Page images

The selec

tion of the President

has gone to an irresponsible assembly.

Benton's remedy for

the evils of convention methods.


This is the mode of making Presidents, practised by both parties It is the virtual election! and thus the election of the President and Vice-President of the United States has passed-not only from the college of electors to which the constitution confided it, and from the people to whom the practice under the constitution gave it, and from the House of Representatives which the constitution provided as ultimate arbiter but has gone to an anomalous irresponsible body, unknown to law or constitution, unknown to the early ages of our government, and of which a large proportion of the members composing it, and a much larger proportion of interlopers attending it, have no other view either in attending or in promoting the nomination of any particular man, than to get one elected who will enable them to eat out of the public crib -who will give them a key to the public crib.

The evil is destructive to the rights and sovereignty of the people, and to the purity of elections. The remedy is in the application of the democratic principle - the people to vote direct for President and Vice-President; and a second election to be held immediately between the two highest, if no one has a majority of the whole number on the first trial. But this would require an amendment of the constitution, not to be effected but by a concurrence of two-thirds of each house of Congress, and the sanction of threefourths of the States a consummation to which the strength of the people has not yet been equal, but of which there is no reason to despair. The great parliamentary reform in Great Britain was only carried after forty years of continued, annual, persevering exertion. Our constitutional reform, in this point of the presidential election, may require but a few years; in the meanwhile I am for the people to select, as well as elect, their candidates, and for a reference to the House to choose one out of three presented by the people, instead of a caucus nomination of whom it pleased. The House of Representatives is no longer the small and dangerous electoral college that it once was. Instead of thirteen States we now have thirty-one; instead of sixty-five representatives, we have now about two hundred. Responsibility in the House is now

well-established and political ruin, and personal humiliation, attend the violation of the will of the State. No man could be elected now, or endeavor to be elected (after the experience of 1800 and 1824) who is not at the head of the list, and a choice of the majority of the Union. The lesson of those times would deter imitation and the democratic principle would again crush all that were instrumental in thwarting the public will. There is no longer the former danger from the House of Representatives, nor anything in it to justify a previous resort to such assemblages as our national conventions have got to be. The House is legal and responsible, which the convention is not, with a better chance for integrity, as having been actually elected by the people; and more restrained by position, by public opinion, and a clause in the constitution, from the acceptance of office from the man they elect.

51. Lincoln's Defense of the Convention as a State Party Institution

The state convention, which began to supersede the legislative caucus during the Jackson contests, especially in the East, was for a time regarded with dislike by many political leaders in the South and West, but at last they were brought to employ it for reasons that are nowhere more cogently set forth than in a paper drafted by Lincoln in 1843 in defense of the adoption of the system by the Whigs of Illinois.


must be


The sixth resolution recommends the adoption of the convention The consystem for the nomination of candidates. This we believe to be of the very first importance. Whether the system is right in itself adopted in we do not stop to inquire; contenting ourselves with trying to show that while our opponents use it, it is madness in us not to defend ourselves with it. Experience has shown that we cannot successfully defend ourselves without it. For example, look at the elections of last year. Our candidate for governor, with the approbation of a large portion of the party, took the field without a nomination, and in open opposition to the system. Wherever in the counties the Whigs had held conventions and nominated

A house divided against

itself cannot stand.

candidates for the legislature, the aspirants who were not nominated were induced to rebel against the nominations, and to become candidates, as is said, "on their own hook." And, go where you would into a large Whig county, you were sure to find the Whigs not contending shoulder to shoulder against the common enemy, but divided into factions, and fighting furiously with one another. The election came, and what was the result? The governor beaten the Whig vote being decreased many thousands since 1840, although the Democratic vote had not increased any. Beaten almost everywhere for members of the legislature, - Tazewell with her four hundred Whig majority, sending a delegation half Democratic; Vermillion with her five hundred, doing the same; Coles, with her four hundred, sending two out of three; and Morgan, with her two hundred and fifty, sending three out of four, and, this to say nothing of the numerous less glaring examples; the whole winding up with the aggregate number of twenty-seven Democratic representatives sent from Whig counties. As to the senators, too, the result was of the same character. And it is most worthy to be remembered that of all the Whigs in the State who ran against the regular nominees, a single one only was elected. Although they succeeded in defeating the nominees almost by scores, they too were defeated, and the spoils chuckingly borne off by the common enemy.

We do not mention the fact of many of the Whigs opposing the convention system heretofore for the purpose of censuring them. Far from it. We expressly protest against such a conclusion. We know they were generally, perhaps universally, as good and true Whigs as we ourselves claim to be. We mention it merely to draw attention to the disastrous result it produced, as an example forever hereafter to be avoided. That "union is strength" is a truth that has been shown, illustrated, and declared in various ways and forms in all the ages of the world. That great fabulist and philosopher, Æsop, illustrated it by his fable of the bundle of sticks; and he whose wisdom surpasses that of all philosophers has declared that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

It is to induce our friends to act upon this important and universally acknowledged truth that we urge the adoption of the convention system. Reflection will prove that there is no other way of practically applying it. In its application we know there will be incidents temporarily painful; but, after all, those incidents will be fewer and less intense than without the system. If two friends aspire to the same office it is certain that both cannot succeed. Would it not, then, be much less painful to have the question decided by mutual friends some time before, than to snarl and quarrel until the day of election, and then both be beaten by the common enemy?

Before leaving this subject, we think proper to remark that we do not understand the resolution as intended to recommend the application of the convention system to the nomination of candidates for the small offices no way connected with politics; though we must say we do not perceive that such an application of it would be wrong.

52. The Municipal Boss


The maintenance of party organization and the conduct of How the vigorous campaigns necessitate leadership, and leadership implies boss has concentration of power and discipline in the ranks. In every great municipality, where there are numerous offices to fill and important franchises and privileges to be granted, the struggle for the possession and retention of political power is intense, and out of the conflict has evolved the city boss, the plenitude of whose power is thus described by Mr. Bourke Cockran in a speech delivered in New York City in 1898 in defense of an independent judiciary:


and legislative power

trated in the

Now much has been said about bosses and bossism. But it must be remembered that we are not assembled here to contest the existence of a boss-ship, but rather to prevent the extension concenof its powers over the judiciary. All the powers of this municipality, executive and legislative, are centred in the hands of the individual who rules the destinies of the local Democracy, in the hands of the boss, and there it will remain whatever may be




and the

real govern


The sources of the boss's power.

the outcome of this canvass. But the reserved rights of the citizen - his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are still his property and will remain his property just so long as there are independent judges to defend them, and no longer. It is, therefore, said that the elementary rights of citizenship, the right of the citizen to enjoy his individual privileges by virtue of the constitution under which he lives, or the necessity of his seeking them from the favor of the boss, exercised and dispensed through his dependents on the bench, all depend on the outcome of this election.

What is this government of ours? Where can we find a parallel to it? Nowhere in the history of other nations or other races. A nominal government is installed in the City Hall; the actual government is administered in the Democratic club. Officers are sworn and appointed to discharge certain functions and to a certain extent they do discharge them; but outside of the mere routine duties of their departments every exercise of discretionary power is controlled and prescribed by the private individual who is not under the necessity of even recording his decrees or acknowledging them.

Ten thousand men are in the employment of the City Government, whose appointments, in contemplation of the law, are supposed to spring from various departments, and they themselves are supposed to be responsible for these departments, but each one holds his office through the favor, or at least the forbearance of the boss, whose decrees, though unregistered, are more powerful than the law, yet whose existence is not recognised by the law, whose nod can make a fortune or unmake a career. Every financial interest in this great city courts his favor and dreads his hostility. If to-day he was to declare he needed a million dollars for political purposes, before next Friday two million dollars would be furnished. If anybody refused to give him the position to which he thought he was entitled, that person might find an engine house erected in his back yard. It is only necessary for an individual to fall under his displeasure to have 10,000 sets of wits planning to

« PreviousContinue »