The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923, May 07, 1909, Page 3, Image 3

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    MAY 7, 1909
The Commoner.
"' i i ' '"""" '"'i- - i ' i. M aim ,.,,.
TSie Fight for Direct Legislation
The fight for direct legislation has already
resulted in many victories. The Equity Series,
published by Dr. C. F. Taylor, Philadelphia,
prints the following under the headline, "Steps
Toward Pure Democracy:"
1897. Iowa applied referendum to all fran
chise grants.
1897. Nebraska made initiative and refer
endum optional in cities.
1898. South Dakota adopted initiative and
referendum amendment.
1900. Utah adopted amendment, for which
legislature has never passed enabling act.
1901. Illinois passed public policy law pro
viding for advisory referendum.
1902. Oregon by constitutional amendment
secured an effective form of the initiative and
1903. Los Angeles, Cal., applied initiative
and referendum to municipal affairs.
1905. Nevada by constitutional amendment
adopted the referendum.
1905. Grand Rapids, Mich., applied initia
tive and referendum to municipal affairs.
19 0G. Montana adopted initiative and ref
erendum amendment.
1906. Delaware by popular vote Instructed
legislature to provide for the initiative and ref
erendum. 1906. Nebraska gives to cities power to
adopt initiative and referendum, which has been
quite generally accepted.
1906. Des, Moines, Iowa, adopts initiative,
referendum and recall in connection with com
mission plan of government.
1907. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, adopts Initiative,
referendum and recall.
1907. 1 Oklahoma placed initiative and
referendum in the constitution to be submitted
to the people. 2 Maine legislature voted to
submit an initiative and referendum amendment.
3 -'Missouri legislature voted to submit an
Initiative and referendum amendment. . 4
North Dakota legislature voted to submit an
initiative and referendum amendment; this
must be passed on by another legislature be
fore it can be submitted to the people. 5 Dela
ware legislature placed the initiative and refer
endum in the charter of Wilmington.
1908. 1 June 1, the people of Oregon dem
onstrated the people's ability to legislate more
clearly than was ever done before by voting
very discriminatingly upon nineteen measures,
four being amendments to the constitution, four
measures referred to the people by petition, and
eleven measures initiated by petition. 2 Sep
tember 15, the people of Maine adopted a direct
legislation amendment to their constitution by
a vote of over two to one, in spite of influential
opposition. 3 November 3., Missouri adopted
a direct legislation amendment to the constitu
tion by a majority of 35,868, though it was
disadvantageously placed on the ballot; four
years ago this same amendment was defeated
In Missouri by a majority, of over 53,000. 4
Ohio adopts referendum in regard to franchises
.in cities. 5 Numerous minor victories for
direct legislation, and demonstrations of the
efficacy of direct legislation resulted from the
November 3 elections. 6 Movement started in
Ontario and other provinces In Canada for ini
tiative and referendum. 7 Movement started
In England for initiative and referendum head
ed by committee of most influential citizens.
(From the Equity Series, Philadelphia, Pa.)
The call for facts concerning the working of
the initiative and referendum is very frequent
and at times very urgent. To answer all these
calls by personal letter is impossible. At the
expense of some repetition, therefore, we here
with give the leading facts in favor of direct
legislation in order to put a resistless weapon
in the hands of those who are called upon to
tnake aggressive campaigns, or to answer the
objections of opponents. The facts given are
taken largely from the Arena and from previous
numbers of Equity.
Wo begin with Switzerland. A great many
lies are told by the opposition about this coun
try. We say "lies" because there is no other
term that will suit. They are downright, bold
faced, inexcusable lies, and speakers favoring
direct legislation should keep this fact in mind.
Now hero is the truth about Switzerland as
it comes to us from the highest authority. Hon.
Numa Droz, former president of Switzerland,
says: "Under the influence of the referendum
a profound change has come over tho spirit of
parliament and people. The net result has been
a great tranquilizlng of public life."
Prof. Charles Borgeaud, of the faculty of tho
University of Geneva, one of tho most distin
guished educators and economists of Europe, in
a paper prepared expressly for tho Arena, has
this to say on the results of the referendum in
Switzerland: "The referendum has won its case.
Unquestionably it has proved a boon to Switzer
land and has no more enemies of any following
in the generation of today. Let mo give one
Instanco to illustrate what I advance In one
of the cantons that was among tho last to in
troduce the referendum tho canton of Geneva
where the bill bears the date of 1879, both
parties, conservative and radical, are just now
quarreling in lengthy articles and In political
speeches about the real promoters of tho same.
The novelty of twenty-five years ago is such an
'unqualified success that every party feels in
clined to boast of being the country's benefac
tor who introduced it in tho cantonal .constitu
tion. As a matter of fact it was inaugurated at
' Geneva by the conservatives, who from that
time really deserved the name which they as
sume, of democrats.
"Now, why is that Institution so popular in
Switzerland that no one would dream of pro
posing that wo should do away with it and go
back to the purely representative system of
1848? Because It has proved an efficacious rem
edy, meeting in a large measure the evils which
may bo consequent upon that form of govern
ment." The late Prof. Frank Parsons, of Boston, who
recently visited Switzerland and conversed free
ly with all classes, says: "I did not find one
man who wishes to go back to tho old plan of
final legislation by elected delegates without
chance of appeal to the people."
Charles Edward Russell, writing for Every
body's, declares that the Swiss are "by all means
the happiest people in Europe. They are not
called upon to endure anything which they do
not approve. They have at all times in their
hands a machine, mobile, swift, and efficient, by
which they can work reforms and effect
So much for Switzerland. Let us now turn
to America. Here we find the politicians very
much alarmed lest the people, not having legal
minds, will be unable to discriminate properly
concerning the laws they really desire. If by
the legal mind Is meant the ability to so frame
laws that they must be obeyed by the poor while
the rich may violate them with impunity, the
point will be conceded. To frame laws thus is
pre-eminently the work of professionals. But
if it is meant that the people do not know what
they want, and can not vote intelligently when
the case is put fairly before them, the point
is denied. We will now cite some instances
which prove decisively that the people do know
what they want. Here is what the people did
in Boston nine years ago, as stated by the late
Prof. Frank Parsons in the Coming Age for
February, 1900:
"Among the many benefits of direct legisla
tion there is reason to lay special stress on its
tendency to improve the conditions of labor and
to destroy the rule of monopoly. These points
have been enforced by the advocates of direct
legislation both by history and philosophy
they have been true in fact and they must be
true in tho nature of things, and now we have
a new and brilliant illustration of the strength
of the referendum in directions Just indicated.
The people of Boston have just voted over
whelmingly to adopt tho eight-hour day for all
city laborers, and to refuse the street railway
monopoly the privilege of replacing its tracks
on Boylston and Tremont streets, in the heart
of the city. The legislature gave its consent,
but the people turned down the monopoly. Here
are the votes:
Yes. No.
On the eight-hour question. .. .62,625 14,518
On relaying the car tracks. .. .26,254 51,585
"The track affair shows that, although a giant
monopoly may manage the legislature and con
trol tho pross, it is not ablo to bond tho pooplo
to its will. It is only a littlo whilo sinco tho
tracks on Tremont and Boylston ntrcota havo
been taken up. These streets used to bo crowd
ocl to stagnation with cars and other vohlclcs.
I ho subway was voted by tho pooplo and built
on purpose to roliovo this congestion. It was
pan of tho plan to take up the mirfaco tracks
In the heart of tho city. Tho company was re
quired to do this. Wo now go in flvo or ton
minutes the distanco that used frequently to re
quiro twenty or thirty minutes, and carriages
travel with reasonable speed on tho streets
whero the tracks used to bo. Tho subway is
far from being usod up to its capacity, yet tho
Boston Elevated company, which controls tho
street railways, wishes to relay tho tracks on
Boylston and Tremont Htreots. Tho people
voto a subway to relievo tho congestion in tho
heart of tho city and got rid of tho tracks about
the Common, and a fow months after it is dono
tho company asks to bo allowed to relay tho
surface tracks. Tho legislature was agreeable:
would have passed tho act without a referendum,
t is said, if Governor Wolcott had not mado
it understood that a bill without a referendum
would be vetoed. Tho papers wore filled with
the company's arguments: only ono, I believe,
took ground against tho relaying, and oven it
was loaded with instructions to 'Vote yes' on
tho track question, put in largo typo on tho
front pago and paid for r.s advertising matter.
Yet, in spite of all the monopoly could do, it
was snowed under by tho people."
The case of the divorce law In South Dakota,
whero tho peoplo were in tho right by a two to
ono majority, is especially to tho point. In tho
January Equity we said: "This South Dakota
case Is tho very one that those papers which
are opposod to tho Initiative and reforendum
used prior to the election lb a warning against
tho danger of letting the people rule. The arg
ument was that tho fow who were Interested in
tho divorce industry would bo active and use
money freoly, whilo tho people at largo would
bo indifferent. As a consequence, it was af
firmed, this bad law would remain on the statute
books. Now that tho result is so different, thoso
papers for the most part maintain a vociferous
Wo now come to Gf6gpn. Here we find th
most overwhelming proof oflheiiCnle's wlUirg
ness and ability to decide mcasurdsrbr fiiom
solves. The facts aro given in tho October
. Equity and should bo frequently referred to.
Nineteen questions wore voted on. Pamphlets
of about 120 pages, containing, describing, and
arguing for and against each one of these meas
ures, were issued by the secretary of state on
April 1st, and a copy mailed to every voter.
Discussions galore wore held on these measures
by all sorts of societies and clubs and were on
gaged in by citizens of every rank and class.
Such a' campaign of education in civics and
training in public Interest is an altogether too
unusual occurrence in American life. If tho
referendum had had no other result this would
amply justify Its cost.
A careful study of the results will leave no
doubt that tho people of Oregon know what
they want and how to got it. Whether or not
they aro always wise is another question.
Whether they are or not does not affect their
fundamental right to self government. It la
believed, however, that for the most part tho
people of Oregon voted not only with discrimin
ation but with wisdom. Not being ready for
some advanced measures they voted them down,
as they had a right to do. When they are
ready for them they will enact them. However
wiflo measures may bo in themselves, it Is not
wise to force them on a people till they are
prepared for them. Some well-meaning legis
lators try to force their reforms on an unwilling
people. To prevent this is nearly as important
as to prevent other forms of bad legislation.
Thus the referendum works both ways for good.
As to tho general result In Oregon Mr. Robert
Treat Paine, Jr., says: "The recent election
emphatically emphasizes the lesson of the two
preceding ones, that the peoplp of a sovereign
state are sufficiently qualified and Interested to
settle directly through their ballots the great
questions of government in which they are
concerned. Oregon has demonstrated the suc
cess of popular government."
So much for Oregon. We now turn to one
of the grandest referendum systems ever known
in the history of human government, the New
England town-meeting system. Mr. B. O. Flow
er, commenting on this system in tho Arena
for October, 1904, truthfully says: "Nowhere
in tho history of American municipalities has
government been so free from all taint of cor-