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A PAPER ON ELECTIONS, ELECTION STATISTICS, AND GENERAL VOTES OF
YES OR NO.
CONSCIENTIous and well informed men may possibly differ in opinion as to the question whether Cromwell was at any time the freely accepted ruler of the English people; whether he was gladly supported by the people at large and readily acquiesced in by a small minority ; whether he imposed himself upon the country by the army, and allayed opposition by the wisdom of his statesmanship; or whether he chiefly ruled by armed fanaticism. But it may be asserted without hesitation, that there is neither Englishman nor American, substantially acquainted with elections, whose judgment on this subject could be influenced in any degree, one way or the other, were he informed that Cromwell had received an overwhelming majority of votes all over England confirming him in his absolutism, after he had passed his famous act of 1656, by which he divided the British territory into twelve districts, each presided over by a major-general with absolute power over the inhabitants, all existing laws to the contrary notwithstanding. There is not an American or Englishman, I think, who believes that such a confirmatory vote could have added to his right, or that, had such an event taken place, it could have kept Richard Cromwell on the protectorial throne, or retarded the return of Charles the Second, a single day. And the larger the majority for Cromwell should have been, the more we would now consider it as a proof of the activity exerted by the major-generals indeed, both in pressing and compressing, but no one of us would connect it in any way with a presumed popularity of Cromwell, or consider it as an index of the opinion which the people at large entertained of his repeated making and unmaking of parliaments.
A real or pretended result of such ex post facto votes may have a certain proclamatory value ; it may be convenient to point to it
and decline all further discussion ; “The People's Elect” may be a welcome formula for ribboned orators, expectant poets, or adaptive editors; but there is no intrinsic value in it. Votes of this sort have no meaning for the historian, at least so far as the subject voted on is concerned, and they have a melancholy meaning for the contemporary patriot. There seems to be a Nemesis eagerly watching these votes, and each time to prove, by events succeeding shortly after, how hollow they were at the time.
An election,' which takes place to pass judgment on a series of acts of a person, or to decide on the adoption or rejection of a fundamental law, can have no value whatever, if the following conditions are not fulfilled :
1. The question must have been fairly before the people for a period sufficiently long to discuss the matter thoroughly, and under circumstances to allow a free discussion. Neither the police restrictions of government, nor the riotous procedures of mobs, nor the tyranny of associations ought to prevent the formation of a well-sifted and duly modified average public opinion. The liberty of the press, therefore, is a conditio sine qua non. If this be not the case, a mere general opinion of the moment, a panic on the one hand, or a maddened gratitude, for real or imaginary benefits, of a multitude excited for the day or the period, may hastily and unrighteously settle the fate of generations to come, and passion, fear, or vain-glory, may decide that which ought to be settled by the largest and freest exchange of opinions, and the broadest reciprocal modification of interests. It requires time for a great subject to present itself in all the aspects in which it ought to be viewed and examined, and it requires time for a great public opinion to form itself, the more time, the vaster the subject is. All the laws regulating the formation of opinion in the individual apply with greater force to the formation of public opinion.
It is especially necessary that the army be in abeyance, as it were, with reference to all subjects and movements appertaining to the question at issue. The English law requires the removal of the garrison from every place where a common election for parliament is going on. Much more necessary is the total neutrality of the army in an election of the sort of which we now treat.
2. The election must be carried on by well organized election
1 There is no other term in our language, although it is obvious that these processes cannot be properly called elections. Votings would be more correct.
institutions, extending over small districts, because in that case alone can a really general voting be secured.
3. All elections must be superintended by election judges and officers independent of the executive or any other organized or unorganized power of government. The indecency as well as the absurdity and immorality of government recommending what is to be voted ought never to be permitted.
4. The election returns ought to be made so that they are not subject to any falsification. They must not be fingered by the government officers. This is especially important if the country labours under a stringent centralism, in which every civil officer avowedly acknowledges, and is, according to command, bound to acknowledge, no principle or law above the direct command of his immediate superior ; in which the host of executive, administrative, police, and semi-military officers form a compact body, receiving its impulse of action exclusively from one centre; in which publicity is no pervading element of acts relating to the public interest; and in which no habits have yet been formed nor customs settled concerning the whole comprehensive election business.
5. He, or that power, which passes under judgment, ought to be in a position that, should the judgment turn against him, he can be believed to abide by the judgment. If not, the whole is nothing but a farce.
6. There must be really two things to choose between. If this is not the case, the whole procedure amounts to no more than wbat we familiarly call “ Hobson's choice,” on a gigantic scale.
If there be any reader who should object to this rule that, since we speak of elections, it is evident that there must be two things at least to select from, and that therefore this rule borders on the ridiculous, I would only say that history shows people have not always adopted it. There may be something ridiculous somewhere, but it is not in the rule. It would be ridiculous to lay down the rule that, if people invite others to dinner, there ought to be something to eat, only so long as invitations to empty tables are assumed not actually to have taken place.
7. The power claiming the apparent judgment ought not to have committed a criminal act, and then, as the law expresses it, insist on deriving benefit from his own wrong. Nor ought he, who pretends to present himself for judgment, stand in the position of a trustee, disputing the validity of the power by which nevertheless he has acted, and under which he has accepted benefits. This is a common rule in all law, because it is common sense, and it is for the same reason a sound rule in politics.
In addition to these rules, I may remind the reader of a fundamental truth concerning all elections and votes-a truth which is simply prescribed by common sense, and yet has often been set aside. A majority having voted for a subject is of no earthly value, unless the subject be of such a character that there can be, at the time, a public opinion about it. If there were, in a company of men, different opinions as to the time of the day, we cannot solve the difficulty by putting the question : "All who are in favour of its being now six o'clock will say Aye; those who are of the contrary opinion will say No." No majority of ever so vast a country can decide for me the chloroform question, or whether Captain Ericsson's steam generator be or be not practical. And no majority, no matter how overwhelming, can be worth anything if there be not, in addition to a proper apparatus of evolving public opinion, of which we have spoken already, also one by which the true majority can be ascertained. It is an utter and constantly recurring error into which those that are unacquainted with the nature and the economy of liberty fall, to believe that what liberty requires is the ascertainment of incoherent votes on every question sprung upon society separately and incoherently. A French paper recently said that under certain circumstances the emperor Napoleon the Third would put the question of war to the universal suffrage of France. Of course I do not believe in the possibility of such an act, but I have mentioned the statement as an illustration. How can the French people at large decide on a question of war or peace, if France cannot debate the matter, cannot reflect on it? and what can a majority of votes on so grave a question mean, when the whole management of the vote, from first to last, is in the hands of that strongly concentrated government which puts the question ?
I return to the seven requisites which I have pointed out.
If any one of these conditions be omitted, the whole election or voting is vitiated, and can in no way be depended upon. It will go with every experienced and truthful citizen, and pass with every serious historian, for nothing more than, possibly, for skilfully arranged deceptions of the unwary and very inexperienced. It is a question, indeed, whether these conditions can be frequently ful. filled, and whether it be possible in the nature of things to fulfil
? This has been well pointed out in the case of Louis Napoleon, by the Hon. A. P. Butler, United States senator for South Carolina.
them at all, or any of them, in uninstitutional countries in large countries enmeshed like a huge being by the close network of a bureaucratic mandarinism. They must, then, be resorted to as rarely as possible. In strictly organized police governments they have no value, except for the very purpose of deceiving, or of giving an apparently more firmly-based fulcrum for the lever of the power already existing.
Every one of my readers will agree with the necessity of the condition which has been stated as the first. There is the greatest difference between an accidental or momentary general opinion, and an organically-produced, well-settled, public opinion- the same difference which exists between a " decree of acclamation,” as those decrees in the first French revolution were called, which were proposed and forthwith adopted by a burst of feeling or a clamour of passions, and an extensive law which has first been discussed and rediscussed, called for and assailed in papers, pamphlets, meetings and institutions, and then, after long and patient debate, passed through the whole sifting and purposely retarding, repetitionary and revisionary parliamentary process. Real public opinion on public matters of a truly free people under an institutional government, is generally the wisest master to which the freeman can bow; general opinion is worth nothing as a political truth. It may be correct; it may be vicious, as a thousand rumours show, and public rumour is general opinion. This subject of public and merely general opinion has been largely discussed in the Political Ethics.
When Cromwell had dissolved Parliament, and even dissolved the famous Council of State, in spite of Bradshaw's opposition, we are informed that addresses of gratulation and thanks reached him from all parts of England, just as they were crowded upon L. N. Bonaparte after the second of December, 1851. We cannot judge whether they expressed the opinion of the majority ; for in politics, as in common life, it is the noisy that are heard and make themselves observed, while the majority and more substantial people are silent and overlooked; but, for argument's sake, we will grant that those addresses to Cromwell expressed the opinions, the views, the feelings of the majority of the nation at the moment. Even in this case they expressed nothing more than the existing general feeling, not the public opinion of England, as successive events very soon proved.
To seize upon loud and demonstrative general opinion and feeling of a part of the people while compressing the public opinion