Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/381
THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY 377
referendum with favor. By disentangling issues from one another, by freeing them from the dominion of party and from coalitions of log- rolling politicians, he thought the referendum might " prove the most powerful bulwark against violent and dishonest change." He even went so far as to say "that its tendencies might be towards extreme Conservatism." 19 One of the leaders of the Labor Party in England, Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald, thinks the referendum will enable reaction- aries to single out certain measures for defeat and to interfere with a consistent policy of reform. 20
Judging from the amount and the character of the opposition which the referendum at present excites in the United States, one might sup- pose that it is nothing less than revolutionary in principle. Yet it involves nothing with which the country has not long been familiar. It squares with the traditional American theory that sovereignty resides in the people. In calling constitutional conventions and in adopting new constitutions it has long been employed in most of the states. It is the usual method of amending our organic law. In the decade end- ing with 1908, 472 constitutional questions, nearly all amendments, were submitted to the people of the several states. 21 The movement now well under way merely extends the use of the referendum to legislative acts. I can see no objection to such an extension that does not apply with as much force to the right of the people to determine their organic law. The latter is the more fundamental and logically includes the former. If the right of the people to pass upon legislative questions is dangerous to liberty and property, the right to pass upon constitutional questions is still more dangerous, unless surrounded by more careful safeguards. It is evident that the electorate en masse of a large popula- tion can not formulate the details of either their statutes or their con- stitutions. But if they are incapable of passing upon the public policy embodied in the former, neither are they capable of passing upon the general principles embodied in the latter. " The fact is," says Professor Burgess, " that the political science of the modern world is still engaged in the task of working out the distinctions between sovereignty and government, and that political practise is in the transition period be- tween the sovereignty of the government and the sovereignty of the people behind the government." 22 Much of the opposition to the refer- endum can only be understood in the light of this remark.
The argument that the referendum will lower the character of our legislative bodies is of doubtful validity. This has not been the effect
is Op. cit., pp. 22-34 and 276-294.
20 A. Lawrence Lowell, op. cit., p. 158.
21 Ellis Paxson Oberkoltzer, op. cit., p. 477, quotes W. F. Dodd's work on "Revision and Amendment of State Constitutions" to this effect.
22 Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 13, 1898, p. 203. vol. lxxxiv. — 26.