November 15, 2010

Nevada's Online State News Journal




American History:


[E. L. Godkin, The Decline of Legislatures, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1897]




            THE Roman Senate was the prototype of all modern legislatures. It had two great functions, auctoritas and consilium. The former was practically what we call the " veto ; " that is, the Senate could forbid any legislation not originating with itself, whether proposed by the people in the comitia or by the magistrates. Nothing became a law without its sanction. The latter, consilium, was nearly what we call " advice and consent ; " that is, the Senate had to pass on all proposals submitted to it by the executive officers, and approve or amend, as the case might be. In considering the proposals of the people, it decided whether they were wise and Roman ; but it consulted with the magistrates concerning every important action or enterprise about to be undertaken. In all this it acted under two powerful restraints, partly like the theocracy in the early days of New England, partly like our constitutions to-day,— namely, the mos majorum and the auguries. It saw that everything was done in the Roman or ancient way, and that the unseen forces were likely to favor it.[1] Now, how did this system succeed ? On this point I cannot do better than quote the testimony of Mommsen : —

            " Nevertheless, if any revolution or any usurpation appears justified before the bar of history by exclusive ability to govern, even its rigorous judgment must acknowledge that this corporation duly comprehended and worthily fulfilled its great task. Called to power, not by the empty accident of birth, but substantially by the free choice of the nation ; confirmed every fifth year by the stern moral judgment of the worthiest men ; holding office for life, and so not dependent on the expiration of its commission or on the varying opinion of the people ; having its ranks close and united even after the equalization of its orders ; embracing in it all the political intelligence and practical statesmanship that the people possessed ; absolute in dealing with all financial questions and in the control of foreign policy ; having complete power over the executive by virtue of its brief duration and of the tribunitian


[1] Willems' Sénat et République Romaine, pp. 34, 35.

36        The Decline of Legislatures.

intercession which was at the service of the Senate after the termination of the quarrels between the orders, — the Roman Senate was the noblest organ of the nation, and in consistency and political sagacity, in unanimity and patriotism, in grasp of power and unwavering courage, the foremost political corporation of all times ; still even now an ' Assembly of Kings,' which knew well how to combine despotic energy with republican self-devotion. Never was a state represented in its external relations more firmly and worthily than Rome in its best days by its Senate."[1]

            As I have said, the Senate was the prototype of all modern legislatures ; but only two, since the fall of the Roman Empire, have at all resembled it, the Venetian Grand Council and the British Parliament. No others in the modern world have attempted to discharge so great a variety of duties, such as holding large extents of conquered territory and ruling great bodies of subject population, or carrying on foreign wars. Its chief distinction was that, as a rule, subjects for consideration, on which it had to take positive action, did not originate with it, but were brought before it by the executive officers engaged in the active conduct of the government. So that it may be called a consultative rather than a legislative body. How this came about and how it continued, it is not necessary to discuss here. The general result was that, through the whole course of Roman history, the administrative officers remained actually in charge of the government, subject to the advice and control of the legislature. The same system has prevailed in the British Parliament ever since it became a real power in the state. Its proceedings are controlled and regulated by the executive officers. They submit measures to it, and ask its advice and consent ; but if they cannot carry them, the matter drops and they resign, and others undertake the task. Practi-


[1] History of Rome, vol. i. pp. 410-412.

The Decline of Legislatures.                   37

cally, a private member cannot originate a bill, or get it discussed, or procure its passage, except with their consent. Indeed, as a legislator he is always in a certain sense an intruder. The function of the two Houses is essentially, not the drafting or proposing of laws, but seeing that no law is passed which is not expedient and " constitutional ; " " constitutional " being in the British sense what the Romans meant by being in accordance with the mos majorum and having the approval of the auguries. The British ministry, in fact, legislates as well as administers. Every bill is fathered by the man who is engaged in the active work of the department which it touches. If it relate to the finances, it is framed and introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer ; if it relate to shipping, by the President of the Board of Trade ; if to the army, by the Secretary of War, and so on. Any private member who should attempt to regulate these things would be frowned down and silenced. His business is to hear what the ministry proposes, and to pass judgment on it.

            Until the French Revolution there existed no real legislature in Europe except that of England. After the sixteenth century the Grand Council of Venice had sunk into insignificance. There was in France, when the Revolution broke out, hardly even a memory left of legislative or consulting bodies. Dumont tells of his going to Paris in 1789, when the country was busy trying to elect delegates to the States General, and stopping for breakfast at Montreuil - sur - Mer, where he found that three days had been wasted in confusion by the electors, because " they had never heard of such things as a president, a secretary, or voting tickets." He and his friend, almost by way of joke, drew up rules of procedure, for which the people were very grateful and under which they acted. On arriving in Paris, he found that the body of the nation there saw nothing more in the assembling of the States General

38        The Decline of Legislatures.  

" than a means of diminishing taxes," and " the creditors of the state, so often deprived of their dividends by a violation of public faith, considered the States General as nothing more than a rampart against a government bankruptcy." He attended some meetings of the reformers, which might be called caucuses, held in private houses. In one at Brissot's the subject under discussion was a constitution or charter for the city of Paris. A M. Palessit moved for a special article on " the right of representation," as " one of the most precious attributes of liberty." Dumont and the Genevans present thought of course he meant representation in the legislature ; what he did mean was the right of producing plays at the theatre without the interference of the censor.[1] In short, the idea of a legislating assembly, one might say, had perished from the European continent.' It was less familiar to the peoples of modern Europe than it had been to the ancients.

            The reason why the English have been able to preserve what is called the " cabinet system " in their proceedings —that is, the dominance of the executive officers in the deliberation of Parliament — is, I need hardly say, historical. Parliaments may be said to have originated as a check on the royal authority. In the House of Commons government was represented by the king. The ministry was emphatically his ministry ; the opposition was held together partly by fear and partly by dislike of him. It never reached the point of seeking to take the administration of the government out of his hands or out of those of his officers, except in the rebellion of 1640. Its highest ambition was to be consulted about what was going to be done, and to be allowed to ask questions about it and to vote the money for it. It never thought of taking on itself the function of administration. It confined itself to the exercise of a veto. The ministry never parted with its power of initiation, and it strengthened its position by what may be called the solidarity of the cabinet ; that is, the practice of treating each act of any particular minister as the act of the whole body, and standing or falling by it as such. The occasions have been rare, in English history, in which any one member has been surrendered to the dissatisfaction or reprobation of the opposition. When Puritan and Cavalier were succeeded by Whig and Tory, or Whig and Tory by Conservative and Liberal, the new order merely substituted one executive for another in the House of Commons, and did not create a new kind of executive. No matter what the relative strength of parties in the country might be, the dominant party appeared in the House of Commons simply as administrative officers, seeking and taking advice and approval from the representative body.

            Now, the value of the preservation of the consultative rather than the legislative function by the House of Commons, the auctoritas and consilium rather than the initiative, has been brought out more clearly than ever by the history of legislative bodies on the Continent since the revival of popular government in 1848, and by the history of legislatures in this country since the war. The English House of Commons, one may say, has grown up under the consultative system. No other system has ever been seen or thought of. Private members have learnt to sit and listen, to have their opinions asked for on certain proposals, and, if their advice is not taken, to seek their remedy in choosing other agents. They act on all proposals submitted by the ministry, in parties, not singly. The experience of three centuries has taught each member to be of the same mind, in every case, as those with whom he ordinarily agrees. When the House of Commons was taken as a model on the Continent, especially after 1848, what was set up was not really the English Parliament, but a set


[1] Recollections of Mirabeau, pp. 61-65.

The Decline of Legislatures.                   39  

of councils for discussion, in which every man had the right of initiative, or, at all events, the right to say his say without sharing with any one the responsibility for what he said. It was the Witenagemote, or the Landesgemeinde, or the town meeting, over again. The new governments all had ministries, after the English fashion, but no one in the legislature felt bound to approve, or felt bound to join others in disapproving, of their policy. In other words, the cabinet system did not take root in the political manners. In his Journals, during a visit to Turin in 1850, Senior records a conversation with Cesare Balbo, a member of the Chamber in the first Piedmontese Parliament, in which Balbo said, after an exciting financial debate : " We have not yet acquired parliamentary discipline. Most of the members are more anxious about their own crotchets or their own consistency than about the country. The ministry has a large nominal majority, but every member of it is ready to put them in a minority for any whim of his own."[1] This was probably true of every legislative body on the Continent, and it continues true to this day in Italy, Greece, France, Austria, Germany, and the new Australian democracies.

            Parliamentary discipline has not gained in strength. On the contrary, the tendency to give new men a taste of parliamentary life, which is very strong particularly in France and Italy, has stimulated the disposition to form " groups," or to act independently. A man who is likely to serve for only one term is unwilling to sink himself either in the ministerial majority or in the opposition. He wishes to make a reputation for himself, and this he cannot do by voting silently under a chief. A reputation has to be made by openly expressed criticism, or by open hostility, or by the individual exercise of the initiative. To make an impression on his constituents, he has to have a programme of his own and to push it, to identify himself with some cause which the men in power either ignore or treat too coolly. As a rule, the Continental legislatures, while modeled on the British or cabinet system, have really not copied its most important feature, the dominance of the executive in the legislative body. In Austria and Germany, where the king or emperor is still a power, this is not so apparent, but in France and Italy and in Australia, where the Parliament is well-nigh omnipotent, the result is incessant changes of ministry, and a great deal of legislation, intended not so much to benefit the country as to gather up and hold a majority.

            In America, we have never tried the cabinet system, partly because our legislatures were started before this system became fairly established in England, and partly because, in colonial times, the executive was never in thoroughly friendly relations with the legislative department of any colony. Americans entered on their national existence with the only sort of legislature that was then known, a council of equals, where one man had as much right to originate legislation as another, subject, of course, to the general policy of the party to which he belonged. The device with which we have striven to meet the confusion thus created is the formation of committees to examine and report upon every project of law submitted by individual members. Every legislature, including Congress, is now divided into these committees. With the executive it has no open or official relations, for purposes of discussion. No executive officer is entitled of right to address, or advise, or consult it. He is exposed to constant criticism, but he cannot explain or answer. His presence, even, in the legislative chambers is an intrusion. He can communicate in writing any information which the legislature demands, but this is the limit of his relations with it. The President and every governor of a State have the right


[1] Senior's Journals, vol. i. p. 323.

The Decline of Legislatures.                   39

to send what we call " messages " to the legislature, directing its attention to certain matters and recommending certain action, but it is very rare for these recommendations to have much effect. The messages are rhetorical performances, intended to give the public an idea of the capacity and opinions of the writers rather than to furnish a foundation for law-making.

            There is nothing more striking in our system than the perfunctoriness which has overtaken both these documents and the party platforms, and there can be no better illustration of the effect of the absence of the executive from the legislative chambers. If there were a ministry, or if there were members of a cabinet sitting in the chambers and charged with the initiation of legislation, they would naturally be charged also with the duty of carrying out the President's or the Governor's recommendations, and embodying the party platform in laws. But under the committee system nobody is burdened with this duty, and after the messages and platforms have been printed they do not often receive any further attention. Few can remember what a party platform contains, a month after its adoption, and it is very seldom that any legislative notice is taken of it, except by the opposition press, which occasionally uses it to twit the party in power with its inconsistency or negligence. In fact, legislation, both in Congress and in the state legislatures, may be said to have become government by committee. The individual member has hardly more to do with it than is the case in England. Yet this does not prevent his making attempts to legislate. He does not ask permission to introduce bills, but he introduces them by thousands every session. His right to legislate is recognized as good and valid, but the rules which regulate the course of his bill through the House make the right of little more value than that of the private member of the House of Commons. His bill, as soon as it is presented, passes into the custody of one of the committees. He is not allowed to say a word in its behalf, and he has no knowledge of what its fate will be. He is literally cut off from debate no less by the rules than by the Speaker's favor. This functionary, by simply refusing to see him, can condemn him to perpetual silence, and has no hesitation in exercising his power to advance or retard such business of the House as he approves or dislikes.

            It seems, at first sight, as if the private member were in much the same condition in America and in England. In neither country is legislation within his control. But there is this difference In England, the persons who take his bill out of his hands, or refuse him permission to introduce it, are themselves engaged in the work of legislation. They are responsible for the conduct of the government. They profess to be supplying all the legislation that is necessary. They simply deny the private member any participation in their work. In America, the committee which takes his bill from him and seals its fate is composed of his own equals. They have no more to do with the executive than he has. They are no more charged with legislation on any particular subject than he is. Their main function is to examine and "report," but whether they will ever report is a matter entirely within their discretion. They are not bound to substitute anything for what they reject or ignore. They have so much to pass upon that their duty of initiation is reduced to a minimum. Moreover, when they report favorably on any bill in their custody, or originate one of their own, they are not bound to allow full discussion of it in the open House. All needful discussion of it is supposed to have taken place in their chamber. If any one is allowed to say much about it in the House, it is rather as a matter of grace ; and unless he is an orator of re-

40        The Decline of Legislatures.

putation, but few listen to him. Consequently, there is in practice a wide difference between the control of legislation in the British Parliament and the control in our Congress. With us it is exercised by an entirely different class of persons. They are not accountable for the fate of any bill. If they choose not to report it, they are not bound to give their reasons. The function of the British ministry is to provide the necessary legislation, and as a rule the ministry is composed of men well known to the public and of more than usual experience. The function of the American committee, on the other hand, is simply to sift or impede the efforts of a large assembly, composed of persons of equal authority, to pass laws, with the execution of which, if they were passed, they would have nothing to do. As everybody has a right to introduce bills, without being in any way responsible for their working, there must be some power to examine, revise, choose, or reject, and this need is supplied by the committee system.[1]

            The great change in the position and powers of the Speaker in Congress and in all American legislatures has been due to the same causes as the institution of the committees. He has been changed from his prototype, the judicial officer who presides over debates in the House of Commons, into something like the European prime minister, so that he has charge of the legislation of his party. He appoints the various committees, and can in this way make himself feared or courted by members. By his power of " recognition" he can consign any member to obscurity.  He can encourage or hinder a committee in any species of legislation. He can check or promote extravagance. He makes no pretension to impartiality ; he professes simply to be as impartial as a man can be who has to look after the interests of his own party and see that its "policy" is carried out. In fact, he differs but little from the "leader" of the House of Commons, except that he has nothing to do with the execution of the laws after he has helped to make them. He may have to hand them over to a hostile Senate or to a hostile executive, after he has secured their passage in his own assembly, and the country does not hold him responsible for them. No matter how badly they may work, the blame is laid, not on him, but on " the House " or on the party. He has nothing personal to fear from their failure, however active he may have been in securing their enactment. But the steady acquiescence in his increased assumption of power in every session of Congress or of the legislatures is clearly an admission that modern democratic legislatures are unfit for the work of legislation. We attach importance to stronger and more imperative leadership than has been provided by any constitution.

            There are two committees which may be said to be charged with the work of legislation, and these are the Committee of Ways and Means and the Committee on Appropriations. But neither of them supplies what may be called a" budget ; " that is, a statement of necessary expenditure and of probable revenue. These calculations are made, it is true, in the various administrative offices, but the committees are not bound to take notice of them. The Committee of Ways and Means fixes the revenue, as a rule, mainly with regard to the state of public opinion touching the principal source of revenue, the taxes on imports. If the public is deemed to be at that moment favorable to protection, these taxes are put high ; if favorable to free trade, they are put low. The relation to the public outlay is not made the chief consideration. In other words, "taxation for revenue only " is not an art practiced by


[1] The working of this system and the actual functions of the Speaker are well described in Wilson's Congressional Government, and in Miss Follett's Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Decline of Legislatures.                   41

either party. Taxation is avowedly practiced as the art of encouraging domestic industry in some degree. The Committee on Appropriations has no relations with the Ways and Means Committee. It does not concern itself about income. It adds to the necessary expenditure of the government such further expenditure as is likely to be popular, as for river and harbor improvements and for pensions. In this way, neither committee is responsible for a deficit, for neither is bound to make ends meet.

            This absence of connection between the levying and the spending authorities would work speedy ruin in any European government. The danger or inconvenience of it here has been concealed by the very rapid growth of the country in wealth and population, and the resulting rapid increase of the revenue under all circumstances. It is not too much to say that the first serious deficiency of revenue was experienced on the outbreak of the civil war. After the war, there was no difficulty in meeting all reasonable expenses until the yearly recurring and increasing surplus bred the frame of mind about expenditure which led to enormous appropriations for pensions and domestic improvements. These have at last brought about, and for the first time in American history, a real difficulty in devising sources of revenue. At this writing the question under debate is what taxes will be most popular in the country, when it ought to be what taxes will bring in most income. This has been largely due to the appropriations for purposes not absolutely necessary, but the Committee of Ways and Means is compelled to treat them as if they were legitimate expenses. This separation between the power which lays taxes and the power which spends them is probably the boldest of our experiments, and one which has never before been tried. Its inconveniences are likely to be felt increasingly, as the habits bred by easy circumstances become more fixed.

            The tendency to lavish expenditure has been stimulated, too, by the temptation of the protective system to make a large revenue collected from duties on imports seem necessary. All governments are prone to make taxation serve some other purpose than to raise revenue ; that is, to foster or maintain some sort of polity. It was used for ages to promote inequality ; now it is frequently used to promote certain special interests. In England, the import duties on corn were meant to benefit the landed interest and foster large estates. In America, the duties on imports are meant to benefit native manufactures indirectly ; but by showing that they are also essential to the government, a great deal of the opposition to them as a benefit to the manufacturers is disarmed. In no way can the needs of the government be made so conspicuous as by keeping the treasury empty. Since protection for industry was, after the war, incorporated in the fiscal system of the government, therefore, it has begotten extravagance almost as an inevitable accompaniment. The less money there is on hand, the higher does it seem that duties ought to be ; and the way to keep little on hand is to spend freely.

            The difficulty of getting rid of the protective system, in any modern country, is to be found in part in the growth of democracy. To the natural man, protection for his products against competition is one of the primary duties of government. Every citizen or mechanic would fain keep the neighboring market to himself, if he could. The shoemaker wishes to make all the shoes of his village, the carpenter to do all the carpentering. In fact, protection is the economical creed which the " uninstructed political economist" always lays hold of first. Its benefits seem clearest, and its operation in his own interest is most visible and direct. This undoubtedly goes far to account for the failure of the free-trade theory to make more way in the world

42        The Decline of Legislatures.

since the days of its early apostles. The arguments by which it is supported are a little too abstract and complex for the popular mind. The consequence is that a distinct revival of protectionism has accompanied the spread of popular government both in Europe and Australia, and in this country. The use of the government to keep the market for his products, and the theory that the market is a privilege for the seller which he ought not to be expected to share with an alien, will long meet with ready acceptance from the workingman ; so that the protective system will probably pass away only under the influence, whether accidental or intentional, of a signal prosperity, — which is clearly not due to the system. Whatever be its industrial or economical merits or demerits, its effect politically, in stimulating expenditure in the United States, has been plain ; and as long as taxpayers respond so readily to pecuniary demands on them as they have always hitherto done, close calculation of outgoings and incomings will not be easy to bring about. At present, the " elasticity " of our revenue, owing to the rapid increase of our population and the magnitude of our undeveloped resources, is one of the great wonders of European financiers, and renders the education of financial experts difficult. Any source of taxation which even the most inexperienced of our economists reaches is apt to pour forth results so abundantly as to make the caution, the anxiety, and the nice adjustments on which the financial system of the Old World is based appear unnecessary or even ridiculous.

            But the most serious defect in the committee system, and the one that is hardest to remedy, is the stopper it puts on debate. The objection is often made, and with a show of reason, to the cabinet system, and its practice of deciding things only after open discussion, that it unduly stimulates mere talk, and postpones actual business for the purpose of allowing a large number of persons to state arguments which are found not to be worth listening to and which have no real influence on the results. This is true, in particular, of all countries in which, as on the Continent, an attempt has been made to govern assemblies without parliamentary discipline and without practice in acting by parties rather than singly or in groups. Various forms of " closure " have been invented in order to check this habit. It may be found in an extreme degree in our own Senate, which has no closure, and in which irrelevant speeches are inflicted by the hour, and even by the day, on unwilling listeners. But our demand on legislative bodies for " business" has carried us to the other extreme, which may be seen in the House of Representatives. There is nothing, after all, more important to the modern world than that the intelligence and character of the nation should find their way into the legislatures ; and for this purpose the legislatures should be made something more than scenes of obscurity, hard work, and small pay. The English House of Commons owed its attractiveness for two centuries, in spite of the non-payment of members, to the fact that it was " the pleasantest club in Europe." It was also a place in which any member, however humble his beginnings, had a chance to make fame as an orator. In recent days, legislatures in all the democratic countries have been made repulsive to men of mark by the pains taken " to get business done " and to keep down the flood of speech. Everybody who enters a legislature now for the first time, especially if he is a man of talent and character, is bitterly disappointed by finding that the rules take from him nearly every opportunity of distinction, and, in addition, condemn him to a great deal of obscure drudgery. It is only by the rarest chance that he finds an opening to speak, and his work on the committees never shows itself to the public. It

The Decline of Legislatures.                   43

consists largely in passing on the merits of the thousands of schemes concocted by inexperienced or ignorant men, and has really some resemblance to a college professor's reading of " themes." In fact, the committee room may be called the grave of honorable ambition. We find, accordingly, that only few men of real capacity, who have once gone to the legislature or to Congress, are willing to return for a second term, simply because they find the work disagreeable and the reward inadequate ; for it is one of the commonplaces of politics that, in every country, the number of able men who will serve the public without either pay or distinction is very small. Even the most patriotic must have one or the other ; and to set up legislatures, as all the democratic countries have done, in which no one can look for either, is an experiment fraught with danger. If I am not greatly mistaken, the natural result is beginning to show itself. There is not a country in the world, living under parliamentary government, which has not begun to complain of the decline in the quality of its legislators. More and more, it is said, the work of governments is falling into the hands of men to whom even small pay is important, and who are suspected of adding to their income by corruption. The withdrawal of the more intelligent class from legislative duties is more and more lamented, and the complaint is somewhat justified by the mass of crude, hasty, incoherent, and unnecessary laws which are poured on the world at every session. It is increasingly difficult to-day to get a man of serious knowledge on any subject to go to Congress, if he have other pursuits and other sources of income. To get him to go to the state legislature, in any of the populous and busy States, is well-nigh impossible. If he has tried the experiment once, and is unwilling to repeat it, and you ask him why, he will answer that the secret committee work was repulsive ; that the silence and the inability to accomplish anything, imposed on him by the rules, were disheartening ; and that the difficulty of communicating with his constituents, or with the nation at large, through the spoken and reported word, deprived him of all prospects of being rewarded by celebrity.

            It is into the vacancies thus left that the boss steps with full hands. He summons from every quarter needy young men, and helps them to get into places where they will be able to add to their pay by some sort of corruption, however disguised, — perhaps rarely direct bribery, but too often blackmail or a share in jobs ; to whom it is not necessary that the legislature should be an agreeable place, so long as it promises a livelihood. This system is already working actively in some States ; it is spreading to others, and is most perceptible in the great centres of affairs. It is an abuse, too, which in a measure creates what it feeds upon. The more legislatures are filled with bad characters, the less inducement there is for men of a superior order to enter them ; for it is true of every sort of public service, from the army up to the cabinet, that men are influenced as to entering it by the kind of company they will have to keep. The statesman will not associate with the boy, if he can help it, especially in a work in which conference and persuasion play a large part.

            If it be true that the character and competency of legislators are declining, the evil is rendered all the more serious by the fact that the general wealth has increased enormously within the present century. Down to the French Revolution, and we might almost say down to 1848, the western world, speaking broadly, was ruled by the landholding or rich class. Its wealth consisted mainly of land, and the owners of the land carried on the government. In commercial communities, like Genoa or Venice, or the Hanse Towns, the governing class was made up of merchants, but it was still the rich class. Within fifty years a great

44        The Decline of Legislatures.

change has occurred. The improvement in communication has brought all the land of the world into the great markets, and as a result the landowners have ceased to be the wealthy, and the democratic movement has taken the government away from them. From the hands of the wealthy, the power, as a rule, has passed or is passing into the hands of men to whom the salary of a legislator is an object of some consequence, and who are more careful to keep in touch with their constituents than to afford examples of scientific government, even if they were capable of it. Probably no greater revolution has taken place anywhere, during the past century, than this change in the governing class. It cannot be said, in the light of history, that the new men are giving communities worse government than they used to have, but government in their hands is not progressing in the same ratio as the other arts of civilization, while the complexity of the interests to be dealt with is steadily increasing. Science and literature are making, and have made, much more conspicuous advances than the management of common affairs. Less attention is given to experience than formerly, while the expectation of some new idea, in which the peculiarities of human nature will have much slighter play, is becoming deeper and more widespread.

            No effect of this passage of legislative work into less instructed hands is more curious than the great stimulus it has given to legislation itself. Legislators now, apparently, would fain have the field of legislation as wide as it was in the Middle Ages. The schemes for the regulation of life by law, which are daily submitted to the committees by aspiring reformers, are innumerable. One legislator in Kansas was seeking all last winter to procure the enactment of the Ten Commandments. In Nebraska, another has sought to legislate against the wearing of corsets by women. Constant efforts are made to limit the prices of things, to impose fresh duties on common carriers, to restrain the growth of wealth, to promote patriotic feeling by greater use of symbols, or in some manner to improve public morals by artificial restraints. There is no legislature in America which does not contain members anxious to right some kind of wrong, or afford some sort of aid to human character, by a bill. Sometimes the bill is introduced to oblige a constituent, in full confidence that it will never leave the committee room ; at others, to rectify some abuse or misconduct which happens to have come under the legislator's eye. Sometimes, again, the greater activity of one member drives into legislation another who had previously looked forward to a silent session. " The laurels of Miltiades will not let him sleep." Then it has to be borne in mind that, under the committee system, which has been faithfully copied from Congress in all the legislatures, the only way in which a member can make his constituents aware that he is trying to earn his salary is by introducing bills. It does not much matter that they are not finished pieces of legislation, or that there is but little chance of their passage. Their main object is to convince the district that its representative is awake and active, and has an eye to its interests. The practice of " log-rolling," too, has become a fixed feature in the procedure of nearly all the legislatures ; that is, of making one member's support of another member's bill conditional on his receiving the other member's support for his own. In the attempted revolt against the boss, during the recent senatorial election in New York, a good many members who avowed their sense of Platt's unfitness for the Senate acknowledged that they could not vote against him openly, because this would cause the defeat of local measures in which they were interested. This recalls the fact that many even of the best men go to the legislature for one or two terms, not so

The Decline of Legislatures.       45

much to serve the public as to secure the passage of bills in which they, or the voters of their district, have a special concern. Their anxiety about these makes their subserviency to the majority complete, on larger questions, however it is controlled. You vote for an obviously unfit man for Senator, for instance, because you cannot risk the success of a bill for putting up a building, or erecting a bridge, or opening a new street, in your own town. You must give and take. These men are reinforced by a large number by whom the service is rendered for simple livelihood. The spoils doctrine — that public office is a prize, or a " plum," rather than a public trust—has effected a considerable lodgment in legislation. Not all receive their places as the Massachusetts farmer received his membership in the legislature, a few years ago, because he had lost some cows by lightning, but a formidable number—young lawyers, farmers carrying heavy mortgages, men without regular occupation and temporarily out of a job — find service in the legislature, even for one term, an attractive mode of tiding over the winter.

            The mass of legislation or attempts at legislation due to this state of affairs is something startling. I have been unable to obtain records of the acts and resolutions of all the States for the same year. I am obliged to take those of Arkansas for the year 1893, four other States for 1894, ten for 1896, and the rest for 1895. But I have taken only one year for each State. The total of such acts and resolutions is 15,730, and this is for a population of 70,000,000. In addition, Congress in 1895-96 passed 457 acts and resolutions. But the amount of work turned out is really not very surprising, when we consider the number of the legislators. There are no less than 447 national legislators and 6578 state legislators, — in all 7025, exclusive of county, city, and all other local authorities capable of passing rules or ordinances. At this ratio of legislators to population, 4000 at least would be engaged on the laws of Great Britain, without any provision for India and the colonies, 3800 on those of France, about 5000 on those of Germany, and 3000 on those of Italy. It will be easily seen what a draft this is on the small amount of legislative capacity which every community contains. Nothing like it has ever been seen in the history of the world. There is no country which has yet shown itself capable of producing more than one small first-class legislative assembly. We undertake to keep going forty-five for the States alone, besides those for Territories. All these assemblies, too, have to do with interests of the highest order. As a general rule, in all governments the chief legislative body is entrusted with the highest functions. Its jurisdiction covers the weightiest interests of the people who live under it. The protection of life and property, the administration of civil and criminal justice, and the imposition of the taxes most severely felt are among its duties. All minor bodies exist as its subordinates or agents, and exercise only such powers as it is pleased to delegate to them. This brings to the superior assembly, as a matter of course, the leading men of the country, and by far the larger share of popular attention. In the formation of our federal Constitution, this division, based on relative importance to the community, was not possible. The States surrendered as little as they could. The federal government took what it could get, and only what seemed absolutely necessary to the creation of a nation. The consequence is that, though Congress appears to be the superior body, it is not really so. It is more conspicuous, and, if I may use the word, more picturesque, but it does not deal with a larger number of serious public interests. The States have reserved to themselves the things which most concern a man's comfort and security as a citizen. The protection of his property,

46        The Decline of Legislatures.

the administration of civil and criminal justice, the interpretation of contracts and wills, and the creation and regulation of municipalities are all within their jurisdiction. Most of the inhabitants pass their lives without once coming into contact with federal authority. As a result, an election to Congress is only seeming political promotion. It gives the candidate more dignity and importance, but he really has less to do with the everyday happiness of his fellow citizens than the state legislator. If he were deprived of the power of raising and lowering the duties on foreign imports and of bickering with foreign powers, his influence on the daily life of Americans would be comparatively small. When he goes to Washington, he finds himself in a larger and more splendid sphere, but charged with less of important governmental work. The grave political functions of the country are discharged in the state legislatures, but as a rule by inferior men. In so far as Congress makes a draft on the legislative capacity of the nation, it makes it at the expense of the local governments.

            For this anomaly it would be difficult to suggest a remedy. The division of powers between the Confederation and the States, though not a logical one, was probably the only possible one at the time it was made. The main work of government was left to the States, but by its conspicuousness the field at Washington was made more attractive to men of talent and energy in politics ; so that it may be said that we give an inordinate share of our parliamentary ability to affairs which concern us in only a minor degree. This, however, can hardly be considered as the result of a democratic tendency. The federal arrangement has really nothing to do with democracy. It was made as the only practicable mode of bringing several communities into peaceful relations, and enabling them to face the world as a nation, though it might as readily have been the work of aristocracies as of democracies ; but in so far as it has in any degree lowered the character of legislative bodies, democracy has been made and will be made to bear the blame.

            This opinion has been strengthened by the discredit which has overtaken two very prominent features of the federal arrangement, — the election of the President by the electoral college, and the election of Senators by the state legislatures. The fact is that the complete disuse of their electoral functions within forty years after the adoption of the Constitution was one of the most striking illustrations that history affords of the futility of political prophecy. Here is the judgment on this feature of their work by the framers of the Constitution, as set forth in The Federalist : —

            " As the select assemblies for choosing the President, as well as the state legislatures who appoint the Senators, will in general be composed of the most enlightened and respectable citizens, there is reason to presume that their attention and their votes will be directed to those men only who have become the most distinguished by their abilities and virtue, and in whom the people perceive just grounds for confidence. The Constitution manifests very particular attention to this object. By excluding men under thirty-five from the first office, and those under thirty from the second, it confines the electors to men of whom the people have had time to form a judgment, and with respect to whom they will not be liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle. If the observation be well founded, that wise kings will always be served by able ministers, it is fair to argue that as an assembly of select electors possess, in a greater degree than kings, the means of extensive and accurate information relative to men and characters, so will their appointments bear at least equal marks of dis-

The Decline of Legislatures.                   47                                                       

cretion and discernment. The inference is that President and Senators so chosen will always be of the number of those who best understand our national interests, whether considered in relation to the several States or to foreign nations, who are best able to promote those interests, and whose reputation for integrity inspires and merits confidence. With such men the power of making treaties may be safely lodged."[1]

            And here is the opinion of the earliest and most philosophic of our foreign observers, M. de Tocqueville : —

            " When you enter the House of Representatives at Washington, you are struck with the vulgar aspect of this great assembly. The eye looks often in vain for a celebrated man. Nearly all its members are obscure personages, whose names suggest nothing to the mind. They are for the most part village lawyers, dealers, or even men belonging to the lowest classes. In a country in which education is almost universal, it is said there are representatives of the people who cannot always write correctly. Two steps away opens the hall of the Senate, whose narrow area incloses a large part of the celebrities of America. One hardly sees there a single man who does not recall the idea of recent fame. They are eloquent advocates, or distinguished generals, or able magistrates, or well - known statesmen. Every word uttered in this great assembly would do honor to the greatest parliamentary debates in Europe.

            " Whence comes this strange contrast ? Why does the elite of the nation find itself in one of these halls more than in the other ? Why does the first assembly unite so many vulgar elements, while the second seems to have a monopoly of talents and intelligence ? Both emanate from the people and both are the product of universal suffrage, and no voice, until now, has been raised in the United States to say that the Senate was the enemy of popular interests. Whence comes, then, this enormous difference ? I see only one fact which explains it : the election which produces the House of Representatives is direct ; that which produces the Senate is submitted to two degrees. The whole of the citizens elect the legislature of each State, and the federal Constitution, transforming these legislatures in their turn into electoral bodies, draws from them the members of the Senate. The Senators, then, express, although indirectly, the result of the popular vote ; for the legislature, which names the Senators, is not an aristocratic or privileged body, which derives its electoral rights from itself ; it depends eventually on the whole of the citizens. It is, in general, elected by them every year, and they can always govern its decisions by electing new members. But the popular will has only to pass through this chosen assembly to shape itself in some sort, and issue from it in a nobler and finer form. The men thus elected represent, then, always exactly the majority of the nation which governs; but they represent only the more elevated ideas which circulate among them, the generous instincts which animate them, and not the small passions which often agitate them and the vices which disgrace them. It is easy to foresee a time when the American Republic will be forced to multiply the two degrees in their electoral system, on pain of wrecking themselves miserably on the shores of democracy. I do not hesitate to avow it. I see in the double electoral degree the only means of bringing political liberty within the reach of all classes of the people. Those who wish to make of it the exclusive weapon of a party, and those who fear it, seem to me to fall into the same error."[2]

            It is more than half a century since the electoral college, thus vaunted by its inventors, exerted any influence in the


[1] The Federalist, No. LXIII.              

[2] De la Démocratie en Amérique, t. ii. p. 53.

48        The Decline of Legislatures.

choice of the President. An attempt on the part of one of its members to use his own judgment in the matter would be treated as an act of the basest treachery. It has become a mere voting machine in the hands of the party. The office of " elector" has become an empty honor, accorded to such respectable members of the party as are unfit for, or do not desire, any more serious place. The candidates for the presidency are now chosen by a far larger body, which was never dreamed of by the makers of the Constitution, rarely bestows any thought on fitness as compared with popularity, and sits in the presence of an immense crowd which, though it does not actually take part in its proceedings, seeks to influence its decisions by every species of noise and interruption. In fact, all show of deliberation has been abandoned by it. Its action is settled beforehand by a small body of men sitting in a private room. The choice of the delegates is prescribed, and may be finally made under the influence of a secretly conducted intrigue, of a " deal," or of a wild outburst of enthusiasm known as a "stampede." A more thorough departure from the original idea of the electoral college could hardly be imagined than the modern nominating convention. It exemplifies again the unfitness of a large body of equals, without discipline or leadership, for any deliberative duty. As little as possible of the work of the convention is left to the convention itself. When the proceedings begin in the general assembly, each delegate, as a rule, knows what he is to do. When the members break away from this inner control, under a sudden impulse, as at Chicago in 1896, they are quite likely to nominate a completely unknown man like Bryan through admiration for something like his " cross of gold " metaphor, which throws no light whatever on his fitness for the office. The last two conventions illustrated strikingly the two dangers of these enormous assemblies. The one at Chicago nominated a man of whom the mass of the nation had never heard, and the other simply registered a decision which had been carefully prepared by politicians a year or two beforehand. In neither case was there anything which could be called deliberation.

            Much the same phenomena are to be witnessed in the case of the election of Senators by state legislatures. The machinery on which Tocqueville relied so confidently, the use of which he expected to see spread, has completely broken down. The legislators have not continued to be the kind of men he describes, and their choice is not governed by the motives he looked for. There is no longer such a thing as deliberation by the legislatures over the selection of the Senators. The candidate is selected by others, who do not sit in the legislature at all, and they supply the considerations which are to procure him his election. He is given the place either on account of his past electioneering services to the party, or on account of the largeness of his contributions to its funds. The part he will play in the Senate rarely receives any attention. The anticipations of the framers of the Constitution, as set forth in the passage from The Federalist which I have quoted, have been in no way fulfilled. The members of the legislature, as a general rule, when acting as an electoral college, are very different from those whom the fathers of the republic looked for. In fact, the break-down of their system is widespread, and appears to have exerted such a deteriorating influence on the character of the Senate that we are witnessing the beginnings of an agitation for the election of Senators by the popular vote. Yet it is plain to be seen that no change whatever in the quality of the candidates can be expected from this as long as our nominating system remains what it is. The same persons who now prescribe to the legislature whom to elect would then prescribe to

The Decline of Legislatures.                   49

the party whom to elect, and their orders would be only occasionally disobeyed by means of a popular " rising," when the candidate's unfitness became more than usually conspicuous.


            Why the founders and Tocqueville were mistaken about the double election as a check is easily explained. The founders knew little or nothing about democracy except what they got from Greek and Roman history ; Tocqueville saw it at work only before the English traditions had lost their force. Democracy really means a profound belief in the wisdom as well as the power of the majority, not on certain occasions, but at whatever time it is consulted. All through American history this idea has had to struggle for assertion with the inherited political habits of the Anglo-Saxon race, which made certain things " English " or " American " just as to the Romans certain things were " Roman," for no reason that could be easily stated except that they were practices or beliefs of long standing. In England these habits have always composed what is called "the British Constitution," and in America they have made certain rights seem immemorial or inalienable, such as the right to a speedy trial by jury, the right to compensation for property taken for public use, the right to the decision of all matters in controversy by a court. This vague and ill-defined creed existed before any constitution, and had to be embodied in every constitution. The nearest approach to a name for it, in both countries, is the "common law," or customs of the race, of which, however, since it formed organized civilized societies, the courts of justice have always been the fountains or exponents. We have had to ask the judges in any given case what the " common law " is, there being no written statement of it. It was consequently a comparatively easy matter, in America, to get all questions in any way affecting the life, liberty, or property of individuals put into a, fundamental law, to be interpreted by the courts. Against this notion of the fitness of things, democracy, or the wisdom of the majority, has beaten its head in vain. That it should be hindered or delayed in carrying out its will by a written instrument, expounded and applied by judges, has, therefore, always seemed natural.

            In all the countries of Continental Europe, at the beginning of this century, it would have appeared a scandal or an anomaly that everybody should be liable to be called into court, no matter what office he held, on the plaint of a private man. With us the thing has always been a simple and inherent part of our system. But in the matter of appointment to office, which could have no effect upon or relation to private rights, pure democracy has never shown any disposition to be checked or gainsaid. It has never shown any inclination to treat public officers, from kings down, as other than its servants or the agents of its will. It revolted very early against Burke's definition of its representatives, as statesmen set to exercise their best judgment in watching over the people's interests. The democratic theory of the representative has always been that he is a delegate sent to vote, not for what he thinks best, but for what his constituents think best, even if it controverts his own opinion. The opposition to this view has been both feeble and inconstant ever since the early years of the century. The " delegate " theory has been gaining ground in England, and in America has almost completely succeeded in asserting its sway, so that we have seen many cases recently in which members of Congress have openly declared their dissent from the measures for which they voted in obedience to their constituents.

            It was this determination not to be checked in the selection of officers, but to

50        The Decline of Legislatures.

make the people's will act directly on all nominations, which led to the early repudiation of the electoral college. That college was the device of those who doubted the wisdom and knowledge of the majority. But the majority was determined that in no matter within its jurisdiction should its wisdom and knowledge be questioned. It refused to admit that if it was competent to choose electors and members of Congress, it was not competent to choose the President. It accordingly set the electoral college ruthlessly aside at a very early period in the history of the republic. Tocqueville's idea that, in recognition of its own weakness and incompetence, it would spread the system of committing the appointing power to small select bodies of its own people, shows how far he was from comprehending the new force which had come into the world, and which he was endeavoring to analyze through observation of its working in American institutions.

            It may seem at first sight as if this explanation does not apply to the failures of the legislatures to act upon their own judgment in the election of Senators. But the election of Senators has run exactly the same course as the nomination of Presidents ; the choice has been taken out of the hands of the legislatures by the political party, and in each political party the people are represented by its managers, or "the machine," as it is called. They insist on nominating, or, if in a majority, on electing the Senators, just as they insist on nominating, or, if in a majority, on electing the President. Nearly every legislator is elected now with a view to the subsequent election of the Senators whenever there is a vacancy. His choice is settled for him beforehand. The casting of his vote is a mere formality, like the vote of the presidential electors. The man he selects for the place is the man already selected by the party. With this man's goodness or badness, fitness or unfitness, he does not consider that he has anything to do. Nothing can less resemble the legislature which filled the imagination of the framers of the Constitution than a legislature of our time assembled in joint convention to elect a Senator. It has hardly one of the characteristics which the writers of The Federalist ascribed to their ideal ; it is little affected by any of the considerations which these gentlemen supposed would be predominant with it. This has already led to the beginnings of an agitation for the direct election of Senators by the people ; but such election, as I have tried to show, would really, as long as our present system of nomination continues, have very little or no effect on the situation. The result of their election by the people would be in no respect different from the result of their present election by the legislature, except in the omission of the legislative formality. They would still be designated by the party managers, and the choice of the party managers would be set aside by the public only on rare occasions.

            Any change, to be effective, must be a change in the mode of nomination. All attempts to limit or control the direct choice of the people, such as the use of the lot or of election by several degrees, as in Venice, must fail, and all machinery created for the purpose will probably pass away by evasion, if not by legislation. The difficulties of constitutional amendment are so great that it will be long before any legal change is made in the mode of electing Senators. It is not unsafe to assume that if any change be made in the mode of nomination, one of its first uses will be the practical imposition on all legislatures of the duty of electing to the Senate persons already designated by the voters at the polls. It must not be forgotten that democracy has everywhere only recently begun to rule, and that it is reveling in the enjoyment of the power which has now first come into its hands, and which it most envied kings and emperors through long

The Decline of Legislatures.                   51

ages, — the power, that is, of appointing to high offices. It is this novelty more than aught else which fills all democratic lands with a rage for place, and makes the masses resent any attempt to interfere with their freedom of choice. The pleasure of seeing every place accessible to any sort of man is one which will decline but slowly, and will not be exhausted completely without some long experience of its disastrous effects ; so that we can hardly expect any very sudden change.

            As regards the state legislators themselves, it is well to remember that all political prophets require nearly as much time as the Lyell school of geologists. It is difficult enough to foresee what change will come about, but it is still more difficult to foretell how soon it will come about. No writer on politics should forget that it took five hundred years for Rome to fall, and fully a thousand years to educe modern Europe from the mediaeval chaos. That the present legislative system of democracy will not last long there are abundant signs, but in what way it will be got rid of, or what will take its place, or how soon democratic communities will utterly tire of it, he would be a very rash speculator who would venture to say confidently. The most any one can do is to point out the tendencies which are likely to have most force, and to which the public seems to turn most hopefully.

            At present, as far as one can see, the democratic world is filled with distrust and dislike of its parliaments, and submits to them only under the pressure of stern necessity. The alternative appears to be a dictatorship, but probably the world will not see another dictator chosen for centuries, if ever. Democracies do not admit that this is an alternative, nor do they admit that legislatures, such as we see them, are the last thing they have to try. They seem to be getting tired of the representative system. In no country is it receiving the praises it received forty years ago. There are signs of a strong disposition, which the Swiss have done much to stimulate, to try the referendum " more frequently, on a larger scale, as a mode of enacting laws. One of the faults most commonly found in the legislatures, as I have already said, is the fault of doing too much. I do not think I exaggerate in saying that all the busier States in America, in which most capital is concentrated and most industry carried on, witness every meeting of the state legislature with anxiety and alarm. I have never heard such a meeting wished for or called for by a serious man outside the political class. It creates undisguised fear of some sort of interference with industry, some sort of legislation for the benefit of one class, or the trial of some hazardous experiment in judicial or administrative procedure, or in public education or taxation. There is no legislature to-day which is controlled by scientific methods, or by the opinion of experts in jurisprudence or political economy. Measures devised by such men are apt to be passed with exceeding difficulty, while the law is rendered more and more uncertain by the enormous number of acts passed on all sorts of subjects.

            Nearly every State has taken a step towards meeting this danger by confining the meeting of its legislature to every second year. It has said, in other words, that it must have less legislation. In no case that I have heard of has the opposition to this change come from any class except the one that is engaged in the working of political machinery ; that is, in the nomination or election of candidates and the filling of places. The rest of the community, as a rule, hails it with delight. People are beginning to ask themselves why legislatures should meet even every second year ; why once in five years would not be enough. An examination of any state statute - book discloses the fact that necessary legislation is a rare thing ; that the communi-

52        The Decline of Legislatures.  

ties in our day seldom need a new law ; and that most laws are passed without due consideration, and before the need of them has been made known either by popular agitation or by the demand of experts. It would not be an exaggeration to say that nine tenths of our modern state legislation will do no good, and that at least one tenth of it will do positive harm. If half the stories told about state legislatures be true, a very large proportion of the members meet, not with plans for the public good, but with plans either for the promotion of their personal interests or for procuring money for party uses or places for party agents.

            The collection of such a body of men, not engaged in serious business, in the state capital is not to be judged simply by the bills they introduce or get passed. We have also to consider the immense opportunities for planning and scheming which the meetings offer to political jobbers and adventurers ; and the effect, on such among them as still retain their political virtue, of daily contact with men who are there simply for illicit purposes, and with the swarm who live by lobbying and get together every winter to trade in legislative votes. If I said, for instance, that the legislature at Albany is a school of vice, a fountain of political debauchery, and that few of the younger men come back from it without having learned to mock at political purity and public spirit, I should seem to be using unduly strong language, and yet I could fill nearly a volume with illustrations in support of it. The temptation to use their great power for the extortion of money from rich men and rich corporations, to which the legislatures in the richer and more prosperous Northern States are exposed, is immense ; and the legislatures are mainly composed of very poor men, with no reputation to maintain or political future to look after. The result is that the country is filled with stories of scandals after every adjournment, and the press teems with abuse, which legislators have learned to treat with silent contempt or ridicule, so that there is no longer any restraint upon them. Their reëlection is not in the hands of the public, but in those of the party managers, who, as is shown in the Payn case in New York, find that they can completely disregard popular judgments on the character or history of candidates.

            Side by side with the annual or biennial legislature we have another kind of legislature, the " Constitutional Convention," which retains everybody's respect, and whose work, generally marked by care and forethought, compares creditably with the legislation of any similar body in the world. Through the hundred years of national existence it has received little but favorable criticism from any quarter. It is still an honor to have a seat in it. The best men in the community are still eager or willing to serve in it, no matter at what cost to health or private affairs. I cannot recall one convention which has incurred either odium or contempt. Time and social changes have often frustrated its expectations, or have shown its provisions for the public welfare to be inadequate or mistaken, but it is very rare indeed to hear its wisdom and integrity questioned. In looking over the list of those who have figured in the conventions of the State of New York since the Revolution, one finds the name of nearly every man of weight and prominence ; and few lay it down without thinking how happy we should be if we could secure such service for our ordinary legislative bodies.

            Now what makes the difference ? Three things, mainly. First, the Constitutional Convention, as a rule, meets only once in about twenty years. Men, therefore, who would not think of serving in an annual legislature, are ready on these rare occasions to sacrifice their personal convenience to the public interest. Secondly, every one knows that

The Decline of Legislatures.                   53

the labors of the body, if adopted, will continue in operation without change for the best part of one's lifetime. Thirdly, its conclusions will be subjected to the strictest scrutiny by the public, and will not be put in force without adoption by a popular vote. All this makes an American state constitution, as a rule, a work of the highest statesmanship, which reflects credit on the country, tends powerfully to promote the general happiness and prosperity, and is quoted or copied in foreign countries in the construction of organic laws. The Constitutional Convention is as conspicuous an example of successful government as the state legislatures are of failure. If we can learn anything from the history of these bodies, therefore, it is that if the meetings of the legislature were much rarer, say once in five or ten years, we should secure a higher order of talent and character for its membership and more careful deliberation for its measures, and should greatly reduce the number of the latter. But we can go further, and say that inasmuch as all important matter devised by the convention is submitted to the people with eminent success, there is no reason why all grave measures of ordinary legislation should not be submitted also. In other words, the referendum is not confined to Switzerland.[1] We have it among us already. All, or nearly all our state constitutions are the product of a referendum. The number of important measures with which the legislature feels chary about dealing, which are brought before the people by its direction, increases every year. Upon the question of the location of the state capital and of some state institutions, of the expenditure of public money, of the establishment of banks, of the maintenance or sale of canals, of leasing public lands, of taxation beyond a certain amount, of the prohibition of the liquor traffic, of the extension of the suffrage, and upon several other subjects, a popular vote is often taken in various States.

            In short, there is no discussion of the question of legislatures in which either great restriction in the number or length of their sessions, or the remission of a greatly increased number of subjects to treatment by the popular vote, does not appear as a favorite remedy for their abuses and shortcomings. If we may judge by these signs, the representative system, after a century of existence, under a very extended suffrage, has failed to satisfy the expectations of its earlier promoters, and is likely to make way in its turn for the more direct action of the people on the most important questions of government, and a much-diminished demand for all legislation whatever. This, at all events, is the only remedy now in sight, which is much talked about or is considered worthy of serious attention.


[1] Oberholtzer's Referendum in America, p. 15.

E. L. Godkin.