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About The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923 | View Entire Issue (Nov. 10, 1911)
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NOVEMBER 10, 1S11
corruption ceased. Tho Bystom became fixed In
the confidence and affections of tho people, until
It was unshakable: This republic is tho best
governed country on earth.
Hon. N. Droz, ex-president of Switzerland,
said of it: "Under tho influence of the referen
dum a profound change has come over tho spirit
of parliament and people. The net result has
been a great tranquilizing of public life."
Prof. Charles Borgeaud of the University of
Geneva, wrote, "The referendum has won its
case. Unquestionably it has proved a boon to
Switzerland and has no more enemies of any
following in the generation of today."
The only canton in which tho political boss
and corrupt influences remained dominant was
and is Freibourg, where direct legislation did
not exist and could not be secured under the
tyrannical and venal rule of a political dictator.
South Dakota adopted this system in 1898.
Such was the experience which warranted Ore
gon in adopting this system.
2. DELIBERATION IN ADOPTION
The passage of tho constitutional amendment
for direct legislation in Oregon was not the
result of caprice. It had long agitation In the
press and party conventions. In the legislature
of 1899 there were only 13 opposing votes.
Both political parties approved it in their con
ventions of 1900. In the legislature of 1901
there was but one opposing vote and in 1902,
when the vote was taken, all tho political con
ventions favored it, and it passed by 62,024
yeas to 5,668 nays.
It should be noted that this amendment was
the result of the vote of the legislature, sub
mitting it to popular vote according to the then
existing constitutional forms.
Not only haB Oregon adopted the constitu
tional amendment, but in 1910 by vote 23,143
yeas to 69,974 nays (questions submitted Nos.
304, 305) on reference to a referendum by the
legislature, a proposition for a constitutional
convention was defeated.
Oregon Election Pamphlet, 1910, p. 18.
The argument used against this convention
and which defeated the proposition was that
its purpose was to have the convention take out
the initiative, referendum and recall from the
constitution and then proclaim its enactment
without submission to the people for ratification.
3. PRACTICABILITY THROUGH THE MOD
It muBt be borne in mind that this case In
volves a method of procedure in state affairs
which was not in 1787 practicable. So far was
the ballot then unknown that the people of New
York in framing their first constitution gave
the legislature authority to make a trial of the
ballot system and to repeal the provisions if
the system did not prove practicable. Further
more, distances and methods of communication
offered at that time obstacles which are now in
considerable. The possibility of extending a
town meeting to the limits of a state had not
occurred to anyone at that time owing to the
apparent physical difficulties. Now, however,
experience has demonstrated that an actual poll
of the people can be taken upon any proposi
tion with ease and certainty. In considering,
therefore, all old authorities which suggest that
the delegation of legislative power is an essen
tial feature of our form of government, we must
accept such statements with the limitations of
the then existing methods. All statements of
this nature must be regarded as obiter dicta and
not applicable to the existing conditions which
have been produced by the growth and develop
ment of our electoral system.
4. EXCLUSION OF "CAPRICE" AND "MOB
There is another feature which must ma
terially qualify the views of all previous states
men and judges. In contemplation of previously
existing democratic forms, the actual physical
assemblage in one place of all the people was
Involved. No doubt there may be in popular
assemblages a high degree of nervous tension,
susceptibility to the influences of speech, of
cabal and of skillful leadership. A condition of
excitement may be created which is not consis
tent with careful deliberation and which may
contain too much of the element of sentiment
Even these conditions may not be inconsis
tent with decisions which In the long run are
righteous and advisable; there may be occasional
lapses from good judgment, but the town meet
ings of New England are living illustrations of
the general reliability of popular assemblages
In the decision of public questions.
There has been ample opportunity in 300
years of experience with these gatherings to test
tho dangers of what is so lightly designated as
"mob law," and "tho caprice of tho majority,"
but it may bo said that no institution In our
country has so well stood tho test of experience
as tho Now England town meeting.
Tho jury system Is open to similar objections,
but it has persisted nonetheless and has bcconio
one of the cornerstones of tho fabric of human
These considerations emphasize tho absenco
of the dangers to which popular gatherings aro
exposed by physical contact, whero such
methods of deliberation are provided as wo And
in Oregon under tho direct legislation system.
Petitions for legislation must bo filed threo
months before tho day of election. Not only
aro tho questions to bo considered matters of
general public notoriety, but tho state of Oregon
provides that citizens may offer argument for
and against tho proposed measures and these
arguments, together with the text of the pro
posal, are printed at tho oxpenso of tho stato
and placed in the hands of all tho voters. There
Is thus laid before the voters complete informa
tion as to the measures upon which they aro
to vote, and carefully epitomized arguments for
and against them. 'These matters are before
the voter in his home, the object of study, de
liberation and discussion. He Is freed from
passion or influence in tho consideration of his
duty as a voter, and probably in tho history of
republican institutions, no better system has
been devised for securing from tho voter a
calm, dispassionate and patriotic decision as to
his duty with respect to proposed legislation.
"Mob rule" is far removed from this system.
It will also bo observed that tho voter is not
called upon to study the character of men but
tho merits of measures, and an entire shifting
of the character of political discussion is thus
accomplished. Personalities of men cease to bo
determining factors when tho merits of con
crete propositions become tho objects of con
sideration. Tho training of the voters in their
public duties is such as to practically revolu
tionize the character of political controversies,
to elevate the standard of citizenship, suppress
passion and prejudice and to bring nearer than
ever to perfect form, the deliberations of tho
people upon their own affairs.
B. The Demand for the System
1. IMPERFECT POLITICAL CONDITIONS
It Is apparent that our country is In a con
dition of reaction against the control of privi
lege as powerful as that of France in 1792, of
England in 1838, of Switzerland In 1848.
In France the republic was created, in
England parliamentary government became a
reality, and in Switzerland the union of states
was perfected; here we are perfecting our de
mocracy. The present movement constitutes the
most momentous political revolution in pur
history, conducted without bloodshed and even
without acrimonious political contests. It Is
a movement economic in its nature and ac
cordingly steady and irresistible. Its objects
are political, and it moves on like a tidal-wave
which legislatures and courts can not halt.
The causes of this movement are apparent.
Political organizations have not been respon
sive to the popular will. The effort to obtain
good government by the selctlon of "good men"
has failed. Legislators have become the people's
masters in the exercise of unlimited power.
Party platforms are not regarded as pledges.
The people are unable to trust their servants.
A power has developed which dominates poli
ticians, parties and public servants. Evidences
of repeating, bribery, corruption and perversion
of delegates, representatives and officials in
cities and. states have persisted, and even the
judiciary has at times been found subject to
Influences, hostile to tho people's Interests. The
average citizen has abandoned efforts to regu
late party machinery and to participate in party
The new political movement aims to clear the
avenues between the people and their Institu
tions. The perversion of party caucuses has been
met by the plan of direct nomination of candi
dates at the polls. Even the direct nomination
of delegates to presidential conventions is being
accepted; repeated scandals and' notorious cor
ruption of legislatures In tho election of United
States senators have caused two-thirds of the
states to devise methods of circumventing the
constitutional method of election by the legis
latures, and it is probable that in the imme
diate future the national constitution will be
amended to secure direct election of senators
by the people.
The numerous laws of states for the pre
vention of corrupt practices and tho limitation
of campaign expenditures havo been supple
mented by national legislation, which Is prob
ably but tho boginning of drautlc cnactmonts to
maintain tho purity of elections.
2. FAILURES OF THE LEGISLATIVE
Tho founders of tho republic dreaded tho
power of tho executive. Patrick llonry In
veighed against it. Joffornon insisted with im
passioned force that tho republic would fall
through tho usurpation of power by the judicial
Prophecy takes a hard test by tho light of
experience. All fear of the executive has censed
after moro than a century of trial. For tho
first tlmo tho judiciary hns become a subject of
apprehension in the last few years.
But it Is tho legislative department that has
proved tho weakest of the departments of stato.
Tho people aro strengthening this branch of
democratic government by applying moro
Tho sovereignty Is being placed In practlco,
whore It exists In theory, with tho pooplo; tho
Instrument Is "direct legislation.
In adopting this system thoro havo been no
Interferences with tho regular operations of tho
customary legislative machinery. Representa
tive government remains, but Its products aro
no longer beyond populnr reach. Vicious and
corrupted acts can no longer bo fastened upon
the people against tho will of tho majority.
Exporlcnco has proven that it is not safe to
trust delegates with unlimited power to raako
laws, and the question presented in this case is
whether there remains In tho peoplo tho power
to apply controlling Influences to them.
Tho history of this year's legislation furnishes
a long list of broken pledges.
Tho governors of Colorado, Malno, Now York,
New Hampshire havo publicly denounced tho
legislatures of their states for failure to redeem
the direct promises of party platforms.
Governor Shafroth of Colorado declared that
in tho longest legislative session in thirty years
not a pledge has been redeemed.
In Maine a direct primary act was refused by
tho legislature and at tho polls under tho "initia
tive" amendment of tho constitution, tho
measure was adopted by a vote of 55,840 yeas
to 17,751 nays.
In 1902, under a law permitting an expres
sion of public opinion at tho polls, tho peoplo
of Illinois favored by a vote of 428,000 to 87,
000 a constitutional amendment providing tho
Initiative and referendum. Tho legislatures for
eight years took no action. In 1910 the peoplo
again made the demand by vote of 447,908 yeas
to 128,398 nays. All the political platforms In
dorsed it. The legislature this year has refused
to pass the measure.
Two investigations are now In progress In
volving corruption in tho election of senators of
the United States; it is not denied that $107,793
was expended to secure the election of a senator
by the legislature of Wisconsin.
Even In England faith in parliamentary gov
ernment has been shaken. Mr. Lecky says:
"A growing distrust and contempt for repre
sentative bodleB has been one of the most char
acteristic features of the closing years of tho
Democracy v. Liberty, I. pp. 142, 143.
Mr. Dicey remarks:
"Faith in parliaments has undergone an
13 Harvard Law Rev. 73, 74.
Governor Woodrow Wilson has described the
political situation as follows:
"Many of the old formulas of our, business
and of our politics havo been outgrown. We
still revere 'representative government,' but we
are forced to admit that the governments we
actually havo have been deprived of their repre
sentative character. They do not represent us.
They are filtered too fine through the sieve of
secret caucuses and other machine processes;
there are too many conventions preceded by
too many private conferences between us and
tho persons through whom we legislate and
conduct our governments.
"We, the people, have not free access enough
to our own agents or direct enough control over
them. We mean by one change or another to
make our governments genuinely popular and
representative again. We are cutting away
anomalies not institutions." Boston Common,
May 13, 1911.
Such are the failures and scandals which havo
created distrust in parties and legislatures and
caused the people to secure direct control of
their political machinery, their officials and
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