To him who takes his politics seriously, and has perhaps attained his own political belief through many an hour of anxious reflection, and many a prayer for inward light which would guide to righteous judgment, the cheerful inability of other men to know why they belong to one party rather than the other is very perplexing; to him it seems incredible that any reasoning human being should be content to go through the world with his political faith resting on such shaky foundations.
Most men seem to receive their politics meekly, through inheritance or environment. (That is also, we are told, the way children become criminals.) Most of the Republicans whom we know belong to that party primarily because their fathers were Republicans before them, — either fighting in the Civil War, or perhaps from a safe distance cheering on those who did; secondarily, because as youths they have “tagged on” after the quadrennial torchlight procession, cheering for Blaine, Harrison, McKinley, or Roosevelt; or thirdly, because they have absorbed the arguments advanced by their own party orators and newspapers, carefully avoiding all others. Then there is a considerable number of those who are simply turned by the tide; like some acquaintances of mine who were formerly Democrats, but who, moving into a community where the other party was fashionable and dominant, and finding that most political favors and preferment were to be gained in that camp, saw the errors of their former ways and were converted.
I do not intend to cast reflections upon the good faith or the patriotism of these members of the other party; for the ranks of the Democrats are recruited for the most part in just the same way. Inheritance, environment, heeding the arguments of only one side, will account for most of them also. If the Democratic party is somewhat short of time-servers it is only because its success of recent years has not been so marked as to attract them. In their view, society in the Democratic party is getting to be rather like the Presbyterian elder’s idea of Heaven, very select but by no means amusing; and they would naturally prefer the more numerous society of the other place.
But if the people who dislike to discuss politics or religion are irritating, what can be said of those who profess to see no real choice between parties? “Oh! I can’t see any difference,” laughs a genial gentleman, “they both want to get in when they’re out, you know; and to keep the other fellows out when they’re in.” And with a chuckle the speaker dismisses the subject as though he had solved the eternal mystery of politics with an original idea; the truth being that he has got no farther in political thought than a vague remembrance of an annotated edition of Gulliver’s Travels.
Considering, then, the prevalence of these two classes, it may be well, before attempting to ask a question as to the future of the Democratic party, to find out whether there is in reality any such thing as a Democratic party existing in the present. If men assume a party badge by reason of inheritance or environment, and if there is really no difference between the two great parties, then it becomes a wholly useless thing to bother our heads about the future of either.
It seems a trifle fantastic perhaps, when faced by such a seemingly simple question, to suggest going back to the very dawn of history; yet the nature and place of political parties in this Republic, as well as the nature and place of this Republic in the world’s affairs, are so frequently misunderstood that the suggestion is not by any means amiss. To understand the Democratic party one must understand Democracy; and to understand Democracy one must understand what produced it and developed the need of such a “great experiment” as ours, — what it was brought into the world to replace.
There are many ways of looking at history; among them is that view which sees always the struggle of the inextinguishable spirit of liberty against intrenched privilege, — the ever-renewed conflict of individual freedom with organized selfishness.
This was the vision of past ages which inspired Lowell: —
Truth forever on the scaffold. Wrong forever on the throne—
Yet that scaffold sways the future; and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
In the beginning the effort to secure some concrete system of human society—a necessity for man—assumes the character of a mere trial of brute strength; the stronger man wins and the weaker is enslaved. Thus the oldest political relation of mankind—of master and slave—was developed; and based upon this relation arose the first great organized system of human government, — imperialism. Under various names, with much crudeness of experiment and many complications, this system was many centuries in reaching its most brilliant and complete development in the dominion of Rome; but even as Rome attained the zenith of her power, the system, so long and painfully built up, began to fall to pieces. Rome had conquered all the material forces of the known world; but the freedom of the intellect proclaimed in Greece, the freedom of conscience proclaimed in Judæa, were forces against which the imperial legions were powerless. The Greek philosopher could be silenced, but Plato and Aristotle were immortal in their writings; the Hebrew prophet could be slain, but the Golden Rule could never again be driven from the hearts, nor silenced from the tongues of men. Imperialism—the rule of the strong over the weak, of the master over the slave—could not stand the test; the intellect rebelled, the soul revolted; the human relations involved in slavery were contrary to the laws of nature, which are the laws of God. And with a mighty crash which shook the whole world loose form its moorings, the first great political experiment—the first great organized system of human society—collapsed, and confusion reigned again.
Then, after more long centuries of travail, was slowly developed a second great experiment, — feudalism. Loath to give up the essence of slavery, the domination of man by man, but forced to recognize the responsibility of man to man, feudalism rested upon a new relation—that of lord and vassal. Imperialism had left God out of account: the new system should satisfy both God and man. What was regarded as man’s dual nature was to be guided by two co-existent powers, the Church and the State; and each of these was an elaborate social pyramid: in one reaching from the lower ranks of the priesthood up through the higher clergy to the Pope, and in the other from the serf up through night and baron to King and Emperor. Each highest sovereign, Pope and Emperor, should be lord paramount over half of each atom of humanity.
It was a most ingenious system, the most beautifully logical and complete scheme of society that humanity could devise. Its conclusions were irresistible, granting the premises; but unfortunately the premises were vitally, hopelessly wrong. You cannot vivisect society into two separate half-entities, one political and one spiritual; neither is man fit to be trusted as lord over a vassal, any more than as master over a slave. Yet feudalism assumed that Pope and Emperor could rule jointly over mankind (which, as both popes and emperors were human, they never could); and that the higher the title the more fit to rule, — an equally pathetic fallacy, for unrestrained power does not produce righteous conduct, but almost inevitably the reverse.
So again organized society found itself driven against the sharp facts of human nature and met disaster. While Pope and Emperor quarreled for power, while the robber baron from his rocky fastness was grimly collecting tribute from the passing traveler, and the serf tilled the soil for his lord’s maintenance, the dwellers in the great free cities were laying the foundations of a new civilization of peace and commerce. Nor was that all; over in their little island kingdom the English were developing a race of study yeomen whose feudal bonds were of the lightest, and whose weapons were the home-made bow and arrow. The mail-clad nobles who fell before them at Crécy and Agincourt were not merely so many thousands perishing in a bad quarrel; they were the first victims of the collapse of feudalism, — the signs and symbols of the failure of the second great organized system of human government.
The unscrupulous ingenuity, ambition, and greed of the kings were quick to develop the third experiment. As monarch and people faced each other after the destruction of the feudal baronage, the former was quick to seize his opportunity: the latter, confused, uncertain, ignorant, were slow to see theirs.
Far less complex and interesting than feudalism, the system of paternalism, based upon the relation of a parent claiming divine right and his children seeking guidance, came to political development. But once again the clear and obvious facts of human nature were overlooked. Mankind will not long remain under the domination of an individual, whether he claim divine inspiration or just plain human dictatorship; nor did it need great clearness of sight to see the wretched fallacy of a system which held up a Henry Tudor as God’s vice-regent upon earth, or a Philip of Spain as the benevolent father of a grateful people. The only wonder is that the glamour lasted so long: for even a full century after the unfortunate Charles Stuart had laid his head upon the block, France in her logical way still persisted in carrying the paternal system to a supremely logical conclusion, an absolute reduction ad absurdum; for could anything be more ridiculous as a system of government than that of Versailles and the fifteenth Louis!
It is not so easy to trace closely the outlines of the fourth experiment; but amid the confusion, if we look clearly, we can see the new system—aristocracy; not the mobility of feudal tenure, but the domination of a ruling caste, a nobility of material success sometimes of birth—descent from ancient freebooter or sycophant; sometimes of wealth—landholders of longer or shorter tenure; sometimes of intellect—success in statecraft, commerce, letters, or beer; sometimes a mixture of all these. As we see imperialism typified in Rome, as feudalism reached its most characteristic development in France, and paternalism perhaps in Russia, so we find the clearest developments of aristocracy in England.
But aristocracy has satisfied the ideals of mankind but little better than the systems that went before. The rule of a privileged few, whether their claim be founded on birth, wealth, scholarship, or what not, is in practice a selfish and arrogant domination. It is the same old story. “How much better the world would be governed if the ignorant many were only willing to be guided by the wise few!” cry those who consider themselves the wise and aspire to be the few. It is a plausible argument. But the many always refuse, and always will refuse, to listen, when the few commit the grievous error of exchanging their intellectual influence for political domination. Moreover, the many have always shown that politically they are wiser in the long run than the aristocrats. For the judgment of the many remains in the mass unselfish, while the privileged few upon whom the gift of power has been bestowed have proved that with the gift of power go the fatal gifts of pride, luxury, ambition, greed, — these in place of that righteousness which alone would defend the placing of man in power over his fellow-man. “No man,” said Lincoln with deep insight, “is good enough to rule another man, without that other’s consent.”
One by one, tested by the test of truth—the Golden Rule—these four systems have been tried and found wanting. Over and over again the variations have been rung on the four themes, with ever new rearrangements of their various elements; organized selfishness always vainly hoping that at last the successful combination was achieved, that the people would remain quiet and forever be ruled by Emperor, Baron, Priest, or King. But always, with the accompaniment of more or less violence, the fraud has been discovered; the people have refused to be satisfied with the dry crumbs, while the favored few sat gorging at the banquet.
Then at last, far away over the sea, where England, the island country which had been enabled to pursue most naturally its own development, had planted colonies where freedom was breathed in with the very air, there, in the new world, far away from the follies and failures of the past, arose the fifth great experiment in human government.
“Borne over the Atlantic,” cries Carlyle, “to the closing ear of Louis, King by the Grace of God, what sounds are these; muffled—ominous, new in our centuries? Boston Harbour is black with unexpected Tea; behold a Pennsylvanian Congress gather; and ere long, on Bunker Hill, Democracy announcing, in rifle-volleys death-winged, under her Star Banner, to the tune of Yankee-doodle-doo, that she is born, and whirlwind-like, will envelop the whole world!”
Democracy was no experiment; it was simply the only course left, after every other system of government had failed to satisfy mankind: imperialism—the rule of master over slave; feudalism—the rule of lord over vassal; paternalism—the rule of a claimant of divine right over obedient subjects; aristocracy—the rule of the privileged few over the unprivileged many; what was there left save democracy, the rule of the people itself, of brother-citizens over themselves?
Here at last was a new system indeed; yet like all new things it was in its essence as old as the hills; forever, since the dawning of intelligence in the mind of man, the passion for freedom had stirred him to ever new protest against every new form of tyranny. But here at last was a new system of human government founded boldly upon the very rock against which all other systems had come to wreck. Here at last was what the world had been waiting for, the political expression of the Golden Rule. Here was a proclamation that every man should be free, bound only by his obligation to his brother-man. Little by little the truth had forced its way in; little by little the democratic idea had burgeoned into a political system.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
Some individuals of later generations have discovered that the great Declaration is only an expression of “glittering generalities;” but they have merely succeeded in proving their own shallow cynicism.
“The authors of that noble instrument,” said Lincoln, “meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all and revered by all, — constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all color, everywhere.”
It was the hope of Washington, as of some others of the great men of the Revolution, that partisan feeling would not exist in the new Republic; that while differences of opinion of course must continue, they ought not to divide men definitely into political parties; but he did not fully realize the great change which had been wrought in fundamental political conditions.
In all other systems of government the formation of political parties, which must of necessity result in some organized opposition to existing conditions, tends to breed revolution. To question the will of the Emperor is not mere opposition, — it is treason; to oppose the demand of an overlord is to upset the very basis of feudal society; to resist the authority of a divinely appointed monarch is damnable heresy; to thwart the plans of an aristocracy is to sin against superior judgment. It follows therefore that under such governments, if the play of parties is vital, it becomes dangerous to the state. But in a democracy the healthy differences of parties form the very firmest basis upon which the state can rest; party differences, instead of unsettling the state, by forming a proper balance of conflicting opinions only make it more stable.
It seems also natural that there should be two great parties. Men will always differ fundamentally in their way of looking at the world; one will be always impatient to press forward, while another is equally inclined to hang back. Private Willis, from his sentry-box outside the House of Lords, has caught hold of a very profound truth when he sings: —
I often think it comical
How cunning Nature does contrive,
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive,
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a Conservative.
These are the two great inevitable parties; and it is not necessary that your liberal should have any particular reason for moving forward, — it is simply the impulse of his nature to feel a special interest in the future; it is not conscious preference for things as they are that actuates the conservative, — it is a natural instinct to hold fast to that which is good. Moreover, these two great principles, the progressive and the conservative, are both necessary to the safety of the Republic; without the curb of the conservative the progressive party would rush forward too fast, and taking no time for proper consideration of the way, find itself arriving with scattered forces at wrong destinations; without the stimulus of the progressive, the conservative party would lag behind, becoming more and more stupid and reactionary, until it would ultimately find itself going backwards rather than forwards.
A division into two political parties in the new Republic was thus entirely natural and healthy, and by no means a mere copy of English parliamentary institutions; and it was also natural that the people should look to Hamilton and Jefferson, the great conservative and the great democrat, for leadership. Washington’s dream of a Republic without partisan differences vanished as men ranged themselves under the banners of the rival statesmen; and in the end Washington himself was reluctantly forced to make choice of parties and become a Federalist.
It would take too long to detail the shifts and turns of American politics; yet some few broad facts should be kept in mind to understand the situation of to-day. The development of the Democratic party from the Democratic-Republican party was a natural one; it was also natural that in a new country and in a new system of government, the progressive spirit should assume some rather rough and unlovely forms. Jackson and his henchmen were true successors of Jefferson and his followers, because they too in their turn represented the same spirit of freedom and revolt against inherited conventions, and because in their confidence in the ultimate judgment of the people they expressed the democratic spirit.
Then came the slavery question to confuse the natural alignment of the parties. Slavery was a survival of the first great experiment in human government—imperialism. Its existence in a country dedicated to the proposition that liberty is one of the inalienable rights of man was a hideous anachronism, a denial of the very basic principle of democracy. It is always a serious matter when parties get mixed and principles muddled; but it is most serious when a party organization is seized upon by some special interest to advance its own material welfare and intrench itself in power without consideration of party welfare, if not in flat violation of party principles. Such a lamentable condition fell upon the Democrats; Southern conservatives were forced into and Northern liberals were forced out of the party, as it was driven more and more away from its natural course. Yet it is worthy of note, as bearing upon the general character of the parties, that the so-called Free-Soil Democrats were the first to raise a direct challenge to slavery in the field of politics.
Both Whigs and Democrats tried hard to postpone the inevitable struggle; but straight in the path of progress lay the foul obstruction and no advance was possible until slavery was removed. It was not the proper task of the Whigs, for they formed the conservative party: it was therefore inevitable that the Democratic party, failing in its duty, should find its place taken by a new party pledged to carry on the fight for true democratic principles. The Republican party was formed for that purpose; and those who recognize in Lincoln a great democratic leader in the broad sense judge truly of his career and his personality.
There is no stronger power in politics than the force of momentum; and it was only natural that the Republican party, formed for the purpose of fighting slavery, should continue to flourish many years after slavery had ceased to exist. Then, exactly as the Democratic party before the war, its organization seized upon by the slave power, had changed from a party of progress to one of reaction, so the Republican organization, captured by certain powerful commercial interests, now became in its turn a party of reaction. Large amounts of money had to be raised to carry on the war, and much of it was secured by a tariff upon imports. After the war was over, certain interests which were benefitting greatly by the high tariff were politically strong enough to continue, and even increase the duties, in order to afford protection to favored industries. The scheme was economically unsound and essentially unconstitutional; it was forcing the many to pay tribute to the few; it was “special privilege” of the most obnoxious description. But disguised under the title of the “American system,” and described in fervid language as a means of saving the American workmen and the American markets from the “pauper labor” of Europe, it had a great and quite unmerited success.
Against this prostitution of the party of Lincoln, men turned again to the Democratic party as the means of progress, only to find it still disorganized after the terrible experiences of the Civil War, and still forgetful of its old principles—a poor organization with which to fight the growing power of privilege. The South was at once both its strength and its weakness; for the party was so numerically weak at the North that it could win a national election only by the electoral votes of the Southern States; yet it was morally weak at the South from the fact that, after the war, the Southern whites had to a man enrolled themselves in the party of opposition. Thus political lines were drawn geographically, always a great misfortune; and the natural party of liberal ideas found in its membership a large number of men who were not Democrats on principle.
Thus the year 1884 found both parties floundering about, neither with a policy that meant anything, and both with shattered reputations. The natural division between them had been forgotten. The election which, after twenty-four years, brought a Democratic President once more into the White House, ignored political issues and turned exclusively upon the personal character of the candidates. Yet in spite of its weakness, its faults and its follies, the force of momentum made the Democratic party still much more sensitive to popular feeling than its rival, which had now fallen irredeemably into the hands of the protected interests.
Three years later (1887) came an act which changed the whole situation, which forms one of the epoch-making events of American history. The tariff message of President Cleveland was a great act of statesmanship; it cleared the air and created once more a rational and logical division between the parties. Once again men divided along lines of political principle; and enthusiasm for a moral issue rejuvenated the Democratic party. The splendid campaign of 1888, — splendid though unsuccessful, — the first campaign in twenty years fought on a vital issue, and the still more splendid and triumphant campaign of 1892, gave to Democrats hopes of a long lease of power, and a new advance along the path of popular reform.
These hopes were not destined to be realized. Never since Jefferson drove away from Washington after the failure of embargo has a president left office with louder voices of condemnation than Grover Cleveland; yet no president ever earned a more solid and lasting respect from mature and reasonable men. Cleveland has earned something better than popularity. The leader who after thirty years of political turmoil and confusion could bring a great party back to the recognition of genuine political principles will not be overlooked by history. He will take his place among the great Democratic leaders of the nation, one of its few great presidents.
The Republicans had left behind them an empty treasury, and a law which kept draining it for the benefit of the silver-mine owners, another group of the specially privileged. The administration was strong enough to bring the Sherman law to an end; but it was too late to avert the catastrophe. There ensued the panic of 1893, the result of over-inflation and years of reckless financial legislation. Then followed the failure of the Democratic leadership to redeem their promises of tariff reform; the years of hard times; and finally the free-silver madness.
Looking back from this distance upon the election of 1896 it seems strange that men can suffer such violent hallucination as to believe in a universal panacea like “free silver.” If there is one lesson of history that is well established, it is the misery of a depreciated currency; and if there is one fact more sure than another in that connection, it is that the misery falls more acutely upon the poor people. It is for their interest above all to have their monetary standard as stable as possible; and for that very reason one of the traditional policies of the Democratic party had been “Hard Money.” But these facts went for nothing in the outbreak that now occurred.
Year after year campaign orators had laid great stress on the great prosperity of the country under the Republican party; but the mass of people felt, and rightly so, that somehow that prosperity had been very unevenly distributed. A wave of commercial development had occurred after the Civil War, and evidences of great increase of wealth were visible on every hand; but everywhere arose also the cry of dissatisfaction.
In truth the full results of the protective tariff upon the country were now beginning to be appreciated; it had been the means of founding among us a new form of one of the outworn systems of government, — a commercial aristocracy, — the most greedy, domineering, unscrupulous, least admirable form of aristocracy the world has ever seen. First came the tariff beneficiaries—the manufacturers of iron and steel and other protected industries: then those who had studied the results of protection and had seen the pecuniary advantages of artificial monopoly—to the monopolizers. These had deliberately set about to make the general public pay tribute to the privileged few, exploiting with this intent our railroads and other public utilities, and even the manufacture and distribution of many of the necessaries of life. Thus had arisen that privileged class of millionaire and billionaire aristocrats who throng our summer and winter resorts and the steamers to Europe, whose luxurious palaces affront the eye and whose money and bad manners corrupt our social life at every turn.
In so far as the Democratic outbreak of 1896 was a revolt against existing conditions it was justified; in so far as it was a protest against the betrayal of the party by their leaders in the matter of tariff reform it was justified; and it was perhaps only natural that they should hold the national administration responsible for all the faults of its predecessor as well as its own. Nevertheless the remedy proposed was wrong. It would have been worse than the disease; and the violence of the movement defeated its own ends. A large number of Democrats, many of them men of the highest character and influence, were driven from the party; the victory went to the Republicans on the issue of the gold standard; then the Republicans proceeded to show the utmost bad faith by a further increase in the tariff; and later embarked the country on a serious and dangerous experiment in imperialism.
The election of 1900 should have turned on the question of the Philippines—that was the burning issue. But unfortunately the Democratic party was still split asunder, most of those who had left it in 1896 refusing to return while the party still proclaimed the dangerous financial doctrines of four years before. Moreover the absurdity of trying to awaken enthusiasm over a fight against imperialism, with a candidate who was himself partly responsible for the ratification of the Philippines treaty, was patent to every one, and gave a hollowness to the campaign which was only emphasized by the readiness of the party orators to vary the leading issue according to the locality of their speeches. The campaign ended in another Democratic defeat.
In 1904 there came a reaction in the Democratic party, and control of the organization passed into the hands of the so-called “safe and sane” who had opposed the radicals, yet remained in the party. But the candidate selected failed to receive the support of the radical element, which showed its displeasure by remaining away from the polls, or voting for the Republican candidate, whose remarkable popularity blinded them to the fact that he represented nearly everything that as Democrats they ought to detest.
What now is to be the outcome? Has the Democratic party a future?
If that question is asked in a broad sense there can be but one answer. To doubt of a Democratic party of the future would be to despair of the Republic; to believe that we have come to the end of the forward movement, that Democracy has reached its limit, would be to close our ears to the lessons of the past, and our eyes to all the signs of the present. There can be no backward step in the world’s progress.
Until every man receives justice at the hands of his fellow men; until our cities are purged of corruption and our states are guided by righteous intelligence; until every child is saved from want and misery, and every man and woman gains that equal chance which the great Declaration holds is their right; until these things and many others are brought about the work of the Democrat is not finished.
But progress in a democracy is slow, for the whole mass must be leavened. We have to unlearn many lessons from the old world, and some we have learned in the new. Other systems may show fairer superficial results, but the future is ours. We are the true heirs of all the ages, for we hold the secret of successful human government; and we have only to remain true to ourselves and trust in our sacred mission. As Gladstone so nobly said in relation to Ireland, “It is liberty alone that fits men for liberty;” so we may truly say that the remedy for the evils of democracy is more democracy.
Some progressive party, then, we must have in the future. Will the present Democratic organization be that party? There are many signs that point one way, and many that point the other.
There is no disgusting the fact that there is still throughout the North a deep-seated distrust of the Democratic party, founded on its pro-slavery record, its perverse and blundering conduct during the Civil War and since, the failure of its leaders adequately to back up President Cleveland in his fight for reform, and its frequent readiness to run off after strange gods. This has forced many young voters into the other party, depriving the Democrats of that new blood which is so essential to party health.
The party is still further weakened by the direct loss which it sustained in 1896, and which has not yet been made good. It is true that some of those who left the party at that time were in reality conservatives and had no proper place in the Democratic ranks; it is also true that many retuned in 1900, and many more in 1904. But there still remain a large number who are no longer regular members of the Democratic organization. No party can suffer such a loss without being crippled for years afterwards; and the loss in character is even more serious than the loss in numbers, for that forfeits the confidence and respect of the general public, which is the strongest asset a party can have.
As a direct consequence of the weakness of the party, the character of its leadership in some of the most important states is a heavy burden upon it. To mention the worlds “political principles” in connection with some of the men who control the party organization at present brings to the mind a picture that would be irresistibly comic if it were not so tragically serious. For the destinies of thousands of our fellow creatures, the future of democracy itself, hang in some measure upon the action of these corrupt, ignorant, and unscrupulous men who thrust themselves forward as the guardians and exponents of Democratic principles. As only one instance of the result upon party fortunes, the New York governorship was lost in 1906 by a most shocking combination of corrupt and improper methods in the election of delegates and conduct of the state convention, resulting in an utterly unprincipled indorsement of the candidates of another party. The chief beneficiary of the infamous deal was repudiated by Democrats at the polls, but the men who were responsible for it still control the state machinery of the party, and the outlook for “harmony” while this situation lasts is not altogether bright.
One might turn also to Massachusetts, where unseemly wrangling has lost the Democratic party its place upon the official ballot, and ask what chance there is in that state for a party led as the Democratic party there has been led of recent years; or to Illinois where the party is still under the same control that was so eloquently assailed even on the floor of the National Convention four years ago—a not very hopeful augury of immediate party success.
There is also a deplorable tendency among Democrats, similar to that which has reached such serious proportions among Republicans, to make of a single leader the “boss,” trusting the party fortunes exclusively to him, abiding by his sole judgment, and accepting meekly his dictation. This introduction of paternalism into party councils is undemocratic and undesirable; for a political party is strong in direct proportion to its number of wise, upright, and trusted leaders.
But, most unfortunate of all, there has arisen this unhappy condition in the Democratic party, that if the judgment of one section of the party is followed as to platform and candidate, the other section will not support the ticket; and if their judgment is not followed then they in turn will not support the ticket. Unless there can be found some common ground, therefore, it seems as if this see-saw might keep on forever; and the party be kept from flying because its two wings are not willing to flap in unison.
There are all reasons for doubting of the future of the Democratic party; but looking at it from the other side there was never a brighter outlook for a true party of progress; for dissatisfaction with existing conditions is widespread, and party ties never sat so loosely. The old and fallacious argument that the tariff produces prosperity, while tariff revision or discussion is alone responsible for panics and hard times, has been hopelessly damaged by the recent money strain and the present financial conditions. We shall not hear from Republican orators in the near future quite so much twaddle as we have in the past about “Republican prosperity,” and the “full dinner-pail;” nor have quite so much credit taken for good harvests, with the implied suggestion that the Almighty is in political partnership with the “Grand Old Party.”
Moreover, the people are looking with growing dislike and suspicion upon the commercial aristocracy bred by the tariff and other forms of special privilege; state regulation of public utilities is under way, and that is well; but the party of progress should force the fighting until the tariff, that stronghold of intrenched greed and selfishness, is reached and mastered.
The fight against imperialism is more difficult, for that danger is a very subtle one and its immediate iniquities are so many thousand miles away. Yet the proposition laid down by Lincoln, that this nation could not endure half slave and half free, was not more true than the proposition that a democracy cannot continue to play the rôle of a tyrant master-nation owning subject dependencies, — even although we disguise the word “slave” under the high-sounding phrase, “wards of the nation.” But the way of the transgressor is hard; and the situation will react upon us more and more fatally every moment that we keep on denying to the Filipinos the rights we long since secured for ourselves, and have always claimed for other people, — the right to decide our own affairs according to our own judgment, good or bad, be the issue what it may.
We cannot undo the past. We cannot bring the dead to life, or erase from the pages of history those pages of our deep dishonor; but we can give to the people of the islands our friendship and protection and their freedom, not grudgingly and at a date generations hence (which would mean never), but at once and forever. Against this miserable bastard imperialism the party of progress should fight to the end.
And there is one other thing on which the party of progress should place its mark of disapproval. It is nothing against the American people that they crave leadership: true leaders are even more necessary in a democracy than in any other form of government; but we are too prone to idolize our leaders, — not merely to overlook their faults, but to be absolutely blind to them. There is something inspiring, but pathetic as well, in the American people’s devotion to the ideal. But is it quite wise to fool ourselves into believing that any living man is a god? Especially when we remember how often we have thrown our broken idols aside, when we have become tired of playing with them! What is the moral of this? That such indiscriminating adulation will sooner or later have a violent recoil. We must restrain ourselves from undue devotion to our heroes lest we find ourselves deceived. There is something better than a splendid theory, — and that is the Truth. The party of progress should revere its heroes, cherish its statesmen, and respect its leaders, — and the more it has of these the better; but it should not tie up to any one man, no matter how good or how great he may be, — or how well he talks. In a multitude of counselors, there is safety.
The Democratic party has often shown wonderful powers of recuperation, and can again. Many times it has suffered disastrous defeat only to turn defeat into victory. Progress can be made with much less waste of energy and expenditure of labor under an old organization than under a new; but will the party rise to the occasion? That is the question which will soon be answered. If the leaders of the party would forget their quarrels and unite in strong and vigorous protest against resisting abuses, if they would put aside their personal ambitions and act only for the best interests of the party, does any Democrat doubt of the result?
Or if we grant that while such action would be magnificent it would not be politics, as it is played nowadays, let us come back to the people. For everything in a democracy does come back sooner or later to the people. If Democrats remain indifferent and discouraged how can they hope to succeed? But if they will arouse themselves to the struggle; realize their responsibilities; forget former defeats and divisions and think only of the future—of the chance to make their party once more what it was formed to be, has been, and can be made, the great party of progress, the party of democracy; if they will do this, not only can they again place their President in the White House, to occupy the chair of Jefferson, Jackson, and Cleveland, but they can start a new wave of genuine and orderly progress which will uplift the people of this democratic republic to a higher place than has ever yet been reached,