The Political Horizon


IN discussing the outlook for the presidential campaign of this year, we must consider the issues that divide the voters into different parties and factions, for it is to be a campaign mainly of issues. I endeavored to show in my previous article, by a brief review of the political history of the last thirty years, that the two great parties, as they are called, are dominated by socialistic tendencies and are professing socialistic purposes ; and that from the socialism of protection has resulted the socialism of the transformed democracy, which embraces more and perhaps worthier objects for the application of the communistic principle, but which, for the moment, for obvious reasons, is the more dangerous to the community. Of course neither party is wholly socialistic. What I mean is that each party has partially adopted the idea that the state should participate in the business of production and distribution, and this is a socialistic idea. It is only a series of steps from this notion to communism, and the opponents of the doctrine of protection have moved onward. Perhaps the most significant demand made by them, in this respect, in 1896, was of the right of the state to interfere with the freedom of contract. If the government should be charged with all the obligations demanded by both parties, we should have the state assisting, as a partner, in the most important acts of production and distribution, in manufactures, in railroad transportation, in ship-building and ocean transportation, in agriculture, in banking, and, finally, for the compulsion and restraint of the wage-earner, in order to prevent the free disposition of his time and skill.

The movement of the farmers, the workingmen, the halfway socialists who followed Bryan, is not, however, so much a movement to obtain government aid for the poor and struggling — though it must become that eventually if conditions do not change — as it is a movement to take away the advantages, some real and some imagined, enjoyed, under the law, by what is loosely called the plutocracy. Already the exasperation caused by the obstinacy of the protected interests, and the disappointment due to the presence of protectionists in the Democratic party, have brought on what seems to be a war against property ; not that private property has really anything like destruction to fear from the success of Mr. Bryan, but the conservative people of the country would shudder at any step taken in the general direction pointed out by the Chicago and the Populist platforms. There is no doubt that the larger number of men who voted for Mr. Bryan four years ago do not believe all that their platforms professed, and could not be induced to carry it out. The main danger is from the state of mind revealed in the Democratic and Populist platforms, — a state of mind that indicates a perilous belief, held by hundreds of thousands of voters, that the owners of wealth in this country are oppressing, through the law, those who have no wealth, and especially those who till the earth and who labor with their hands. And it is, unhappily, true that wealth and prosperity, created and fostered by law, are doing nothing to dissipate this belief ; on the contrary, they are doing everything in their power to confirm it. Therefore, the first and the most important cleavage between voters separates those who believe in the use of the taxing power to promote commerce, and to increase the gains that come from commerce, from those who are at war with special privileges that are already conferred by law or that are threatened, and whose enmity against what they call the money power will inevitably gain force so long as the accomplishment of their immediate object is postponed.

The issue defined as the trust issue includes the tariff question, and is merely one form of expressing the fundamental and essential difference between the parties. Into this dispute has been flung the question of imperialism, and here the cleavage runs in the same general direction. Speaking generally, the Republican party favors imperialism, and the Democratic party is opposed to it; but there are a few Democrats who agree with the President’s policy, and a larger and more influential body of Republicans who oppose it. It is an interesting fact that most of the Democrats who announce that they are imperialists belong to that faction of their party which has hitherto prevented it from keeping its pledge to reduce tariff taxation, though it is also the fact that among the leading Republican anti-imperialists are men who have labored strenuously in the cause of protection. The Democratic protectionists and imperialists are frankly in favor of the President’s policy because they believe that the commerce of the country will be augmented by its adoption. The Republican anti-imperialists, or most of them, are opposed to the policy because they believe in the soundness of the assertions of our Declaration of Independence, that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” They are opposed to the establishment of a government over alien people, especially against the will of these people, and they regard such an establishment as a denial of our own republican principles and a menace to our own institutions, as well as a wrong to the people upon whom we are to force our rule. Such a political faith is also natural to those who have adopted and held the essential doctrines of the Democratic party since the abolition of slavery. Imperialism and colonialism are necessarily hostile to the spirit of modern democracy. Its virtues and its vices, its truths and its fallacies, would all be outraged by the setting up of a republican imperialism over the Philippines. Moreover, as the question of the kind of government to be established in our dependencies comes to be discussed, a new cause of difference arises. The Republican party proposes to govern the islands outside of the Constitution. The adoption of this purpose must shock every Democrat, whether in 1896 he voted for Mr. McKinley or Mr. Bryan ; for the theory that the government of the United States possesses any political power or jurisdiction whatever, except the power and jurisdiction bestowed upon it by the Constitution, is repugnant to every instructed Democratic mind and to many Republican lawyers. Congress also offends against democracy in giving exclusive or independent power to the Executive, as it has done in providing for the government of Hawaii, and as it is likely to do in respect of other islands. The issue of imperialism is likely to play the most important part in the debates of the coining campaign, and various phases of the question and its incidents will be presented to the voters by the party newspapers and stump speakers. The President and his party, in the first place, will be held responsible for the war with the Filipinos, and for all the evils of that and of the war with Spain. Mismanagement will of course be charged, and it seems likely that the censorship at Manila and the concealment and misrepresentation of facts will be grounds of accusation. The enormous cost of the war and the great increase of taxation will be urged. There will be an inquisition into the character and justice of the war in the presence of popular audiences. But the points which are likely to be most impressive in the West and the South will be the moral aspect of the question, the burdens of taxation imposed by our wars, and the charge that these are in the interest of the commercialism, for which the Republican party is said to stand. Senator Beveridge is believed to have stated the policy of his party in respect of the Philippines, — that is, that it is purely commercial; and the Democrats will seek to hold the Republican candidates to this. So it will come to pass that, from one end of the country to the other, we shall have an exciting political campaign over the policy of imperialism ; and not only will the righteousness of the war and the propriety of the enforcement of the government of the republic upon other people by arms be debated, but the issue will be included as one of the counts in the general indictment against the Republican party, — that is, that it uses the powers of government, and especially the taxing power, for the purpose of promoting sordid interests and for increasing private gain ; its answer being that, in these modern times, civilization is best promoted by the extension of commerce to hitherto savage and remote peoples, and that the United States is but fulfilling its destiny, and playing its legitimate part in the world’s history, by bringing the savages of distant islands under civilizing influences. But this contention, again, will excite the fiery energy of the old Republicans who were in the thick of the fight of anti-slavery times, and we shall have the moral side of the question presented with force and eloquence.

On the leading issue, the personality of the candidates not being in question, let us grant that there is a strong probability that the Republican party would be defeated. Certainly, its antagonist would secure the majority of the popular vote, as it has generally succeeded in doing whenever the issue between the beneficiaries and victims of class legislation has been made with any degree of explicitness. But another question will obtrude itself, and that is the silver question, which was the centre of the discussion in the campaign of 1896. It is true that no administration, so far as we can foresee, is likely to be able to disturb the currency of the country during the coming four years. The money bill which has been enacted puts it out of the power of any President or Secretary of the Treasury to depreciate the country’s currency by redeeming its securities and notes in silver. Nevertheless, there is danger still to be dreaded. This is shown by the fact that an important element of the force behind the money legislation of the present Congress is partisan, and emanates from men who look at all political questions from a partisan point of view. It was the opinion of these politicians, no later than the autumn of 1899, that “ good politics ” required that the money question should not be settled ; that it should be kept open for campaign purposes. They believed that Republican success would be most certain if the presidential struggle of 1900 should be conducted upon the issue of 1896. But there has been an awakening, not so much of conscience as of intelligence. In the first place, the independent vote which gave to Mr. McKinley his majority rebelled against this kind of politics ; but the rebellion would probably not have sufficed to change the determination of leaders who possess a large influence in the councils of the Republican party. It was doubtless the tight money market of the autumn of 1899 that led to the adoption of the money bill, which passed the House of Representatives soon after the opening of the session, and which, with some injurious amendments by the Senate, is now a law. The flurry of panic that disturbed the East may have had the slightest of causes, but the atmosphere which was engendered by it in financial centres was unpropitious. The veriest tyro in politics can understand why the administration did not wish to face a campaign in unprosperous times. The money bill of this session is an effort to assure prosperity next summer, and it will probably succeed ; again — for fate is often kind to us — our country is to be benefited by “ good politics.” The sensitiveness of the commercial and financial world to the suggestion of depreciated currency survives. Although the House of Representatives, standing for population, — the majority coming from the thickly settled parts of the country, which are rapidly extending toward the valley of the Mississippi, — is likely to become more and more effective as a defense of the single gold standard, and although the Executive will be powerless, nevertheless the election of Mr. Bryan, or any one holding his views, would doubtless disturb the money market and bring on a panic. The money issue is to intrude into the campaign, and the question is, How far is it to affect those who will strongly desire to oppose Mr. McKinley’s reëlection on the economic and constitutional issues, and on the overshadowing issue of imperialism ? In 1896 the money question was not complicated with any other issue. The large number of Democrats who voted for the Republican candidate believed that they were thereby aiding to save the nation from dishonor. How will they now choose between imperialism, the slight to the Constitution, and the policy under which tariff-protected trusts thrive, on one side, and a panic and the consequent unsettling of prices, on the other ? In this silver or money issue, which is essentially a false issue, lies a large part of the strength of the Republican situation, and at this point the Democrats are once more, apparently, to give to their opponents an opportunity.

These being the issues, we may examine more intelligently the strength and weakness of the two parties in their relation to those issues, and the value of the personal equation. The Republican party is, for the moment, expressed most fully by President McKinley. He embodies all that it means. No President was ever more completely master of his party. Without the manners or the methods which made Jackson’s domination obvious, — ostentatious, indeed, — Mr. McKinley has gained his ends as effectively as did his predecessor, and controls the legislative branch of the government. He is an exceedingly astute politician, and an examination of his mental processes, since before the Spanish war until now that the appropriate form of government for our colonies and the applicability of the Constitution to them are under consideration, is an interesting study. He has not at first favored any of the eventually prevailing forces in the great episodes in this new departure. He did not favor the war, but seemed to be driven into it. And yet he was, at the last, the chief instrumentality of the explosion. He did not favor the retention of the Philippines, but he warmed public sentiment to favor the policy which his opponents now call his, and he demanded the cession of the islands by the treaty of peace. He has insisted from the first that the power to rule colonies rests with Congress, but the only plan for government suggested by the executive department would make the President supreme in every one of the new territories as he is supreme in Hawaii. He asserted in his annual message that the Constitution protects the citizens of these new possessions, and Secretary Root took the opposite view. Both of them urged the establishment of free trade between the United States and Puerto Rico. Through the influence of the protected interests, the time came when the President advised Congress to defeat free trade, as he had already yielded on the applicability of the Constitution to our colonies. There is method in this mental progress. The President’s mind moves no faster than the country’s mind, or than his party’s mind, which may be the same thing. His first expression is always the natural, the almost involuntary response of the human mind to the suggestion of a new and strange idea. Then comes familiarity with the idea, — a turning of it over, as we say. Then incidents occur which modify the first repugnance to the suggestion of annexation, or of government outside of the Constitution; incidents follow and conditions arise that make it look as if the first impulse could not be carried out without wronging some one, without “ running away from our responsibilities,” without “ subjecting ourselves to the scorn of other powers.” Up to this time, the first idea, the natural expression of the normal American mind, is referred to retrospectively and regretfully, and finally it is enthusiastically abandoned in the name of duty. The President is a determinist, and fate has done it all. Meantime, the minds of many thousands of Americans have been keeping step with the President’s mind, and his position is much stronger than it would have been if he had taken it boldly at the outset. I do not wish to be understood as saying that Mr. McKinley plans this progression ; I say nothing about this. When I speak of its method, I refer to the method of a natural psychological law. Mr. McKinley is an exceedingly redoubtable person, because his mind works in unison with a very large percentage of American minds, and at about the same rate of progress. The Republican party has no candidate against him. For the first time in its history it approaches the national convention with one possibility only. Mr. McKinley is not only the party, representing everything that it stands for, but behind him is a combination of men who are the products and defenders of the Republican socialism, not one of whom is in politics to be President, but all of whom want to be next to the President, and feel that they must win. They believe in money, for gaining business or social or political ends. They are the “ plutocrats,” the “ money power,” who had nearly seven million enemies in 1896, and who would have had more if the nature of the issue of that year had not united all property interests, — both those who believe in government for private gain, and those who hold that government should consider merely the public welfare.

Mr. McKinley, being the Republican candidate, will have with him that large body of voters, including a very important percentage of the youth of the country, whose imaginations have been stirred by the achievements of battles, by the sense of national power which has been awakened by our victories, by a certain vanity in our growing bigness and importance, and by an honest pride in the mysterious disembodied spirit of the country, which Lowell sang so eloquently and exultingly in the Commemoration Ode. That this cannot be an enduring power, in view of the character of our recent wars, goes without saying. It is already weakening, but probably it will not be entirely worn out before the end of the presidential campaign. Another body of voters will accept Mr. McKinley and his policy because they have been convinced that we cannot abandon the Philippines with honor. Some think that we should be disgraced if we left them, and the Germans or some other European power seized them. Some have been taught that the controlling body of Filipinos now contending against us would murder all the natives who have been friendly to us, if we abandoned the islands. Upon minds that accept these suggestions, the argument that we may protect the islands, even if we do not retain them, produces no effect. There are also many thousands of good men who believe in spreading the gospel through the establishment of American government in the Philippines, and they will therefore support Mr. McKinley and imperialism. It is true that this vote is, normally, mainly Republican ; but it is essential to the anti-imperialists that they should make some inroad upon the Republican strength, either by securing Republican votes for the Democratic candidate, or by putting into the field a third ticket, — this time headed by Republicans.

Mr. McKinley’s strength on the issue of imperialism ought not to be underestimated by his opponents. It is clear that the impetus has been in his direction, and although there are convincing signs of a reaction, we do not know that the reaction has actually come. The issue will be stated very vaguely by the Republicans. They will present it to the country as a question of high morality, with incidental commercial advantages. It must be admitted that there is something attractive to the average good American — indeed, to the average and sometimes to the exceptional good man of any country — in the idea of elevating the humbler races, of “ doing them good.” Whitefield preached in favor of African slavery in this country, because he believed that it was the duty of Christians to save the souls of the negroes, and that a most effective opportunity to compel them to listen to the word, and to heed its teachings, was afforded by the ownership of their bodies. Whitefield has his successors. Besides the clerical influences, Mr. McKinley will have the ardent support of an enormous commercial power, — a power much more astute in politics than it was in Mr. Randall’s day, with a much keener appreciation of the advantages of a government connection, and with a much firmer conviction of the duty of government to help the business interests. Thirty years ago the protected manufacturers stood alone, and throve under the protection of the sectional issue. Now to these are added those who want to build and sail ships; those who want to monopolize the trade with our new possessions ; in brief, all those who want to tighten the cords which bind the public treasury to private business enterprises. It is a tremendous power, and, this year, it will struggle for an imperialism as general and inexplicit as possible ; believing that the surer way to win will be by vague expressions of a benevolent desire to advance Christianity and civilization, through annexation and the spread of commerce. Constitutional and economic issues will therefore be minimized.

The Republican party will not avoid the trust issue, but will discuss it, and its general protestations against so-called trusts and monopolies and their tyranny will be nearly, perhaps quite as strong as those of the Democrats. The difficulty, apparently, in making the subject of trusts a party issue is that no politician can convincingly define a trust, point out its admitted evils, or suggest a remedy that does not seem like flying in the face of nature. So far as the Republican party is concerned, it believes that combinations are in accordance with a law of nature, and it cannot possibly, on this issue, win the votes of those who hate corporations, and who believe that there is something sinister in all accumulations of capital. On the other hand, it will have the support of those who are not for destroying combinations, although not the votes of those who are opposed to trusts that are the consequences of the protective tariff.

Imperialism and trusts are not the subjects on which Mr. McKinley and his party will conduct the campaign, if they can choose the issue. Firmly as they believe that they are doing the work of civilization in establishing the jurisdiction of the United States over distant islands and alien and savage or semi-civilized peoples, they must be very far from assurance as to the success of a campaign on the question of imperialism, as it will be raised. They have daily evidence, for example, of the existence of defection in their own party. They know that nearly all the gold Democrats who gave them the victory of four years ago are bitterly and aggressively hostile to imperialism. It is for this reason, partly, that they have tried to avoid, but not with complete success, any action that might give a definite form to the issue; intent, apparently, on securing a verdict on the general question before risking one on any of the particular questions that must eventually come up for discussion. The administration party will therefore undertake to hold its forces together by making the money question prominent. It knows that on this issue it has the country with it. This is an attested fact, — attested not only in 1896, but in the elections of 1897,1898, and 1899. There is still life in the issue, and breath is blown into it most sedulously by the Democratic candidate of four years ago, who, of all men in the country, ought to be the most eager to see his poor dependence of 1896 disappear forever in oblivion. The Republican party is now the gold standard party. It stands for sound money, and this gives it so strong a hold upon the country that it will be impossible for the Democrats to defeat Mr. McKinley, if the money question is actually made the most prominent issue of the campaign.

The Democratic candidate seems also to be foreordained. There are signs of opposition to Mr. Bryan. There are indications that some of the Democratic politicians are wearying of his issue, and therefore of him. But they are not weary because they disagree with Mr. Bryan. They may or may not agree with him. They will tell you that they are opposed to the 16 to 1 policy because they do not see the necessary votes in itThe Democrats who opposed Mr. Bryan four years ago are out of the party, and they will have nothing directly to say in the convention, although the chance of securing their votes may possibly have some effect upon the attitude of the party in the campaign. As the organization exists, there are two factions. One, and doubtless the larger, is headed by Mr. Bryan, Senator Jones, and men of that kind, stirred to the very depths of their being, — apparently by the silver question, in reality by wliat they regard as the oppressions and corruptions of the thing they call the “ money power.” The other faction is venal, cunning, and a machine. Its leaders are ex-Senator Gorman, Richard Croker, John R. McLean, and some minor “bosses.” The late William Goebel, of Kentucky, was one of the leaders of this faction, and would have been prominent in the campaign which it will make against Mr. Bryan in the convention, if it sees a reasonably good opportunity for nominating its own candidate. These men want a candidate of their own kind, and if they cannot have such a man, they will accept Mr. Bryan. Mr. Bryan will probably be nominated, and therefore the Republican party will have an opportunity to force the money question to the front. Against this the Democrats will struggle, and they are likely to succeed in making imperialism and commercialism the chief topics of discussion over an important area of the country. Their speakers and newspapers will dwell on these themes, and they must be answered ; but, at the same time, the Chicago platform will be a part of the Democratic platform of this year, and the Democrats cannot run away from it nor escape the consequences of its adoption. No doubt Mr. Bryan would lose hundreds of thousands of votes by doing what is called “ turning his back on silver.” The question is, Will he gain the needed number of votes from anti-imperialists and trust opponents, in spite of the silver issue ? He will of course make that issue of as little relative importance as possible, and in much the larger part of the country he will succeed ; for it is perfectly true that campaign issues are not created by the politicians. Elections are lost and carried on the questions which appear most important to the voters, and interests vary in a country so large as ours. The silver question was universal in 1896, because it was a real question, upon the settlement of which rested, in the minds of many, the prosperity and honor of the country. At present, the insistence of Mr. Bryan and his party is actually necessary to galvanize it into life. In the silver states the money question is likely to be the sole topic of discussion ; in the Eastern states and in the large cities of the middle West, in consequence of Mr. Bryan’s candidacy, it will be stronger than the Democrats will like to have it, — stronger at the polls than on the stump. In the great agricultural sections of the middle West and in the South it will be of little present interest. What force it will possess will be by way of tradition. The people there will insist on discussing trusts and imperialism, and there the struggle will come between the predilection for expansion, of which I have already spoken, and the arguments against it. There the Republicans will be obliged to face serious difficulties ; for the Democrats will not consent to leave these issues vague and fugitive. They will exert all their power to bring their opponents to definite points, and it is comparatively easy to accomplish this in a political campaign ; for a decided statement persisted in is always effective in bringing forth an answer, sooner or later, and the answer once made, the issue is joined.

The Democrats will oppose what they will call the Republican party’s effort to overturn the principle of democratic government, to force our rule on an unwilling people, and that by a breach of good faith. They will denounce the war against the Filipinos as cruel and unjust. They will make the most of the administration’s alleged recognition of slavery in Sulu. They will insist that the treaty of peace which bound us to pay $20,000,000 for a war was a blunder or a crime. They will point to the enormous increase of taxation, from five to eight dollars per capita ; and they will once more, and this time with more effectiveness than ever before, raise up the monster of militarism with which to frighten the imaginations of a people who have heretofore always been sensitively nervous at the threat of a standing army. They will also charge that all this aggression in the East is in the interest of favored classes, that the money power is to gain from it all the advantages of imperialism, and that the “ plain people ” are to bear all its burdens. And with the voters who will be moved by such appeals as these will act the men who hold to the faith as it was taught by Washington, — faith in the democratic principle, faith in the virtues of peace and in the civilizing influences of the arts of peace, faith in the policy of isolation, — men who still believe that the Constitution is our great monument of civil liberty, and that any despite done to it, any slight put upon it, any turning away from it in efforts to extend our rule over foreign peoples, must be followed by a reaction on our domestic government, and will tend to weaken that respect for the fundamental law which is essential to a proper observance of it on the part of those who frame and execute our statute laws. Those who feel deeply on these questions, but who voted against Mr. Bryan four years ago, will this year vote for any opponent of Mr. McKinley. There are some, however, who acquiesce in these principles, but who are not moved deeply by their fears, and some who are opposed to the attempt to govern distant lands because our structure of government was not framed for the task, who will vote for Mr. McKinley on the silver question, and in dread of the assaults on property which have been threatened by the Democratic and Populist socialism. Then there is the large body of Democrats who have no principle at all, and who are moved chiefly by their selfishness, who vote for prosperity ; and these men will vote for Mr. McKinley, if the stock market is in good condition next November.

As the political horizon appears at present, taking into account as carefully as may be all its deceptions, all its mirages, and the many chances of unexpected changes of weather, the Republican party is likely to carry the country on the money question. If it could maintain the inexplicitness of its position on imperialism, it might win on that issue. But that will probably be impossible. If, on the other hand, the Democratic party should nominate a candidate having no responsibility for the Chicago platform of 1896, and should compel a contest on definite issues arising out of our occupation of the Philippines, raising the question of their permanent retention, convincing the people that the Republican party intends to discard the Constitution in governing the new territories, and declaring expressly against the increase of expenditures, commercialism, and militarism, the chances would be in its favor; for it would by this means gain a better position in the East than that which it lost by the campaign of 1896. It would lose only in the far West, and would have all the strength which Mr. Bryan could build up in the middle West. If it accepts Mr. Bryan and all that he stands for, it deliberately imperils any chance of its own success in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and must depend for victory mainly upon the old Republican strongholds of the middle West. The result hangs upon the independent vote, which is much larger this year than it has ever been before ; for to the regular independents and the gold Democrats of 1896 musthe added the anti - imperialist Republicans, and a very large percentage of this independent vote is opposed to Mr. McKinley. The money question out of the way, the choice of all the independents would not be doubtful. In that event, the weight of evil, of which I spoke in my former article, would shift at once.

Henry Loomis Nelson.