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Republicans had to carefully guard against divisions, and it was to avoid them, to concentrate all the forces of the party in the great fight for the Presidency, that the Congressional Caucus obligingly offered its services.
This system of intimidation was reinforced by an electoral method which made the minority absolutely powerless and gave the Caucus an exceptional vantage-ground.
The Constitution having left it to the States to settle the mode of appointment of the presidential Electors, the States took the opportunity to adopt a variety of systems; here the State was divided into as many districts as there were Electors to be appointed, and each district appointed its own; there the citizens of the whole State voted for all the Electors on a general ticket; finally, in several States the Legislatures took the choice of the Electors into their own hands. The first system allowed either shade of political opinion its proper influence, whereas the two last, which soon spread over the greater part of the Union, ruthlessly stifled the voice of minorities, or even enabled a minority to usurp the rights of the majority. Even in States where the district system was in force, the majority laid out the districts in such an arbitrary and irregular way that they included very slight majorities of its adherents, side by side with very large minorities of its opponents; the districts were not always composed of adjoining territories, nor was their representation equal; one elected one representative, while another would elect two, three, or four. It was the eternal craving for domination, which in American political society, the first formally based on right, on the legally expressed will of the majority, adapted itself to the new circumstances: deprived of the use of brute force, it set up, from the very beginning, majorities and minorities seeking to circumvent one another by devices of vote-counting. The divergent views on the Constitution and its interpretation, which broke out from this early date, gave the sanction of principles and convictions, often sincerely held, to these efforts to supplant the other side by expedients of electoral legerdemain; styling itself here “Republican party,” there “Federalist party,” the majority or the pretended majority everywhere tried to annihilate the minority in the name of the good cause.
1 This skilful carving out of electoral districts with the object of conjuring away the real majority, soon became popular under the nickname of “gerrymandering." It comes from the State of Massachusetts, where an irregular delimitation of the electoral districts, made, in 1812, in the interests of the Democratic party, gave them an odd-looking outline. A coloured map of them having been published in a newspaper, somebody amused himself with giving a district, which presented a particularly sinuous shape, a few pencil touches, making it exactly like a salamander. "No," said somebody else, “it is not a salamander, it is a gerrymander,” alluding to the Governor of the State, Gerry, who belonged to the Democratic party.
To the cause embodied in the "party" was added another preoccupation connected with a political prejudice which was one of the most powerful factors in the organization of the new republic and in its early life. It is notorious that the Union was formed with great difficulty, that it was, to use a celebrated expression, wrested “by grinding necessities from a reluctant people.” The old colonies, freed from British rule, varying greatly in territory and population, were extremely jealous about their "sovereignty," and mortally afraid of being absorbed in the federation, or of falling under the sway of the large populous States, with their wealth and power. After many stirring incidents, amid which the new, scarcely born republic seemed on the point of perishing by anarchy, the Union was at last established on the footing of a compromise, which allowed the federal government only expressly stated powers, and conciliated the small States by giving them a representation equal to that of the larger States in the federal Senate. But the House of Representatives was composed of members elected in the States on the basis of population, and there, as well as in the college of Electors, which is the numerical counterpart of Congress, large States and small States confronted each other again as such. The States, even the large ones, which followed the district system, which elected their representatives by districts where the majority belonged now to one party and now to the other, could not help returning a mixed set of members, divided against themselves, incapable of reflecting the individuality of the State, while the States that chose their members on a general ticket, which prevented the different opinions in the State from coming out with their due weight, secured a homogeneous and compact representation. This being the state of affairs, the pious solicitude for the autonomy of the State sanctified, in its turn, the party greed which used the general ticket as a weapon for overthrowing competitors; it became a measure of self-preservation necessary for safeguarding the position of the State in the Union. For these reasons some States which originally adopted the district system abandoned it for the general ticket. Virginia set the example from the year 1800, while condemning the general ticket in the preamble of the law which introduced it.
But the advantages offered by the general ticket for ensuring the supremacy of the party and the sovereign individuality of the State could be secured only on condition of the single list being regularly put into shape somewhere on behalf of the people which was to vote it; otherwise the desired concentration could never be carried out over the whole State. This being so, the Congressional Caucus and its local agencies had only to come forward; they undertook to prepare the lists, and the people accepted the duty of voting them. The general ticket called for the Caucus, the Caucus smoothed the way for the general ticket, and each made over to the other the rights of the people, the full and independent exercise of the electoral franchise. While the general ticket claimed to prevent the “consolidation” of the States, the Caucus consolidated in each State power in the hands of a few. Moreover, a dissentient presidential Elector having no chance of being returned under the general ticket, the "imperative mandate" became logically and almost spontaneously the rule for the Electors, to the advantage of the candidates adopted by the Congressional Caucus. Thus, in the first and in the second instance, voters and Electors both abdicated their independence.
Sometimes, when the electoral contest was particularly keen, and the issue seemed doubtful, the leaders of the caucuses, fearing that the defection of a few supporters might prevent these automaton-Electors from securing all the popular votes necessary for investing them with the office, got the appointment of them transferred to the Legislatures in which they commanded a majority made up of themselves. It was not uncommon for the electoral system to be changed on the very eve of the elections, the general ticket or appointment by the Legislature being substituted, by a sort of legislative coup d'état, for the district system. Disregarding all principle and all rule, the party in power shuffled the electoral arrangements like a pack of cards to suit the convenience of the moment."
These malpractices, as well as the chaos of electoral systems they brought with them, soon caused a revolt in the public conscience, and a movement was set on foot to demand a uniform and really popular mode of election, on the basis of the district system.
An amendment to the Constitution of the United States was to enforce it on the whole Union. Proposals in this direction had already been submitted on several occasions to Congress, starting in the year 1800,2 but after the elections of 1812 they became more common. posals brought forward from 1813 onwards, almost every year, either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, one of the principal arguments against the general ticket was that it encouraged or necessitated the regrettable practice of the Caucus. It was pointed out with sorrow that the Caucus, combined with the general ticket, had destroyed the whole economy of the plan devised by the authors of the Constitution for the election of the President. To quote one of the many speeches delivered on these occasions and which, by the way, throws light on the whole problem of the permanent party organizations in its relations with the electoral régime: “In the choice of the chief magistrate (by the Electors) the original primary act was to be theirs --- spontaneously theirs. The Electors were free to choose whomsoever they pleased. . . How hideous the deformity of the practice! The first step made in the election is by those whose interference the Constitution prohibits. The members of the two Houses of Congress meet in caucus, or convention, and there ballot for a President or Vice-President of the United States. The result of their election is published through the Union in the name of a recommendation. This modest recommendation then comes before the members of the respective State Legislatures. Where the appointment ultimately rests with them, no trouble whatever is given to the people, The whole business is disposed of without the least inconvenience to them. Where, in form, however, the choice of Electors remains with the people, the patriotic members of the State Legislatures, vieing with their patriotic predecessors, back this draft on popular credulity with the weight of their endorsement. Not content with this, they benevolently point out to the people the immediate agents through whom the negotiation can be most safely carried on, make out a ticket of Electors, and thus designate the individuals who, in their behalf, are to honour this demand on their suffrages. Sir, this whole proceeding appears to be monstrous. It must be corrected, or the character of this Government is fundamentally changed. Already, in fact, the Chief Magistrate of the nation owes his office principally to aristocratic intrigue, cabal, and management. Pre-existing bodies of men, and not the people, make the appointment. Such bodies, from the constitution of nature, are necessarily directed in their movements by a few leaders, whose talents, or boldness, or activity, give them an ascendancy over their associates. On every side these leaders are accessible to the assaults of corruption. I mean not, Sir, that vulgar species of corruption only, which is addressed to the most sordid of human passions, but that which finds its way to the heart, through the avenues which pride, ambition, vanity, personal resentment, family attachment, and a thousand foibles and vices open to the machinations of intrigue. Their comparatively permanent existence' and concentrated situation afford the most desirable facilities for the continued operation of the sinister acts. It is not in nature that they should long operate in vain; nor is it
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1 Thus for instance Massachusetts, which voted in the first three presidential elections on the district system, in 1800 exchanged it for appointment of the Electors by the Legislature, then, in 1804, decreed the general ticket, and in 1808 reverted to appointment by the Legislature. North Carolina practised the district system down to 1804, and in 1808 substituted for it the general ticket, which, in 1812, made way for appointment by the Legislature.
2 The first proposals were brought before the House of Representatives on the 13th of March, 1800, by Nicholas, then by Walker on behalf of the Legislature of New York on the 15th of February, 1802; by Stanley on behalf of the Legislature of North Carolina on the 20th of February, 1802; in the Senate by Bradley on the 16th of April, 1802, etc.
3 Annals of the Congress of the United States. The debates and proceedings in the Congress of the United States, 13th Congress, 1st session, speech of Pickens in the House of Representatives, the 3d of January, 1811.