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Should our SysTEM OF GOVERNMENT BE TESTED BY THE QUALITY
OF OUR STATESMEN? – LIMITED AND UNLIMITED DEMOCRACIES. — TENDENCY OF GREAT BRITAIN TO UNLIMITED DEMOCRACY.
MR. BRYCE, in the “ American Commonwealth," says that " in the free countries in Europe the men who take the lead in public affairs may be deemed fair specimens of its best talent and character, and fair types, possibly, of the virtues of the nation." But he finds that such is not the case in America, and he regards the fact as unfortunate. He devotes a chapter to ** Types of American Statesmen” of the present generation, and he finds only two: one the shrewd, cool, hard-headed man of business, usually a lawyer or a man in commerce, lacking imagination, breadth of view, but with a tight grip of facts, a keen insight into men, and the tact to deal with them; a ready and effective but not a polished speaker, able for the kind of work which needs the combination of a sound business head and the power of working with others.
The other type is the man who has the gifts of popular oratory, can move the masses, rule party committees, carry conventions, and is a master of intrigue. He may also have the higher attributes of statesmanship, but his methods of action are unfavorable to their development. Mr. Bryce contrasts these types unfavorably with the higher types of European statesmen, and regrets that democracy, which, as he says, so much needs great men to lead and inspire the people, should be so constituted as not to attract or develop them. With characteristic mitigation of his harsher judgments, he adds, that among the statesmen of the first of the American types which he describes, “ there are always ability and integrity sufficient for carrying on the regular business of the country." He devotes a chapter to the question, “ Why the best men do not go into politics” in America, or, as he elsewhere expresses
LIMITATIONS OF AMERICAN POLITICS.
it, “ Why the best men do not come to the top.” He assigns the following reasons : The want of a social and commercial capital. The great distances between the capital and the homes of the representatives.
No class as in England to whom political life comes naturally with a sort of hereditary right.
The representative is chosen in the district of his residence, and if he cannot be elected there, no other district is open to him. Short tenure of office, and the practice of rotation.
Politics is less interesting than in Europe because legislative authority is divided between the nation and state, and American isolation excludes so many questions of foreign policy.
Religion is outside of politics.
The attractive fields open to men of ability in great business undertakings.
The disreputable methods of partisan politics, and the practice of selecting candidates because of their availability instead of their ability.
The reasons adduced by Mr. Bryce are forcible, and in part explain the difference between the American statesmen, taken as a class, and the statesmen of the free countries of Europe. He also adds that questions of domestic constitutional change are happily absent. This is an important consideration. Of more importance is the fact that our written Constitution places such limitations upon our public officers, and especially our representatives in Congress, as confine them to a narrow and well defined sphere. This fact tends to restrict the development of great statesmen, and perhaps also tends to repel some men of the first ability from political life.
Mr. Bryce's statement that those who in the free countries of Europe take the lead in public affairs are of the best talent is no doubt true, if we confine our examination to those who are attracted to political careers. The thoroughly able and educated men to whom political careers offer no attractions, or oppose too many obstacles, are probably as numerous there as here. The men who succeed in a political career there are
no doubt more thoroughly trained for it than with us ; they make it a life work, and because of their equal ability with our statesmen, their better preliminary training, and their coustant service, become accomplished to a degree rarely attained here.
Besides, the need of such men is far greater there than here. In Great Britain, especially, her unwritten constitution, despite everything said in its favor, is a constant menace. Parliament governs, and is unchecked by constitutional restraint. It is a constitutional convention always in existence, and without any of the restraints which limit such a convention in the United States. Here a constitutional convention can only propose constitutional changes; it cannot make them. But in Parliament the constitution may be changed at any time. Hence the pressing need that the ablest and wisest men in the kingdom should supply the restraints which the Constitution omits. Not so in the United States. All our representatives in Congress have to do is to operate and provide for the organism as it exists, and within the prescribed systems and limitations. The men who made our Constitution are still wielding an influence possibly greater than that of all our senators and representatives in Congress. This fact may deprive us of living heroes as the objects of our worship, but with the example of France before us, it may well be doubted whether hero worship is not a real danger, and an obstacle to the successful government of the people by the people. It certainly is when the people worship heroes who abuse their power. While it would be gratifying to our national pride, as we exhibit ourselves to the world, to be represented by our ablest men, it is a matter for profound congratulation that it is by no means necessary.
Honest men of good abilities can administer our government. Under the guide and limitations of the Constitution, the present needs and methods must be much like those of the past; the changes required by development and growth are in degree and not in kind.
The like remarks may be applied to state and municipal governments. Those who draw the constitution of a state or charter of a city are the real governors. They prescribe the
SECURITY BY SYSTEM.
plan and impose the conditions of subsequent operations. They are the architects, the men now in office are the work
It seems to be a waste of ability to reduce the architect to the workman's employment. It may sometimes happen that we suffer because the materials committed to the workman's hands become the spoil of his cupidity or are injured through his incompetency. But ordinary prudence will secure trustworthy and competent workmen.
Mr. Bryce assumes as axiomatic that the excellence of a system of democratic government may be tested by the excellence of the statesmen it produces. The test is obviously not applicable to the United States.
We may admit the superiority of the British statesmen without weakening our claim to the superior system. Our system, it is respectfully submitted, depends as little as possible upon the ability and fidelity of our statesmen, and can hardly be menaced by their strife, ambition, or combination. Our Constitution gives to the people the written title to good government, and gives to them the custody of the title, while the people of Great Britain hold their title upon the honor, fidelity, and ability of their governors in Parliament.
The differences between the average types of American and European statesmen, which Mr. Bryce exhibits as defects indicating defects in our system, may, after all, be real advantages. Because of our constitutional limitations, because the sphere of political life and of statesmanship is narrow and of well-trodden routine, the field of politics opens to a much larger, and it may be admitted, to a much inferior class of persons than in Europe. The conditions here are such that respectable success may be achieved with much less of preliminary training, if only native ability be present. The result is a much more widely diffused interest in public affairs, a much keener individual sense of identity with the nation and state, a much greater prevalence of ambition to participate in official life, and an ever present stimulus to young men of capacity to deserve well of their fellow-men. However low may be the condition of the parents, they are not without hope that their children will attain to a better state than their own. If every mother sometimes thinks that
her boy may yet become President, her thought does not merit a sneer; it is a part of the sentiment that helps to make the country great, happy, and hopeful.
To the extent that our system extends an equal right to all to strive to attain its honors and participate in its administration, to that extent does it contribute to extend the greatest possible happiness to the greatest possible number. Our experience attests the fact that the Constitution supplies in a requisite degree of safety the proper safeguards against overweening ambition and individual lack of preliminary training. In other words, our public officers are supplied with a chart of duty already well prepared. It may be said that no Constitution can supply a people with wisdom, or be a substitute for it. The remark has no relevancy to the American people, for they do understand their Constitution, they absorb its wisdom, and what is more, respect and confide in it. Its governmental precepts and methods are part and parcel of their existence. What therefore we may lose in the greatness and brilliancy of our statesmen, we hope we gain in the elevation and happiness of the masses of the people.
Democracy is reproached by philosophers for its jealousy of great men. An unlimited democracy bas reason to fear their ambition ; a democracy limited by a written constitution has little reason to fear them, and therefore little reason to be jealous of them. Great statesmen are the product of the great crises which develop and prove their greatness. Great statesmen sometimes cause great crises. The fewer such schools and tests the better. The American people are proud of their great statesmen, but they have abundant reason to be proud of their system which renders them so little dependent upon great statesmen, and reasonably safe from the dangers of great crises which great statesmen may bring about, if there is no constitution to check their ambition.
Mr. Bryce suggests that the good results we have obtained under our system of government are largely due to circumstances which are no part of the system itself, but independent of it, -- such as our ancestry, habits of order, patience, hopefulness, love of justice, sobriety, enterprise, liberal views, for all of which we may thank our English mother ; that our