The Significance of Political Parties

FEBRUARY, 1908

IN some ways what we call the party management, or the machine, appears to have existed in America before the party. “This day,” wrote John Adams in his journal in February, 1763, “learned that the caucus club meets, at certain times, in the garret of Tom Daws, the Adjutant of the Boston Regiment. He has a large house, and he has a movable partition in the garret which he takes down, and the whole club meets in one room. There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one end of the garret to the other. There they drink flip, I suppose, and there they choose a moderator who puts questions to vote regularly; and selectmen, assessors, collectors, fire-wards, and representatives, are regularly chosen before they are chosen in the town.” In other words, the town-meeting of Boston, with its vaunted freedom of will and frank discussion, only registered the decision of an exterior government. Sam Adams, attending the caucus, scribbling for the newspapers, appealing in shrewd and simple fashion to the artisans and watermen of Boston, was the primitive boss who brought things to pass. The father of the American Revolution was the leader of the machine.

Although the framers of our Federal Constitution must have had experience with scheming caucuses and with wise political managers, they had no conception of parties in any broad sense. Of intrigue, of faction, of enmity between rich and poor, of tendencies in old-fashioned government, of human ambition, they had knowledge in abundance; but of parties organized, officered, drilled, manipulated, fitted to work consistently for power with inconsistent principles, they knew next to nothing. This was natural, for colonial history had not taught them the lesson, though the colonists had had long controversies and had even made occasional combinations. England had not yet achieved systematic party government, but was giving an example of confusion, out of which in the course of the next few years were to arise clear-cut party systems and managements. With infinite pains the men who framed our Constitution laid down ideas of individual freedom; they devised with great cunning a clever system of checks and balances in order that the government might do no harm; but they left to haphazard arrangements, or to voluntary associations unknown to the law and unknown to the theory of the state, the difficult task that was in itself the great problem of democracy. To these associations, which soon arose, was left the task of furnishing a medium for transmitting the will of the people to the government — this balanced mechanism which the Fathers had so nicely fashioned.

Here was the great political and constitutional problem of the decade to come; and clearly enough, if we omit the tremendous struggle over slavery and secession, the development of these associations is the greatest fact in our constitutional history. Little by little these formless voluntary associations were hardened into institutions. They were for a long time altogether extra-legal; only within the last few years have statutes distinctly recognized the existence of parties and made regulations for nominations, with an acceptance of the fact that parties and party mechanism are established and have their important function in the conduct of the body politic. Until about twenty years ago, even ballots were printed by the party officials; the candidates or the political managers were themselves responsible for a large part of the expense of conducting an election. The party organization was allowed to grow undisturbed, and to develop its own capacity for representing or controlling the popular will and for controlling the government described on a piece of parchment locked in a safe at Washington.1 These party systems themselves came to have constitutions and tens of thousands of zealous officials, whose great object was, not to transmit the unsullied will of the people to the government at Washington, but to advance the interests of their own organizations.

No one doubts the importance of the little group of party leaders in England who by virtue of their inherent capacity rise to the head of the loose party organization and in the Cabinet determine the policies of the government. No one doubts that the English Cabinet is an institution, though it is unknown to the law, and though its conferences are as secret as those of the Vatican. But we have not seen, or are just beginning to see, in America, that the complicated system which manages parties and directs government in this country is an institution to be taken seriously as an established fact, and that the problem of self-government now is the problem of controlling this institution that manages the government which is described by the parchment at Washington. Much of the confusion in our discussion of political problems, much of the incoherence of popular effort, comes from the failure to look facts fairly in the face and to watch the make-up, the methods, and the purposes of the government that has for its purposes the management of what we call the Government. The present task of democracy is not to prevent the party management from getting possession of the government, but to make that management responsive to the will of the people. This task is as dignified, as important, and as difficult as the old struggles for representative government, for a responsible ministry, for, in fact, any of the devices and arrangements which were worked out in the course of the long effort to reach political liberty. England, by the revolutions of the seventeenth century, established the principles of her constitution; but her great victory for real self-government came when the party machine was fully recognized as legitimate and was made, in part at least, subservient; the great event was this establishment of the party management in the Cabinet and the fixing of its responsibility.

In America the situation is confusing because we have so many interacting systems and because the mechanism of the government that is described by the Constitution does not easily lend itself to the management of a single party organization. If the party machine could boldly take possession of the government at Washington and manage it in all its ordinary law-making operations, carrying out secret determinations openly and as of right, then we could see the simple fact. But we have clung stupidly to the worn-out idea that the President should not be a party leader but a representative of the whole people, and that his cabinet is not a party council but a meeting of administrators. In England the party machine — though the law does not see it — is frankly in possession of the government. In America the national party mechanism is organized outside of the government: its make-up is scarcely known to any one save the professional; we go upon the humorous supposition that since the party is made up of many people, we really control it. Just at present in national politics the situation is comparatively simple. One party controls both houses of Congress, though between the organization in the Senate, where a small band of veterans is in command, and in the House, where one dominant figure valiantly and frankly leads and directs, there are not infrequent differences of opinion. The same party is in control of the executive offices, and the President makes no bones of the fact that he is the head of the party in whose principles he believes and whose success he thinks helpful to the nation. The national committee is under the influence of the real head of the party, who is also the head of the government. When Mr. Roosevelt four years ago insisted that he must decide who should lead the national committee, he took a step toward simplification, toward bringing it about that the party should in considerable measure be organized in the government. If now party government and legal government could be made one, — perhaps forever an impossible ideal in the complexity of our system, — the task of realizing democracy would be lightened or at least made plain; the task would be to direct and influence the party system that is frankly in control of the government, and to do this in such a way that the main body of the people would actually determine what policies should be followed and what men should be put into high office. I need not pretend that, even under such circumstances, even with this one government to be looked after, the task would be easy. It is doubtful if even then democracy would be realized as an actual form of political control; but the work of direction would then be made at least comprehensible.

And yet such a discussion as this is absurdly academic and theoretical. We have a complex system outside of the government with an occasional approach to organization within the limits marked out by the Constitution; and the task of a democracy that craves realization is to manage this superior organization and not to let it get entirely away from popular influence. Everybody knows dimly that corporate wealth in this country is managed by remarkably few men; we have recently been instructed with much rhetoric about the “system,” and, though we may not take all the rhetoric seriously, we know that what we fear is the domination either of organized wealth or of organized labor. If the emperors of organized riches could overcome their own internal disorganizing individualism and set to work to control the government, what would be their method ? Surely not to send their own lieutenants and their trained legions into the offices, or to grasp themselves the places of trust, — if one dare use that good word to describe places of profit; not even to seize themselves upon the offices in the party management, the pretorian guard, which controls the government. In their own way, they would from without manage the government which manages the Government.

That this sort of thing has taken place in our cities in a more or less disorganized and incoherent way nobody would deny. If the big concerns, which wash to rule the cities in behalf of their own yawning coffers, were fairly organized and not struggling among themselves, we should have three governments: first, the one described by the charter; second, the one represented by the boss and the party machine; third, the one of wealth and lucre. And of these the last would be — not to be sure the only government reaping profit — but the one whose wishes were finally regarded and which could transform desires into acts and pelf. Under such circumstances, would we still cling to the notion that by occasionally casting pieces of white paper into black ballot-boxes we had self-government, and would we content ourselves with thinking that the government described by the charter was our government ? Surely it is clear that the thing we want to do is to control the party government, and not to let it fall into the hands of a third combination, for whose power, when once it is made complete, there is no remedy but revolution. This thought, of course, underlies the objection to corporate contributions to party committees. Our means of controlling and holding in check the party management of the national parties are so inadequate, that we almost hold our breath for fear of the annihilation of popular government, when we think how difficult it would be for us to prevent government by organized wealth if the contest were once on.

A glance at our history will illustrate the difficulty of controlling party management and of making it really subject to the will of the main body of the party. The earliest system of presenting candidates for office was through a caucus of office-holders. The governors of the states were nominated by a caucus of legislators, and candidates for the presidency were put forward by party caucus in Congress. Those persons who, because of social standing or influence, were thought capable of holding office, assumed the duty of telling the people for whom they might cast their ballots, — a negation of popular determination. This superimposed system was bound to disappear with the rise of democratic sentiment, with the extension of self-confidence among the people, and with the widening of the suffrage that came as the West developed. In the years after the war of 1812, when the masses of the people were beginning to feel their power distinctly, changes were wrought in the nominating system in the states. First came the “mixed convention,” made up in part of office-holders, who received into their number persons who were not office-holders; and soon in some of the states the “pure convention” was in existence — a body of men coming from the various parts of the state for the purpose of selecting the candidates of their party for state office. This was the result of a revolt against the self-assumed authority of the office-holders. It was an effort to make the government more nearly and immediately what it pretended to be, the people’s own.

In 1824 the régime of the congressional caucus was overthrown. There was then but one party, and personal rivalries within it were the order of the day. When therefore a rump caucus nominated the palsied Crawford for the presidency, this “regular ” nomination was treated with little respect by the supporters of Jackson, Adams, and Clay. This disrespect was in part due to the fact that there was only one national party, for under such conditions the authority of customary mechanism is endangered; but to be understood aright the situation must be seen in connection with the general democratic upheaval which was everywhere apparent, which marked the new rise of popular selfconfidence, and which shortly, in the advent of the spoils system, heralded an effort of the people to make the government really their own. The protest against King Caucus must be read in the light of the social temperament of the day; it ushered in the reign of Jacksonian self-satisfied democracy, which meant so much in the political, educational, and intellectual history of America.

As no one of the candidates received a majority of the electoral votes, the election of 1824 was decided by the House, a fact hard to be borne by the protestants against congressional nomination. In the next few years the democratic protest was variously registered: by the total disappearance of the congressional nomination; by the triumphant election of Jackson as the man of the people; by the attack on the office-holders and the installation of the spoils system; and by the holding of national conventions to present candidates for election.

Here came, however, one of those recurring contradictions which show the difficulty of popular government, which apparently prove that mechanism is a necessity, and which on the other hand indicate clearly that a mechanism established to register popular desire tends irresistibly to control it. It is apparently an impossibility to set up a transformer the purpose of which is to transmute public wishes into governmental action, and to have that device work as an inanimate sensitive mechanism. The invention is used at once for the old end, not to transmit power from the people to the government, but as a means of controlling the people; the power passes through such a mechanism downwards to the masses and not from them upwards to the government. The convention system, the result of an insurrection against dictation from office-holders, was not long a means for expressing popular wishes. The party management used it freely and deftly; it gave new opportunities for the skill of the professional political mechanic. And we are now seeking to get rid of this device originally established to give greater scope for popular desires; in the various states of the union we are now making attempts to establish systems of popular nomination, because it is believed that we can make the government our own by transferring to the people the right to say for whom they may cast their ballots. In national politics, too, we have come to have little faith in the nominating convention, though at times it is impressively subservient, in spite of the management, to popular demands, expressed in all sorts of unmechanical and unsystematic ways.

But of greater significance than the convention system, which came in Jackson’s time as a protest against superimposed control and dictation from officeholders, was the spoils system. This, too, was, in national politics at least, the effect of a protest against an office-holding régime, the result in some measure of the notion that the government was not for any official class but for the people. As a matter of fact, of course, it did not operate to democratize the government; on the contrary it provided a means of financing party management; it furnished the sinews of war to party government. The men who occupied their time in manipulation for the purpose of getting and holding office and for managing the government were now furnished by the public with the funds for political warfare and for carrying out their plans of campaign. When once a party is fairly organized, with a selected body of leaders, with lieutenants and subalterns in every nook and corner of the land, it needs funds. No matter how praiseworthy the party principles, continuous activity under expert guidance requires funds; and the spoils system was a device whereby the great governmental system which managed the party was provided with funds from the public treasury; for office was given by party leaders to pay party debts, and, moreover, portions of the official salaries were paid over to the party management to finance its operations. It is worthy of note, too, that under the spoils system persons inducted into office because of their activity as party workers were expected to serve the party and its organized board of direction. When once that idea prevails, the real government is obviously the party organization; the so-called government is the instrument, the conventional grooves through which the system standing without expresses its authority.

There has been a great outcry against the spoils system by many who do not appear to see the simplicity of the whole matter and its preëminent rationalness. The establishment of so-called popular government brought parties, — parties with principles and parties with hunger. We cannot conceive of the possibility of getting on without them; it is easier to imagine the demolition of any part of our constitutional organization, the submersion of a large part of what the Constitution describes, than to imagine our getting on without political combinations; they are our vital institutions, they abide in the innermost spirit of the people. We cannot live under a scheme in which every one acts as a disassociated atom; organization is an absolute necessity, and we may thank our stars that our genius for politics, if not for real selfgovernment, has brought about the establishment of two big parties instead of a crowd of factions like those which masquerade as parties in continental Europe. Nothing is a greater proof of American political capacity than this organization of two competing parties to manage a government, and that too a government strikingly ill adapted to the party regime.

If then we are to have parties and if we really desire their presence, if they are an essential part of the great task of democracy, how shall they be financed ? Under the spoils system they were financed by the government itself, which gave offices and salaries sometimes to incompetent persons, and sometimes when there were no duties to be performed; for the question was not fitness for the office but capacity as partisans. The party machine was furnished with fuel and lubricant at public expense. Recently it has been proposed that campaign expenses should be paid openly from the state or national treasury. This would be to do only what was done indirectly and amid great protestations of patriotism for half a century or more under the spoils system and is still done to some extent. The spoils system is a method of financing political parties, which are the inevitable companions of so-called popular government. Unless men through the country at large are willing to contribute openly and for legitimate purposes to the party organization, or unless men become suddenly so virtuous and altruistic that they are ready to do party service at their own expense, some legal method of furnishing the party organization with funds must be discovered. We should have little hesitation in preferring the spoils method of financing party management to the secret system, whereby large corporations with special interests to be subserved furnish the funds in exchange for favors. Surely the spoils system, if for no other reason, because of its flagrant publicity, is preferable to the system described by Mr. Platt in his testimony before the insurance investigating committee. Of course managers who are honest and are not in the pay of the corporations do get some recompense personally for arduous party service; they get a mild distinction, they get a sense of power, they get the fun of the game. As good whips in England die in the House of Lords, so here a big party leader like Mr. Hanna may become a king-maker in the Senate. But we are forced also to contemplate a leader of a different kind who slips across the Atlantic to open a racing stable and shake the dust of hurrying America from his feet. What shall be the means of financing the party machine is without exception the greatest question of the hour. Without some proper method, honest party government is extremely difficult and real democracy a hopeless dream.

My main theme is the general organization of national parties and their influence in our history; but one cannot approach completeness in discussing the subject without realizing that private autocrats and local rings of the most corrupt character have often retained their power because of their service to the national mechanism. And one must notice too that, in the course of time, there came various predatory methods, which I have no desire to connect intimately with legitimate party machinery. The support of these rings by open use of the spoils is infinitely preferable to the systems that have been largely followed. The practice of direct stealing, whereby Mr. Swartwout, Collector at New York, some seventy years ago purloined over a million dollars, has been given up as hopelessly banal and crude. The methods of the Tweed ring, though partly those of common stealing, showed more adroitness and originality; they have recently been followed in some measure in other states and cities, and conspicuously in unimaginative Pennsylvania. But the last refinement is to finance the local rings and irrigate their systems, by subjecting corporations to demands for ransom and by leaving the corporations to recoup themselves by the use of privileges or by opportunity to pile up legitimate wealth without fear of brigandage. At times, on important matters, this system has transferred the government from the machine to the corporation. The licensing of crime by the local rider who owns the government and can issue immunities is again an interesting fact in the general history of popular government. We shall see all these things more clearly, if, amid our denunciation of their odious criminality, we see their connection with the great public duty of furnishing funds for the party system.

There appear at times evidences of an amusing incapacity to see the actual situation. Strong objections, violent protests are made because a member of the party organization is put into office — because, for example, he is given the opportunity of drawing the salary and holding the title of postmaster. Let us ask the protestants frankly why the political managers should be expected to ask the advice of those who have done nothing to care for the interests of party. So long as we have popular government, we shall have parties; so long as we have parties, we shall have party managers; so long as we have managers, we must expect them to look after their interests and their party’s nurture. If any one wishes to stay outside of the party lines, let him do so and let him make just as big and violent a protest as he can against unfit appointments; by his outcry, he too is serving the state; but let him not be amazed at the temerity of the party manager charged with a public duty — for the management of a party can be called nothing less — in putting into office a wheel-horse of the party, rather than some decorous citizen who leaves to others the responsibility for making quasi-popular government a possibility.

I have spoken of the party as if it were bent on controlling the government for certain ends, and as if for that reason it acquired the offices and financed its operation by the spoils system. As a matter of fact, principles are often, if not commonly, adopted to aid in the acquisition of position. While parties have tendencies, almost a personality, and are occasionally really enthusiastic for principles, the party organization and especially the inner circle of party managers have for their end the acquisition of control and of office. This cannot all be explained on the ground of mere greed for positions and salaries, or by any simple and easy statement of impulse and motive. The statement is just as true of the English parties as of the American; and in England with a change of government — a noteworthy phrase — there is little change among the tenants of the civil service. And yet what do we find in England time and again, indeed with ludicrous repetition ? We find a party looking for a principle. We ask ourselves quite seriously what principle must be accepted by the Conservatives to get into office, or what by the Liberals; we find over and over again that the party in power has accepted the principles of its opponents and has begun to put those ideas into operation, not without expressions of indignation from the former advocates of the doctrines, who expected by these means to get into office themselves. Such statements as these appear to be a severe condemnation of the whole party regime, and by most persons they will not be accepted as true. But surely they have much truth in them; and our purpose here is not to indict parties or to praise them but to consider their characters and qualities. What do we mean when we say the Democratic party is looking for an issue ? We mean at least — do we not ? — that the party has a consistency, a being, quite removed from any body of doctrine or any hope of especial legislation or political accomplishment. It is easier to trace a party by its character than by its principles.

A political party may be truthfully defined — or its content roughly suggested — in some such way as this: it is a body of men, somewhat fluctuating in personnel and in numbers, who have begun to work together to attain some political purpose or to oppose other men to whom for some reason they have felt antagonistic. This body, acquiring organization, and gradually developing esprit du corps and a sense of self, continues in existence even after its first purpose is accomplished or abandoned, indeed after it has lost a dominating purpose of any kind; it accepts new doctrines to wrest office from its opponents; its activities rest largely on tradition, on party name, on personal pride, and sometimes on a dominating principle. We should not be far wrong if we should declare that there are two or more great armies in existence, each controlled by a select few whose main ambition is victory, and that objects of the people’s desire are attained by the organization’s accepting a principle as a means of winning success. This does not mean that party leaders have no sincerity. It does mean that they have their full share of human nature, and that a party government would usually throw over a principle which it believed was unpopular and likely to bring disaster. If this is not true, why condemn Mr. Bryan for adhering to free silver when its advocacy had not brought success ?

While principles are being hopefully advocated, most party leaders enthusiastically believe in them. This is a beneficent provision of Providence; because human nature is thus constituted, we get such self-government as we do have — a government, organized to get office and to manage Government, absorbs popular principles and fights valiantly for their realization. This is also why a party must have a principle; for though it may live without a principle for years, it loses its usefulness, and finds its enlisted men, little by little, deserting. The history of the Whig party is thus explained; for years largely a party of opposition, living for some decades in incoherence and feeding on opportunism, it failed at a critical juncture to accept principles for which the people were beginning to ask organized championship; it “swallowed candidates and spat upon the platform;” it tried to exist by crying out against its opponents and by relying too long on the vague social and economic sympathies which had been its foundation and support.

We need not believe that a party without principles is necessarily unprincipled; it is for the moment unfortunate, not vicious — of course I am not speaking of any local machine that is organized merely for public plunder. We may be sure that leaders are anxiously scanning the horizon hoping for a breeze to fill their sails. But does not this mean that a party is not a body of men united for the purpose of carrying out a principle ? Is it not plain that a party is a body of men who act together more or less coherently under discipline of party government and who accept a principle to win success ? I am fully aware of the permanence of the tariff issue of the Republican party. No doubt the leaders believe in it and perhaps they would not throw it aside to win the election; but any one who thinks that the Republican party and the Republican organization do not exist outside of any principles has not thought very much of the significance of political phenomena. Above all, we should recognize that men are born into parties, and that the system exists as a social phenomenon, and that partisan compactness is due to the operation of forces in society and in human nature far beyond the advisability of mere doctrine.

This coherence of the elements of a party, even without reference to principles, has altered our constitutional system. We have on the face of the Constitution a republic made up of republics, each one of which is supposed to be interested in its own affairs and to manage them as it likes; and with these republics is a central government whose operations are confined to caring for a limited number of general interests. But although the Fathers sought to establish a federal state, they did establish national parties — a strange contradiction, for the tendency of these organizations from that day to this has been to transform the federal republic into a national republic. From these political associations, spreading over the whole country, reaching out into the remotest hamlet, came the unceasing pressure of the national idea. To-day the domination of the national party is nearly complete; there are no state parties which look after state issues and which are distinct from the parties and the policies that are of continental dimensions. In every step taken in ward or towmship, in every nomination made for local office, there is deference to the interests of the great national organization; local interests are nearly submerged; they are regarded occasionally only as the interests of the wider organization allow them to be. When this system is complete, it means nothing more nor less than the disappearance of local self-government; it means a surrender of the local will and the local interest to a wider and stronger power without.

The force of parties as a nationalizing agency, and their influence for conservatism, was shown with especial clearness in the decade before the Civil War. How long the nation was held together by the strong ties of party affiliation it would be hard to say; how long, in other words, the fact of party delayed attempted secession. Party allegiance held leaders together, prompted them to deprecate sectional strife, and forced them to accept principles in which they otherwise would not have believed; it was stronger in some ways than fealty to the nation itself. Nearly every other bond was broken before these ties of party allegiance gave way. Even the church organization had in considerable measure disappeared before the Douglas Democrats in the Convention of 1860 refused to go the length demanded by the extreme pro-slavery element of the party. As the break-up of the Whig party eight years before had given the solemn warning, so the cleavage of the Democratic party was the end of the Union. The simple fact is this: if we look at the party as a real institution, as of course it is, we must realize that it was almost the last to yield to forces of disunion and disorganization; and, when it did yield, disunion was a fact. The national party proved the presence of national sentiment; but when once a party like the Democratic party was fairly organized, it had its own consistency, which remained to show astonishing powers of cohesion after sectional passions were aroused, after the real interests of the elements of the party were divergent.

I have said that under the unceasing pressure of national parties local selfdetermination has largely disappeared. We have thus become in reality, if we are walling to see actualities and pass by appearances, a national rather than a federal state, because it is the will of the national organization which overrules local impulses. If we look at the situation a little more closely, we shall find that we have become not only a national state but a centralized state. It is easy, when one is trying to be precise and clear, to allow emphasis to become exaggeration, and my readers should be warned therefore that there are modifications to be made to my general assertions; but, when all is said, to what a marked extent are local affairs managed, without violent dictation, by the central authority of the party! The object of the party government is not to seek the will of the people and by diligent obedience do what the people may wash; it is not, above all, to give free play to local whims or fancies. A steady gentle pressure is laid upon the remotest school district of the country, in order that in all parts of the land the interests of the continental system may be first regarded. The central organization is busied in quietly and simply smoothing away local differences, in ironing out difficulties that may set the interests of the locality above the success of the whole. Year by year, power and authority do not pass up along the lines of influence from the road district to the committees at Washington; quite the reverse. The vastly complicated party mechanism is not made to obey or to register the behests of the people; it strives for uniformity; it seeks to put the tariff or free silver above good roads or a new schoolhouse or the personnel of a candidate for local office, if the contention over the new schoolhouse or the local candidate endangers partisan homogeneity.

Again let me say this is not pessimism, or even an attack on the party system or the party machine. The party system must be maintained and the management is a necessity; but the tendency of all organization is toward uniformity; organization, whether it be religious organization, trade organization, or political organization, tends to perpetuate itself, to dominate, and above all to be out of patience with differences, peculiarities, local or personal idiosyncrasies. And this is so because system and individualism, system and local assertion, are inherently antagonistic. As well whistle to the whirlwind as expect that any organization should not respond to the laws of its being.

The disappearance of federalism under the influence of nationalism is most obvious in the election of senators. Of late there has been much discussion as to the desirability of popular election of senators; but the means employed in some of the states to avoid the constitutional provision by providing for popular nomination is not likely to prove entirely efficacious; certainly not in states where parties are fairly well balanced. For the trouble to be remedied is not the mere method of election by legislators, who are supposed to be approachable— to employ a euphemism. The trouble, or at least the fact, is that the method of electing senators has subjected state politics and state welfare to the interests of a national party. And here again is humorously plain the failure of the framers of the Constitution to see into the future and to do what they hoped. They constituted the Senate as it is, for many reasons; but the equal representation of the states was the result of a demand from the delegations of the smaller states, who feared that, unless such representation were allowed, they would be overridden by their larger neighbors or entirely absorbed by the national system. The Senate, it was supposed, would safeguard the interests of the states. But the system of election made it impossible for the Senate to stand for retention of the real autonomy of the states. As soon as national parties were fairly organized, there was evident necessity of electing state legislators on national issues; to preserve the interests of the party, every effort had to be made to keep the legislature in line. A voter must subserve the interests of his national party by electing a legislator of that party, because a senator’s election was at stake; and in consequence national issues were at once involved in every state election, and supremely so when the legislature was to elect a senator. The voter, filled with enthusiasm for his party, would be ready to cast his ballot for a scamp or to neglect every measure of local interest in order to save the senatorship.

Thus again through the influence of continental parties, the federal character as distinguished from the national character of the republic tended to disappear. Time and time again a party which had disgraced itself in state management, which was under the influence of a corrupt machine, and which was even acting in neglect of the most obvious interests of the commonwealth, has been retained in power, lest its defeat injure the party at large. One can understand how the citizens of Pennsylvania, out of regard for the tariff, are content with a corrupt party management, and even smilingly consent to pay for a state house and its furnishings several millions more than they cost; one can understand their placid acceptance of villainy when by such acceptance they assure a stand-pat policy on the tariff, if that is what is most dear to them. But one could not understand such subjection of common morals and of local interests, if there were no intimate connection between the tariff and the state house, and if our political system were so arranged that a state, without pressure from a national system and a national issue, could look after its own housekeeping. The simple unadorned truth is that, because of the stupendous organization of national parties in a so-called federal republic, federalism in its most desirable aspects has largely disappeared, and all local issues are so inextricably connected with national politics and dominated by national issues that the locality can with difficulty freely express itself on its own immediate business.

Some one will say that the people can avoid this subjection of state to national issues, if they so desire; that if the people divide on national party lines in electing aldermen and auditors and constables, it is because they wish to do so. That may be true in a sense. The people of Russia could throw off the power of the czar if they wished to. But my purpose is not to argue or to advocate, but to state facts. To say that the people can cast aside the domination of the national party régime is, however, to disregard the control of a powerful organization, a part of whose strength comes from the very multiplicity of local interests and the commonness of the general interests; to disregard the influence of prejudice and pride and party allegiance; to fail to reckon with the imagination to which national party leaders and party contests strongly appeal; and, above all, not to estimate correctly the force of inertia and the sheer difficulty of maintaining state or local organizations distinct from the national party system; in short, to say that the people can if they wish is not to see the difficulty in the real affairs of the political world of clinging tenaciously to complicated federalism instead of yielding to the simplicity of highly organized nationalism.

The situation in the South whimsically illustrates the general condition, because in that section forces are working in a direction quite opposite to that of which we have just spoken. The people of the South are confronted with a difficult local problem and they fear the intrusion of one of the national parties. To subserve, therefore, their distinct particular desires, they continue to support a national party with whose purposes in general they may have little or no sympathy; or, to put the case more guardedly, such is undoubtedly the course of a good many men. Were it not for the local issue, the people in Georgia and Louisiana would presumably soon be divided into hostile companies on questions which separate the national organizations,—if it can be said that national organizations are really divided on questions or principles. The people of Pennsylvania, believing it for their benefit to adhere to the tariff party, subject their local politics and internal polity to an organization which is a cog — the fly-wheel more properly — in the general party mechanism. The people of the South, that they may deal with their own local difficulties, adhere to a party in which many of them at least have no particular interest; at all events they work in a party for many of whose tendencies they have no absorbing affection. Partly because local concerns are preëminently significant to them, dwarfing all matters of contention between great organizations, partly because of the force of tradition and the bitter deposit of memory, they vote solidly with a party with whom on the question of tariff, imperialism, money, or corporate influence they, or many of them, have no essential sympathy. The people of Pennsylvania, because of an industrial condition, and from phlegmatic inertia, subject local politics to a corrupt machine. The people of the South, that they may manage their own politics, accept the economic policy of the national party. If the Democratic party should obtain control of the national government and be in power for a considerable period, — if I may be allowed a humorous suggestion, — if it had general national principles of an industrial significance, and if the Republicans, breaking in on the traditional distrust of the South, could obtain a slight footing in that region, there would then be continuous pressure from the general Democratic organization to induce sturdy partisans to forget local issues and avoid factional struggles, lest the result of a cleavage within the party on some matter of state politics should give standing ground for Republican managers.

Party systems and the natural psychological trend of organization are inevitable. If we wish democratic government, we may possibly discover some scheme for managing the party and for transforming its leaders into servants and for retaining their obedience. That was what was accomplished through centuries of struggle against the kingship and against legal government; the government was made constitutional, and that means that it was controlled and checked by a power without. And perhaps by the accumulation of devices, in the course of time, parties may likewise be made responsive and responsible; we may find a new system of ministerial responsibility within the party. There is evidently an attempt to do this or something like it by recent legislation which strictly describes local party committees, and the time may not be far distant when the boss will be recognized as an official. At the present time, as in Rhode Island, he may be the government, without holding office. What value has nomenclature under such conditions ?

There is, however, no chance of the disappearance of party and of party machinery. Can we not hope for a surcease of the outcry against party management as if it were something that could be done away with by a fit of anger or the sulks ? Every movement to overcome it must itself be organized, and, like a party made up to champion an idea, may live to accept reluctantly new ideas to perpetuate itself. At present our self-government depends on our ability to control the party management as best we can, and, when it is evil or too dominating, to administer defeat. In Russia they are said to have despotism tempered by assassination. This is the system of government that we have in some of our states. The extent of the enlightenment of the despots depends on their good nature and the extent to which they fear annihilation or temporary deposition. In the restraining effect of a rebellion lies the value of reform movements, the temporary tempests, which are wont to elicit laughter from the experienced because in the course of a year or two the older organization is once again in the saddle. But let us not suppose that rulers laugh at insurrections. Fear of defeat will make even the local kinglet, safely guarded within his own winter palace, at least offer libations to virtue by presenting clean candidates for office. Surely, however, in the course of time we can do better than this; we ought to be able to work out a scheme of internal control that will make insurrections needless. Some time we shall democratize and constitutionalize parties.

  1. It is an interesting fact that this aspect of our constitutional history has received little attention in our histories. A few scholarly treatises have covered some portions of the subject. The most brilliant of these treatises, and perhaps in some ways also the most mistaken, is written by a foreigner, who has the perspective of posterity but also its opportunities for error: Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Organization of Parties. See also Macy, Party Organization and Machinery.