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was no discipline among aspirants belonging to the same party, and not unfrequently there were several rival candidatures; to clear the ground of them recourse was sometimes had to an arbitrator, who settled which of the candidates was to retire.1 In certain parts of the West the new system soon got acclimatized, for instance, in Ohio; ? in others, as in Illinois, it had more difficulty in obtaining a footing. Introduced, about 1832, by the immigrants from the Atlantic coast, it was received with suspicion by the fierce democrats of the prairies, who detected in it a “Yankee contrivance destined to abridge the liberties of the people, by depriving individuals, on their own mere motion, of the privilege of becoming candidates, and depriving each man of the right to vote for a candidate of his own selection and choice." 3 In the course of the session of the State Legislature of 1835-1836, at Vandalia, there was a great semi-official debate on the system of conventions. In this it met with determined opponents, but it was none the less making its way in every part of the State, being extended to almost all the elective offices. The Jacksonians became ardent promoters of it, to the great exasperation of the Whigs, whose numerical inferiority was further accentuated owing to the discipline which the convention system ensured in the ranks of their antagonists. Having refrained for some years from adopting this system, the Whigs found themselves at last obliged, out of self-defence, to imitate their rivals. The decision arrived at on this point, after a Whig mass meeting, was announced to the people of Illinois in a circular, stating its objects and reasons, drafted by a young member of the Legislature, named Abraham Lincoln, the future President of the United States. 5
But whatever were the suspicions and the personal or local opposition which the convention system encountered, they could not prevail against it nor retard its advance, for it corresponded to too many interests and wants, passions and cravings. The democratic impulse which carried Jackson into power had found expression, in the constitutional sphere, in two important facts: the introduction of universal suffrage into the newly formed States and into several old States where it had not yet been established, and the very considerable extension of the elective principle to public offices. The number of voters increased and the task of each one became vast and highly complicated. And yet many new members of the sovereign people, especially in the industrial and manufacturing centres which were beginning to arise, had no insight into public affairs, and almost all had no spare time. The haste to get rich was infecting the whole nation with such intensity that in point of fact the effective exercise of its political rights was becoming rather an embarrassment to it than otherwise. It could not leave it to a particular social class such as that which was formerly invested with a certain moral hegemony in the commonwealth: the traditional leadership had ceased to exist. In the absence, therefore, of a quasi-organic social element, some artificial organ was required to discharge the duties which the political indifference of the people left unperformed. And if an organ of this kind managed to come into existence, the nation, which was becoming engrossed in its material interests, would have relinquished its political power to it without complaint of usurpation. Yet the pride and the consciousness of its strength which filled the new American democracy could not assent to a formal abdication on its part. With the greedy feeling of the iniser who, too covetous to spend his wealth, takes his pleasure in the contemplation of it, the American, busy as he was in other directions, felt the need of handling, so to speak, from time to time, and as often as possible, his rights as member of the sovereign people and of thus giving himself the illusion of enjoying them.
1 Niles, Vol. XXXV, p. 5.
5 This circular, dated the 4th of March, 1843, signed by Lincoln and two other persons, but due entirely to his pen (see Abraham Lincoln, A llistory, by J. Nicolay and J. Hay, I, pp. 218, 219), contains word for word the passage from the New Testament which later on became, in the mouth of Lincoln, the famous war-cry against slavery: "A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (The text of the circular is reproduced in A. Lincoln's Complete Works, New York, 1894, I, p. 77.)
The new institution introduced into the political life of the United States -- the conventions -- met all these requirements, which seemed contradictory at the first blush, admirably. The convention, by noininating the candidates for all the elective offices and settling the programmes, relieved the American of the most difficult task for a citizen of a free country, brought it within the reach of the busiest man or the meanest capacity. And this humble voter appeared none the less to remain absolute master of the situation, since it was from him that the members of the convention held their mandate; they were his envoys, his clerks. Nay, the prerogatives with which the Constitution had invested him were extended by the operation of the conventions: not only could not a member now be created without his intervention, but not even a simple candidate; in a word, the conventions gave the citizen more opportunities for manifesting his will in quasi-constitutional forms than were offered by the Constitution. Again, the conventions satisfied ambitions and appetites, of a more or less legitimate kind, aroused by the advent of new social strata. By formally assigning candidatures for elective appointments, the popular Organization provided a ladder for the “new men who had not enough influence and, perhaps, merit to climb up of themselves. To others who, eager for a sphere of public activity and influence, could not find room within the limited area of the Constitution, the conventions offered a sort of substitute for it in their organization modelled on the constitutional fabric with their hierarchy, their powers, their dignitaries. Finally, they were of still higher value to the more vulgar and far more numerous ambitions, represented by the new breed of politicians which grew and multiplied under the fostering sway of the great economic outburst of the age. This latter not only kept individual energies engrossed in the pursuit of wealth to the detriment of the proper attention required by public affairs, but it upset society by whirling it all into a sort of vortex, in which some rapidly achieved success, while many others were carried off their feet and in a way flung out of the ranks. The numerous déclassés who had failed in private professions turned their attention to public business and swelled the throng of those who were trying to exploit it on New York methods. Powerless if they remained isolated, they found in the conventions a rallying centre and almost a social position.
All these advantages which the conventions offered, from various points of view, were completed and enhanced by the establishment, towards the end of Jackson's first Presidency, of a central Organization, in the form of national conventions, composed of delegates specially chosen by all the States of the Union. Placed on the top of the local conventions, the national convention formed with them a complete extra-constitutional machinery which became the axis of party government now definitively installed in the American Republic, and which confronted the constitutional fabric as its counterpart, providing for each of its grades special assemblies of party Electors, who nominated to the respective public offices. The national conventions were composed of delegates chosen by the State conventions and the district conventions, which, in their turn, were composed of delegates sent by the county conventions, while these latter emanated directly from the primary meetings of the citizens in the cities and the rural districts. The ward in the cities and the township in the counties supplied the base of the electoral Organization. While the local conventions took charge of the elective offices in the States and in Congress, the national conventions undertook the duty performed by the congressional Caucus for a quarter of a century, that of nominating the candidates for the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency of the Union. the outset the local conventions — the State conventions, for instance -- discharged several functions; they made nominations to various offices at the same time, to those of Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, to seats in Congress, etc. But soon the “division of labour” found its way into the nomination business and a special convention met for each office or group of offices to be filled up. Side by side with the conventions, which met from time to time only for the discharge of their special and momentary duty, there grew up a permanent Organization in the form of committees for each territorial unit, for the State, the county, the township, the ward, which summoned the conventions and the primary assemblies, undertook all the preliminary business, and in general managed the election work.
1 Proposals in the direction of entrusting to similar national delegations the choice of the candidates for the chief magistracies of the Union were put forward even in the time of the congressional Caucus. At first it was desired to unden its base by introducing into it special delegates from the States in which the party, being in a minority, had no representatives in Congress, after the fashion of the mixed caucuses of the State Legislatures (the proposals of the writers, John Binns and Matthew Carey; cf. Olive Branch, p. 452). in 1872 a convention of delegates from all the States, with instructions, is +å pressly proposed, but its recommendation of candidates was to be submitted to the people only as an indication of public feeling, without influencing in any ater way the final choice made by the presidential Electors, who were to vote in perfect freedom (Niles, Vol. XXI, p. 403). The following year, in the midst - the ardent controversy aroused by the expected convening of the congresaugal (aucus, fourteen representatives of Pennsylvania in the Congress pub1.a ed a declaration disapproving of the meeting of the Caucus, and one of 11. 'm added the opinion that the sole means of restoring harmony in the party would be a national convention (Niles, Vol. XXV, p. 306).
The new democratic structure thus erected, from base to sumy mit, in place of the old shattered party apparatus, was on much broader lines and far more comprehensive; but it nevertheless brought about a concentration of power and a compression of public opinion and of its preoccupations, which increased at each stage of the Organization. In proportion as the conventions composed of successive delegations stretched out, they got farther from the popular source, leaving behind them a long line of systematically eliminated minorities. This concentration was followed by a centralization of the objects pursued at the various points of the political circumference. Each set of conventions serving as a support to the higher one, the county convention to that of the State, the State convention to the national convention, each had to pave the way for the next, to subordinate its acts to the preoccupations of its superior. Terminating, by an unbroken series of links, in the national convention, which had to provide for the chief magistracies of the Union, the convention system inevitably made the nominations to every public office, down to those of the township, dependent on the considerations which determined the choice of the President and the Vice-President. To ensure the success of a certain candidature for the Presidency, it was necessary to have a national convention favourable to it; this could only be attained if the State conventions, from which the latter emanated, were composed of members ready to choose their delegates from that point of view, and so on. In this way national politics, that is, relating to the presidential election, became the axis of the whole convention system, making all the elections, even the strictly local, purely municipal ones, contests of political parties waging war for