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Because of the long, hard struggle which was still fresh in mind when the early settlers came to America, men prized the right to govern themselves. And though they did not at first object to a king, they did insist very strongly upon regulating their own affairs in all the ways which their original charters allowed. In their great Declaration they did not affirm a completely new principle when they declared that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Philosophers had said many times that the right to rule came from the will of the people. Nevertheless, the Declaration was the boldest, strongest statement of this principle which had ever been made by the representatives of a whole people, and it made an epoch in the world. Many in Europe do not believe in this principle at all. They believe that certain kings or emperors have a divine right to rule. The American idea is that while the little child needs to be ruled by its parents, and the insane or criminal have to be cared for or restrained by others, no one class of people has a right to rule other classes. As Lincoln declared in his reply to Douglas, “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent."
Two questions may come up at once when this is why the said. Did our Fathers think this applied to slaves ? majority
should And does it mean that every one must consent to every
rule law or to the government as a whole in order to make the law or government right? The answer to the first question is easy. No doubt our forefathers did not apply this to slaves. The second point is more difficult. One philosopher, Rousseau, thought that to make a government just there must be at the outset unanimous consent to form a government. But when
The majority must respect the rights of the minority
forming the government, those who entered into it might agree unanimously that when the government had been established, a majority should rule. This would make a majority rule just and right because all had agreed to it originally. We now recognize that men do not make governments by unanimous consent. Much less does every one in a country agree to every law. Nevertheless, we do assume that people who live in a country accept the government as a whole. Where there is free discussion and a free ballot, we think that the choice of the majority is, on the whole, the only practical way to settle any question. If the majority does not rule, then the minority rules. In the long run, the majority would seem to be more likely to be right, provided that matters have been thoroughly and fairly discussed.
But, on the other hand, it does not follow that a majority is always right. Nearly every great reform, every new principle of progress, begins with a few. At first these will be in the minority. It is often only after years of discussion that they can persuade the majority to adopt the minority view. But the majority is not only slow in adopting new ideas, it is also liable to decide matters selfishly. In such decisions it may be oppressive and disregard the interests and rights of the minority. It is for this reason that certain rights are secured by a more permanent form of law called a Constitution. We have seen how anxious the makers of the United States Constitution were to provide checks and balances to prevent the majority from interfering with the rights of the minority. Nevertheless, it is the American principle that, when they have fully thought things through, men are reasonable, and therefore that in the long run they have a right to make
their own laws and govern themselves. The different methods for voting and for passing upon laws by the courts are all intended to make sure that we act thoughtfully and in a reasonable way.
The second reason which has been given for democ- (2) It racy is that it produces better government. It is some- gives
better times said that men know what is good for themselves.
govern. Bad laws come because rulers who do not know about
ment things, or who are looking out only for themselves, make laws for other people. No one wishes to harm himself. Therefore, if all people are represented in making laws and in executing them, there will be no chance for either ignorance or oppression.
This argument sounds plausible, but things do not always work as the argument supposes. Wise men may know how to manage their own affairs in a better fashion than any one else can manage affairs for them, but this is not necessarily true of the ignorant. In our large cities particularly we have not yet been able to obtain very good government. A group of people frequently vote for an alderman not because he is honest or intelligent, or because he will plan for the welfare of the whole city, but rather because he will find jobs for them or for their friends. Another group of people will try to have a man elected mayor not because he is the best man for the city as a whole, but because he promises to give them special favors such as franchises for street railways, or for gas or electric lighting, or profitable contracts in constructing water works, suppling coal, and the like.
We have to confess too that what is really the will of the people is very hard to discover. The best we can say is that the will of the people will give good government only when the majority of the people both
(3) It educates people
want good government and know how to get what they want. And yet the American people believe that in the long run these conditions are bound to come. It has great faith in Lincoln's saying, “ You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.” Here again is the opportunity for the work of the good citizen in finding out the best methods of government and in getting these methods adopted.
The third reason why we believe in democracy as rule by the people is that this makes people more intelligent, free, and responsible.
The great purpose of national life, the great purpose of America, is after all not so much to manage things as to help all its people to live the best life. Now to live the best life we must have efficient government, we must have capable legislators and judges, we must have good roads and good schools. But all these important things are not, after all, the most important. The most important thing is that every citizen should know what is wise and best and should try to do it. Some things can be told us and taught us by others. But the greatest lessons of life we learn only by deciding things for ourselves. We learn by our mistakes and failures sometimes even more than by our suc
A little child has to be taught at first many things which the race has been finding out through many centuries. He has to be taught what to eat and what to let alone. He is taught to be truthful and honest, to be fair and kind. But, in an important sense, no one is really taught these things by any one else. It is when we have to decide for ourselves that we really learn in a much deeper way. When I decide
for myself that I will cheat, I am deciding not only what I will do or learn, but what I will be. If I decide, on the other hand, to act squarely, I am making myself
square ” man. For no one of us is “ ready-made.” We are building ourselves, and the most important acts in building ourselves are learning and choosing.
Further, it is only when we have some choice in mat- for responters that we consider ourselves fully responsible. And sibility
involves to be responsible is the mark of a complete man.
choice is not fully responsible, for he does not understand fully what he is doing; and besides, he is in part controlled by his parents. A weak, or careless, or bad man is not fully responsible; he does not stand up squarely to his acts; he may be careless about paying his debts, or may fail to carry out contracts, or to support his family. Then the law steps in and compels him to fulfil his obligations. A thoroughly upright and honorable man will be responsible for all his acts. He feels responsible for them just because they are his; and this, as we said, means that he had some choice before he performed them. So in government; if we are to be responsible, that is, to be full-grown moral persons, we must have a chance to decide what kind of a government we shall have. And, on the other hand, when we do have this opportunity, we must stand up and take the consequences.
We cannot evade our responsibility. We cannot charge our troubles to a king or a “boss” or to any one but ourselves. For we have chosen our own rulers and are making our own laws. If we do not like the rulers or the laws it is our business to choose new rulers and make better laws. It is just this responsibility which we cannot evade or throw upon any one else that makes democracy a great education in right living. If America had had an