THE REPRESENTATIVE, OR REPUBLICAN, FORM OF GOVERNMENT, CAREFULLY CHOSEN BY
THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION IN 1787 AGAINST DEMOCRACY OR DIRECT ACTION BY THE
PEOPLE, WAS FIRST UNDERMINED BY THE STATES
In 1893 South Dakota adopted from Switzerland the
Initiative and the Referendum, and from then until 1918 one or both of those
plans, with the Recall, were taken on by 22 of the 48 States.
Three borrowings from Switzerland against our Constitution
By the Initiative the people can draft a law and put it to a vote; if the
majority favor it the legislature is bound to pass it, even though opposed to
By the Referendum a bill passed by the legislature is referred to popular
vote, and it may be approved or prevented from taking effect.
The Recall is used to unseat a holder of office who has become
unsatisfactory, or to revoke a law.
Some States adopted the three expedients, some two of them, some only one.
At first the belief spread rapidly.
The first attempt to recall judicial decisions
Colorado was the only State to apply (1912) the Recall to decisions by the
courts, and that was held by the Supreme Court of the State to be in conflict
with the Colorado constitution.
Theodore Roosevelt, displeased by the decisions of some courts, advocated
the recall of decisions of the supreme courts of States. The prestige of
the former President gave much impetus to the "movement." The
American Bar Association appointed a committee to go to the country in
refutation of the constitutionally destructive idea. In 1912 the committee
reported the recall of decisions dead. Roosevelt afterward admitted that he had
made a mistake.
Kansas limited the Recall (1914) to appointive officials.
The Initiative has never been extensively used, and for a long time not much
has been heard of any of the "democratic" devices.
Large populations require representation, not "democracy"
Methods deemed useful to small populations in narrow areas, as in the
cantons of Switzerland and the town meetings in New England, could not be
accepted as serviceable or safe for large populations and extensive countries.
Indeed, that point was discussed in the Constitutional Convention, and the
conclusion was reached that for the United States as they then were, and as
they would expand to be, only the representative or Republican system would do.
In 1893, when South Dakota led the way, the country had undergone one of its
severest panics. There had also been successive crop failures. The advocates of
popular action contended that legislatures were not faithful to the people and
that therefore the people should take over. However, the remedy was in the
election of better legislators, not in a fundamental change in the form of
government. And it is doubtful whether the most capable and honest legislators
could have stilled the complaints arising from the panic and the failures of
When people seek paternalism from their government
In all such times the disposition is to look around for a scapegoat, and the
people usually feel that government should do something to correct conditions
and relieve distress.
This inclination of the people in financial distress to look to the
governments of the States to do something about it was the forerunner, as it
were, of the wide calls for "Federal aid" of many kinds which were
raised in the late 1920s and the early 1930s.
In 1920 the Supreme Court upheld (253 U. S. 233) the creation by a vote of
the people of North Dakota of an Industrial Commission to take over and manage
utilities, industries, and other business projects, some to be established by
law. It was authorized to operate the Bank of North Dakota, the Home-Builders
Association, flour mills, grain elevators, a fire insurance company, and other
projects. It was empowered to issue bonds, and in 1937 it had floated such
paper to the amount of $24,798,000 for rural credit.
From 1934 to 1940, in a time of peace, the National Government built up a
deficit of $26,500,000,000, of which $21,500,000,000, or 80 per cent, according
to the Governor of Virginia, resulted from "grants in aid" to States
and individuals. Subsidies from the taxpayers of the country held up the price
of wheat and corn to $3 a bushel as late as 1948. And like support to stockmen
put the prices of their commodities so high that beefsteaks, roasts and lamb
almost entirely disappeared from the table of the American.
Dependence on government brings unfortunate conditions
And yet the stockmen were unprepared with shelter and feed to care for their
herds when the heavy snows and low temperatures came in the Winter of
1948-1949. The States were without organization to help. Governors and stockmen
cried to Washington to come out and save them! Long dependence of the people
and the States on miscalled "Federal money" had debilitated both.
The army was sent out. It kept the roads open and it fed and saved most of
Caesar, too, helped the people, but they lost their liberty to him.
The Constitutional Convention set up a thoroughly representative form of
Government in each of the three Departments — the Legislative, the
Executive, and the Judicial. The States, which wrote the Constitution by their
representatives, provided in section 4 of Article IV particular protection for
Nation and States given representative government by Constitution
"The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a
Republican [not democratic] form of government, and shall protect each of them
They obliged the power over all, which they had set up for the common
strength, to protect each in its Republican form, and to defend each
Commenting on that provision for a representative form of government,
Madison said in No. 43 of The Federalist:
"The only restriction imposed on them is that they shall not exchange
Republican for anti-Republican [democratic] constitutions."
The choice by the Convention of the Republican or representative form over
the popular or democratic government followed full and able discussions. In
explaining what had been considered in this relation, Madison, the note taker
of daily doings in the Convention, said in No. 10 of The Federalist,
after pointing out the evils which factions had always done in democracies:
"The inference to which we are brought is that the causes of
faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of
controlling its effects."
Why Convention rejected democracy or popular control
The turbulence and contention which had given short lives and violent deaths
to democracies would be controlled by representative government:
"A Republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of
representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the
cure for which we are seeking."
By "the delegation of the government to a small number of citizens
elected by the rest," Madison said, the public views are refined and
enlarged "by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens
whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose
patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to
temporary or partial considerations."
"Under such a regulation it may well happen that the public voice,
pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the
public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the
The spread of a governmental evil
The Initiative, the Referendum, and the Recall led to other departures from
the representative form of government. Officeholders or aspirants who hoped to
advantage themselves brought out the direct primary. That primary suggested
later the "Presidential preference" primary to seekers of the highest
office, who believed that they could "swing" the crowd when the party
might not be for them. In many instances the promoters of the
"democratic" primary, which had been hailed as the voice of the
people, failed of their expectations through them.
As the decayed apple in the barrel damages all the others, so the badness in
principle of the Initiative, the Referendum, and the Recall spread after
bringing the direct primary and the Presidential primary. In 1912 some members
of the United States Senate, doubtless feeling that they would be more sure of
holding their seats if they could appeal to the people from the hustings than
if their return were to remain with critical legislatures, proposed an
amendment to the Constitution, first suggested in 1869, for the direct election
of senators by the people of the States instead of by the legislatures. It was
ratified and became effective as the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.
The great purpose in the Congress frustrated
Thus the two Houses of Congress became alike, whereas the Constitutional
Convention designed a House of People and a House of States. The House elected
by the States to represent them in the Congress of their Union was
destroyed. Two Houses now represent the people and none stands for the States.
Does that help to explain why the States have been passing out as the
controlling forces in their Union? The extent of their diminution will be fully
shown later in this book.
The proponents of the Amendment supported their advocacy by saying that
money had been improperly used in some legislatures by backers of candidates
for the House of States. But, as we have said with respect to the Initiative,
the proper remedy for the people was in electing better legislators, not in
unsettling the foundations of the Republic. Besides, candidates for the Senate,
in the primary to get the nomination and then in the election contest against
the nominee of the other party to get the office, have spent more money than
was ever reported as used in a legislature.
A very capable and upright senator from California declined to seek a second
term because the expense of the primary which nominated him and of the election
campaign which put him in the Senate had been so great that he said the
security of his family had been endangered. He was fairly well-to-do, but this
"democracy" which had been introduced in the name of
"reform" he could not carry.
Some capable men excluded from Senate
Had the Seventeenth Amendment not been put in the Constitution, the
legislature of California might have kept him in the service of the State by
reelecting him many terms. Thus, Senator Hoar of Massachusetts, an illustrious
statesman without means, who did not want to go to the Senate, was chosen by
his legislature during his absence from the country and kept there to the end
of his life.
Senator Morrill of Vermont and others of those times gave all or most of
their working years to their country in the House of States. They did not need
to "campaign." That was fortunate, because they had no money.
A poor man who seeks a seat in the Senate now must have "backers,"
and he may therefore cease to be the owner of himself.
The cure which was sought in haste and some anger through the Initiative and
the popular election of senators might have been reached by choosing better
legislators. But when the American, after long indifference, arouses himself he
is prone "to do the right thing the wrong way."
Lack of learning in Constitution dangerous
It is hard to believe that an educator provided the "slogan" for
those two decades: "The cure for the evils of democracy is more
democracy." We have it.
In No. 62 of The Federalist the faith in the House of States was
expressed (italics inserted):
"It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select
appointment, and of giving to the State government such an agency in the
formation of the Federal Government as must secure the authority of the
former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems."
Thus the States would be in Congress as well as the People.
Evil results from decline of Senate
None of the transgressions of constitutional boundaries of recent years
could probably have been accomplished had the House of States not been broken
It is a fact to be noted that the Sixteenth Amendment, under which Congress
has, without specific authority, been gathering the "graduated"
income tax of Communism, became effective in February, 1913, and the
Seventeenth Amendment, emasculating the House of States, became a part of the
Constitution in May of that year. That imports very serious dissatisfaction of
a people, unschooled in the principles of their Government, with the system
designed by the Constitutional Convention, which contained, Bryce pointed out,
"five men who belong to tile history of the world," and many others
"less known in Europe who must be mentioned with respect."
Warning of Washington against constitutional innovations
In his Farewell Address caution was given by Washington to resist "the
spirit of innovation" upon the principles of the Constitution,
"however specious the pretexts."
General and thorough education in constitutional philosophy is essential to
A final word from The Federalist:
"The necessity of a Senate is not less indicated by the propensity of
all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and
violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and
pernicious resolutions. Examples on this subject might be cited without number;
and from proceedings within the United States, as well as from the history of
The States in their House would be a check on sudden and ill-considered
action by the House of the People.
In the day of the House of States the senators accepted seriously and
discharged courageously the responsibility cast upon them by the Constitution
in confirming or disapproving the appointments of the President. A confirmation
then did not follow as a matter of course. In Autobiography of Seventy
Years it is related by Senator Hoar that he went into the Supreme Court to
hear Senator Daniel Webster make an argument in a case. Webster began by
referring "very impressively" to the changes which had taken place in
the Tribunal since he first appeared as counsel before it:
"Not one of the judges who were here then remains. It has been my duty
to pass upon the question of the confirmation of every member of the Bench; and
I may say that I treated your honors with entire impartiality, for I voted
against every one of you."
The alterations in the American system of representative or Republican
government here reviewed were as unnecessary as they were ineffectual for the
"Democracy" not suitable to representative system
A review of over half a century of tinkerings with constitutional
representative government makes plain that "democracy" is unsuited to
the United States.
The cases to be reviewed in the chapters following will serve to clarify the
meaning in practice of the representative principle running everywhere through
the Constitution. They will help also to an understanding of the structurally
important — superior and sustaining — place of the States in the
Then it will be clear why, as President Cleveland said, "departure from
the lines there laid down is failure."
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