popular government actually to exist, it is necessary that those who have decided upon a certain public policy should control not only the makers of law, but also the principal officials charged with its execution. In England, this fact is frankly recognized in the unwritten constitution; for the executive branch, that is, the Cabinet composed of the heads of departments, is selected from the party which has a majority in the House of Commons. The makers of the law and those charged with its execution are one. In the United States, however, this coördination of the legislature and the executive must be secured outside of the written law; and it is the party system which makes it possible. It is through the party that there are nominated for the legislature and executive positions, candidates who are in a fair degree of harmony with one another, and who, if elected, can work consistently together to carry out the will of the voters expressed at the ballot-box.

In the third place, the American system of electing so many public officers both facilitates and renders necessary strong party organization. In almost every election there are so many different officials to be selected, that even the most intelligent citizen cannot be expected to make a wise choice. Accordingly, he is compelled to depend more or less upon the judgment of his party;

1 Goodnow, ibid., p. 24.

and in actual practice he often follows the advice of President Harrison: "Let us all consider the history and declarations of the great parties, and thoughtfully conclude which is more likely to promote the general interests of our people." Having selected his party, the citizen then relies largely upon the integrity and the wisdom of its leaders in the selection of nominees for various offices.'

Therefore, the close relations existing between the government and the majority party; the functions of the party as an instrument for expressing and enforcing public will; the influence of the party on the theory and practice of our government; and finally the position of the party as the organizing and directing force in American political life these factors make the study. of party politics, in its origin and development, quite as important as the study of the framework of the government.

Origin of Parties in the United States

On no matter were the framers of the federal Constitution in more complete harmony than on the undesirability of party politics. It must be remembered that they worked at a time when the modern democratic idea of an unlimited and responsible government was not recognized. The government of England, which was their principal model, had not reached its present form, in which the king reigns but does not rule, while the majority in the House of Commons controls all the executive officers through whom the actual administration is carried on. England's government in the eighteenth century had passed out of the absolute stage in which the king made laws, appointed ministers, declared war, and conducted foreign affairs at his own pleasure; but it had not passed into that modern stage in which the will of the electors, expressed through the party, dominates the whole machinery of government." When our forefathers were busy framing the federal Constitution, the English government was at a halfway point between these two stages. Party government was not then frankly recognized; it was not finally settled that the king must select his ministers from the party in power; and the democratic doctrine that the

1 On this point, see below, chaps. xxiii and xxx.

2 See J. Allen Smith's suggestive work, The Spirit of American Government.

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