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and making the Electoral College the instrument to record its will.
Thus, long ago, the American people democratized the Presidency, but beyond that they have never been able to break down the barriers which the Constitution erected against democracy.
In respect to Congress, they have practically no progress to report; yet it is against Congress that most of their political discontent is directed, and Congress is, without question, the outstanding failure of the Constitution. It was once thought that the sources of trouble lay in the election of senators by the State Legislatures, but when the Constitution was finally amended to provide for the election of senators by a direct vote of the people, nothing at all happened, except that the Senate declined rather than improved in ability. Everything went on as before. All that has come out of the direct primary is the disintegration of party government and the rise of bloc government, to the increasing dissatisfaction of the country. The principal achievement of the direct primary is the breakdown of party lines and the confusion of party issues.
The attempt to impose this system of direct government upon a system of representative government has done nothing to solve the political problems of the country. Rather, it has helped to make a bad matter worse. The inherent evil of the congressional system is that it is unresponsive to begin with, and the direct primary, by weakening party authority, has also made it irresponsible, except in the narrowest and most sectional sense. More than any other agency, it has given the national legislature over to the control of organized minorities.
All of this might not matter so much if the character of American civilization had not so completely changed since the Constitution was adopted. When Washington and his associates met in Philadelphia to revise the articles
of Confederation they were considering the political necessities of an agricultural and mercantile population. The system of transportation that they knew did not differ in any important respect from that known to Tut-ankhIn fact, historians are generally agreed that the eighteenth-century's means of communication were inferior to those of the Roman Empire. The eighteenth century had piled a little more canvas on the yards of the sailing ship, but as for land communications, the roads were much worse than those built by Cæsar, and a horse could run no faster than he could in the days of Babylon.
In a new country without quarrelsome neighbors, with unlimited land and unlimited resources, with a virile population able to take care of itself in most circumstances and no serious economic questions to 'disturb it, the problems of government were simple, especially the problems of Federal government. No sooner did a real issue become acute, however, than the congressional system proved impotent to cope with it. Every other nation. managed to rid itself of the institution of human slavery without violence. In the United States it was settled only by four years of civil war.
What wrought the revolutionary change in American affairs, however, was not a civil war which a higher statesmanship could have averted, but the development of the railroad, which, in turn, produced the industrial civilization that supplanted the agricultural civilization of the eighteenth century. For nearly a hundred years after the Constitution was adopted, the interstate commerce clause remained dormant, and Congress made practically no use of the grant of power. For the last thirty years the political and economic history of the United States has pivoted round a single paragraph.
Slavery was the nineteenth-century's irrepressible conflict under the Constitution. Interstate commerce is the twentieth-century's irrepressible conflict. In the regula
tion of interstate commerce Congress has gone from commission to commission, from bureaucracy to bureaucracy. It has muddled everything without really settling anything except the supremacy of its own powers. The more it regulates, the more intimately it touches the daily lives. of the people, the louder is the clamor for more regulation on the part of those who are dissatisfied with the previous adjustments. Beginning with a government that laid no appreciable burdens upon the ordinary citizen, and that rarely came in contact with him, we have progressed to a government that regulates trade, that regulates transportation, that regulates wages, that regulates profits, that, incidentally, tells the American people what they may eat, what they may drink and how they may amuse themselves without violating the canons of an impeccable morality, and what the doctor may prescribe in a case of pneumonia.
The states have been stripped to the skeleton, and the Federal government has been centralized to an extent that would have been deemed unbelievable even a quarter of a century ago. If we are to admit the desirability of all this super-Prussianism on the ground that the national authority alone is competent to supervise in the public interest an economic development which knows no state lines, we must also admit that the congressional system is probably the clumsiest instrument that could be devised for such supervision.
The government of the United States cannot function at all in respect to policy when the President and a majority of Congress happen to belong to different parties. Neither can it function in respect to policy when the House and the Senate happen to be under different party control, which is by no means infrequent. The govern ment can continue to perform the routine functions of administration, but for the rest it is deadlocked, until one side or another can win a decisive victory at the polls.
When the victory is won, there is seldom general agreement in interpreting the meaning of the ballot-and there is always the Senate.
Whatever defects are inherent in parliamentary government, it has one unfailing source of strength. It must of necessity settle one thing at a time, and it is always possible to get a vote of the people on a single issue. What is equally important, responsibility cannot be evaded. There is no way of shifting it from the legislative to the executive department, and back from the executive to the legislative. There is no way of shifting it from the House to the Senate, or from the Senate to the House.
The American people were never before so critical of their government as they are now. They were never before so cynical about their government. They rail at the politicians, they jeer at Congress, they blackguard the President, whoever he happens to be, but they never stop to inquire whether their government was established to meet the demands they are making on it. If they did, they would be obliged to admit that it was not. They ask a rigid, inflexible government to function as a responsive and flexible government. They ask a government of checks and balances to function as a political manifestation of democracy. They ask a government of co-ordinate and independent branches to function as a unit. It cannot be done. In spite of all their ardent de. votion to the Constitution, it is apparent that they know little about the Constitution. They have turned it into a fetish and they burn a vast quantity of incense before it, but they have forgotten its origin and have lost contact with its purposes. What they think it is, or what they think it must be, is something that it was never intended to be, and can never be made to be, except by a process of almost revolutionary revision.
American democracy is now a stagnant 'democracy. The great world stream of popular government has swept
past it, leaving it isolated. Enormous material prosperity has paralyzed its initiative and made it timid. A democracy that once dared and dared magnificently now alternately mumbles about its troubles and mutters about the greatness of the Fathers. It has abandoned its traditions of individual liberty and forgotten the ancient faith that it exalts. Hag-ridden by statute, it hardly ventures to call its soul its own.
Undoubtedly the American people still believe in 'democracy. At least, they always say they do, but they are afraid to trust themselves whenever an issue is raised. The world moves on politically. The England of George III is now an England in which the British labor party in Parliament is His Majesty's Opposition, but the United States in its mechanism of government holds fast to the eighteenth century. More than that, it refuses to concede that anything of general importance has been learned about the science of government since the eighteenth century, and previous to the French Revolution.