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be, the extremities of the United States could not be kept in due submission and obedient to its laws, at the distance of many hundred miles from the seat of government; that if the general government was composed of so numerous a body of men as to represent the interests of all the inhabitants of the United States, in the usual and true ideas of representation, the expense of supporting it would become intolerably burdensome; and that if a few only were vested with the power of legislation, the interests of a great majority of the inhabitants of the United States must necessarily be unknown; or, if known, even in the first stages of the operations of a new government, unattended to."
George Mason, of Virginia, wrote:
"This government will commence in a moderate aristocracy; it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operations, produce a monarchy or a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in either the one or the other."
Of the fifty-five members who actually attended meetings of the Convention, sixteen (nearly one-third) were so strongly opposed to the Constitution, after its adoption by the Convention, that they refused to sign their names to it. Even the members who voted for its adoption did so in great doubt and anxiety as to the results which the new scheme of government would bring them.
"Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution, because
I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. On the whole, sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it would with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument."
Gouverneur Morris said
"that he, too, had objections, but considering the present plan as the best that was to be obtained, he should take it with all its faults. The majority had determined in its favor, and by that determination he should abide. The moment this plan goes forth, all other considerations will be laid aside, and the great question will be, Shall there be a national government or not? And this must take place, or a general anarchy will be the alternative."
"No man's ideas were more remote from the plan than his own were known to be; but is it possible to deliberate between anarchy and convulsion, on one side, and the chance of good [the italics are mine] to be expected from the plan, on the other?"
The letter to Congress which accompanied the Constitution said, among other things:
"That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every State is not, perhaps, to be expected. But each will, doubtless, consider that, had her interest alone been consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable and injurious to others. That it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish."
But the wonder of all was the space of time in which the work was done. Those men who met in that Convention were, no doubt, a body of very remarkable men. Such are always the men whom the people choose for their leaders, when the people make their own free choice. But the members of that Convention were not what we should now call men of learning; they were not, for the work they had in hand, men of experiYet they ushered in a new era of political history, created a new order of political existence, established a new law of political growth. Men say governments must grow. This national government, in its framing, was a growth of about four months. On the 25th of May the Convention had its first meeting. On the 15th of September the work of the Convention was finished. In less than a year, this new government was adopted by the peoHere was the ples of nearly all the States. myth of ancient poets made true history of men; here was a new, living creation, not the toiling growth of centuries, but a thing struck, at a single blow, clad in complete steel, from the head of the people.
The result, then, was the creation out of a political chaos of a large, complex, comprehensive system, the voluntary adoption by the peoples of thirteen independent sovereign States of one supreme national government-a government the like of which had, so far as we now have any evidence, never before been seen on the earth; of which, so far as I am aware, no human being before had any conception; which was, at the time of its adoption, to a very large proportion of the people who adopted it, an object of great fear and distrust ;-this new creation, this national government, was framed in its finished form in four months, and its adoption by the peoples of nearly all those thirteen independent States was brought about in little more than one year. It has taken us one hundred years to grow up to it.
That was the result. What was the process? The process was the simple, direct, scientific process of agreement. It will be
well to examine it, and see what great results can come in a short space of time from the deliberations of a body of men who are laboring simply with one common honest purpose of serving the people.
The Convention was originally called for the 14th of May. It did not actually meet till the 25th of May, for the reason that a sufficient number of delegates were not at first in attendance. During that interval of time, however, there had evidently been a most speedy growth in the ideas of the members. Edmund Randolph has given us a statement of it in his own case:
"Before my departure for the Convention, I believed that the Confederation was not so eminently defective as it had been supposed. But after I had entered into a free communication with those who were best informed of the condition and interest of each State, after I had compared the intelligence derived from them with the properties which ought to characterize the government of our Union, I became persuaded that the Confederation was destitute of every energy which a constitution of the United States ought to possess."
Although the original intention had been only to revise the Articles of Confederation, a resolution was passed by the Convention, on the very first day of its formal deliberations, in these words: "That a national government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme legislative executive and judiciary." This was on the 29th of May. That was the growth which came from the discussion of only fifteen days. In that time the members had reached an agreement, as to what should be the general scope of the new system. That was the main point to be accomplished. Agreement on details was a thing which required a longer time. It was reached in this way: Single articles and clauses were discussed singly, and were adopted singly. The men who formed the majority in favor of one clause were found in the minority opposed to another. At the end of their deliberations, each single provision had been adopted by a majority vote. But no one man was in favor of them all. Probably no single member had voted in favor of as many as twothirds of the different articles and clauses of the whole instrument. The paper as a whole was not what any one individual wished. But when they had finished their action on the single parts, the Constitution which they had thus formed was the only thing on which they could hope to agree. They agreed, therefore, on that. As Franklin said, in the passage before cited: "Thus I con
sent to this Constitution, because I expect no better."
When it came to procuring the adoption of the Constitution by the different State conventions, they had to go through the same process in each. In each State convention the common judgment was, in the beginning, thoroughly against the new Constitution. The opinions of individuals and the common opinion of each convention had to grow up to it. That growth was very quickly reached, under the same influence-that of common discussion. In the end, in each State convention, as had been the case in the national convention, men agreed to the new Constitution because it was the only thing on which they could agree. They took it, because they could get nothing else, with all its faults, with all their fears. Within one year, eleven States had adopted the Constitution. New York, the eleventh State, adopted it on the 26th of July, 1788. The adoption by Rhode Island, the last of the thirteen, was on the 16th of June, 1790.
The whole work-the appreciation of the existence of any need, the framing of a new national government to meet that need, and its adoption by the peoples of thirteen independent States-may be truly said to have been accomplished in the space of little more than five years. That there was any need of a national government was not learned, as we have seen, until the members of the Convention actually met, and had their common discussions. No doubt, during the war of the Revolution, many men were keenly alive to the difficulties of raising men and money. But those very difficulties were so great that no one had time to give thought to their cause. It was not till the war was over, in the year 1783, that men began to consider the defects of the Confederation, or the fact that any change in its organization was needed. And in less than six years from that time the work was done― the new government was framed, adopted, and in operation.
The whole process-the growth and adoption of the Constitution-was a process of selection, in its simplest, most natural form; but it was selection by agreement, not by a struggle. The members of the Convention were selected men, selected by an agreement of the people's voices. The work of the Convention was selected thought, selected by agreement, by the common judgment of the Convention, from the thought of individuals. As soon as the members of the
Convention began their discussions, the common presence stimulated individual thought, the common criticism made it change form and grow, and the common judgment selected from it what was wisest and best. The final result was the people's selected wisdom, wiser than the wisdom of its wisest
Where, then, is the difficulty in merely amending the Constitution, if the making of it was so quickly and easily accomplished? Let us examine the conditions of the existing problem.
Now, as was the case in 1787, men are not yet agreed as to the specific thing to be done. Nor is it necessary that they should be. That agreement can be reached only by a national convention, where discussion can be had by men from all parts of the country, representing all interests and all shades of thought. Thereby only shall we be able to get the common judgment of the people as to the cause of existing evils, and the nature of the remedy for them. Any remedy proposed by only one man would in all human probability be very incomplete, and in many points ill-fitted to accomplish its end.
But public opinion is now much farther advanced than it was in 1787. It has already reached a clear consciousness, of the true nature of the evils under which we now suffer. Men generally are agreed that, under our present system of government, the people do not themselves select or control their public officials, but that their public officials are selected and controlled by a "machine," which, in its turn, is controlled by a "boss." The words are not pleasing words, but they mean things. Men, too, are generally agreed that what we now gain from an election is at most a new "machine," or a new "boss." The common use of these words means that the people are thoroughly aware that the things for which the words stand have an existence. When a people coins new words, or new meanings for old words, it signifies that new things have come into being, or at least that the people have gained a new consciousness of the things to which they give a name.
The work which is now to be done by the people is not nearly so great as that done in 1787. Then a new government was to be created out of nothing. All that we now have to do is to make modifications in a government which already exists.
The obstacles in the way of the constitutional changes now needed in our system,
compared with those which were in the way of the formation of our national government, are almost none. The jealousies and fears of the peoples of the different States in 1787 were almost insuperable. Those jealousies and fears have now hardly an existence. We are one people, with common thoughts, feelings, and interests. The changes now needed in our system of national government, whatever they may be, will affect the peoples of all the different States in precisely the same way. Nor is there any question of State rights involved. It is not here proposed to increase the powers of the general government, but only to distribute those powers among the different officials in a different manner, to change the method of election, and to make elections come at different times-only at the times when they are needed for their proper purposes.
But it is in the forces at our command that we have our great advantage over the men one hundred years ago—an advantage which cannot be estimated. The adoption of our national Constitution was accomplished at a time when there were no railroads, no telegraphs-when, we can almost say, we had no public press. Compare the conditions to-day. Thought now moves with much greater speed. It is lightning against the stage-coach. Not only is this American people a people of common interests, but its daily thoughts are the same. Mr. Webster said that the drum-beat of the British army circled around the world with each rising sun. But it was not the same drum-beat. To-day, however, it is the same thought, over the same events, over the same daily history of all the nations of the earth, which the whole American people thinks each day. In 1787, no one knew what the Constitutional Convention was doing until long after its work was done. If a national convention were now to be held, every village in the land would think with it and discuss with it. It would be, in a new sense, a people's convention. Its action would be known and approved, as soon as it was taken, in every State, county, city, and town.
How, then, can there be a doubt as to the possibility, the thorough ease, of making whatever constitutional changes we need in our national Constitution and in our State constitutions? There is no difficulty in inducing the people to amend constitutions, if there is any sound reason for doing so; the work we now have to do is not nearly so large as the work done in 1787; the
obstacles in its way are not so great; the forces at our command are much greater; public opinion is much farther advanced. Where is the difficulty? Here is a problem in the Rule of Three: If, in the eighteenth century, the peoples of thirteen independent States, who were held apart by strong local fears and jealousies, who had no railroads or telegraphs or daily press, made a new central government in five years, how long, in the nineteenth century, will one people, who have common feelings, thoughts, and interests, with their land a net-work of railroads and telegraphs, with newspapers by the thousand, require to make a trifling modification in their methods of appointing and controlling their public servants?
II. How can the people be persuaded to surrender their power-their right of voting in their own persons, at frequent elections, for their own public officers?
The system here proposed is one whereby the people are to regain power which they have lost, instead of losing power which they have. They will give up a form, in order to secure a substance.
If, however, it were conceded that the system here proposed involved a surrender of power by the people, what then? Cannot the American people be persuaded to surrender power? Again we forget our own history. The political life of the people of the United States has thus far been a succession of surrenders of power by the people. Elsewhere governments have been a slow and tedious growth, the result of conquest, followed by long years of tyranny, ending in a violent revolution. With us (for what we call the Revolutionary War was merely a dropping off from the parent plant, and the late Rebellion was only a severe local disease), government has been at each stage a creation by the people themselves a formal framing of a constitution, of a scheme for the establishment of a power over the people's heads, to which they promise submission. And it has always been the free act of a people which was already free. Other nations have, with a great price, purchased their freedom, but we were free-born. It was of our own freewill that we put on the bonds of the law. It is this submission to the power of the law which has made us bear so long and so calmly the evils of our present system of government.
III. But how can the people be persuaded to make what will seem to them a rash experiment, of which no man can foresee the results?
What was the Constitution itself but an experiment? And who could foresee its results?
We have, however, the results of that one experiment, where our fathers had substantially nothing but conjecture. They were the original inventors of the political locomotive. We have been operating their invention for a hundred years, and time has developed defects. We have been increasing the power and speed of the engine, and the size of the driving-wheels, and we find it is now absolutely necessary to have an air-brake. We find, moreover, that it does not conduce to the orderly progress of the railway train if we stop the train once in four hours, and have a grand pitched battle, in which engineer, brakemen, and passengers all take part, for the purpose of seeing who shall drive the locomotive during the next stage of the journey. We have found that that plan is too exciting; it is costly; it diverts the attention of the engineer; and, on the whole, it does not conduce to the safety of the passengers.
The question with us now is, whether we shall make a new experiment, which may or may not prove a thorough success, or continue an old one which we know has failed.
It is an experiment for us to continue our present system of government without a change; for we have new conditions. Can it be that political science is the only thing which has stood still in the last hundred years, and that those men of 1787, without any experience at all, knew more than we do, with the experience of a century?
IV. Is it necessary, even if it is practicable, to make any radical constitutional change in our system of government ?
Our great difficulty lies in the fact that our political life is a never-ending struggle for office. How bitter that struggle can be, we have just had a most striking proof. Assassination, which we have fancied was a prerogative of the hopeless victims of despotism, has now for the third time been attempted against the elected chief magistrate of a free people. Who can say that the attempt will not be often repeated? It is one fruit, not at all times a necessary fruit, of the never-ending struggle for office, and that struggle is the necessary result of our present system of government. The United States Senate and the New York State Legislature have now for months been engaged in a mere struggle for the spoils of an election campaign. If that struggle has been carried on by certain United States
Senators on the one side, the President of the United States has been, perhaps unwillingly, and undoubtedly in defense of his prerogatives under the Constitution, a party to it on the other side. In the warmth of our sympathy for the victim of a great crime, we cannot afford to make false studies of political phenomena. Statutes and rules for the appointment of the lower grades of officials in our executive administration may do great good, but they will never reach the roots of this disease. The difficulty is, that our members of Congress and of the State legislatures, our mayors, and governors, and presidents, are compelled always to keep on foot these great election armies, to recruit them from our public officials, and to pay them from the public purse. I find in one of the latest of our daily journals the following extract :
"The President to-day sent for the Commissioner of Pensions, and told him frankly that the pressure for his removal was such that he could no longer resist the demands made, yet, at the same time, assured him with equal frankness that against his administration of the Pension Bureau there was not a shadow of suspicion. The Commissioner returned to his office, and promptly wrote his resignation, and sent it to the President."
The statement contained in that extract has been repeated in most of the newspapers of the day, and no one has taken the trouble to contradict it. The statement may not be literally correct. But how many appointments to office are made, either by the President of the United States, or by the governor of any State, or by the mayor of any city, except in payment for election work? We say the appointments are made for " party considerations." That phrase, disguise it as we may, means nothing more nor less than that offices are given in payment for election work. And in what respect does that differ from selling votes or offices for money? We have, in the extract just given, the true statement of the true difficulty under our present system: "the pressure is such that he can no longer resist the demands made." Every officer, from the top to the bottom, is under this same "pressure." But it is with the men at the head that the difficulty mainly lies. We may have civil service rules and statutes without number. But it is in the enforcing of rules, rather than the making of them, that the difficulty lies. The enforcing of rules is, and always will be, in the hands of the men at the top. And those men must be relieved from the pressure under which we now keep them,
before they will enforce rules of any kind. The President of the United States would be glad to give us an efficient civil service, if he could. But human nature is not equal to resisting this pressure. We can, no doubt, somewhat improve our public service by competitive examinations for subordinates. But what kind of a service is it, that has only efficient subordinates? It is the captain of the ship to whom we look for safety. There can be no efficiency or security unless the men at the head are men of ability and experience, and unless they are free to manage the ship according to their best judgment, without being compelled to handle the vessel according to the needs of the election organizations.
V. Even if it be shown that a radical change is needed, and that the people will agree to it, how can the people overthrow the power of the election machine ?
The men now in office, who now control the election organizations, will themselves destroy the election machine, if we will make it for their interest to do so. We can make it for their interest if we will only make them free from their dependence upon the machine. We must put the men whom we now have in office under a new system, instead of continually trying to get a new set of men under the old system. The men we now have will do well enough under a proper system. The system we now have will ruin any set of men. We must say to these men who are now in our employ: "We will give you a fair chance-we will put you under reasonable, common-sense conditions, such as the experience of the whole human race has found necessary for a successful use of men. We say to you now, you shall stay in our service all your lives, so long as you serve us well, and you shall leave our service, not at the end of four years, but at once, if you serve us ill. We will no longer require you to carry the next election as a condition of remaining in our employment, for we know that on that condition you will give your time to carrying elections. We are, on our part, heartily tired of government by election machine, and we know that you are so, too. Let us try a new method. We see that, outside of our affairs, you are honest men. You keep your word; you do what you think you ought in your private dealings with other private individuals. It may be that you would deal honestly with us in the duties of your public offices, if we did not compel you to depend for your success in