Слике страница
PDF
ePub

tunity to strike and make conquest. Such designs can be successfully worked out only under cover and where no one has the right to ask questions. Cunningly contrived plans of deception or aggression, carried, it may be from generation to generation, can be worked out and kept from the light only within the privacy of courts or behind the carefully guarded confidences of a narrow and privileged class. They are happily impossible where public opinion commands and insists upon full information concerning all the nation's affairs.

“A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. .. Only free people can hold their purpose and their honor steady to a common end, and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own."

.

CHAPTER XXIII

THREE OBSTACLES TO SELF-GOVERNMENT:
CHECKS AND BALANCES; INVISIBLE

GOVERNMENT; LONG BALLOT

I'

F democracy is so good a school for training people to be intelligent and responsible, how does it hap

pen that we have so much bad government? It may seem that after more than a hundred and twentyfive years of self-government, the American people ought to be both intelligent and responsible. Several reasons may be given for the defects in our government. Probably no one cause will account for all of our difficulties. But before we attribute these difficulties to democracy, we need to recall that we have not always had self-government in any large degree. In particular, three obstacles may be noted which have prevented government by the people.

As we have seen, men like Hamilton and Madison, who were prominent in shaping the Constitution, were very much afraid of government by the people. They thought it must be restrained. They provided a system of checks and balances. The whole scheme of requiring four separate approvals of a measure—by the House of Representatives, by the Senate, by the President, and in cases where any one could raise a question of constitutionality, by the Supreme Court—is admirably adapted to prevent anything from becoming a law unless all interests agree. But the system of checks and balances did not pro

Checks and balances

vide any way by which the people could be sure of getting something done. It did not provide any means of holding any man or group of men responsible for No team carrying through any great measure and making it an

work effective law. Suppose that in a given year a large majority of the people wished to have the government build a canal, or railroad. They might choose representatives to Congress who might pass a measure to that end. But the senators would not be chosen at the same time with the representatives. Because of the six-year term for senators, a considerable number of them would have been chosen two or four years before the time of which we are speaking. It might happen also that the particular states which were choosing senators this year would be opposed to the railroad; hence there would be very little chance of agreement between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Further, if the President were chosen as it was originally planned that he should be, he would not have been chosen by the people directly but by a small group of electors. These men might not have cared anything about a railroad and when selecting the President might have had in mind something quite other than his views on the railroad. Finally, the members of the Supreme Court might have been appointed ten or fifteen years earlier. They might all of them entertain a view of government which would, in their opinion, make the building of a railroad by the government a work not authorized by the Constitution. Now it might or might not be well for the United States to build the railroad. The point is that under the plan of government provided in the Constitution it would be almost impossible for the people to try it and find out.

The first great obstacle to self-government was set

Invisible government

Special interests

up by the Constitution itself. The other two obstacles to be considered cannot be laid to the charge of our ancestors. One of them is government by special interests, which has been called by Senator Breckenridge invisible government.

Government by special interests is not a new thing. The makers of the Constitution were afraid of it. The great slavery interest at one time controlled the Democratic Party; the great manufacturing interest has at times controlled the Republican Party. There is, of course, a sense in which control by interests is almost necessary. If people believe that manufacturing is important and that a tariff is necessary to make manufacturing flourish, they will, of course, elect persons who believe the same.

Or if people believe that free trade is a better policy, they will naturally elect free traders. But in the case of such large policies as those of Protection or Free Trade, most persons who work for them believe sincerely that they are good policies not only for them personally, but for their part of the country, and probably for the whole country. When they discuss these policies before the people, they urge their acceptance on the ground that they will be for the general welfare. So, too, labor interests in recent years have asked for legislation providing shorter hours and greater safety. They ask these things primarily for the advantage of workmen, but, in the long run, for the good of all. They might say that just as the government protects its citizens against violence by robbery or murder, so it is a measure of justice to protect working citizens against injury from machinery and disease. Perhaps we may say that any interest which comes before the people openly and frankly has a right to present its claims.

But the government by “ special interests” of which we are thinking is not of this sort. It is the method practised by groups of persons, frequently working se- Secret cretly, to get control of government for their own pri- groups vate advantage. They are not willing to come out frankly and say what they want. They know that if they should do this they would probably be defeated. It was a matter of course a thousand years ago for a king to capture a country for his own advantage and that of his army. He sometimes got up a claim that he had a divine right to it; but such a pretext was scarcely necessary. The American people have got beyond that. If a man should say boldly, “ I want to be elected mayor, or governor, or senator, or President, in order that I may fill my pockets and give jobs to all my friends,” the people would not stand it. He must at least pretend something better. Hence, although there have always been men and groups of men in America who have been seeking government for just such selfish ends, they have usually worked secretly. Two kinds of such groups have been specially prominent.

The first kind of organization is illustrated by the Tammany activities of Tammany Hall at one period. This was Hall a society established in New York City in 1789, the year of Washington's inauguration. At first its purposes were largely social and charitable. Later it became an important organization in civil politics. It gave special attention to the immigrants who began to arrive about 1850. About the same time a group of men, of whom William M. Tweed was the most conspicuous, got control of the society and used its power to put them into offices where they had charge of great contracts. The governor of New York, the mayor of

« ПретходнаНастави »