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losing the favour of his party and being denounced as a traitor; which was almost as efficacious in restraining the refractory as the pains and penalties of treason, the hanging and embowelling of former times.” 1
To this moral constraint was added another imposed by the practical necessities of the vote, and which definitively stifled the independence of the voters. The number of the elective offices, and consequently of the elections to be conducted, having become very large, the custom arose, at the instigation of the politicians, of holding them all at once, for the offices of the city, of the county, of the State, and of the Union, and on a single list. This list, since known as the “slip ticket,” was the material embodiment and the confirmation of the confusion of the politics of the Union with the business of the State and local affairs, introduced by the system of conventions. All the same, it was becoming difficult, and even impossible, for voters left to their own inspirations to make up a voting paper which began with the ward officers, and ended with members of Congress and presidential Electors. The conventions and their committees helped them out of the difficulty by making up the ticket for them, and the voters were forced willy-nilly to accept it and vote it whole, even if several of the candidates entered on the list were obnoxious to them; for if they did not vote it in its entirety, they increased the chances of the opposite side, which would vote its whole list.
Independent candidatures having disappeared, owing to the principle of regular nominations and to the slip ticket, the battle was really fought by the rival party Organizations; the voters simply registered the decisions taken for them and without consulting them. The great body of the citizens were reduced to the position of dummies, or rather they had reduced themselves to that position by withdrawing from public life. Besides, there was not much in it to keep them there. The subordination of local elections to national politics robbed
1 A History of Illinois, p. 206. Senator Rives, of Virginia, says in the speech quoted above: “Have we not seen that principle of party obedience enforced by the rack and the gibbet, the denunciations of the Press, the deprivation of office, and the interdiction even of social communion, by affixing to the doomed offender the foulest epithets of moral and political disgrace?"
local public life of its natural interest, and it became all the less capable of fostering civic spirit. Not only did the commercial classes which formed the great majority of the nation become completely engrossed in their private interests, but political indifference infected even the intellectual leaders of the nation, the men in liberal professions, to the profound astonishment and regret of European investigators. Disheartened by the advent of mediocrity and of the political mercenaries who excluded men of sterling worth and high principle from public life, and disgusted by the excesses of a shameless Press which sprang into life during Jackson's presidential campaigns, the more cultivated section of the nation soon withdrew into its tent, thus accentuating the political lethargy which crept over the community. “We have lost all sensibility,” said Calhoun in the Senate; "we have become hardened under the action of pernicious practices and principles which are characteristic of the age. Things which a few years ago would have shocked and roused the whole community are now hardly noticed.” 2 In the midst of this general political apathy, public business fell to the politicians of the conventions like a res nullius to the first occupant. The separation of society from politics became the leading fact of the situation; the nation had, as it were, split into two absolutely distinct parts: a large majority, which was toiling, developing, and growing rich, and a small, active minority, full of passions and still more of appetites, which was monopolizing political action. The privileged sphere which this minority hal invaded, the public administration, was soon filled with an atmosphere of corruption; scandalous abuses speedily came to light in it. The congressional enquiry into the frauds committed in the New York custom-house 8 (which received two-thirds of the payments made into all the customhouses of the Union) revealed a most shameless system of plunder of the treasury and of the public, which had been going on for years, through the connivance of officials whom the spoils system converted from servants of the State into tools of their dishonest superiors; as for these latter, they were too faithful adherents of Jackson and Van Buren to be supervised.
1 H. Martinean, Society in America, 1837, the chapter on Apathy in Citizenship.
2 Works, Vol. II, p. 410. Speech of February, 1835. 8 The celebrated cases of Swartwout and Hoyt.
These scandals, which laid bare the systematic prostitution of the public service to a party Organization, would not, perhaps, have roused public opinion if the country had been in a prosperous state. But it was suffering severely from the economic crisis which broke out in 1837, soon after the retireinent of Jackson and the accession of Van Buren. The depreciation of the paper currency, brought on by Jackson's financial policy, destroyed public credit, forced the banks to stop payment, caused a general rise in prices, closed factories and workshops, and threw numbers of workmen out of employment; bread riots even occurred. Van Buren had nothing to do with this catastrophe, but as it broke out under his Presidency he and his party were made responsible for the disaster. The remedy seemed to lie in a change of government, and the country resounded with the cry: “Away with the spoilers!” The Whigs took advantage of this to form a coalition against Van Buren, in which genuine indignation, roused, as it were, from a lethargic slunber, was a certain factor, but which taken all together had no object but the seizure of power: The Whig party no doubt contained the élite of the cominunity, the men of means and of intelligence, but here as well as in the rival camp the politicians held the outposts and directed the operations.
The Whig national convention, which met, in 1839, at Harrisburg to nominate the candidates for the Presidency, supplied only too eloquent proof of it. The candidate was marked out beforehand by the whole history of the party which for the last fifteen years had been contending with the Jacksonian democracy; he was the great Whig leader, Henry Clay, an illustrious statesman, a great orator, and gifted with a personal charm which won all hearts. But the politicians did not believe implicitly in his success; they were afraid that at the election he would not be able to rely with certainty on the support of various factions of the ill-assorted coalition formed
against Van Buren, and they were not less apprehensive, perhaps, of Clay's commanding personality when installed in the White House. For several reasons they wanted a candidate of a less pronounced individuality and not so compromised in the great struggles which had brought Clay into the front rank. But how to get rid of the idol of the great mass of the party, who were prepared to rally round him once more? The national convention, this new organ of the vox populi, supplied the politicians with the means of carrying out their design, to get it said, in the name of the people, who doted on Clay, that they did not want Clay. Instead of voting on the candidates in full convention, it was decided to make the selection behind the scenes by means of successive votes taken by stages: the delegation of each State instructed a committee of three persons to communicate with the committees of the other delegations and to report their views, after which each delegation voted separately on the candidates for the Presidency, and if these votes, added together, gave the majority to any one candidate, the result was submitted to the convention, with which the final decision rested. In case no candidate obtained the majority at the votes of the respective delegations, their committees were to begin their conferences over again and make fresh reports to their principals, and so on until a majority gathered round a name to be laid before the convention, the vote of the majority of each delegation being counted as the vote of the whole State. This complicated procedure, which set in motion five-andtwenty small separate committees working in the dark and meeting only to spy on each other, to take each other's measure, and finally to haggle over the terms of the bargain which would not bear the light of day, was admirably adapted for the choice of candidates by process of elimination, by first of all disposing of the most prominent candidates. Wearied by the interminable conferences of the committees and by the series of successive votes, the delegates were naturally induced to accept the first solution offered, which, of course, had been prearranged by a few wire-pullers. This last task was (lischarged in the convention by some delegates from New York with a consummate politician, Thurlow Weed, at their head. Under his skilful management Clay, who appeared to have the majority of the delegates on his side, was placed in a minority in the separate votes of the delegations, and finally the convention agreed on the name of a somewhat obscure personage, General Harrison, an honourable man, but whose principal claim consisted of the victories won by him thirty years previously in encounters with tribes of Red Indians. And it was in favour of this old man, with no weight or experience as a statesman, without political ideas or a programme, that Clay saw himself rejected by his own party, whom he had so often led to battle amid the cheers even of his opponents. In their justifiable exasperation Clay's friends shouted treason. In reality there was none whatever, from the standpoint occupied by the Organization of the party. It was not its business to give expression to feeling or to affirm principles, but to carry the election; the Presidency was a prize to be won. If Clay, in spite of his glorious past, or on account of that past, did not offer satisfactory guarantees of success, did not the most elementary practical sense enjoin that he should be thrown over and another candidate adopted, were he ever so inferior to him. The rejection of Clay by the national convention was therefore quite in the logic of the system.
The election campaign which now began revealed the methods by which men put forward by this system could be foisted on the country in spite of their mediocrity. Hitherto all the candidates for the Presidency had been statesmen of more or less eminence, with a national reputation; Jackson had no record as a statesman, but he was borne along by the impetuous torrent of triumphant democracy; Van Buren had been thrust on the nation by the immense prestige of Jackson. Harrison possessed none of these qualifications. But the Whig Organization set to work to “raise enthusiasm” in his favour by devices, by systematic efforts which aimed especially at the imagination and the senses of the masses. Monster meetings, processions, parades, spectacular entertainments of every kind, songs, were all so many opportunities for shouting, for howling out Harrison's name without further reference to the virtues and qualities which marked him out for the chief magistracy. A Democratie newspaper in the East having said, by way of ridiculing the mediocrity of the Whig candi