The incoming of a new administration is always suggestive of the. peaceable transfer of power over our great empire from one person to another; but the entrance of a new party into power, as indicated by, the election of a Democratic President and the appearance of Democratic cabinet ministers at the head of our departments, brings into a strong light some characteristics of our politics which people either ignore or do not comprehend. In truth, Americans in general, so far as they display themselves in active political campaigns, do not seem to see that every four years the country is convulsed by an agony of bitter strife and vituperation, and that as an equivalent for this their ballots are cast for a President under a delusion which is almost absurd in its effect. We are a newspaper-reading people. Moreover, we discuss, as well as read about, the issues which concern our national welfare. There are few persons, for example, who do not have some definite opinion—whether those opinions are sound or not—about the present coinage of silver dollars, or about the relative merits of revenue and protective tariffs. Entirely apart from the grounds of their beliefs, however, men think that the ballot is a means of shaping these beliefs into political enactments. One man holds vigorously to protection, another to revenue reform: then these two men, in our quadrennial agony, cast their votes for a candidate for the presidency who, in his letter of acceptance, or by the platform of his party, or in his speeches, has declared himself doubtfully or frankly in favor of either protection or revenue reform; and these voters believe that they have conscientiously succeeded, so far as their votes go, in doing something to put into office a man who will carry their views into effect. They think that they have aided in settling the economic policy of the country. As a matter of fact, the votes have accomplished no such results. The notion that they have is a political delusion. But outside of the professional politicians and those intimately acquainted with the government at Washington; it maybe said that this delusion is entertained by the great mass of the voters, who are either ill-informed, or too busy to give much thought to politics. Among these persons, a man thinks that the election of a given candidate will operate to impress his individual views upon the accepted policy of the country he governs. But this is a mistake, even if the President sincerely represents the doctrines of his party as expressed in its platform.
To show that this is a mistake, a word or two as to the functions of. the President may not be amiss. The chief of these functions, in time of peace, are the veto, the power of appointing to office, and the control of our relations with foreign governments. For the exercise of any powers which come under these heads, the President of course is, and ought to be, held directly responsible; so that whenever a voter goes to the polls, in a presidential election, he can cast his vote in such a way as to make his judgment felt on the policy of the Executive. If, for example, he has made unfit appointments on grounds of personal favoritism, or has led us into dangerous complications abroad without cause, every dissatisfied citizen can hold the President to a strict responsibility, and help to vote him out of office. This is a direct cure for the disease. The control of the executive over appointments to office, moreover, is exactly the reason why the question of civil service reform was so prominent an issue in the last presidential campaign. It was a matter which affected the manner of making appointments, not by Senators, not by Representatives, but by no other one person than the President himself. This was an issue, then, in which it was possible to establish a direct connection between the vote and the enforcement of the voter’s opinions in practice. Or, in the language of politics, here was direct responsibility of the President to the voter for the use of his powers. This responsibility is manifest by the fact that, if his action is not approved, he can be displaced by the voters who gave him office.