A Defense of American Parties
IN every national election the American voter has three things to consider. He must make his choice among rival candidates, among contrary programmes, among embattled parties. He must take into account men, policies, and historical organizations. In most cases his choice will be determined by the third consideration. It is a liberal estimate to say that one American in five votes for a person, and that one in ten votes for a platform. The great mass of Americans vote for parties.
It is unnecessary to prove the fact, for no one denies it. Only professional agitators and implacable reformers ever disregard it. To the foreigner it is puzzling ; to the independent it is baffling and perplexing; to the men who make their living by politics it is entirely satisfactory. And yet, undeniable and important as the fact is, one seldom hears a serious attempt to explain it. On the contrary, one can scarcely turn to a single recent criticism of our party system without finding some expression to the effect that our party divisions are meaningless. We are told that neither of our great parties stands for any principle whatever. If we seek a definition of the terms “ Democrat ” and “ Republican,” we learn little more than that one is a member of the party founded by Jefferson and which once stood for States’ Rights, and the other of the party that saved the Union and freed the slaves.
It is noteworthy that neither de Tocqueville nor Mr. Bryce, though one wrote fifty years before the other, could find in America any proper party divisions. “ America,” said de Tocqueville, who was here in 1831-32, “ has already lost the great parties which once divided the nation ; and if her happiness is considerably increased, her morality has suffered by the extinction. . . . In the absence of great parties, the United States abound with lesser controversies ; and public opinion is divided into a thousand minute shades of difference upon questions of very little moment.” Mr. Bryce, writing in the eighties, makes his denial of the existence of party principles almost as elaborate as his analysis of party machinery. “Neither party,” he declares, “ has any principles, any tenets. Both have traditions. Both claim to have tendencies. Both have certainly war cries, organizations, interests, enlisted in their support. But those interests are in the main the interests of getting or keeping the patronage of the government. Tenets and policies, points of political doctrine and points of political practice, have all but vanished.” He, too, believes that there was a time when the organizations were animated by principles; but now, he avers, “ they continue to exist, because they have existed. The mill has been constructed, and its machinery goes on turning, even when there is no grist to grind.” The only difference that is “ perceptible even by a stranger ” is 舠a difference of spirit or sentiment,” less marked than the like difference between English Liberals and Conservatives.
Was the observant and fair-minded Englishman of the eighties, was the profoundly discerning Frenchman of the thirties, right in this severe arraignment of American parties? Certainly they are not without ample corroboration in the speeches and writings of American independents. Mr. John Jay Chapman, for example, whose essays seem for the moment to have the first place among independent utterances, finds that commercialism, pure and simple, has dominated both parties, and in fact the whole political life of the Republic, ever since the civil war. Mr. Schurz, who has had far more experience in public life, and whose admirable studies of Clay and Lincoln would seem to indicate that he is not without historical perspective, is nowadays almost constantly busy denouncing the leading policy, first of one party, and then of another, as the most heretical and dangerous ever proposed. Nevertheless, both parties persist in speaking of their “ principles; ” and these they do not merely promulgate, but 舠reaffirm.” What is the truth of the matter ? Have we, in fact, no proper and intelligible party system ? Is there no real and permanent difference between Democrats and Republicans ? If such is the case, then why have the organizations survived, and why have they gone on elaborating their machinery to a perfection never attained elsewhere ? Are our parties to be classed with the circus factions of Byzantium, or have they any claim to be compared with the “ Right” and “ Left ” of Continental politics, and with the Liberals and Conservatives of Great Britain ? If there is an intelligible difference, then is it an affair of principles, of interests, or of sentiment ? Is it based on classes, or on contrary theories of government, or on original sin ? To attempt an answer that shall be other than merely negative is hazardous, no doubt, but to one who goes about it seriously and candidly much should be forgiven ; for the inquiry goes to the very root of one’s faith in the Republic.
Such an attempt would best begin by admitting that a foreigner, familiar with the political systems of compact and homogeneous communities, where most questions that are debated in the legislature or submitted to the voters affect the whole mass of the people alike, where tradition and usage are stronger political forces than in America, and where classes are more clearly defined, may quite naturally expect of American parties a stability of character and a fixedness of purpose which our federal plan, our mixed and unclassified population, and our diversity of material environment conspire to prevent. Even in de Tocqueville’s day, the United States were to such a country as France almost as the Roman Empire was to the Athens of a former age. France was the most homogeneous and centralized great power of Europe, while in America the remoteness, in space and in character, of the Southwestern pioneers from the New Englanders was scarcely less notable than the remoteness of the Briton and the Gaul from the impassive Roman. The triumphal entry into Washington of the Tennesseeans and western Pennsylvanians, shouting for Jackson, and the discomfiture of Adams’s sedate supporters, may very well have suggested one of the acutest of de Tocqueville’s distinctions, — the distinction, namely, between parties which stand merely for contrary views and policies and parties which, like separate nations, are in perpetual antagonism over conflicting interests. The justice of the comparison was vindicated when the Southern Rights Associations stiffened into the military array of the Southern Confederacy. It is true that by becoming sectional American parties have sometimes lost their proper character, and taken on the character of hostile communities. That was the true character of the New England Federalists during the war of 1812, of the Nullifiers, of the Abolitionists and the Southern Rights men. Even the Republican party, in its beginnings, had somewhat of that aspect. The Whigs and Tories of Revolutionary times, though their division was not sectional, were “ rival peoples,” to use de Tocqueville’s phrase, and their peculiarly virulent methods have reappeared in organizations not in any sense their successors.
In more recent times, while sectional interests have seldom given rise to new parties, they have often subverted to their uses the machinery of the old. Alexander Johnston has pointed out that when the Southerners persuaded the Democratic National Convention of 1868 to declare against the enfranchisement of freedmen, they put the party on record against its cardinal tenet of manhood suffrage. For many years, and in fact to this day, the dominant party in the South has been the white man’s party, and the other the black man’s party. The two organizations have stood, in that quarter, for an opposition of races far more clearly than for any division of opinion on national questions. In other corners of the Union, and even in particular states, local antagonisms have often controlled conventions, nominated candidates, and written platforms. Certainly a great number, perhaps a majority, of the local contests waged by Democrats against Republicans are fought out on issues not at all related to those debated in national campaigns, though of course success or failure in local elections is often of vital importance to the national organizations. In general, the vastness of the country and the multiplicity of state and local governments operate continually to distract both the great parties from their larger purposes, to weaken the control of broad principles, to subordinate ends to means.
And these things have their effect not only directly, but also indirectly through their effect on the personnel of the party leaders. Power gained in the politics of a state or a city, where national questions are not properly agitated at all, is exercised in the politics of the nation. National conventions are largely composed of men whose views are bounded by narrow horizons, whose very names are synonymous with faction. The prominence of such men in the newspapers is probably the circumstance most of all responsible for the widespread belief that neither party is controlled by any general views of government or by any large purposes. What reason is there, one naturally inquires, to expect that such men will entertain one theory rather than another, of the nature and scope of government? How should prominence in the Chicago board of aldermen fit a man for determining the true Democratic view of the authority of Congress over territory acquired by treaty ? What is the connection between the scheme of municipal potato patches and any particular theory of constitutional limitations ? Why should the leader of Tammany Hall, rather than the leader of a German orchestra, sit in consultation over a difficult question in public finance ?
The rise of the professional politicians has had a similar effect on both parties. Foreign and independent critics probably exaggerate the number and the power of the class, but that there is such a class, and that it is distressingly large and dangerously powerful, can scarcely be denied. It is quite probable, too, that it is relatively larger in America than in other countries, because there are more politics in America than elsewhere. To be a professional politician — that is to say, to adopt politics as a bread-winning occupation — is of course to renounce the guidance of theories and principles. The professional may have opinions of his own concerning public questions ; but his real concern is to ascertain the opinions and desires of other men and manipulate them to his profit, not to advance his own. He favors the platform that will attract votes, the candidate whose success will enable him to dictate appointments and distribute contracts. He need not be in any positive sense a bad man or a bad citizen. It is merely that what in other men is patriotism or ambition or fanaticism is to him business. He may conform in all he does to the ordinary business standards of morality. His prominence in the party councils is not necessarily unfavorable to any particular principle; on the contrary, his skill in campaign work may be of great value whenever his party happens to be making a campaign of principle. Nevertheless, his presence is a sort of protest against principles in general, and if he and his fellows had absolute control the party would cease to have any principles whatever. It is, however, worth while to remember that no hard and fast line can be drawn between the professionals and those whom, for want of a better word, we may call the amateurs in politics. Foreigners like Mr. Bryce speak as if the classes were quite separate, but as a matter of fact few professionals live up to the professional standard of indifference to principle, any more than the ordinary amateur lives up to his standard of indifference to profit. So far, however, as professionalism prevails in either party, it tends to become a business enterprise rather than the organized expression of a political faith.
It is also true that the composition of the two parties is appreciably affected by many other circumstances that may best be set down as accidental. Men are joined to each from causes that have nothing to do with their political opinions. A capitalist, having large vested interests in a particular state, finds it advisable to connect himself with the party that rules it. A Catholic Irishman is pretty sure to be a Democrat. A German or a Swede, living in contact with Irish Democrats, is apt to be a Republican. In the South, the poor whites of the mountain regions have usually been hostile to the party dominant among the richer planters of the neighboring lowlands, whether it chanced to be the Democratic or the Whig.
There is yet another characteristic of American politics which goes to sustain the criticisms of our party system. The rapidity of our growth, the constant development and frequent expansion of the country, the shifting of population, the new material problems that keep arising, — in a word, the changefulness of American life, — could not fail to have a marked effect on politics. Nowhere do issues appear and disappear so swiftly. The “paramount issue” of one decade is remotely historical in the next. When the polls close on one election, no man can predict what men or questions will be uppermost in the public mind when they are opened again. After the second election of President Cleveland, chiefly on the issue of tariff reform, who could foresee that four years later many of the forces that bore him into power would be arrayed behind the extremest advocate of high protective tariffs on the issue of gold and silver ? Who, after the exciting campaign of 1896, dreamed that to-day we should be debating the best way to deal with two dependent islands in the Atlantic and a thousand in the Pacific ? Even the most steadfast adherent of a general principle cannot apply it with infallible accuracy to new conditions so swiftly brought about, to new questions so suddenly thrust before the voters. Inevitably, from the limitations of human intelligence and the inextricable tangle of human motives, parties will hesitate, divide, advance too rapidly, halt, march backwards. The consistency possible to the exceptional few who always reason calmly and forecast shrewdly is beyond the great majority of men; and in American parties, whatever may be true of the distribution of nominations and the management of campaigns, it is the majority that in the long run determines the main lines of the programme. The majority must frequently decide in haste, without any adequate study of new conditions or any careful comparison with the old ; and superficial reasoning, no less than passion and impulse, leads it astray from the path of its political faith. Theories and principles are neglected for the practical requirements of an emergency. No party that ever existed in any country has been so exceptional in its composition or so inspired in its leadership as to apply its professed principles with perfect logic to every task it had to discharge and every question it had to meet. The test of consistency is, in America, an exceptionally hard one, and here, as elsewhere, the human nature of parties has often been unequal to it.
Let us also admit, in order that we may, so far as possible, account for the attitude of the critics, that many of the questions with which our parties attempt to deal, even when they are not local or sectional questions, do not clearly involve the principles which either was formed to maintain. They are questions of expediency alone, and sometimes of a merely temporary expediency, — of the best means to attain an end whose desirability is not questioned at all. There have been whole periods, in fact, during which the prevalence of such issues has thrown the permanent divisions of opinion into the background, — periods which Mr. Bryce characterizes as times of pause and quiescence, but which in fact have been times of great business activity and material progress. Intense political excitement, the imminence or crisis of constitutional change, revolutions, wars, — these are interruptions of a people’s ordinary activities, though they bring new parties to life and transform or destroy the old. Peace, prosperity, contentment, a smooth working of the government, — these things make citizens neglectful of their differences, and may even mislead an observer into the notion that none exist. The circumstance that both Bryce and de Tocqueville happened to get their views of American society during just such periods of industrial activity and comparative political quiescence should be taken into account. It is hardly probable that either of those trained observers would have reached, say in 1860 or in 1896, the conclusion which one reached at the end of the Era of Good Feeling, and the other on the eve of those developments which led up to the extraordinary campaign of 1896. Of all the foreigners who visited America before 1860, only one, Sir Charles Lyell, seems to have foreseen the specific process by which slavery was finally rooted out. After the compromise of 1850, nine Americans out of ten were confident that Clay had really averted forever the danger that ten years later made the same men despair of the Union. It is not unreasonable to suppose that even the two most perspicacious foreign students of American institutions were misled by temporary aspects of affairs.
Bearing in mind, then, these characteristics of American politics which militate against party consistency, which tend to weaken the hold of permanent principles on party machinery and to lessen their ascendency over party spirit, does a reasonable and broad view of our political history sustain the main criticism of our parties ? On the contrary, I believe it will establish for them as good a character for adherence to their several theories of government as can be claimed, let us say, for the two historical English parties. Further, I maintain that a fair-minded examination of the present aspect of our two great parties leads to the conclusion that they still represent, with reasonable consistency, the two great ideals of government, the two great sets of interests, and the two great types of character, which in modern self-governing communities have usually lain at the base of party systems. One, I believe, has stood and still stands in the main for an effective government, the other for a free government. One seeks an equalization of welfare and opportunity ; the other bulwarks the historical rights of property. One is responsive to the changeful voice of the popular will; the other follows the intelligent guidance of successful men of affairs. One is the party of ideas and ideals, the party of liberty; the other is the party of practical achievement, the party of authority and order. Aspiration and Utopianism against purpose and opportunism, genius and eccentricity against common sense and self-interest, the universal and the visionary against the practical and the questionable, the kingdom of the air against the kingdom of the earth, — such I conceive to be the perpetual antagonism of parties; and the great lines of battle, now straight and clear, now twisted by lesser conflicts or obscured by temporary distortions of the surface of society, do yet run unceasing, if not unbroken, through the whole course of our history.
If we limit our view to the period covered by the life of the Republican party, it will be less satisfying than if we went back to the beginning, but it will exhibit with sufficient clearness those permanent and essential characteristics of both the great parties which a single brief period might not reveal. The most misleading period of all is perhaps the period covered by the birth and the swift ascendency of the younger organization. The Democratic party had already vanquished two successive rivals, and, as usually happens in the case of a party left without an equal antagonist, it was torn asunder by the sectional interests which sought to use its power for special ends, and so a question arose as to which faction had the better right to the machinery and the name. However, when the Southern Confederacy was formed, the Southern wing ceased to be in any proper sense a party under the Constitution, and the Douglas Democrats of the North were left in undisputed possession of the old organization. We may, therefore, with little fear of controversy, treat them as the true Democratic party throughout the period of secession and civil war.
But what better instance, the critics cry out, could anywhere be found of apostasy to principle than the platforms and the attitude of the Northern Democrats in those years? Was not liberty the very pole star of Jefferson’s statesmanship, the sum and total of his political philosophy ? And did not the Douglas men go for acquiescence in the Dred Scott decision, for that makeshift theory of “ squatter sovereignty ” which threw the territories open to slavery ? Did they not to all intents and purposes stand for slavery itself ? And the party which you now characterize as the party of authority and order, — did it not owe its very existence to the instinct of liberty ? Was it not built up to make war on slavery ?
Such is indeed the common view, and certainly, in that crisis, the party of Jefferson would seem to have abandoned one of its fundamental principles to its youthful rival. I conceive, however, that on the question then dividing the Democracy and the country it was necessary to choose between the two conceptions of freedom which together made up the Jeffersonian idea of liberty. Those were, the freedom of individuals and the freedom of communities ; the right of men to “ life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and the right of communities to self-government. In that inscription which Jefferson himself wrote for his tomb at Monticello, and which no doubt sets forth his own deliberate estimate of his life work, he mentions but one of his deeds, — the founding of the University of Virginia, — and but two of his writings, — the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty. One of these famous documents applied the doctrine of liberty more especially to a community ; the other applied it to individuals. In all his teaching, and throughout the history of the party he founded, these two conceptions of liberty are clearly set forth. The party of manhood suffrage was the party which asserted the right of the several states to control their own suffrage laws. The party that rebelled against the alien and sedition laws made no protest when Georgia maintained against John Marshall that she had a right to treat the Cherokees as she chose. In 1860, when nobody but a few extreme Abolitionists talked of interfering with slavery in the Southern states, when the main question was of the power and duty of Congress in reference to the territories, one set of that party’s precedents and traditions pointed clearly to the squatter sovereignty position, while the other set favored, but far less clearly, the contention of the free-soilers. The former was certainly the strict construction view of the matter, it was certainly maintaining the party’s ancient attitude toward the federal government, while the inconsistency involved in its attitude toward slavery was chargeable to the whole country, and not to one party alone. It was an inconsistency imbedded in the fundamental law of the Republic.
On the other hand, only a superficial view can fail to discern in the course of the Republicans the programme of a true strong government party ; of a party bent on using for a perfectly specific purpose all the powers with which the most liberal construction of the Constitution could endow the national government. Hamilton himself never brushed aside the sticklings of his associates more impatiently than the early Republicans brushed aside the misgivings of the oldschool public men who did not see how the great Northern majority was going to have its way in the territories. The desire of the Northern majority was for free soil, and it had been so for many years. The peculiarity about the new party was, not that it represented the common Northern feeling about the matter, but that it went to work in a practical way to do what the old parties had not dared to undertake.
When the issue shifted from the territories to secession, and Buchanan the unready made way for Lincoln and Seward, the essential unlikeness of the two parties appeared more plainly. “ No state,” said Buchanan, “ has a right to secede from the Union; ” but he could find in the Constitution no warrant for coercing a state back into the Union, and he declared that the enforcement of the laws by the Executive had been rendered impracticable in South Carolina. The emergency, and the leadership of a man who, like Washington himself, was greater than any party, did indeed give the Republicans a position somewhat like that of the early Federalists, so that they could for a time speak of themselves with some reason as the defenders of the government, and not merely the advocates of one theory of its nature. Nevertheless, their course was quite in keeping with that view of the government which their predecessors, the Federalists and Whigs, had taken. They gave little time to academic discussions, and never did formulate their theory as the secessionists and the Douglas men formulated theirs. On the contrary, they set to work organizing regiments and building battleships. In order that the Constitution might be obeyed to the letter, the Douglas Democrats let the Union be endangered. In order that the Union might be saved, the Republican leaders did not hesitate, if occasion arose, to violate the Constitution. The immense service which they were thus enabled to render should not blind us to the fact that even Lincoln’s inspired opportunism was opportunism, and nothing else. Nothing is plainer than that the overthrow of slavery as it actually came about was a means to the main end he was seeking, and not itself the end. The theorists in the Republican ranks, the Abolitionists and extremists generally, never did commit the party to their crusade against slavery. From first to last, during the war period, the sane, conservative, practical men of the North had the upper hand, and they felt their way, step by step, as has always been the wont of successful English and American leaders, through war and emancipation, to the rescue of the Union. They gave their party the character which it still retains, and which repels from it the fanatic and the enthusiast, and attracts to it the successful man of affairs. They made it, above all things, businesslike. The slavery controversy and the war, important as they were, appear now, nevertheless, as an episode in our history, and when the Republican party turned from them to questions of a more abiding sort it had already arrayed behind it the wealth and the business interests which in America correspond to the class interests and vested rights upon which the conservative parties of Europe have always relied. It was already the strong government party in respect of the interests it represented no less than in respect of its policies and its unformulated principles.
The Reconstruction question, while it still forced the Democrats to choose whether they would go for the freedom of individuals or the right of communities to manage their own affairs, did yet throw into a clearer light the antagonism of interests and motives which makes two parties necessary. In that period Thaddeus Stevens was the leader of the Republicans in Congress, and an expression of his concerning the status of the Southern states after the war should be set beside Buchanan’s utterance concerning their status after secession. The Southern states, said Stevens in effect, are out of the Union for all the purposes for which it is necessary to consider them out of the Union. Such an emergence from the chaos of theory was not only characteristic of Republican leadership ; it was a true statement of the Republican standard of values. It was the effective party’s contempt for theory when theory might stand in the way of results. In the discussion of the theory of reconstruction, Stevens and his associates were no match for the opposition. Thurman and Bayard were at home on that ground, and easily demolished every attempt to justify the reconstruction scheme from the Constitution. It so happened, moreover, that reconstruction, unlike the war, was an enterprise that imperatively demanded fidelity to the great principles of our government and of all free government, and particularly to that principle of local self-government for which the Democrats had so long neglected its twin principle of individualism. It was disregarded this time not in dealing with an emergency, but in a wrestle with conditions that have persisted, and in an experiment of governmental devices that were meant to be permanent. The party of the main chance was misled by its too practical impulses, just as, a few years before, the party of general principles had entangled itself to the point of absolute helplessness in the meshes of its theories.
No doubt we must concede to the critics that there was here more than a conflict of views and of general interests. The Republicans were not bent solely on solidifying the Union and securing the great results of the war. They also meant to make sure of negro votes, to replace those they were already losing from a reaction in the North. To that sort of expediency — to party expediency— the Democrats also were quite sufficiently alive. But for the vision, since realized, of a solidly Democratic South, they might have hesitated longer before deciding which aspect of human liberty they loved the more devotedly. In the main, however, the history of reconstruction is a good instance of the inadequacy of opportunism to the highest sort of governmental enterprises.
The period following reconstruction cannot be designated with the name of any one question or of any one event. It was characterized by a gradual subsidence of sectionalism, though many questions raised by the war and reconstruction were still debated. The issues which soon came to the top, however, were more like those to which the country turned after the second war with Great Britain. They were mainly due to the enlarged life of the Republic, to its immensely increased business activities, and to the changed and changing methods of industry. They were questions not clearly contemplated by the founders either of the government or of the parties ; but the division of the two parties on them came about quite naturally, and in accordance with the character of each. The Republican party accepted the new developments with less question, adapted itself to them, and commended itself to successful business men as by far the more effective instrument for getting what they wanted from the government. The war tariff, an emergency measure, was shaped into a satisfactory protective law. Encouragement and help were freely given to the Union Pacific Railroad and other enterprises which the tariff did not aid. Declaring that, as a result of its patriotic work, the United States were now a nation, and not a league, the dominant party acted on the theory, which in the last of the legal tender decisions was formulated by the Supreme Court, that nationality meant the right of the general government to do whatever a nation ordinarily finds it necessary and proper to do. Boasting itself the party of achievement, of prosperity, of national success and well-being, it kept the control of affairs until the failure and undoing of reconstruction gave the Democrats the votes of the Southern states, and in the North the reaction against sectionalism was followed by a reaction against centralism. Then the opposition, purified by long adversity, and at last intelligently led, came forward as the party of protest against sectionalism, centralism, and paternalism. It had more than the advantage which an opposition ordinarily derives from instances of corruption in high places. Tilden in 1876 owed his great popular majorities chiefly to the feeling in the North that the Southerners had been too harshly treated. Cleveland in 1884 was elected chiefly as a protest against the undue influence of business interests in Washington, particularly as exemplified in tariff legislation and in the public record of his opponent. The Democratic party was once more advocating both of its cardinal tenets, and for some years it continued to advocate them in such conservative ways that it acquired a character of respectability and moderation not always associated with the championship of liberty. Towards the end of the period it drew largely from an intelligent class of citizens whose political activity has been notable for a sincere but timid independence. Such was the state of parties when two swift changes of issues apparently revolutionized our whole political system.
First came an exceptionally violent outbreak of discontent, distinctly agrarian, with recent industrial and financial tendencies ; then the Spanish war and the self-revelation of America as a world power. The first swept over the Democratic party like the Jacksonian wave of an earlier period, and made it more like the “ Left ” of Continental politics than any American party had ever been before. The second added the semblance of militarism and imperialism to those other isms — centralism and paternalism — which were already firmly established in the domestic policy of the Republican party. Nevertheless, these changes have not deprived either party of its essential characteristics. Each still maintains its historical attitude toward the government, each still represents the same set of interests, and each in its composition still exhibits the same type of citizenship, as before the changes came.
The tertium quid, the entirely human element in the characters of the two parties, is the most permanent, the least changeful, of all. It was this, no doubt, that Mr. Bryce had in mind when he spoke of “a difference of spirit or sentiment perceptible even by a stranger.” To an American it is palpable : but when it comes to defining it the American is hardly in better case than the stranger. The art of the novelist, the dramatist, the student of human nature, is here more needful than the intellectual equipment of the political scientist. When all is said that can be said of principles and interests, there is still a connotation of the terms “ Democrat ” and “ Republican ” which baffles the lexicographer. Matthew Arnold succeeds in giving his reader a pretty clear notion of what he means by the great style in poetry without defining it, and perhaps it may be possible to get into words, though not into any formal definition, what we mean by the two party names applied to individuals.
The Republican party, in its composition quite as clearly as in its policies, is the true successor of the Federalist and Whig parties. It bears to - day the stamp of Hamilton’s purpose, of Marshall’s constructive bent, of Clay’s fertility in makeshifts, even more legibly than of Lincoln’s profound insight into the popular mind or of Stevens’s Cromwellian thoroughness. The reason is that the men who followed Hamilton and Clay, and who listened most readily to Marshall’s teaching, would to-day be in its ranks. However justly the West may claim its birthplace, its spiritual descent is from that New England party which saw with disgust the French ideas at work in the first Democratic clubs, and held a treaty of commerce with England preferable to any amount of brotherhood with the French revolutionists. The Northeast is still the fountain head of its inspiration, though the West may be more prolific of leaders and of specific policies. Of the two historical types of American character, the New England Puritan and the Virginian, the former is by far the more prevalent among its members. The salient marks of that type are intelligence and thrift. In America, intelligence and thrift mean success and wealth even more surely than elsewhere; but it should also be said that wealth in America does not imply in its possessor the same qualities and the same attitude toward society which it does in older countries. It does not imply a stolid and phlegmatic conservatism. Stolidity is here far commoner among people of moderate means and frugal lives. Most wealthy men on this side the water have made their own fortunes, or at least are so close to the beginnings of their families’ importance that they are still without any great family pride, without traditional rules of conduct and traditional views of public questions. Wealthy Americans are apt to be very practical and very alert persons. They are seldom idealists or visionaries. They look straight at actual conditions, at the immediate future. They are alive to fresh opportunities. The party which draws its leadership largely from our aristocracy of wealth can command far more executive ability, far more skill in business, far more knowledge of affairs, than its rival. For all practical enterprises of government, it has more than its share of that sort of ability which conquered this material continent.
No wonder, therefore, that it always goes before the people with a list of its practical achievements. Its orderly conventions are not unlike meetings of stockholders ; its committees are like boards of directors. Here, one might say at almost any Republican gathering in the North, are American energy, American shrewdness, American business correctness, concerned with political work. These men will go at the matter directly, they will reconcile or compromise their differences, they will waste no time with meaningless oratory, they will certainly get something done. Then each of them will go about his business. Such, for example, is the impression an observer would have got at Philadelphia in June.
At Kansas City in July, at Chicago four years ago, one would have seen a different sort of Americans going at their work in a different way. Here, one might have said, is the American idea still militant, the American character not yet smoothed out of its angularity by contact with the larger world. Here is no business association, but a debating society, and none of the most orderly at that. What was energy yonder is enthusiasm here; what was there compromise and agreement is here compromise and disagreement or a pitched battle for supremacy. Here is less work and more oratory, less forethought of to-morrow and more questioning of the coming age, less correctness and more simple honesty of purpose, less intelligence and more hospitality to great ideas. This is the political aspect, not of America the materially successful, but of America still revolutionary, still trying out the world’s ideals.
In such phrases a stranger might roughly characterize almost any Democratic gathering, except in certain cities and states where professional politicians do most of the party work ; and the characterization would have been true in Jackson’s time or in Jefferson’s. The men who at the beginning of the century distrusted the elder Adams would in Jackson’s time have distrusted the younger, and the men who believed Jackson’s charges against the National Bank would in our day cry out against Wall Street and the 舠 square mile ” in London. Or, to consider the Democratic character in a more positive aspect, the men who in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions set forth their faith in free speech and their sense of brotherhood with the alien driven to our shores, would have helped in 1824 to overthrow King Caucus and set up the American nominating convention instead. To-day the same men would look favorably on the plan of choosing Senators by popular vote, and might even attempt to reconstruct the financial system of the world in accordance with the popular conception of money.
The dominant impulse of such Americans in their relations with government is the spirit not merely of liberty, but of liberty and equality. “ Give every man a chance ” is the way they phrase their conception of that justice which is the health of the state. In Jefferson’s time, the chance they fought for was a chance to vote and hold office whether they owned property or not. In Jackson’s time, it was a chance to take the initiative by naming candidates and making platforms, — privileges until then reserved to a few trained men at Washington. Under Mr. Bryan’s leadership, it seems to mean not merely more political power, but better industrial opportunities and a larger share of the fruits of prosperity.
To distrust all power that is in any wise hidden, to seek to put one’s hands on the secret springs of the great machine, to set public opinion above the wisdom of the experienced and the skill of the expert, to project the common man into government, and so make it altogether human, — this is the instinct and passion of American Democracy. This is the force that has played upon our institutions and constitutions from the beginning, after the intermittent and wavelike fashion of all forces that proceed from the depths of the human nature of the multitude. It sent Jefferson, most inspired of political philosophers, least effective of public officials, to try and substitute his gunboats and his embargo for the sterner enginery of national defense which grown-up nations use, much as a child, with his toy weapons, might try to fight the battles of grown-up men. It waned as the ministers and successors of Jefferson learned the necessities and forgot the vaster opportunities of their high station, but with a fiercer uprising it bore Jackson into the White House, to have his will upon the enemies whom he fancied to be the betrayers of the people’s trust, to tear down much that had been patiently builded, and to lay the foundations of a rougher but firmer edifice of popular government. It recoiled from the immediate sharp consequences of his ignorant though essentially right-purposed use of his tremendous power, and waned again before the new issue of slavery, because only an instructed benevolence, not a primary instinct of human brotherhood, ever made the white man rebel against the Ethiopian’s wrongs. Lulled by the prosperity of later years, it has seldom shown its might until, at Chicago in 1896, it again seized upon the party always readiest to accept its control and hurried it along new paths towards the same unknown goal.
So far as Bryanism is a definite programme, it is contrary to many Democratic precedents, it antagonizes many interests which have looked to the Democratic party for defense. But so far as it is a popular movement, so far as it is a matter of impulse, so far as it reflects character, it does not essentially differ from any confessedly Democratic uprising of the past. To cry out against inequalities, whether of wealth or power, and to try, by some such device as an income tax or cheap money, to shift the burden on to the shoulders of the rich ; to look with suspicion upon that department of government, the judiciary, which is least responsive to popular moods ; to entertain wild ideas about public finance, which of all governmental work is the hardest to make plain to the popular comprehension,— these are all genuinely Democratic impulses. They may be all dangerous, all unwise as policies, but they are all Jeffersonian and Jacksonian, they are all manifestations of the same spirit that won us our independence as a community and our large freedom as individuals. To resist them may be a duty, but to despair because of them is apostasy to Democracy itself.
It is equally true that the present foreign and colonial policy of the Republican party, however the administration may have seemed to drift into it, is yet in keeping with its past, while the cry against imperialism and a large standing army, however naturally any opposition might have taken it up, would have rung less true from Republican lips. Democratic administrations have waged wars and annexed territory ; but a vigorous foreign policy, a colonial system, is no more characteristic of the Democratic party here than it is of the Liberal party in Great Britain. It is the strong government party in both countries which most readily sins against the principle of independence in order to spread the benefits of liberty. The mass of the Northern Democrats never were in sympathy with the Southern enterprise that secured Texas and California and aimed at Cuba, and that is the only truly aggressive foreign policy for which the party can be held responsible. As to militarism, even our miniature armaments of former times were enough to arouse Democratic hostility. The Democratic partiality for the militia as against the regular military establishment is older than John Randolph’s historical encounter with the soldiers in the playhouse, and it will survive its latest unfortunate champion in Congress.
On the other hand, the Republican party is no more military, no more imperialistic, than the Federalists were, or the Whigs ; but it is ready, as they were ready, to employ the fittest available instrument for whatever work actual conditions and things done seem obviously to demand, and it is loath, as they were loath, to relinquish an unfinished task for fear of a remote disaster or for reverence of a vague generality. To use military force freely, and to have no fear of it, was characteristic of Alexander Hamilton, who left the treasury and personally accompanied the army that put down the Whiskey Rebellion ; and it is just as characteristic of the Hamilton party of to-day, whose candidate for the vice presidency and prospective heir to the presidency is equally at home planning a campaign of naval strategy and leading a regiment into battle. That party is never lacking in the statesmanship of the winds and the tides ; the statesmanship of the compass and the stars is more apt to be Democratic.
If these things are true, then our great political parties, reckoning Populists as extreme and errant Democrats, soon to be absorbed in the greater mass their revolt has quickened, do in fact stand for a right and necessary division of the American people. That criticism, that reform, which attacks the whole system overleaps itself. Just and valuable criticism will point out faults and specific inconsistencies. Intelligent and candid reform will fight against that sordid commercialism which, though it avail itself of party loyalty, is yet utterly deadening to true party spirit. In so far as the independent movement proceeds on the notion that a different sort of party division can be deliberately accomplished, or that any future division, however brought about, will be essentially unlike the present, it can get little comfort from history. In so far, however, as it remains truly independent, emphasizing the right and duty of every citizen to make the best possible use of his ballot, it will tend to keep each party truer to itself, to make each play better its proper part in the working out of our great experiment.
A citizen so minded to use his vote will be governed in his conscientious, patriotic trimming by a consideration not merely of the men and the questions uppermost for the time being, but also of those permanent characteristics of the two parties which a longer view discloses. He will support the strong government party when he must, the free government party when he dares. In time of peril from without, he will naturally look to the party which is readiest in emergencies. When there is merely a difficult work to do, he will again look to the party which is intelligently led and which includes so large a proportion of successful Americans in its membership. In fine, he will be wise to choose that party on all questions of immediate expediency. But whenever the essential character of the Republic is truly involved, when the question is of tendencies rather than conditions, of ideas rather than things, he will oftener turn to the teaching of Jefferson ; when there is need of tearing down and building again, he will invoke the spirit of Andrew Jackson. For there be two Jinn, two slaves of the lamp, that serve the Republic. One, the nimbler and the more intelligent, is best employed in the care of its material interests, its bodily welfare. The other, a turbulent, huge, and mighty demon, guards with ferocious jealousy the twofold liberty which is its soul.
William Garrott Brown.