Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/March 1882/The Machinery of Elective Government
|THE MACHINERY OF ELECTIVE GOVERNMENT.|
IT is not necessary, for the purpose of this paper, to enter into any comparison between hereditary and elective government. Manifest it is that the era of elective government has come. In the communities of the New World, the latest development of humanity, the hereditary principle, has failed to take root; the monarchy of Brazil being merely a European dynasty in exile, the life of which hangs by a thread. In the Old World dynasticism is plainly in a state of decadence, the forms surviving longest, as might have been expected, where the substance had been most completely abolished. The era of elective government has come, and in the wise ordering of it, so as to give public reason the upper hand, and to reduce as far as possible the influence of passion, class interest, selfish ambition, faction, and corruption, lies the political hope of the world. If hereditary monarchy and aristocracy are dead or doomed, dead also is the light hope of the Revolution that all the evils of government would be swept away and the reign of reason and justice at once opened, if only monarchy could be overthrown. The divinity of the people has proved almost as unlike reality as the divinity of kings. It is time that the form of government should, if possible, be settled, and the political revolution brought to a close; the prolongation of the struggle, with all the appeals to passion and other sinister motives which it involves, is seriously affecting character and collecting difficulties round the government of the future, while a deeper and more momentous revolution, in the religious and social sphere, threatens the stability of civilization, and demands with increasing urgency the attention of the world.
It is needless to say that the forms of government are not all. Constitutions, however wisely framed, will not work without political character; nevertheless, constitutions are most important, and their influence in forming political character is not small. The adoption of elective government in any shape implies of course that the people have arrived at a certain stage of intelligence and self-control. In what are called the South American republics the attempt to introduce elective institutions among Spanish Creoles and Indians has totally failed, and the result is a series of dictatorships, the offspring of usurpation, which are little better than leaderships of a human herd. A sudden introduction of elective government into Russia would, in like manner, probably result in anarchy. On this subject the world has received lessons which reaction has exaggerated to the extent of almost denying the usefulness of wisely ordered institutions, as though blind habit and prejudice alone were trusty guides, and reason, sovereign in all other spheres, were excluded from the highest.
Strict definitions of government and enumerations of its functions are of little value. It may be described, practically, as the organization of the community for such objects as are best attained by common action; a definition which will include national defense and protection of life and property always, but also such other objects as circumstance and the conditions of the nation internal or external may from time to time suggest: centralization being at one time good, while, when a system has been set on foot and the people trained for it, the moment for decentralization may arrive, individual action being as a rule preferable because it calls forth more public virtue and raises the character of the citizen.
In such a paper as this, all that can be done is to present the chief points as they have been brought before the writer's mind by seeing the working of elective government in three countries—Great Britain, the United States, and a British colony. This object will be secured even if none of the writer's opinions, which are stated with unavoidable brevity, should commend themselves to the reader.
The chief points are party government, the expediency of a second Chamber, the mode of electing the Legislative Assembly, the constitution of the Executive, and the franchise. The consideration of these at least suffices for the present. On the horizon there are perhaps symptoms of a still greater change. Parliaments are losing much of their importance, because the real deliberation is being transferred from them to the press and the general organs of discussion by which the great questions are virtually decided, parliamentary speeches being little more than reproductions of arguments already used outside the House, and parliamentary divisions little more than registrations of public opinion. It is not easy to say how far, with the spread of public education, this process may go, or what value the parliamentary debate and division list will in the end retain. If monarchy is primeval, parliaments are the offspring of the middle ages, and for them too the sand in the hour-glass of history runs. But this is a problem which belongs to the future.
At present party it is that governs, though under different sets of forms. In England it governs under the forms of King, Lords, and Commons; in the United States under the forms of President, Senate, and House of Representatives, together with the State Executives and Legislatures. In England and the United States alike it is supreme. It elects the members of all the Legislatures, since it controls the nominations, without which no candidate can go with a chance of success to the poll. It appoints the executive, which is a committee of its leaders, and the composition of which always depends on the fortunes of the party conflict; it supplies the working organization of the Legislature, a reorganization of which in England or elsewhere will be attempted in vain without a solution of this preliminary question. Why is it that the work of De Tocqueville, with all its philosophy and its literary beauty, is practically so little instructive and so seldom quoted in the United States? Because he studied the forms, not the forces, which are the parties. Why is it that the Senate of the United States, designed specially to embody the federal principle, while the House of Representatives embodied the federal and national principle, has not corresponded in action to that design? Because the same parties control both Houses and the State government at the same time. Congress, in truth, is now little more than a place for formally ratifying and recording the decisions at which the party having the majority has arrived in caucus, where the only real deliberation takes place. As the minority in caucus is bound by party law to vote with the majority in the legislative hall, it often happens that a small minority of the whole Legislature passes a law or carries an election. Take away party, and we see that the whole of the present system of parliamentary government would crumble. We have, then, at once to ask what party is; upon what basis of reason or public morality it rests, and whether it can last. Burke says:
Such is the vindication of party by a public man who himself broke away from party, outraged connection, and vainly attempted to disguise his secession by an appeal from the living Whigs to the Whigs who were in their graves. It clearly implies that the community is divided by a difference of opinion, not only on ordinary matters and points of current administration, but on some question of fundamental character and of paramount importance. Nothing less can make the submission of the individual intellect and conscience to party discipline rational or moral. In the absence of such a question, party is faction, the ruin of all commonwealths. Is the stock of such questions inexhaustible? In Canada it is already exhausted, and the two parties there are simply two factions, fighting for place with the usual weapons, and poisoning the political character of the people in the process; no man of sense cares a farthing which of the two, as a party, is for the time being in the ascendant; but every man of sense perceives that if the faction fight continues to rage much longer it will bring disaster on the country. As the earth—according to astronomers—sees in her satellite, of which the atmosphere is exhausted, what her own eventual condition will be, so England may see in her colony what her party government will be when the list of organic questions comes to an end. In the United States, party had its origin in the conflict between Federal unity and State right; then slavery sheltered itself behind State right as a rampart against legislative abolition, and the party conflict raged on the double issue with increasing heat, till it burst into the flame of civil war. Now, though the memory of the war lingers, though there is still a feeling that its issues may possibly be revived, though the negro's liberty of suffrage remains a subject of contention, though a solid South is the core of the Democracy, the parties are evidently breaking up. In each of them, particularly in the Republican party, there is a split wider than the interval of opinion which divides the two parties from each other. Civil-service reform, the burning question of the hour, divides the Republicans into two bitterly hostile sections, while it unites the reform Republicans to the reform Democrats; and free trade, the question next in importance, though less burning, is equally regardless of the party lines, the Republicans of the West being commonly free traders, while among the Democrats of Pennsylvania there has always been a protectionist element strong enough to prevent the party as a whole from moving effectively in favor of free trade. Thus in the United States too, the death of party as a connection sustained by distinctive principle, and the survival of mere faction, seem to be in sight. In England, no doubt, there are still organic questions, such as the extension of the franchise, the Established Church, and the House of Lords; yet even in England the symptoms of dissolution have begun to appear, and in the last century there was an interval of political stagnation during which the party system degenerated into a struggle for power carried on between unprincipled connections with the usual accompaniments—intrigue, calumny, and corruption.
There are some, including grave historians, who fancy that party has its everlasting source and justification in a natural line dividing the political temperament of mankind. But can anybody seriously maintain that a thing so multiplex, varied by such infinite shades, and so mutable, even in the individual man, as temperament, is capable of this sharp and permanent bisection? Can any instance be named in history of a party founded on temperament, not on interest or connection? In politics, as in other things, age, no doubt, as a rule, is cautious, and youth hopeful; yet what reactionists are more violent than the younger members of an aristocratic faction? Is not this evidently a theory of human nature constructed to underprop a falling system? And be it observed that, to make the system work, there must be two parties, and two only. If parties multiply, as multiply they do, and will do in increasing measure, parliamentary anarchy must ensue, and the Government will be left without a sufficient basis. In France the number of fractions, each of which is really a separate party, has for some time past rendered ministries rickety and short-lived. In Italy, to give Government a sufficiently broad foundation, a double ministry, the Cairoli-Depretis, was formed, but with no satisfactory result. The German Parliament is split into at least six parties, not one of which has anything like a majority. In England the unity of what is called the Liberal party, and with its unity its ability to sustain a government, are now in great measure lost, as would appear at once if the commanding influence of its present chief were removed. The Tory party preserves its solidity, but this is because it is a party of interest, the tendency of which is always to unite, while the tendency of opinion is to divide, and to divide in proportion to the activity of intelligence and the amount of moral independence; so that one necessary result of the system is to give class-selfishness a great and ever-increasing advantage over patriotism and conviction. The quicker the intellect and the stronger the conscience of the nation become, the less practicable will be the mode of government which we are told is alone possible, and destined by an inherent necessity of human nature to endure to the end of time.
Even in its best estate, when there are organic issues, issues which create genuine enthusiasm and raise the combatants above the meanness of faction, is party a good government? Is not the possession of power and place always present as a motive warping the conduct of the leaders on national questions? Does not sheer passion always rage among the rank and file? Is not corruption an almost indispensable instrument of party organization? The bribe may be money, it may be patronage, it may, when the support of rich men is to be gained, be titles and social grade; but is not bribery in some shape always there? Let the main object of association be ever so important, must there not be always, to preserve discipline and beat the enemy, a terrible sacrifice of conscience and of freedom of opinion? Is not legislation, on the most vital subjects, apt to be governed, not by regard for the public good, but by the exigencies of the conflict and the necessity of keeping up the ministerial steam, or raising an agitation to drive opponents from power? It was not an American adventurer, but a British nobleman of ancient lineage and enormous wealth, the vaunted pattern at once of the Conservative sentiment and the personal honor which is supposed to go with aristocracy, who was ready to take such a leap in the dark as household suffrage for the purpose of dishing the Whigs. At this moment is not party trying to cut the sinews of a government which is struggling against a great public peril? It is scarcely possible for statesmen under such a system to-give their best energies to the work of legislation and government; their minds must be constantly occupied with strategy, and they are now being called upon in this country, by the increasingly demagogic character of their position, to spend their parliamentary vacation, not in recruiting their working powers and storing thought, but in the delivery of stump-speeches. Stump-oratory is, indeed, in a fair way to supersede statesmanship, for the masses who are now enfranchised care comparatively little about great questions; they want a leader who will fill their imaginations: this a striking stump-orator does, and to him, therefore, though in every essential respect he may be the worst of pilots, the helm of state is likely to be consigned. Perhaps even his influence will be less pestilent than that of the master of tactics and intrigue. Party has served its purpose in history; it has been the rough and questionable, yet perhaps indispensable instrument of progress in England, the agency by which, through a long and intermittent series of struggles, the supreme power has been transferred from the Crown to Parliament, and from the House of Lords to the House of Commons; but to rest in it as the permanent form of government would be to proclaim that the final state of society is unarmed civil war—civil war unarmed, yet with a perpetual liability to become armed, as it did in the United States twenty years ago. Combination for the attainment of particular objects or reforms, whether political, moral, social, or sanitary, is of course an undying necessity; but it is limited by the object sought; it involves no submission to conscience, nor even of the understanding except in the choice of means; it does not corrupt; it need not inflame; it furls its standard and disbands when the battle is won. As to connection, what Burke's ideal of it was he best could tell; what it was in the flesh we learn plainly enough from the parliamentary his. tory of his time. But neither combination nor connection, in any moral and rational sense of the term, has anything to do with a system of government which perpetually sets up the great offices of state as the prizes of a contest between two organized factions, to one of which each citizen is bound to adhere, owing to his party an allegiance in fact higher than that which he owes to his political conscience or to the state.
It is almost killing the slain, otherwise we might ask in conclusion, supposing the whole community to be convinced of the wisdom and justice of a certain course of policy, is a moiety of it still to take the wrong side for the purpose of keeping up the balance of party forces without which the party system can not subsist; without which, in truth, a party government becomes of all governments the least responsible? Such an agreement as would be fatal to the standing organization of civil discord is by no means out of the question; to it tends the advance of political science and of the scientific spirit generally, which, gradually making its way in all spheres, is not likely to leave politics untouched. In England at this moment the nation at large is Liberal, though in various degrees, and pretty well united in favor of the modern and against the mediæval principles of government; while the continuance of a division depends mainly on the existence of one or two special interests, such as the territorial aristocracy and the beneficed clergy of the Established Church. In fine, as has already been said, the best and indeed the only possible form of government, if the advocates of party are to be believed, is one the foundation of which must inevitably be weakened by every advance of the public intelligence, and which the attainment of truth on the great political questions will bring utterly to the ground.
What, then, is the alternative? The alternative, supposing the elective principle to be accepted, is obvious. It is the regular election of the Executive Council by the members of the Legislature. This would be simply the elective counterpart of the Privy Council, appointed under the monarchical system by the king, which is still the legal executive of England. Renewal by installments would keep the Executive Council always in sufficient harmony with the Legislature. But the Legislature and the Executive would be set free each of them to perform its proper functions. The Legislature would no longer be hampered by the fear of overturning the Executive; the Executive would be stable, and would discharge the duties of administration and police steadily and without fear about its own existence. At present in France, executive government, the sport of factions and of sections of factions, is utterly unstable, and can hardly assure the necessary protection to the citizen, much less engage his full confidence and his hearty allegiance. No longer would half or more than half the public men of the country be employed in propagating discontent, or a moiety of the nation be in a state of moral insurrection against the government which ought to be the object of its united loyalty and support. It is true that the criticism of an organized opposition would be withdrawn, but that criticism is always passionate and unjust; it is, in fact, not criticism but attack; and the fullest opportunity of fair criticism in an open Legislature would remain. Of the bribery, whether coarse or refined, which is now employed to hold together a following, there would be no need, the tenure of office being secured by law. Under such a system evil motives and influences would not be excluded; they can not be excluded from any system founded on human nature; but they would not be an inseparable part of the polity, and their sway would be diminished by every improvement in the political character of the nation.
Responsibility would not be impaired, inasmuch as an office would be intrusted to each minister only for a term, after which he would have to answer for his conduct, while the Legislature would retain the power of censure, and in extreme cases of impeachment and removal. There would be no majority to vote black white under a false sense of honor for the purpose of shielding a criminal of its own party. The election of the Executive by the Legislature is the natural application of the elective principle of government. Nor can it be said to be wholly novel. It has been tried in Switzerland, though it is true that Switzerland being not merely a nation with a federal structure like the United States, but a union of really different elements, German, French, and Italian, her case is peculiar, and her example must be used with caution. It may be said to exist, though in an irregular and objectionable shape, in England, since the ministry is virtually designated by the vote of the House of Commons.
Another advantage of the regular election by the Legislature to the offices of Government might be the choice of ministers with reference to their departmental aptitudes, in place of the pitchforking system which the necessity of finding places for all the leaders at present entails. Nor need there be much fear of want of sufficient harmony in a board which would have common administrative duties, common pride in their successful performance, and the union of which would not be tried by differences of opinion about measures of legislation. The state would not be deprived, as it is now, of the services of a first-rate administrator, say of finance or of foreign affairs, because he happened to be in the minority on some legislative question. It is very well for Burke to say that men of the other connection are not to be proscribed; but proscribed under the party system they are and must always be.
Ought there to be a second Chamber? That there ought, is an article of the political creed formed on a supposed inspection of the British Constitution. Imitation of the British Constitution, without discriminating between forms and realities, has led Europe a strange dance. Great Britain can hardly be said to have a constitution in the proper sense of the term. She has a series of enactments, from the Great Charter to the Bill of Rights, limiting the power of the Crown and securing the liberty of the subject. Apart from this she has nothing but a balance of political forces, determined by a long struggle, if balance it can be called, when the political power of the Crown has been reduced almost to nothing, and that of the Lords to a fragment of what it once was, since they can make no permanent stand on important questions themselves, though a stand may be made by the representatives of their order and interest in the House of Commons. There are traditions, no doubt, which in England herself have been fixed by long practice and handed on by a group of political families, notwithstanding which some important points, such as the rights of the House of Commons with regard to the approval of treaties, are still in an unsettled state; but out of England these traditions fail, and, when Canada is set to govern herself according to "the well-understood principles of the British Constitution," it soon appears that these principles are not so well understood, or at least not so religiously observed, by colonial politicians struggling for place, as by the members of the Carlton and the Reform Club. The written constitutions which all the nations of Europe have framed for themselves embody the forms not the realities of parliamentary government in England. They give the appointment of ministers to the king; the consequence of which, in Spain for example, is that the stress of the struggle for power rests just where British practice forbids it to rest, that is to say on the Crown; and every change of ministry is accomplished by an intrigue of the palace or an insurrection. A group of conspirators forces itself upon the monarch, and then, there being no political life in the nation, nominates a Parliament of its own followers, sometimes so far forgetting constitutional decorum as entirely to leave out the opposition; and this is called an adoption of the British Constitution.
The House of Lords has been everywhere taken for a second Chamber or Senate. It is nothing of the kind. It is one of the estates of the feudal realm, reduced by the decay of feudalism to comparative impotence, such influence as it retains being that, not of legislative authority, but of hereditary wealth. It has never acted as what it is imagined by the political architects of Europe to be, an Upper Chamber revising with maturer wisdom and in an impartial spirit the hasty or ultra-democratic legislation of the more popular House. It has always acted as what it is, a privileged order in a state of decay and jeopardy, resisting as far as it dared each measure of change, not political only, but legal, social, and of every kind—habeas corpus, reform of the criminal law, abolition of the slave-trade, and a cheap newspaper press, as well as extension of the franchise—because change in whatever line threatened directly or indirectly its own existence. So far from being a Senate, it deliberately declared that it was not and would not be made a Senate, by refusing to let a life Peer take his seat.
The Upper Chamber or Senate is of course intended to have a character of its own distinct from that of the Lower House, otherwise the institution would be futile. The House of Lords has a distinct character with a vengeance, and shows it on all occasions; but this nobody proposes to reproduce, modern society having decidedly pronounced both against hereditary legislation and entailed estates. What, then, is the distinction to be? Of what special elements is the Upper Chamber to consist? This is what no political theorists tell us, while they all busy themselves in devising modes of appointment or election. Whether this or the other mode of production is the best, it is impossible to judge, unless we are told what is the thing to be produced. Is the Senate to be a house of old men? If so, it will have the weakness of age, it will be ridiculed and despised. Is it to be a house of the rich, that it may specially protect the interests of property? If so, it will be odious, and expose to political as well as social attacks the very interest which it is set to guard. Is it to be a house of superior wisdom and character? If so, the popular house will be bereft of its natural moderators, and delivered over to the passion and impulse which it is the object of the institution to control, while, its voice being the more direct expression of the national will, it is sure, in any collision, to carry the day. This was seen in the case of Cromwell's attempt to relieve his government from the stress of conflict with the House of Commons by reviving the Upper House, the only result of which was that the Lower House was left leaderless, and the two fell foul of each other. The very existence of an Upper Chamber is found, in the United States for example, to increase the recklessness of the Lower Chamber, which feels itself at liberty to do what is popular at the moment, leaving it to the Upper Chamber to prevent mischief by the exercise of its veto. A Senate nominated, as is that of the Dominion of Canada, by the Executive, besides being an outrage on elective principle, is a nullity, though with a lurking possibility of misuse under the party system and in a country where politics are fierce and constitutional tradition weak, as was seen when the Provincial Senate of Quebec was used for the purpose of a sort of coup d'état by a party which wanted to drive the Government to a dissolution. Any notion that a nominated Senate will be the serene abode of high character, or special knowledge, or commercial authority, such as shrinks from electoral contests, is belied by the experience of Canada, where the Senate is a mere infirmary for superannuated partisans, especially for such as have spent money for the party elections. Where the Senate is elective, and the authority of the nation is divided, in whatever proportions, between the two Houses, collision is certain to ensue, sooner or later; as it has in Victoria, as it did in France when, on the famous 16th of May, the country was in this manner brought to the verge of revolution. Collision is not the calm review of legislation, nor has it any tendency that way; its tendency is to political convulsions. Political convulsions are the almost inevitable result of an attempt to divide the national will and to make it manifest itself through two independent organs, sure soon, if it were only from corporate jealousy, to become antagonistic. Where harmony has been preserved, it has been due to the ascendency of the same party in both branches of the Legislature, a condition of things which is always precarious, while, if what has been said of the party system generally is true, that system can not be relied on as the sustaining or controlling force of any polity for the future. The whole theory of mechanical checks and balances, however consecrated, is unsound; it belongs to the times of jealousy between monarchs and their subjects; the hope of a commonwealth lies in the more genial policy of disposing all its members to the common wood. Methods of securing deliberate action may be devised in the interest of all; but no ingenuity can really devise a method of permanently dividing the national will and making it check itself.
To secure deliberate action, the first thing necessary is to have the wisest men of the country in that assembly which represents the will of the nation. But haste may be also prevented, and time given for reflection and for change of mind, by arrangement of the forms of legislation. It might be desirable even to confer a suspensive veto for a short period on a stated minority. Such an expedient would at least be more effective than the obsolete veto of the Crown, and less disturbing to the political frame than a collision between the Commons and the Lords, out of which the only way is a coercive dissolution of Parliament in the midst of a boiling agitation, or a swamping creation of Peers.
The question whether an individual chief of the state is necessary concerns most the American Republic. It is at present complicated by the exigencies of party, which requires a chief—as an army requires a general—though such a minister as Lord Aberdeen was hardly more than the president of a council. In Switzerland—an example which, for the reason already given, is always to be cited with reserve—there is only a titular President of the Federal Council, without personal power or a prominent place in the minds of the people. The belief in the necessity of an individual chief seems to be a tradition of monarchy. In framing their institutions the founders of the American Republic, though they substituted election for inheritance, and introduced the federal element, were guided by the principles which Montesquieu and other political philosophers of the time supposed themselves to have educed from the practice of the British Constitution. In the place of the king, whom they imagined to be the real ruler, though he had already become a figurehead, they put an elective chief magistrate, and they jealously guarded what they had been taught to regard as the palladium of liberty, the separation of the executive from the legislative, though, had their eyes been strong enough to look through the haze of constitutional fiction, they would have seen that the Legislature in England was all the time appointing and removing the executive, and appointing and controlling the judiciary to boot. The elective presidency is an almost unmixed evil, and an evil of the most formidable kind, especially since the multiplication of patronage has enormously augmented the magnitude of the prize and the number of the place-hunters whose fortunes are staked on the election. It involves the commonwealth perpetually in troubles like those of a disputed succession. It fills the country with the turmoil of a contest which now extends over at least two years of every four, and disturbs commercial and industrial as well as public life. It keeps party passions always at fever-heat. It breeds ever-increasing swarms of wire-pullers, intriguers, office-seekers, and political vermin of all kinds. It brings every dangerous question to a head; it did this in the case of the slavery question, which, in the absence of the artificial crisis produced by a presidential election, might possibly have dragged on and found a gradual and peaceful solution. A dispute as to the result of the election is always possible; it occurred between Hayes and Tilden, and then, too, infuriated partisans began to lay their hands on the hilts of their swords, though the good sense of the nation at last prevailed. Finally, the position of an elective President with personal power, but holding office only for a term, is a standing incentive to encroachment. The ambition of an ex-President, excited in this way, is now riding the country like a nightmare; and nobody can doubt that the aim of the men about him is to place him in the office for life, an object which, if they succeed in again re-electing him, they will not be unlikely to attain. That the people of the United States will ever with eyes open revert to the hereditary principle can not be believed by any one who has not persuaded himself that hereditary government is an everlasting ordinance, to which all who have strayed from it are sure to come back in time. But a lapse into a dictatorship, and from a dictatorship into something like a dynasty, would not be utterly impossible, if the foreign element, untrained to self-government, should become proportionally too large, and serious troubles of any kind should at the same time arise; it would be very far from impossible, if, in addition to the foreign element, female suffrage should be introduced. Nothing is really needed, at least in ordinary times, but a titular President of the Executive Council to represent the commonwealth on occasions of state. In the civil war Lincoln was, perhaps, useful as a chief, holding by tacit consent a sort of dictatorship during the season of peril; but institutions are not made for civil war, and a provision might easily be framed enabling the Legislature in case of great public peril to confer on the executive council increased authority for a limited time, somewhat after the fashion of the Roman dictatorship, which worked well enough during the healthy period of the republic.
Now comes a momentous question. Ought the election to the central Legislature by the people to be direct or indirect; in other words, ought the members of the central Legislature to be elected by the constituencies at large, as they are now in England and other countries under parliamentary government, or by the members of local assemblies elected in their turn by the people? The writer of this paper is a hearty democrat, and profoundly convinced that the people, with all their passions and defects, will on the whole vote right whenever they see their way. He is persuaded that the great obstacle to voting right, as well as to doing other things that are right, is selfishness, and that this prevails fully as much among the rich as among the poor; indeed, among the rich it is almost erected into a principle, under the pretext of defending the rights of property, as though the rights of the destitute did not require much more to be defended. He is not actuated, therefore, by any conservative prejudice in saying that to him the system of having a central Legislature elected directly by the constituencies at large seems to have decisively failed. There are two points in the process of election, the nomination and the voting. The second point only has engaged the serious attention of statesmen, whose minds have been occupied entirely with problems as to the qualifications for the franchise, the distribution of seats, and the question of the ballot. It is in the first part of the process that direct election has broken down. The people, if left to themselves, will choose rightly between two candidates; but who is to choose the candidates? The people at large can not select from any extensive area; a common man does not see over a hill, much less can he perform the task which Mr. Hare's plan would set him, of picking out the persons of greatest eminence from the whole nation a process which would infallibly degenerate into a vast party ticket. On the other hand, the worthiest are not very likely to nominate themselves, though the least worthy are. The practical result is that the nominations are everywhere usurped by party organizations and their proprietors, by caucuses and wire-pullers, whose fell ascendency, complete in the United States and Canada, is being very rapidly extended in this country. The nominations carry with them the elections; the constituency at least has nothing left it but the choice between the two candidates whom the wire-pullers are pleased to set before them, and whose first qualification is of course entire subserviency to party, if not to something narrower still. Nor is there any visible way of breaking out of this fatal circle, which grows continually stronger and more confined. If an independent candidate attempts to offer himself, the wire-pullers on both sides practically combine against him as an interloper and a leader of rebellion against party discipline. The range of their unbeneficent agencies is, moreover, daily extending and affecting every part of public life. It is needless to say that a conclave of Tory squires is just as much a caucus as a Liberal "three hundred." Trusty managers of their own immediate concerns common men will manage to pick out of those with whom they are in daily intercourse, and whose characters they thoroughly know. In Canada persons qualified to judge say that the local elections, where party does not interfere, are good, and best where the area is smallest. An assembly consisting of the chosen men of each locality will be more intelligent than the body of its constituents, and at each remove upward a step in intelligence is gained. The increased importance given to the local assemblies would raise their character by inducing better men to come forward, especially in the cities. Nor, with a limited body of primary electors, is there much practical difficulty about the nominations. A college of electors, called into existence for a single term, such as that which formally chooses the President of the United States, of course becomes a nullity: the result is a mandate: but this would not be the case with a standing assembly, electing periodically members of a central Legislature. The Senate of the United States, elected by the State Legislatures, may safely be said to be in average ability decidedly above any other legislative assembly in the world, and would be an admirable government if party would let it alone; while the House of Representatives, elected directly by the people, is not only inferior to the Senate in every respect, but is a body the meeting of which is by all good citizens justly regarded with dismay, while its departure is welcomed as a deliverance. The primary electors, instead of losing by the change, would gain a real power of indirect election, whereas the apparent power of direct election which at present they possess is an illusion, the reality having been filched from them by the caucus, which is always in the hands of a ring. A wise arrangement of local institutions on the elective principle would of course be the basis of the system, as it is the indispensable training school of the people in self-government. The elections to the central Legislature, party being out of the way, ought to be by installments, a mode which would allow the steady inflow of public opinion, and at the same time prevent cataclysms such as now attend general elections, which are usually decided by some special agitation or an excitement of feeling on one question, to the neglect of the more general interests of the commonwealth. The term for which each member of the central Legislature was elected would be fixed, and there would be an end of the ministerial prerogative of dissolution, which has run into grave abuse, and may run into graver abuse still, if ministers are allowed to dissolve whenever they think they are sure of winning the elections, and thus to perpetuate their tenure of power. The election of a central Legislature by local Legislatures, and the installments, would no doubt be a tame affair compared with the turmoil of a general election under the present system; and those who think that turmoil is life will at once reject the proposal: to the writer, after observing the politics of a colony and of the United States, as well as those of England, the reverse appears to be the case. Turmoil and healthy political life seem to him totally different things. Mere saving of expense is not a paramount object, but the corruption as well as the enormous waste of general elections would be at an end. Nor is there much danger of stagnation: the world is in a fair way to have agitating questions enough, without breaking heads for Blue and Yellow.
Bad influences—vanity, intrigue, pique, self-interest, corruption, narrowness of view and motive—can not be excluded by any conceivable machinery from any human assembly. But the members of a local council, electing members of the national Legislature, would at least be acting under the eyes of the community, and with something of the responsibility which attaches to the exercise of a personal trust. They would usually have too much largeness of view to vote against an eminent man because he had promoted co-operative stores, or because he had gone wrong on the dog-tax. Nor in any reasonably moral community would they be likely to take direct bribes. It is time, however, as every one who lives under the rule of colonial politicians knows too well, that political corruption, in high places as well as in low, should be distinctly stamped as a crime, and brought under the regular cognizance of justice. It is just as capable of definition and of proof as any other crime, and assuredly it is not the least heinous in the list. For this purpose, as for the trial of contested elections, a tribunal is needed free from partisan influence and open for the reception of charges brought against men in public trusts by any citizen, with proper safeguards, of course, against wantonness or malice. Impeachment is obsolete, and an investigation undertaken by Parliament under the party system becomes a faction-fight. It seems incredible that the framers of constitutions for colonies teeming with corruption should have failed to make any provision for the trial of political offenses.
If we are asked whether it is at all likely that the plan of indirect election will be adopted, the vote for the supreme Legislature having been once ostensibly given to the people at large, we say at once that at present it is not. The world will have first thoroughly to learn by experience that the existing system is, or tends more and more to become, government by and for the wire-puller, not by or for the people. France is apparently about to make an experiment in the opposite direction, by the adoption at Gambetta's dictation of the scrutin de liste. But this is a warning to the rest of the world, the object of the measure evidently being not to improve the elections, but, by canceling all those local influences which on the whole are the healthiest, to render a particular politician more completely master of France.
Representation of minorities seems to have done but little good. The result is a torpid compromise which is likely to continue notwithstanding a change of sentiment in the constituency, because it is the object of all the three members, and especially of the holder of the minority seat, to avoid a contest, so that positive misrepresentation as well as political deadness may be the result. The minority member is nailed to his seat, and can neither take office nor retire, except at a general election. All complicated arrangements are apt to harbor wire-pulling, for the wire-puller, even if he is baffled at first, soon learns the trick. The only measure of this kind which appears to promise real improvement is the adoption of the second ballot when no candidate has polled an absolute majority at the first. This would give opinion, which is apt to split into sections, a fairer chance against a compact interest, and render it possible for an independent candidate to come forward with some prospect of success. At present the wire pullers invariably succeed in persuading the people that their votes, if given for an independent candidate, will be thrown away.
Experience seems distinctly to have shown that, to make an assembly deliberative, its numbers must be limited. In a Parliament of six hundred or a thousand members, volleys of argument or invective may be exchanged between the two sides of the House, but deliberation is impossible. More than two hundred can hardly take counsel together. There is the resource of grand committees, which, however, is not available with party government, unless the committees are so arranged that the dominant party shall have a majority in each of them. Unless this is done, the full House will be always redebating and reversing the decisions of the grand committee.
With such a mode of election to the central Legislature as has been suggested, it will be safe to combine a widely extended suffrage. It will be safe, and it will be politic. For the instructed and reflecting few, a demonstration of political utility may suffice: proved expediency secures their allegiance; but, to engage the loyalty of the many, it is necessary that government should be administered in the name of an authority to which their hearts as well as their understandings bow Such an authority in by-gone times was the king; such an authority now is the whole nation. No one who was in the United States at the time of the civil war could fail to see what immense strength that Government derived from the breadth of the basis on which it rested, and from the universal feeling that it was in the fullest sense the Government of the people. It was enabled in this way to put forth a power which no autocracy could have put forth. Many Americans, it is true, will tell you that universal suffrage is a failure, and that it is the great danger of the state. But they overlook the fact that the danger arises not from universal suffrage by itself, but from universal suffrage in conjunction with party government and direct elections. It is as the tool of faction and its demagogues that the rowdy is politically formidable. Universal suffrage, however, in America, is no doubt to-day a very different thing from what it was when the great majority of the people were substantial farmers, and almost all of them were holders of property, responsible, settled in their habitations, and of English blood. No absolute rule can be framed for all countries, nor even, supposing that such a rule could be laid down, would it be practicable everywhere to get up the hill again, when once you have gone down, and withdraw powers once granted to the multitude. Property qualifications are odious, and, where power is in the hands of the people, to be odious is to be weak. On the other hand, an education qualification is not odious; the writer, at least, has always found that artisan audiences receive the mention of it with favor; it is most reasonable, since a man can hardly give an intelligent vote, or do himself and his concerns anything but mischief, by voting without the common organs of intelligence; nor does there seem to be any insuperable difficulty in the way of ascertaining that an applicant for registration is able to read and write, or at least to read. Writing, perhaps, ought hardly to be required, for the horny hand of the farm-laborer may lose that faculty without default of brain or heart. Under a complete system of popular education, if we ever arrive at it, the school-certificate might be the qualification. All voters ought also to be liable to every civic duty, such as that of national defense, and that of serving on juries, if the system of jury-trial is retained on its present footing. If a sifting process is necessary, let it be one of self-disfranchisement by refusal of equitable conditions, rather than one of disfranchisement by exclusive legislation; the popular feeling that government rests on the broad basis of equality and justice will be less impaired. The sentiment of monarchies and aristocracies has been studied; it is now time to study the sentiment of republics. A good deal of sifting, and, on the whole, of the right kind, would probably be done by abstention, when there were no longer organized factions to marshal the irresponsible, and march them to the poll. As the possession of a vote excites interest in public affairs, the suffrage has a certain educating power, though by no means so great a power as some sanguine advocates of extension have maintained. A consideration, perhaps, of not less importance is that, under a thoroughly popular system of suffrage, the holders of property and the highly educated are spurred by regard for their own safety, if not by any more generous motive, to "educate their masters." If they knew their own moral interest, they would prefer this necessity for exertion to the torpid security afforded by what is called a strong government to wealth and pleasure. After all there will be risks, great risks, in popular institutions; but, as experience shows, nothing like so great as those which attend arbitrary power. At all events, feeble barriers merely chafe the popular flood; the only chance of safety lies in frankly embracing the democratic principle and framing securities for the ascendency of public reason over cupidity and passion, not in the interest of an upper class, but in that of the whole community.
There is a wide difference between the case of political and that of municipal suffrage. This is a point of the highest importance in America, where the cities are vexed and pillaged by a brood of municipal demagogues, such as the late Mr. William Tweed. Legislatures, in regulating the municipal suffrage, have forgotten the great change which the cities have undergone. In the middle ages they had a political life of their own, and as the antagonists of the rural aristocracy played a distinct part in political development. This belongs to the past; a city is now little more than a densely peopled district requiring a special administration. Moreover, the great merchants who were the leaders and magistrates of the cities in former days do not now live in them, but in villas outside them, nor do they seek city offices; the guilds are dead; the people, even in the same street, know little or nothing of each other. All unity is gone; there is only a human sand-heap, among the grains of which moves with sinister activity the ward politician. The chief, almost the only function of a city government in these days, is to raise and expend money; in equity and reason, therefore, the franchise ought to be in some measure proportioned to the amount of the contribution; it ought to follow the rule of joint-stock companies, rather than that of political communities, in which the poorest man's rights and liberties are of as much value as those of the richest. Nor is the present system in any way favorable to the poor, who are led by the petty bribes offered them by sharpers or rings, and by appeals to their class passions to vote for public plunder. The money goes into the pockets of the Tweeds; and nowhere are the health and comfort of the poorer citizens less cared for than in cities which are under the government of these rogues. A strong, permanent, pure, and enlightened administration, of a thoroughly business and scientific character, is what is needed by the people of every city, and by the inhabitants of the poorest quarters most of all.
Of the question of female suffrage the writer has spoken elsewhere. The spheres of the two sexes, as he believes, are, like their natures and gifts, coequal but distinct, and incapable of identification unless women can take what is now the work of men, and men can take the work of mothers. Law, even in the most civilized states, rests at bottom upon the force of the community, and the force of the community is male. Enactments made by those who had not power to execute them would be futile. Would the men allow the women to vote them into a war, say in defense of a romantic Queen of Naples, or some other darling of female fancy? Would they execute upon themselves the severe laws which women are threatening to make against them in matters connected with the relations of the sexes? If they would, the tyranny of man must be a fable. But if decrees were not carried into effect, and laws were not executed, the government would fall. In domestic life, though a character at least as high as the political is formed, political character is not formed. What would be the condition of a nation in a dangerous crisis like that of secession in the United States, or even the Irish crisis here, if its policy were swayed to and fro by the emotions of the women? The advocates of women's suffrage hardly realize the fact that they are turning government over into female hands; yet in the United States, where the franchise is personal, the female voters would at once outnumber the male; and in England it is well understood that the limitation to widows and spinsters is merely put forward as a mask. The next step would be a demand of eligibility to Parliament and to political office, which is probably the personal aim of some of the female leaders (one of whom, indeed, wanted to be a candidate for the presidency), and could not consistently be refused. But could women in office ever be made accountable like men? A sex which is not thoroughly justiciable can not be made thoroughly responsible; and, when women have interfered in politics, their want of a restraining sense of accountability has appeared. Henrietta Maria, by the indulgence of her feelings, hurried her husband and the country into a civil war, as Margaret of Anjou had done before her; Marie Antoinette, by a similar outbreak of passion, precipitated the French Revolution; and the Empress Eugénie, with fatal truth, called the German War her own. That women can not take part in the defense of the country is an argument which may have been pressed too far; yet they are hereby rendered untrustworthy counselors in questions of peace and war. Some who know the Southern States well say that if the women could have had their way there would very likely have been a renewal of the civil war. The whole history of female government leads to conclusions adverse to the change; the reign of Elizabeth herself, now that we know what she really was and did, as decisively as the rest.
Neither men nor women can plead natural right against the good of the community; the community is the ordinance of nature. Men were not invested by nature with political liberty; they won it by efforts in which multitudes of them have perished, and they have shared with their families all its substantial advantages. As they have fought, so they have legislated, for their wives and children as well as for themselves. For their wives and children as well as for themselves they have reclaimed the earth, made it fruitful, and bridged the sea. What Mr. Mill calls slavery has, in the main, been the guardianship of affection, a guardianship with which the women could not have dispensed, though the conception evidently never entered Mr. Mill's mind. If the man has had authority over the woman, the woman has had authority over her child. The indissolubility of marriage, which Mr. Mill calls slavery, and which is his capital grievance, is at least as much a restraint upon the roving passions of the man as upon the affections of the woman; in truth, the very fact that man has instituted monogamy and made marriage indissoluble is the most conclusive answer to Mr. Mill's charge. So far from women not being able to get justice in a court under the existing law, the difficulty is to get justice against a woman, and both in America and in England male legislatures have been passing laws respecting the property relations of married people, which in effect release the wife from all the obligations and liabilities of matrimony, leaving the husband as fast bound as ever. American ladies who demand that marriage shall not be a union, but only "a copartnership," would soon flinch from the consequences of their own principle. That domestic outrage exists in barbarous classes is too true; and it is committed as often perhaps by women against children as by men against women, though the complaints of the children are not so often heard; but fifty votes given to the unhappy victims would not correct the brutality of a savage home. The women who head this movement do not really want equality; they want and expect to retain, with political power and freedom from marital control, all the present privileges of their sex. They do not want to be thrust to the wall by male strength in a struggle for existence, to have the penal law extended to them in all its severity, or to be compelled to do the rough and dangerous work of the world. But they will find that they can not have both equality and privilege, or at once renounce and retain the guardianship of affection. Chivalry may linger, as sentiments do linger, for a season; but it will soon fall into the grave of the conditions on which it depends. Perhaps the sex generally will find that they have paid dear for the fancy of the few who wish to enter into public life.
What would be the effect of public life on female character, and the effect of female intervention on the character of public life, are questions upon which some light has been thrown by our actual experience since the commencement of this agitation. About the most violent and scurrilous production which has appeared in the American press for many a day was a series of letters written by a female politician; and it is remarkable that her object was to defend the system of favoritism and jobbery in the exercise of patronage against administrative reform.
The most important point remaining is the ballot, which has now been pretty well tried. The notion that it would specially favor Liberalism is at an end. It annuls all pressure, that of the trades-union or the social circle, as well as that of the landlord or the customer. On the other hand, it affords a cover for individual follies and for all the motives which shun the light. It has failed to baffle the wire-puller for the reason already mentioned; he always succeeds in convincing the mass of electors that a vote given for any but a regular party candidate will be lost. Probably the balance of advantage is on the side of allowing a man to give free expression to his real sentiments, whatever they may be; the result is then trustworthy, and the general action of the voters as citizens will be in accordance with their votes.
That the British Constitution is unwritten, and therefore elastic, may be the boast of Britons, but, like many things which are the boast of Britons, it forms no precedent for other nations. For reasons before given, unwritten traditions or understandings are valid only in these islands. In new-born democracies nothing will prevent the militant politician from using for his own behoof and for the discomfiture of his opponent all the powers which the letter of the law puts into his hands, the sacred principles of the constitution notwithstanding; and thus we find a lieutenant-governor of a province turning out the ministry of the majority in order to transfer the provincial patronage to the hands of his own party on the eve of a general election, and the Senate of the same province withholding the supplies as an ordinary stroke of party warfare, when it wanted to upset a government which had a majority in the other House. A young commonwealth requires a written constitution, and a strict one. Moreover, the document, which becomes a political bible, is an instrument of no small power in educating the citizen, and has a conservative influence of the best sort over his mind.
The only point of first-rate importance which remains is the amendment of the Constitution. This ought to be distinctly vested in the nation at large, the sovereignty of which ought to be unequivocally proclaimed; and a mode should be provided by which the sovereign can exercise the power. An elective assembly will not terminate its own existence, or even pass a measure of reform affecting the position of a large portion of its members, if it can help doing so, any more than a king will abdicate of his own accord. The more vicious it is, the less amenable to opinion it will be. The English Parliament in 1832 did not voluntarily reform itself; reform was forced on it by the nation, which threatened it with violence if it held out longer. In 1867 it was let through a trap-door. The more insufferable the American House of Representatives becomes, the more tenaciously will it cling to its evil existence: and electing members pledged to consent to the submission of an amendment for its reformation or abolition would be a desperately difficult process for the people, when the organizations are in the hands of the politicians. The only visible remedy would be revolution: and a revolution, though not a bloody one, would apparently be inevitable if the British nation were to make up its mind to abolish the veto on national legislation at present possessed by the six hundred privileged families represented in the House of Lords. The object might be attained by providing that it should be lawful at any election of representatives for the electors to inscribe on the same ticket a requisition for the submission of a constitutional amendment, and that the Legislature should be bound to submit the amendment to a plébiscite, if a certain proportion of the electorate had supported the requisition. No one who is familiar with the character of democracies, and knows the extent of the vis inertiæ which prevails in them, will deem the power likely to be too frequently used.
The writer, let him say once more, is fully aware that much of what has been said will to many seem undeserving of practical consideration. He knows well that party government, a second Chamber, and direct election of the central Legislature by the people at large, are regarded as immutable ordinances of nature. Yet this does not shake his conviction that a single central assembly elected by the members of local assemblies, and itself electing the executive, will after sufficient experience be the form finally assumed by elective governments.—Nineteenth Century.
- In an article in "Macmillan's Magazine," which at the request of some members of the House of Commons was reprinted, and was circulated by them among the members of the House.
- The suffrage movement is, in the United States at all events, only part of a movement against the limitations of sex, against the bondage of matrimony and the burdens of maternity. Those who are thus striving to break up the political unity of the family are assailing its integrity in other ways by separating as much as possible the interest of the wife from that of the husband, and teaching her to regard him not with confidence but with jealousy. The writer has heard in several quarters that some of the female leaders of the movement do all in their power to deter young women from marriage. The name of John Stuart Mill, on the banners of the movement, indicates its real character, and shows that it extends to the general status of women. If it spreads in America, the consequence will be, that the Anglo-American race will be supplanted by the Irish and Germans, whose women are loyal to sex, true to the family, and good mothers, while all the Irish and half the Germans belong to a Church by which the family has always been upheld.
What nobody will deny is that the question is one of the most tremendous significance. The family is more important than the state to human character and happiness; and while the state may be regenerated by the family, the family can not be regenerated by the state. Levity, therefore, and concession to vague sentiment are criminal. Man, as the responsible holder of political power, is bound to decide unselfishly and generously; but he is bound to decide carefully and wisely, in the interest of his partner as well as in his own. In England Conservatism has of late been led into strange ways. If, instead of allying itself with beer and ignorance against intelligence, or stirring up war passions as revolutionary as they are wicked and destructive, it would take to guarding property and the family, its just influence in the state would be increased.