The Achievements of the Democratic Party and Its Leader Since March 4, 1913

OCTOBER, 1916

BY CHARLES W. ELIOT

THE present presidential campaign is remarkable in several respects. It is conducted with great reasonableness and propriety and without any of the too common vituperation and bluster. The candidates are both men of but little political experience, who came into statesmanship out of other highly intellectual callings. Neither of them possesses that ready sympathy and cordial expressiveness sometimes supposed to be indispensable to a successful political career. Both are reserved men, who do their own thinking and select their own counselors. The fate of idolized men, like Frémont, Blaine, Bryan, and Roosevelt suggests, however, that with American voters this ‘personal magnetism’ quality is not so engaging as has been supposed. President Wilson is capable of rhetorical warmth and high color in written compositions, and in unprepared speech before an exciting audience his emotions sometimes seem to get — for the moment — the better of his judgment. Mr. Hughes has not exhibited thus far so much warmth in his writings as President Wilson is capable of; but in the first Taft campaign he proved himself a vigorous stump speaker, though without charm.

The American voter who desires to cast his vote in a conscientious way in support of the best interests of the country will have to be guided in his choice between these two candidates by his reason and not by his emotions, or by any enthusiasm for an attractive personality. Gregarious shouting, marching to the music of brass bands, and torch-light processions will have little influence in the present campaign. There are, of course, many Republicans and many Democrats who invariably follow their respective party standards; but it seems as if this election were to be decided by the votes of men who hold themselves free in presidential elections to vote for that candidate whose previous career indicates that he can best lead the country into the ways of stable prosperity, peace, progress, and honor. Such men in small number can probably tip the scales in the important states which will determine the result of the election, because in them the confirmed partisan voters are fairly evenly divided.

The voter is going to have the choice, not only between two candidates, but between two parties; and every reasoning voter will therefore turn for guidance to the declarations which each of the two parties made at its nominating convention. Fortunately or unfortunately — only the issue can decide which of these two words applies — the platforms of the two parties furnish no guidance whatever to the inquiring voter. They are much alike in general sentiment, try to stir the same patriotic emotions, and promise satisfaction to the same popular hopes or expectations. It was to have been expected that the Republican platform would provide some clear issue to which that party — now in opposition — could be rallied; but the Republican party platform will be searched in vain for such an issue. To be sure, it denounces vigorously certain policies and acts of the existing Democratic administration; but it makes no specific statements as to what a Republican administration, had it been in power, would have done otherwise. Thus, in regard to American rights and foreign relations it affirms belief in ‘American policies at home and abroad.’ Is there anybody in the country who does not? It declares that the party will ‘enforce the protection of every American citizen in all the rights secured to him by the Constitution, by treaties, and the Law of Nations’; but every Democrat, in or out of office, would promise as much. It says, ‘We promise to our citizens on and near our border, and to those in Mexico . . . absolute and adequate protection in their fives, liberty, and property’; but omits to say that they propose to give this protection by force of arms, which is the only alternative to the measures adopted by the present Democratic administration.

From the Republican Convention, which was controlled by experienced party managers, one would have expected some clear specific declaration about tariff policy; but on examination one finds only reduced forms of the delusive promises long made by the Republican party, ending in a recommendation of a tariff commission ‘ to gather and compile information for the use of Congress.’ A scientific tariff commission is advocated by the Democratic party also. In spite, however, of the vague and general nature of the terms used throughout the Republican declaration concerning the tariff, the persistent inquirer can perhaps deduce from it one tolerably clear issue, as follows: if the Republican party should be put in control of the Government, it would repeal the Underwood Tariff, or modify it so profoundly that several important American industries would have to readjust themselves to new conditions, and would subsequently set up a tariff commission with powers to collect ‘ information for the use of Congress.’ It is altogether probable, if the Democratic party be continued in possession of the government, that the Underwood Tariff, to which American industries have already adjusted themselves, will be essentially maintained, and that a permanent non-partisan commission of experts will be intrusted with the function of suggesting the expedient changes in it. Whether the orators of the campaign are to make use on the stump of this possible issue still (August 13) remains to be seen. The business men ought to consider carefully which of these two policies is best for the country. They have doubtless learnt from the war and its antecedents, that ‘protection’ of national industries tends toward national selfishness and international war, and that tariffs ‘for revenue only’ tend toward openness of mind and heart and international good-will.

It is customary for the candidate of the party out of power to state in his letter or speech of acceptance his objections to the conduct of the party in power, his remedies for the evil it has done, and his proposals for different action by his party if it should be placed in power; and this speech or essay is supposed to give the inquiring voter reasons for acting at the coming election with the party out of power. In the long, carefully written essay in which Mr. Hughes accepts the nomination of the Republican Convention the most thorough search will fail to find a specific recommendation on any controversial matter. The paper is chiefly filled with universally accepted statements concerning the proper national policies, and general descriptions of what ought to be done and ought not to be done by a national administration. To most of these descriptions nearly all American voters would subscribe. This is especially true of the passages about Americanism, Foreign Relations, Mexico, Preparedness, the Military Obligations of Freemen, and the Organization of Peace — passages which occupy three-quarters of the entire essay. Apart from the denunciations of what Mr. Hughes thinks have been the Democratic policies and methods, almost all Americans would agree with the sentiments and opinions expressed by him. From the comparatively short passage on the principle of ‘protection’ and the proper regulation of industries, it is impossible to derive any exact information as to what measures Mr. Hughes would support if he were elected president. He would naturally endeavor to avoid extremes, and to favor wise adjustments in accordance with sound principles. All judicious Americans without distinction of party would hope to do likewise.

The most distinct announcement of a policy contained in Mr. Hughes’s paper of acceptance relates to woman suffrage. Believing that woman suffrage is inevitable, he declares in favor of it now, but assigns as his reasons the bitterness of the women’s struggle for the suffrage and his apprehension that a long-continued feminist agitation will subvert ‘normal political issues.’ For a brave man this seems a strange submission to what he thinks destiny and an intemperate agitation.

Finally, Mr. Hughes’s ‘vision of America prepared and secure; strong and just; equal to her tasks; an exemplar of the capacity and efficiency of a free people’ is the vision of all American patriots. No election issue can possibly be made out of that vision.

In view of this lack of guidance for voters in the official declarations of the two parties, and in the acceptance essay of the opposition candidate, the intelligent and conscientious voter may most wisely seek guidance for his vote next November in a comparison of the acts or deeds of the Democratic Congress and the Democratic President with the Republican acts or deeds in the four preceding administrations, — that is, since the close of the second Cleveland administration.

1. The Democratic administration accomplished within a few months of its accession a revision of the tariff downward. This revision was moderate and conservative; but it reversed the general tendency of the four preceding Republican administrations. It seems to have commended itself to a great majority of the American people; because they realize that the home market cannot support the vast machinery industries in which American workmen excel, and the livelihood of a considerable fraction of the people is earned. In regard to many industries employers and employees alike have learnt that foreign trade is essential to their support and development.

This indispensable tariff reform was made promptly by the Democratic Congress and administration, and in a wise and successful way. The reform took effect at a fortunate moment ; because it promoted that great development of several American industries which the war brought about. It is to be hoped that the war will bring about a reduction of protectionist activities throughout the civilized world; because they tend to develop hostile feelings and acts among nations, and therefore to delay the coming of lasting international peace. For these reasons the continuation of the Democratic party in power is much to be desired.

2. The repeal of the act concerning the Panama Canal tolls, an act to which all the foreign nations interested in the use of the Canal took exception, was an important contribution by the Democratic administration to the civilized practice of observing scrupulously all treaty obligations. It was possible for honest men to defend the exemption of American coastwise vessels from the payment of tolls; but foreign nations presented sincere objections to this construction of the treaties and agreements concerning the management of the Canal, and it was not for the United States to insist on the interpretation most favorable to itself. In Congress the division on the question of repeal was not on party lines. Some Democrats were opposed to the repeal; some Republicans were in favor of it. It was the urgency of the administration, however, which carried the repeal. President Wilson therein did his country and all democracies a great service, which the independent voter would now do well to remember. Some political philosophers have prophesied that democracies would lack the finer honorable instincts. It turns out now that it is empires which break their promises, and take treacherous advantages.

3. When the Democrats came into power in 1913, the Republican administrations and Congress had been discussing for several years measures for reforming the national system of banking and currency; but they had failed to bring any effective legislation to pass. The Democratic administration and Congress carried the Federal Reserve law within a few months after coming into power, and promptly organized with admirable discretion the first Federal Reserve Board. This Board got to work just in time to prevent a financial panic and to preserve the credit of the nation at the outbreak of a world-wide war which suddenly destroyed the existing system of financial and commercial exchanges all over the world. No American administration has ever before accomplished so great a contribution to the stability and efficiency of American business credit and financial enterprise. Business men of all sorts — financial, manufacturing, and commercial — recognize the high value of this remarkable achievement; and to many of them it seems fair, and also good for the country, that the same party which procured the enactment of the Federal Reserve law should continue to administer it.

4.One of the admirable results of the incoming of the Democratic party to power was the prompt enactment of a national Income Tax law. An income tax, properly laid, is the justest and most expedient of all taxes in a democracy; but the Republican party was wholly unable to get an income tax enacted in times of peace, and indeed never seriously advocated it except in war times. It is not surprising that in so difficult a piece of work the Democratic Congress made some mistakes in the structure of the act, and that the Democratic administration was not altogether successful in organizing the working staff for so novel and large an undertaking; but it is certainly fair that the party which put the income tax on the statute book should be intrusted with the continuous improvement of the act. A much-needed improvement is a reduction in the limit of exemption; so that a much larger part of the population may pay the tax. The Democratic party is quite as likely to make this reduction as the Republican party. All parties in a democracy are likely to seek the votes of the poorer classes by proposing to make the rich and well-to-do alone provide the public revenues. Democracies surely have the power to demoralize themselves in this mean way; but patriots hope that democracies will not use this power.

5. To President Wilson’s administration the country owes its thorough committal to two policies which nearly concern its righteousness and its dignity. The first of these policies is — no war with Mexico. The second is — no intervention by force of arms to protect on foreign soil American commercial and manufacturing adventurers who of their own free will have invested their money, or risked their lives, in foreign parts under alien jurisdictions. It is almost inconceivable that an American should approve any assault by the powerful United States on feeble Mexico, and yet armed intervention in Mexico, and, worse than that, the seizing of northern Mexico by American troops have been shamelessly advocated since 1912 by some journalists, manufacturers, and merchants, who live in the United States. Intervention by force of arms to protect and maintain in Mexico American investors and workmen by the ordinary European mode of dealing with backward peoples — that is, by punitive expeditions and compelled agreements — has been persistently advocated. The Democratic administration has never yielded at all to these malign suggestions; although it has not, pursued with entire consistency the policy of non-intervention, or succeeded as yet in composing the internal troubles of Mexico without armed intervention. It has, however, saved this country from the deep disgrace of a war with weak and harassed Mexico, and it has gone far to establish non-intervention by force of arms for the protection of miners and commercial adventurers in foreign parts as the American policy. These are great contributions to the peace of the world, and to the promotion of humane and just dealings between nations. Of course, the Democratic administration was active and urgent in using diplomatic and consular representations on behalf of Americans whose lives or properties were endangered in Mexico, and in aiding such persons to withdraw temporarily from the country. America has now turned its back on the familiar policy of Rome and Great Britain of protecting or avenging their wandering citizens by force of arms, and has set up a quite different policy of her own.

6. In support of his policy of nonintervention in Mexico, and with the intention of relieving all apprehension on the part of the South American nations lest the United States assume an aggressive or selfish attitude toward Mexico or any other American republic, President Wilson secured the cooperation of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile in endeavoring to compose the constitutional dissensions and factional war in Mexico. This coöperation in friendly endeavors on behalf of Mexico has borne good fruit, and gives much promise of valuable Pan-American action in the future. The two preceding Republican administrations made repeatedly sincere attempts to improve the political and commercial relations between the United States and South American countries, but neither had anything like the success which has attended President. Wilson’s efforts. This success foretells the moral unity of all the American republics.

7. The Republican party and the dissolving Progressive party each tried to make a campaign issue for itself out of that indefinable project called ‘Preparedness.’ Each alleged that President Wilson and his administration and the Democratic Congress were opposed to putting the United States in a position to defend its territory and to take an adequate part, if necessary, in the settlement of the war in Europe. The orators of each party said that President Wilson’s assertion of American rights on the oceans, and his foreign policy in general, were weak, vacillating, and ineffectual, and that the Democratic Congress was not in favor of either an effective navy or an adequate army. This is a case in which the facts may be left to speak for themselves.

The first obvious fact is that President Wilson, without going to war with Germany, has forced from her a recognition of neutral rights; and he accomplished this result alone, without visible support from any other neutral state.

The second unquestionable fact is that the Democratic administration and Congress have made far the largest appropriations for the increase and improvement of the American navy that have ever been made, and have undertaken to provide heavy additional taxation in order that the present generation may pay a reasonable share of the great cost.

The third fact to be mentioned is not so simple as the two preceding, but is equally convincing. The Democratic administration proposed to Congress a considerable increase in the American regular army, the creation of a large federal force in support of that army, and a doubling of the number of cadets at West Point and of midshipmen at Annapolis. A considerable opposition to the second part of these proposals having developed both inside and outside of Congress, the administration and Congress adopted, on urgent representations from militia officers, a federalizing of the state militias in place of the creation of a secondary federal army, and enacted a law which provides for very much higher expenditures for military purposes than had ever before been enacted except during the Civil War. The administration and Congress thus made a sincere effort to make out of the state militias national troops competent for quick mobilization and prompt service in the field.

The wisdom of yielding to the views of the militia officers may well be questioned; but it was not to any partisan arguments that the administration yielded, but rather to a sense of the urgency of new military preparation. When more troops were suddenly needed on the Mexican border, the administration called on the state militias for national service before they were really federalized, and now (August 13) has in service there the militias of the few states that really possessed an organized and partially equipped militia. To be sure, these recent acts on the part of the administration have had negative results, so far as the development of an adequate military force for the United States is concerned. It turned out that only a minority of the states had any competent militia organizations; and that even in those states, the militia was on a peace footing, and contained many untrained officers, and many privates who on account of their age and occupations ought not. to be called upon for service at a distance from their homes.

From the point of view of those Americans who desire that their country should have always at command an army competent to resist any possible invasion, and so visibly formidable that it will prevent even the strongest military nation from attacking the United States, the present administration has done a great service to the country by demonstrating on the Mexican border that the federalization of the militia is not the right way to procure a competent national force.

Since acts speak much louder than words, those voters who wish to have the United States fully armed and equipped for modern war ought to support President Wilson in the coming election. He has gone further in this direction than any other American president, doubtless because the great war has opened his eyes to the risks which American ideals will encounter, if it ends with European militarism in the ascendant. In regard to the provision of adequate protective military and naval forces at whatever cost, President Wilson is far in advance of the average American voter, as he has repeatedly shown in public speech and responsible official acts. It is interesting in retrospect to compare what President Roosevelt accomplished with his Congresses, which contained many members of long service, in regard to the enlargement and improvement of the army and navy with what President Wilson has accomplished with his inexperienced Congress in three years and a half. President Roosevelt’s martial temperament and emphatic language brought little to pass. President Wilson, favored by extraordinary circumstances which he thoroughly understood, brought much to pass.

8. The Democratic administration and Congress have adopted a considerable number of measures which directly promote in wise ways American industries. The Department of Agriculture, in accordance with new enactments by Congress, has undertaken to improve rural organization and the marketing of crops, including the establishment of grain standards and cotton standards, improved methods of handling and packing, better market news-service, and the development of cooperation among producers both for production and marketing. These are all matters concerning which the national government has a legitimate function; because they cannot be successfully managed by either the states or the municipalities.

The present administration has made valuable beginnings in all these matters; but much still remains to be accomplished, especially in regard to national regulation of grading and warehousing, and federal inspection. It is for the interest of the country that the administration which started these valuable improvements should have time to develop them.

An important achievement of the Democratic Congress has been the passage of a good-roads law giving federal aid in the construction of roads, provided that the states invest dollar for dollar in their construction, and make satisfactory arrangements for their maintenance. Good roads not only facilitate the marketing of all sorts of products, but promote profitable and pleasant school-life in rural districts, and contribute to make comfortable and attractive the wholesome country life which produces a healthy and vigorous population.

The Coöperative Agricultural Extension Act which provided, in coöperation with the land-grant colleges, for the demonstration before actual farmers and their families of modern agricultural methods in regard to selecting seed, working the soil, and using fertilizers, and of modern household and dietary economics, is another excellent achievement of the present administration. No nation, not even the German, ever enacted a more directly productive educational measure.

Other interesting acts of the Democratic Congress in aid of American business are the Mercantile Marine Insurance Act, the Cotton Futures Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Land Mortgage Banking Act, and the Rural Credits Act. The first two of these acts have already proved their value, and the last three are well on their way to do so.

9. The attention paid by the present administration to such humanitarian action as the federal government may properly take has been unprecedented. It has promoted in many ways a just conservation of the nation’s material resources for the benefit of posterity, without unduly impeding their utilization by the present generation. It has secured the passage of the Child-Labor Act. It has accepted on proper terms several National Monuments for the recreation and delight of future generations; it has created a National Park Service; through the Department of the interior it has tried, for the first time, to tell the American people what treasuries of landscape beauty, health, and out-of-door delights they possess in the national parks and monuments; and it has tried to make service in the army or navy contribute to the subsequent industrial value of the enlisted young men on their leaving the service.

Any one who surveys the extraordinary series of legislative and executive acts accomplished by the Democratic party in three years and a half will realize two things: first, that President Wilson has proved himself a party leader of unusual power; and secondly, that the party thus led has done much more for the country than the Republican party accomplished in five times as many years.

President Wilson in these terrible times has had ample opportunity to make mistakes and to hurt the country and its cause. He has made mistakes; but has usually changed his mind and his course of conduct in season to prevent much mischief from those mistakes. He has not been uniformly true to his own convictions with regard to the merit system in the civil service; for he has allowed Senators and Representatives and some members of his Cabinet to apply the spoils system in the public service — probably under some invisible compulsion or supposed necessity. He disappointed most Americans when he did not protest against the invasion of Belgium; and some Americans now wish that the President would publicly abandon the neutral state of mind which he recommended to the American people at the outset of the war. But these are errors resulting from too great reticence and caution; and they have been far less injurious than those which would have resulted from impetuosity and impatience.

On the whole, the independent voters are likely to act next November on two simple, well-grounded convictions: first, that the Democratic party has done such an extraordinary amount of good work during the present administration that the period from 1912 to 1916 will be memorable in the history of the United States; and secondly, that the man chiefly responsible for this consummate service to the American people should be again made their chief servant.