The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923, March 01, 1915, Page 9, Image 9

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MARCH, 1915
ropubllcari paper published In my home town had
an. item the next morning liko this: "When Mr.
Bryan read that plank to the cbnventlon," refer
ring to the initiative and referendum, "the dele
gates looked at .each other in surprise, and one
delegate said to another, 'What is that?' the
other replied 'Oh,.hat is the now kind of dem
ocratic dr,ink,' and, according to the papers, it
went through unanimously."
That is the Way a republican paper joked about
the' Initiative and referendum eighteen years ago
last summer, but f oUr years ago 'last summer the
very paper that made fun of us in 1896 led the
fight ihthe republican party for thev adoption of
the initiative and referendum and when the con
ventions had adjourned every convention in Ne
braska demanded the initiative and referendum,
and when the legislature was elected all the par
ties joined together to submit it, and we have
the initiative and referendum in Nebraska. This
reform has swept over the nation. It is not a
western reform, for they have it in Maine as well
as in Oregon; it is not a northern reform, for
they have it in Missouri and Arkansas as well as
in Montana andWashington. Nor i3 it a reform for
the little states for they have it in Ohio as well
as in Colorado. It is a reform whose principles
are democratic and, my friends, it is a reform
that you will some day have in the state of In
diana. If the members of the present legislature show
so little confidence in the intelligence of your
people as to deny to them the initiative and ref
erendum, allow me to suggest that the only evi
dence of lack of intelligence on the part of the
voters of the state is the fact that they will trust
men in the legislature who have so little confi
dence in the intelligence of the people of the
state of Indiana.
No man can dispute the principles upon which
the initiative and referendum rest. Are you
afraid to submit these question to the voters of
the state? You recognize the superior wisdom
of these -voters when you submit important mat
ters to them.' What did you mean in your last
legislature when you proposed to submit to the
voters' of' tile state a 'number of amendments to
the constitution? What do you mean when you
say that 'before you can have a constitutional con
vention you must ask the consent of the voters
of the state? Why do you pay this tribute to the
intelligence of your voters and-then insult that
intelligence by not allowing them to sit in judg
ment upon what you do?
Are you afraid that your constituents will re
buke you for what you have done, or for what
ydu have failed to do? ' . ' '
What is the advantage of the Initiative? It is
this, that, if the representatives do not do what
the'people want done, the people can do it them
selves. And what is the advantage of the referendum?
It is this that, ,lf the representatives do what
they ought not to do, the people can veto it and
save 'themselyes, from the effects of bad legisla
tion. H,ow will.iyou defend your position, if you
are willing, that they shall sit, in judgment on a
constitution that is more sacred than 'a law and
yet 'not willing to allow them to sit in judgment
upon a law? How will you defend your position
if you vote that you can not have a constitutional
convention until the people ask for It, and then
refuse to' let thorn ask for a statute which they
Will the initiative and referendum destroy
popular government. No. They will simply
purify popular government, that is- all. Will it
be impossible to find men who will serve the peo
ple under the initiative and referendum? No.
You will simply find different people ready to
serve. You will find candidates who are not
afraid to let the people instruct them.
Of the two, I believe the initiative more
important than ,the referendum. The ref
erendum enables you to veto a law if you-do not
like it; but if you, do not have referendum and
do have the initiative you can repeal the objec
tionable law the next year through a petition,
and, besides thai, you can do what the referen
dum never enables you to do, namely, enact laws.
Under the initiative you can secure legislation
arid' it is the initiation of legislation that the peo
ple need most;, 'for we find that, those elected to
the legislature do not what the people ,
want' done:' Aye, sometimes; they are elected to
prevent the '.pfetfp.le from doing the thjngs that
the Want done. . ' ' .'.'u ,' .
they inay not' hav.e heeded the .nitfatlve and,,
referendum in the earlier days, before the growth
of great special interests, but now when legisla
tion is needed to protect the God-mado man from
encroachment at the hands of a man-made giant,
called a corporation, we ned these reforms now
In order that the people may protect themselves
when their representatives rofuso to protect
And what will be the effect of the initiative
and referendum, when we have them, on a lobby
ist, a registered lobbyist?
You have taken a great stop in advance when
you have compelled the men to como out of the
darkness into the daylight, when ho wants to
You have made a great Improvement when you
have compelled every man who has a pecuniary
Interest in legislation to put his name upon the
lobby book and let it be known that ho has an
interest. But oven the open lobbyist, even the
legitimate lobbyist, whoso avocation is known
and whose reasons are understood, has more in
fluence where you have not the initiative and ref
erendum than ho has where you have both. If
you have the initiative and referendum and the
lobbyist asks you to kill a measure that the pco
plo want, you say to him "It will do no good, for
under the initiative the people can secure it
themselves if we do not give it to them; if wo kill
this bill It will not help you but It will kill us."
If under the initiative and referendum the lobby
ist says, "Pass this bill; we want It passed," you
will say, "It is no use, for under the referendum
the people will veto it if we pass it," so it will not
help you, but It will hurt us."
Are you afraid to give the people control of
their own government? Then, my friends, you
do not believe in the fundamental principles of
free government.
Are you afraid that, if the people have this law
they will make mistakes? Of course they will
make mistakes. But the people have a right to
make their own mistakes; no legislature has a
God-given right to make mistakes for the rest
of the people.
And the people will not be so apt to make mis
takes as the representatives are to make mistakes
for them, for it never pays the people to make
mistakes. It is sometimes profitable for legis
r lators to make mistakes at the expense of the
Now, my friends, I have said all J care to say.
You have many matters before yqu. I am not
interested in the details of your legislation, but
I am interested in the state of Indiana. It is one
of the great commonwealths of this nation. It
must share with other states in the trying out of
the principles of free government. And not only
that, but It is one of the democratic states of the
union. This state Is the most democratic state of
the north today.
You have given to the nation its democratic
vice-president. You have given to the nation the
leader of the democratic majority in the United
States senate, who would bo here today with me
but for the fact that he Is needed there to stand
with the president and assist in carrying out
needed legislation. You have also as his col-
league a senator, just re-elected, who stands
among the leaders of that senate, and to whom
I am especially indebted, because as a member
of the committee on foreign relations he has
given hearty support to the peace program of this
administration. You not only are strong in the
councils of the party, not only prominent in the
United States senate, but you have a solid dele
gation in congress, and after the 4th of March
only two will be lacking to make it a solid dele
gation. I am interested, therefore, in the stand
that Indiana takes, for the democratic party is
strong only as the members of that party as in
dividuals, and in democratic states, measure up
to the ideals of the party. The primary Is dem
ocratic. If the primary is not democratic, then
popular government Is false, for the principle of
the primary Is a principle of popular government.
If you can not trust the voters of the democratic
party to control its machinery, to write its plat
form and nominate its candidates, then how dare
you trust all the voters of the party, republicans
as well as democrats, to elect their officers from
the governor down to the lowest office?
I am interested, I repeat, in seeing this great
democratic state stand up for things that are
democratic, and especially am I Interested in see
ing this state stand for the-primary when It has
given its pledge to the world and elected its
' legislature upon, a platform that commits it to
this great refqrm.
1 I am also interested Jn seeing the. democracy of
this state take a position in favor of the Initiative
and referendum. Do not think for a moment thafc-
the doctrine Is unpopular In the United State.
You might liavo said so a few years ago, but yo
can not now, for in the last campaign wo ha4
threo presidential candidates who polled large
votes and two of thom wore outspokon In favor
of tho initiative and referendum; they wero the
two who received tho largest votes, and the
third, who was not for tho initiative and refer
endum, not only received tho smallest vote, hut
his vote was so unfortunately distributed that
ho only carried two states in tho union. It
not unpopular to bo for tho lnltlatlvo and refer
endum, and If you have bcon opposed to it, do
not bo afraid to change your position, for it fs
honorable to como out of the darkness into tht
You have hlghexamples to encourago you. A
few years ago our president wont down to speak
to a meotlng of teachers at Chattanooga and his
speech won him favor as a candidate for the
presidency. He said to those teachers, In sub
stance: "I used to bo opposed to tho Initiative
and referendum. For twenty years I taught the
students of Princeton that the Initiative and ref
erendum wero wrong, but I found that I was
wrong and tho Initiative and referendum wore
right." Thero was the man who had tho cour
age to admit that ho had been mistaken; when
ho understood the reform, understood that It waa
democratic, being a democrat, ho at once adopt
ed It.
Do not be afraid to change your mind, If you
havo beep against the Initiative and referendum.
Not only has Woodrow Wilson changed his mind
upon that subject, but Theodore Roosovelt
changed his mind on the subject.
In tho summer of 1907 the constitution of
Oklahoma was being voted upon. It had In it the
Initiative and referendum, and President Roose
velt sent Secretary Taft all the way to Oklahoma
to advise tho people of Oklahoma to turn down
their constitution and delay statehood until they
could get. the initiative and referendum out of
the constitution. That Is what ho did In 1007.
And yet, between that time and 1910 ho changed
his position, and In March, 1910, ho went to
Ohio and advised a constitutional convention to
put the lnltlatlvo and referendum in tho consti
tution. Ho sent Mr. Taft all the way to Okla
homa to oppose it in 1907 and then wont to Taft'a
own state to advocate It threo years after thaL
Hero are two prominent leaders who have
changed their positions; If any of you have bcon
against tho Initiative and referendum, now is tho
time for you to change. The day Is at hand and
the advantage of changing now Is that It will
save you the trouble of changing later when It
will not be so popular to change as It Is now.
Tho day will como when a man who calls him
self a democrat and opposes the Initiative and
referendum will be very lonesome; nobody will
recognize him as a democrat, for the man who
is afraid to let the people control their govern
ment has yet to learn the fundamental principles
of free Institutions.
I come, therefore, with a message that I can
deliver In every state of the Union; It Is, TRUST
THE PEOPLE. Trust the people. They are tho
controlling force In this government; If govern
ments derive their just powers from the consent
of the governed, you dare not admit that you are
afraid to let them have their way. Let them con
trol their parties; let them write their platform;
and let them nominate their candidates.
You can do this through the primary law, and
then give to the people the Initiative and refer
endum and you legislators can face them without
fear. You can say to your constituents, "Wo aro
your servants; wo have tried to do what Vou
wanted done; if we have failed, then do your
selves what we have neglected to do, and If we
have made a mistake we have not intended it,
and we will be as happy as you are If you will go
to the polls arid through the referendum protect
yourselves from the mistakes we have uninten
tionally made."
I thank you, my friends, for the privilege you
have given me of addressing the legislature o
Indiana. There was a time when I came Into In
diana asking that you consider my claims to the
highest office in the gift cf the people of the
.world, and I am grateful for the- confidence that
you have three times expressed In me. 1 am here
now to pay back In part the debt I owe, and I
have nothing to ask of you' except that y6u help
to make the democratic party deserving of the
confidence of the people of this country, that It
may shape the nation's destiny and put the fUr
of democracy beside the- stars and stripes tnat
the world' may learn 'of free institutions inter
preted by a party that believes in the ruleof the