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The popular meetings almost without exception condemned the nominations made by the Caucus as a flagrant usurpation of the rights of the people. The State Legislatures were more divided. In the East the legislative caucuses of New York, Maine, and Virginia pronounced for the old practice of nomination by members of Congress, but in Maryland and in some States of the young West the Caucus was rejected with indignation by formal votes of the Legislatures in official session. At the head of these States of the West was the State of Tennessee, General Jackson's native country. The local legislative caucus hastened, in August, 1822, more than two years in advance of the election, to record a vote recommending him for the chief magistracy. Then the Legislature of the State, acting in its official capacity, passed resolutions energetically condemning the practice of the Congressional Caucus and communicated them to all the Legislatures of the Union. The reception given by these latter to the intervention of their sister of Tennessee was not of the warmest; the great majority of the Legislatures abstained from considering the communication; in others, except in a few cases, it was received rather with disfavour. But in the popular meetings, and in most of the newspapers, the attacks on the Caucus continued without intermission.
1 Among these many meetings should be mentioned a “numerous meeting": of citizens of Coecil County, Maryland, of the 4th September, 1823, and a “ numerous and respectable" meeting of citizens of Jefferson County, Ohio, of the 2d December, 1823. Their resolutions with long-winded preambles expressing identical views present a significant contrast in tone and reasoning; those of the old Maryland in the East (see Niles, XXV, 40) bear the stamp of laboured legal argument, while the language of the young State of the West, overflowing with enthusiasm, pays no heed to all the “ whereas,” and bluntly proclaims: "The time has now arrived when the machinations of the few to dictate to the many, however indirectly applied, will be met with becoming firmness, by a people jealous of their rights .. the only unexceptional source from which nominations can proceed is the people themselves. To them belongs the right of choosing; and they alone can with propriety take any previous steps” (p. 4 of the report of the meeting, published in pamphlet form).
2 Hammond, II, 129; Niles, XXIV, 139; XXV, 292, 370. 3 Niles, XXV, 137-139.
4 See especially the message of Governor Troup of Georgia to the Legislature, and the decision of the Senate of the State of New York (Niles, XXV, 293, 323).
In Congress the intrigues of the rival factions also continued; the friends of all the candidates, excepting those of Crawford, resolved to take no part in the Caucus, for if they attended it, they would be obliged, in pursuance of the nonwritten law of caucuses, to bow to its decision, were it voted by a majority of one only, and to give up their favourite candidates at once; in any event, if no candidate obtained a majority in the Caucus, as was becoming probable owing to the multiplicity of candidatures, they would all issue from it with lowered prestige. A preliminary canvass has proved that two-thirds of the Republican members of the Congress refused to meet in caucus; Crawford's partisans none the less persisted in convening it. By way of meeting the reproaches which were levelled at the Caucus of being a “Jacobinical conclave,” its organizers decided that it should be held in public. It took place on the 14th of February, 1824, in the hall of Congress. Directly the doors were opened an enormous crowd thronged into the galleries, but on the floor of the brilliantly lighted chamber the seats of the members of the Caucus remained almost empty. At last it was ascertained that of two hundred and sixteen members summoned, sixty-six had responded to the appeal. Crawford obtained an almost unanimous vote, but it was that of a small minority of the party only, and the result simply proved the inability of the Caucus to effect the concentration which was its raison d’étre. Nevertheless it issued a long manifesto to demonstrate the necessity of persisting in the old practice and to warn the public of the disastrous effects likely to ensue from its abandonment, which would not be confined to the election of the President and the Vice-President, but would shatter the whole system in force of nominations to elective offices and ruin Republican ascendancy. The signatories of the manifesto insisted that no less a matter than the “dismemberment or the preservation of the party” was at stake. Salvation therefore lay in the maintenance at all hazards of the traditional organization of the party.
1 Niles, XXV, 391.
The manifesto made no impression on public opinion, and the champions of the Caucus soon had to withstand a great onslaught which was made on them in Congress. The handle for it was given by the everlasting question of the electoral régime, of the general ticket, or the district system. A long discussion arose in the Senate, which was transformed almost immediately into a passionate debate on the Caucus. In the preceding discussions the Caucus had been placed in the dock as the accomplice of the general ticket; now it was its own case which came before the court. Rufus King, one of the last survivors of the generation which had founded the republic, opened fire with a long indictment of the “new, extraordinary, self-created central power, stronger than that of the Constitution, which threatens to overturn the balance of power proceeding from its division and distribution between the States and the United States," to degrade the Legislature, to hand over the government to coteries of men regulated by a sort of freemasonry, the sign and password of each at once placing the initiated in full confidence and communion with each other in all parts of the Union," etc. In supporting Rufus King's attack, other Senators protested against the assertion that the recommendations of the Caucus were but a simple expression of opinion of private citizens, and that they committed nobody. It was precisely the influence attaching to their capacity of members of Congress which was the foundation of the Congressional Caucus, according to its opponents. And, in fact, they added, can it be maintained that the meetings which take place in the hall of Congress with their chairman in the Speaker's chair and the officers of the House at the doors, are meetings of private persons? It would be arguing like the priest who, when insulted on his way to church, threw off his gown exclaiming, "Lie there, divinity, until I punish that rascal”; and then, “having, in his private capacity, inflicted the chastisement, resumed the character of clergy man and proceeded to preach up charity and forgiveness of injuries, love to God and good-will towards
The perpetuation of the Congressional Caucus will
1 Annals of Congress, 18th Congress, 1st session, sitting of the 18th March, 1824, pp. 355-362.
2 Ibid., p. 382, speech of Hayne.
open the door to the greatest abuses and to corruption. “It is an encroachment on the sovereignty of the people, the more alarming, inasmuch as it is exercised in the corrupt atmosphere of executive patronage and influence. Make me President, and I will make you a Minister, or Secretary, or, at all events, I will provide you with a good berth, suited to your wants if not to your capacity. ..., The President and Congress were intended by the wise framers of our Constitution to act as checks each upon the other, but by the system at present practised, they lose the benefit of this salutary provision.” 1
The defenders of the Caucus, far more numerous in the Senate, took rather a high tone with its opponents. There was nothing, they declared, new-fangled in the caucus system, “it originated with the Revolution itself. It was the venerated S. Adams or his father who first suggested it. Was there any intention to recommend a man who was abhorrent to the people? If the people are united in favour of another man, the recommendation would not weigh a feather. The old adage is that by its fruit the tree shall be known. What has been the result of this practice for the last twenty years? Has your Constitution been violated? Is not our happy situation an object of congratulation? Is not every nation which is striving to break the fetters of slavery, looking to us as the landmark by which they are to be guided? These are the fruits of this system, which has been followed, in relation to the presidential election, from 1800, up to the present day; which has been sustained by the people; and which has some of the greatest names of the country to support it.” 2 The attacks on the Caucus were due rather to the rancour of a defeated party or to personal considerations. “It was by the Caucus,” said Senator Noble, “that the power then in the hands of Federalists was dislodged, and from my youthful days I said Amen! and so I say now. Developing this idea, the president of the last Caucus, Smith, declared in his turn that it was by the Caucus that the Republican party had been brought into power. “The bridge which has carried me safe over, I call a good bridge. ... I act as a party man and
1 Annals of Congress, ibid., pp. 412, 413, speech of Branch. 2 Ibid., 391, 392, speech of Barbour of Virginia.
3 Ibid., 374.
have no hesitation in saying that I wish to keep my party in power; that I believe the caucus system is the most effectual means; and that when we cease to use it, we shall thereby deprive ourselves of one most powerful instrument. .. In a government like ours, where many of our great officers are elected, there must be some mode adopted whereby to concentrate the votes of the people. The caucus system is certainly the best. For the Presidency, for instance, is it not rational to suppose that the members of Congress have better opportunities of knowing the character and talents of the several candidates than those who have never seen them and never acted with them. However, the Caucus mode is denounced, and now let us see what is to be substituted!”1
The debate lasted for three days, more than twenty speakers took part in it. At last the Senate, wearied out, adjourned the discussion sine die. But it was clear to every one that the verdict had been given, that the Congressional Caucus was doomed. After the fiasco of the last meeting of the Caucus, from which two-thirds of the Republican members of Congress absented themselves, the great debate in the Senate gave it the finishing blow. “King Caucus is dethroned,” was said on all sides. And it made no attempt to recover its sovereignty; the animadversion which it aroused in the country was too great.
Now, at this distance of time, and in the light of subsequent events, that hostility appears less justified. The indictment of the Congressional Caucus was undoubtedly, to a certain extent, made up of constructive charges. The exasperation of personal and party strife, as well as the ardour of the democratic spirit with its exuberance of youthful vigour, had inevitably exaggerated, or at least anticipated, certain abuses of the Caucus. In particular the alleged prostitution of patronage, and the bargaining between the Presidents and the members of Congress, which were painted in such sombre colours, do not seem to have presented a grave aspect, however justifiable may have been the apprehensions with regard to the future. Intrigues were not entirely absent from the proceedings of the Caucus, but they do not appear to have given rise to actually corrupt practices. The personages raised to
1 Annals of Congress, ibid., 395–398.