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About The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923 | View Entire Issue (July 14, 1911)
VOLUME ll,-NUMBER 27
The Direct Election of Senators
To opposo tho popular oiectlon of
senators is to question tho wisdom of
our form of government.
Bach generation is capable of solf-
government, and must suit to its pecu-
liar needs the machinery of govern-
mont and tho laws.
In tho house of representatives, July 20, 1894,
Mr. Bryan said:
Mr. Speaker: I desire to call tho attention
of the house to what I consider a very Important
question involved in this Joint resolution. I
shall not consumo time in discussing the general
principle of electing senators by the people. I
believe wo can take It for granted that not only
in the country at largo, but In this body, there
Is an overwhelming sentiment in favor of restor
ing to the people tho right to elect their sena- .
tors by a direct vote. It matters not by what
cpurso , of reasoning wo. reach that conclusion..
We may conclude that the constitution was a
compromise In the beginning: that this plan '
was inserted as a, necessity, and that the ne
cessity having .paBs'ed away, we can and ought
to change" it; or we may conclude tliat ltwas;
wise" at that time, because .then . ttiey had ,popr, k
means of 'communication, and Jittlo means of,,
knowing the character of 'the men , for whom. .
they voted." but that with .our" daily newspapers
and our, telegraph facilities we need not now
delegate our powers. But whatever may have,.,
been the reason for adopting '.the present plan.
in the beginning, we realize, today that no man :
can stand upon the floor of this house and de
fend the election of United States senators Jy
state legislatures and at the 'same time "defend, .
the election of governors and state representa
tives by a vote of the people. No distinction can
be made between this and other representative
If the people of a state have enough Intelli
gence to choose their representatives in the state
legislature; if they have enough intelligence to
choose their executive officers; if they have
enough intelligence to choose their judges and
their' officials in all the departments of the state
and county, they have enough intelligence to
choose the men who shall represent them in the
United States senate. To oppose the popular
oiectlon of senators is to question the wisdom
of our form of government.
" We all recognise that there is a reason for
the election of senators by a direct vote today
that did not exist at the time the constitution
was adopted. We know that today great cor
porations exist in our states, and that these
great corporations, different from what they
used to be one hundred years ago, are able to
compass tho election of their tqols and their
agents through the instrumentality of 'legisla
tures, as they could not if senators were elected
directly by the people.
It is said that conventions will nominate. Yes,
but behind conventions stand the voters, and
the delegate to a convention dare not Bupport
a man whom the members of a legislature might
vote for with Impunity. The candidate nomi
nated by the convention must appeal to tho
voters, but tho candidate chosen by a legislative
caucus appeals to no one, and is responsible
to no one. Men have been elected to the senate
whom no party convention would have dared to
We are told that we must not change the con
stitution because it is a sacred instrument. Who
is the best friend, he who flatters and worships
or he who reproves and corrects? He who
would make such alterations as changed condi
tions necessitate is a better friend to the con
stitution and to good government than he who
defends faults and is blind to defects. Besides,
the federal constitution has already been
amended fifteen times. Amendment was con
templated and provision made for it in the in
Our state constitutions are frequently
Changed, and necessarily so, since circumstances
hange from year to year. Pennsylvania has
ad four constitutions, Missouri four, Texas
three, Virginia five, etc. Bach generation is
capable of self-government, and must suit to its
peculiar needs the machinery of government
and the laws.
Mr. Speaker, I do ..not desire, however, to
dwell upon thisphase of the question, but I
want to call attention to what I believe to bo
a very important paragraph in this bill. This
bill makes the election by direct vote compul
sory, and includes a protection against federal
interference. We might as well recognize con-,
ditions. There it no statesmanship in shutting
our eyes to tho facts and asking for things
which, though wo desire them, yet wo can not
secure. If two-third of both house and three
fourths of the states were democratic, we might
be able to secure a provision which would pro
tect the election of United States senators and
representatives against federal interference.
If two-thirds of both houses and three-fourths
of the states were republican they might secure
an amendment electing senators by a direct
vote and putting the control of such elections
under the supervision of the general govern
ment But there Is not toda, there has not
been for years, and probably will not be for
years to come, a time when two-thirds of both
houses, and three-fourths of tho states will be
controlled by one political parity. Therefore, it
is worse than useless to attempt to engraft upon
this measure a political principle which can, .
never be adopted until three-fourths of the
states are in the control of one party.
Therefore the democrat who insists -that .wo.
shall not have the election qf senators by., the.
people unless we provide against federal inter
ference might-Just as well insist that we shall"
not have it for years to. come. .The .republican
who insists that we shall not haveit until we.
authorize federal control might aswell announce
that, he does .not w&ntJtOv-elect -senators by the
people. We, jw democrats, should,cdgnize.that
we must go before republicans and ask them
to vote, for -thls -bill, ..arid republicans should' -.
recognize that they can -not, secure, ih'e rratifica-,
tlon of any amendment without y the old of
democratic members 'and democratic states.
Mr. Northway. If you" will strike out that
provision you are talking about, I will vote, for
Mr. Hudson. My friend states that the demo
crats are in favor of electing United Statee sena
tors by direct Tote of the people. I want to ask
him ft he does not know that the Omaha plat
form of the populists declared in favor of the
election of United States senators by a direct
vote of the people? And In order to call my
friend's attention to the doctrine declared by
that convention, I will read the eighth section
of the platform:
"Resolved, That we favor a constitutional
provision limiting the office of president and vice
president to one term, and providing lor the.
election of senators of the United States by a
direct vote of the people."
Mr. Bryan. Mr. Speaker, I understand that
that Is in the populist platform, and I do not
think It makes the proposition any worse be
cause It was embodied In that platform. The
platform adopted by my congressional conven
tion also declared In favor of the election of
senators by a direct vote. The proposition is
good, it matters not who advocates it. It Is
good whether the democrats advocate It, or
whether tho republicans advocate it, or whether
the populists advocate It It Is good because it
is consistent with Ma government of the people,
by the people, and for the people;" and I welcome
It whether it comes from the populist platform
or from any other source, or whether It comes
without the Indorsement of any convention.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I propose a' substitute for
this resolution but I shall not have it read
until latei? which will simply leave It optional
with the state whether it will elect senators by
a direct vote or not The Justification for this
substitute Is simple and plain. If wo leave it
optional with the states, we are not compelled
either to prohibit federal interference or to pro
vide for It The optional plan gives to the re
publican party an the protection which It now
It gives to the democrats who want to pro
hibit federal interference all the protection
which they now have. If we adopt this substi
tute we leave It to the states to say wheher they
wish to elect senators by the people under the
constitution as It is now. If the republicans
say that will give the right of federal inter
ference, let them believe so and vote for it,
but it does not alter the constitution. If those
who oppose federal Interference fear the general
government will attempt to control the election
of senators, I say to them this bill provides that
-the state may go .back and elect .by the present
plan, if it desires, and thus secure all the pro-
toctlon it has now. Therefore it gives to the
man who opposes federal interference every
safeguard that Is now provided. It gives to the
man who favors federal control every safeguard
that he has today. My substitute neither adds
to nor takes from the constitution, so far as
federal control is concerned.
I beg you not to yield to party prejudice. I
appeal to you who favor popular elections, is
it not wiser to take this course than to attempt
to fasten this proposition to some political ques
tion upon which the parties differ? We know
that in the Fifty-first congress the republicans
passed a bill through tho house which was more
stringent than the law we recently repealed in
regard to federal elections. We know that in
this congress the democratic party repealed cer
tain federal election laws, and on the passage
the democrats voted for and. that every repub
lican voted against that bill.
Need we any more evidence to prove that the
republican party stands by its advocacy of
federal control? Need we. any. more evidence
to prove that the democratic .party opposes
federal Interference? We realize that the two
parties stand face, to face on ""this proposition,
and are irreconcilably divided; and it is not wis
dom to choose a plan pf electing which passes
between the lines and does not antagonize either
- Why not, then, Mr. Speaker; accept a.propo-.
sition -which, leaves .this political .question out,
and which will bring . the - people face to face
with the simple, proposition: , "Do -you wish to.
elect senators by a direct vote of the people or
riot?" . . ...'..: .... ; ;
Ah, sirs, we go. forth to battle with all the;
allied power of wealth -against us, and if -wo";
give to them a 'single, excuse behind which .theyj
can entrench -themselves we . shall toil, in vain.
for this, reform. If wego forth -from this, hall;
With a partisan, principle or party, tenet. tied to,
the .proposition v to elect, senators-by - a popular:
vote, "every .railroad, corporation, every gigantic
aggregation -of wealth-will be .appealing to party,
prejudice, and they will not appeal in vain.
If we attempt to-prohiblt federal interference,,
they will go to the republicans and say: "Are
you . going .to give up the right of the federal
government to control elections?" If federal
interference is authorized, they will, go to the
democrats and say: '"Are you going to sur
render the right of self-government?"
But, sirs, if we eliminate partisanship, if we
eliminate the question of federal control, and
bring it down to the naked question: "Are you
In favor of electipn of senators by the people?"
we can defeat any combinations formed
. against us.
The gentleman from Missouri (Mr. DeAr
,'inond.) -said -yesterday that men would ,not vote
for the optional plan if opposed to popular elec
tions because they knew that.it might soon be
a burning question in the states. I believe, Mr.
Speaker, under the optional plan it would at
once become a burning question in the states.
Give to the people of the states the right to ex
press thmselves, and you can depend upon it
they will secure this reform.
But, sirs, we have not now that right and
will not soon have it if the proposition is to be
weighted down by a great political controversy.
I have such confidence in the merits of this
proposition that if you leave It to the people
of the states to decide I believe they will decide
it rign. I have such faith In the merit of the
proposition that I am even willing to leave, them
the power to go back, if they want to do so, be
cause I do not believe that this revolution will
And now, sirs, if we want to secure the elec
tion of senators by the people we must submit
a proposition free from the republican idea of
federal interference, and free from the demo
cratic Idea of non-interference. We may just
as well cease the attempt to secure this reform
If we are going to tie. to it federal election laws.
I appeal to members on both sides of this house,
members who In their hearts desire this reform,
members who In their own judgment believe
that the time has come to give the people a
chance to vote for United States senators, demo
crats, republicans and populists alike, to join
in a proposition which will eliminate the politi
cal question and leave us simply the question
of election by the people or not.
I shall vote for the election of senators by the
people in whatever form it la presented If I
must choose between the compulsory election
of senators with federal Interference prohibited,
and compulsory election with federal Interfer
ence authorized, I Bhall vote to prohibit. federal
Interference. But. if it Js, necessary -to Jiave
- federal interference ;permitted, .as in ,the case-of
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