The Meaning of the Election

THE decision of every presidential election naturally arouses discussion and suggests reflection as to the future of the contending parties, both the victor and the vanquished. Opponents have many times predicted, after a great defeat, the dissolution of the Democratic party, and it was not unusual to hear the dissolution of the Republican party seriously discussed after the second election of Mr. Cleveland. But the Democratic party showed the capacity to survive the Civil War, and it is not likely to be dissolved by a fourth successive defeat while it still has a powerful organization in practically every state of the Union. Every country governed by representative institutions requires at least two parties, and there seems no reason to doubt that both the Republican and Democratic parties will continue to exist under their present names, even if they submit to changes in their creeds and membership.

More than seven years ago an article by the present writer was published in the Atlantic Monthly under the title: “ The Future of Political Parties.” It was then pointed out that the future tendency of the parties was likely to be: in the case of the Republican party, along the lines of a resolute national policy, carrying forward, executing, and completing the grave tasks assumed when the United States acquired a footing in the Orient and became a factor in international diplomacy throughout the world; while the Democratic party was likely to drift into the attitude of the state socialist parties of continental Europe.

Although this analysis was made five years before Mr. Bryan made his celebrated utterance in New York in favor of government ownership of railroads, it was pointed out that along the lines of such measures as governmental ownership and old-age pensions would probably run the policies of the Democratic party in the future; but that in this drift towards state socialism, there might be eddies which would for a time turn the party back towards its old ideals. Such a side-current was the nomination of Judge Parker in 1904. So far as the influences dominant for the moment in the Democratic organization were concerned, the nomination of Judge Parker meant a return to the sane and sober policies of the democracy of Tilden and Cleveland; but when the work of this organization was subjected to the test of the polls, it was found that with its purposes a great body of Democratic voters had no sympathy. Nothing is more eloquent of this than the way in which the vote cast for Mr. Bryan in radical states of the West shrank away when the same voters were asked to vote for Judge Parker and Ex-Senator Davis. Here are the comparative figures for a few states:

State. Bryan, 1900. Parker, 1904.
Iowa 209,265 149,141
Kansas 102,001 84,800
Michigan 211,134 134,151
Minnesota 112,901 55,187
Nebraska 113,513 51,876
Wisconsin 159,163 124,036

A shrinkage like this in the Democratic vote was not due to anything in the personality of Judge Parker except as he represented the elements of the old Democracy, temporarily in control, which were in favor of accepting the gold standard and were opposed to radicalism. It was due only in minor degree even to the great personal popularity of President Roosevelt with the masses, for his vote did not increase in any such proportion as the Democratic vote fell off. In Iowa the McKinley vote of 1900 was 307,808; the Roosevelt vote of 1904 was 307,907. In the other states named, Roosevelt gained over McKinley, but in nothing like the proportion in which Judge Parker lost. The followers of Mr. Bryan simply stayed away from the polls.

Turning to the conservative voters in the Eastern States, it appears that they have not been disposed under any circumstances to give a majority of their votes to Mr. Bryan and the ideas which he represents. New York in 1902 came within 9752 votes of electing a Democratic governor; in 1906 she elected the entire Democratic state ticket except the governor. But when asked whether she desired the adoption on the national stage of the policies of Mr. Bryan, she answered “ No,” by the emphatic plurality in 1896 of 268,469; in 1900, by 143,606; and in 1908, by 203,000. This result was brought about in large part by the votes of men formerly Democrats, but opposed to Bryanism as a political creed.

Thus, in the test of four elections since Mr. Bryan first captured the Democratic organization, the conservative and radical elements have failed to act together. The defeat of Judge Parker was significant to the friends of Mr. Bryan that no conservative candidate could surpass their idol in popular favor; it was significant also of the fact that the Democratic party had become essentially a radical party, and that it must look to radical elements for its future support.

What may be the personal fortunes of Mr. Bryan, it is not the purpose of this article to inquire. He will probably seek to control future nominations, even though he does not take them for himself, — to become a Warwick if he cannot become a king. Undoubtedly, resentment and revolt within the Democratic ranks will follow his recent defeat; but men of property and conservative temperament have been so persistently driven from places of power in the party organization during the past twelve years that it is hardly possible that their type shall obtain complete control, except possibly in a few states of the Northeast. Even if such control could be obtained, it would probably prove to be temporary in its character, and only another eddy in the current which is sweeping the party toward radicalism.

In these directions, moreover, lies the future of the Democratic party as a virile, consistent, cohesive organization. The weakness of both parties at about the time of Mr. Cleveland’s second election was that they had ceased to have definite aims. Mr. Cleveland was, upon many points, a better Republican than his predecessor. He stood resolutely for sound finance where General Harrison faltered. Mr. Roosevelt has proved that he is nearly as good a Democrat upon many points as Mr. Bryan, and perhaps a better Democrat than the only opponent he has met at the polls — Judge Parker.

No political party can govern long unless it has some vital principle. The Democratic party of Jefferson and Madison had practically achieved its mission before the Civil War. That mission was the reduction to practical legislation of the Declaration of Independence. Equal justice before the law for all men; the severance of the bond between church and state; the abolition of imprisonment for debt; the gradual reduction and final annulment of restrictions upon white manhood suffrage, — these were the mission and the achievements of the Democratic party in the early days of the Republic. Equality of all men before the law had been the arduous mission of the English-speaking race in the Old World during the centuries which began with King John and ended with the Georges. But equality before the law does not in itself mean an equal share in making the law. A share for every man in the government of the state was the achievement of the Democratic party in America, and the Liberal party in England, during the nineteenth century. Along with these achievements in both countries went many measures of social reform.

High hopes were entertained in all civilized countries that equality before the law, and equality in making the law, would bring about the reign of justice and equality of opportunity in all branches of human endeavor. But with the enormous increase of wealth arising from machine production emerged a new problem, only vaguely apprehended during the early conflict for purely political rights. This is the problem of economic equality, — the right of every man to his full share in the increased national resources of the race. This problem has not been solved by the achievement of political equality, but is likely to be the most fiercely contested political problem of the next generation. In so far as the Democratic party is able to present a solution of it which will bear the test of experience, and will increase the ratio of well-being dealt out to the average man, it is likely to find a mission and an opportunity.

On the other side, however, will always be arrayed the interests of those who have against those who have not. In their ranks will eventually be found men of achievement, of foresight, and of constructive power. From them, whatever their views of social questions, will come creative ideas for the development of the economic resources of the nation, for the extension of its political power and its economic opportunities in all quarters of the world. Up to the time of the intervention of the United States in Cuba these international problems had attracted little attention. The economic unrest which ultimately gave birth to the socalled “ tariff reform ” movement in Great Britain had already driven the British government to the extension of empire over India, Egypt, Australia, and many islands of the sea. The controlling motive behind these extensions of power was essentially economic, the necessity for markets for English goods, which should not be closed by discriminating taxes, or the open hostility of competing powers.

The first to enter on a great scale the field of manufacture, England was for a time not only ahead of her rivals, but almost without rivals; but, within the past generation, France, Germany, Belgium, and other countries have overtaken her in the field of production, and like her they have entered upon the struggle for control of the world’s markets. The United States was late in appreciating the necessity for entering upon this contest. Her entrance came indeed almost as if by accident, with the sinking of a few ill-equipped Spanish ships in the Bay of Manila on the first day of May, 1898. The country awoke, almost by magic, to the necessity of participation in international policies. Within two years Secretary Hay revealed the vital interest of this country in the markets of the Orient, by securing from the Powers the promise of an open door for the trade of all in Manchuria.

By an almost instant alignment, according to individual interest, temperament, or breadth of historic view, the country became divided into two schools — those who believed in the consolidation and extension of national influence, whatever the cost, and those who believed in casting aside such opportunities, in order to remain a self-centred and isolated nation. It was natural that the party in power at the time should accept the new responsibilities, while the party out of power should urge their rejection. This might have been true, even if the party in power at the time of Dewey’s victory had been the Democratic party. In England the Liberal party, which is the representative there of opposition to imperialism, has seldom dared to shirk new responsibilities when they were imposed by events. It has indeed been responsible for the occupation of Egypt and many other measures of imperialism, just as the Democratic party in the United States became responsible for the purchase of Louisiana and the acquisition of Texas.

It has been the Republican party, however, which has had imposed upon it by events the duty of construction, of organization, and achievement in the field of domestic affairs, as well as in the extension of national influence in distant seas. In recent years the wavering and lack of visible aim, which marked to a considerable extent the administrations of Presidents Arthur and Harrison, has given place to a fever of constructive energy such as has rarely been equaled in the history of political parties. To go no further back than the inauguration of President McKinley in 1897, the Republican party has not only added to the sphere of influence of the nation the 8,000,000 people of the Philippines and the 2,000,000 people of Cuba and Porto Rico, but it has acquired an important strip of territory on the Darien Isthmus, and is undertaking, in the building of the Panama Canal, one of the most important engineering achievements of modern times. Through the enlightened foresight of Secretary Root, closer relations have been established with Latin America; the United States has coöperated with Mexico in establishing the gold standard, and in maintaining peace in Central America; it has taken charge of the finances of San Domingo; and it was represented at the conference of Algeciras for determining the future of Morocco.

At home the Republican party has not only carried out the measures of President Roosevelt for reducing capital to the rank of a servant rather than a master, — a work which the other party might have undertaken, — but it has established the gold standard, has reorganized the army, has added scores of fighting ships to the navy, has modified in favor of labor the doctrine of common employment, has saved thousands of infant and adult lives by meat inspection and the pure-food law, and has planned to save the forests and to regulate immigration. It is significant also that its newly elected chief magistrate has been chosen for a career of achievement. He owns no allegiance to the theory of the professional politician — that the art of politics is to “ pander to public opinion ” only so far as will keep the organization together and enable the party to hold the offices. Judge Taft, in the Philippines, had a civil government to construct almost from the foundations. That work he did with a rapidity and skill unrivaled probably in history except by the constructive labors of Augustus and the first Napoleon.

It is not surprising that the party which has achieved so much has drawn into its ranks most of the men of constructive ideas and important business relations. It was to this element that Judge Taft owed many votes in the Northeast in the late election. Business men as a body, independent of previous political affiliations, felt that if the country was to persevere in a policy of agricultural and manufacturing prosperity and railway extension, it must be under the administration of a party having coherence, cohesiveness, and capacity to achieve results. Mr. Bryan was handicapped by the character of his following, as well as by his own personality. Comparatively few men of large constructive ability and related to important business enterprises were among his supporters. His own record had driven such men from the party, and the reiteration of his policies reacted upon the conditions of the campaign by keeping them out.

Among Mr. Bryan’s supporters in 1908 were undoubtedly men of culture and standing who had opposed him in 1896, but who desired to rehabilitate the organization with which they had been associated through life, or which had become endeared to them in the days when the principles of Tilden and Cleveland seemed to point the way to constructive policies. But analyses of these converts or returning prodigals would show that in most cases they were professional men or men desirous of obtaining political preferment, and were not men of business. It was no secret that many of them were ready, even while voting for him, to view with equanimity the third defeat of Mr. Bryan, in the hope that their ideas might have weight in the subsequent reorganization of the party. For them, as for the masses of the Democratic party, however, the true road for coherent aims and a constructive policy in the future, is along the lines of social reform and state intervention in industry. To some men of character and culture these measures will undoubtedly appeal. It is highly desirable that such men should be found in both parties, and should temper with their counsels the radicalism of the doctrinaire and the conscious demagogue; but if these men expect to restore the party to its old ideals, they are likely to be disappointed, for the reason that those ideals have been achieved so far as they were desirable, and the party, without adopting the new policy of state socialism, would be only a party of negation.

Indeed, a party of negation the Democratic party seems likely to prove during most of the lives of men now of mature years. It is not to be expected that the Republican party will have an uninterrupted lease of power. Perhaps in one of the eddies back to conservatism, combined with the natural tendency of a democracy occasionally to change its rulers, with or without cause, a victory for the Democratic party might even be possible at the next general election; but in the long run, so far as human foresight can foresee, the coming generation is likely to witness the almost uninterrupted ascendency of the Republican party, because it has a definite policy of construction and achievement, while the Democratic party is floundering through many counter-currents toward the position of the state-socialist parties of Europe. When it has firmly reached this position, and the conservative element has been substantially eliminated, then the Democratic party may prove again a dangerous competitor for the control of the federal government.

But time is likely to be required for the consummation of this process. It may be doubted if Mr. Bryan himself is suited by temperament and training for leadership in such policies. In spite of his subsequent declaration for government ownership of railways, there is force in the criticism made by the New York Journal in 1901, that “ Mr. Bryan, able and patriotic as he is, is not really modern. He lives in the past. He has never been able fully to adapt himself to the economic and social revolution that has changed the face of the world.”

In indicating that the Democratic party is likely to find its natural and most profitable course in adopting the policies of state socialism, it is not intended to intimate that these policies will be of a violent character, or outside the range of legitimate political discussion. There is enough to be achieved, if socialistic theories are well founded, in such fields as old-age pensions and insurance, government operation of public utilities, restrictions upon corporations, the adoption of the income tax, the redistribution of other taxes, and government ownership and operation of the railways, before any such questions can arise as those of distributing private property or carrying out the tenets of abstract socialism.

In conclusion, I think I can do no better than to reiterate the conclusions of seven years ago, which I believe have been illuminated and confirmed by recent events:

“The democratic idea, therefore, must seek a new manifestation, if the party would survive as a healthy rival of the party of expansion. That democracy has fulfilled its mission in the direction of purely political reforms is the reason for its hesitations, divisions, and defeats on two continents within the last few years. When it has formulated a new and comprehensive programme, — logical and virile from the point of view of a large class of thinkers, — it may be in a position to measure swords again, with courage and enthusiasm, with the party which supports a constructive national policy at home, and a resolute foreign policy abroad. For the moment, the latter party will profit by the divisions and hesitations in the ranks of its opponents, and will receive as recruits from their ranks those who are impatient of any party without a constructive policy, and those who tremble at the signs of the coming of the new order.”