Page images


constitutional rights. All attempts to do so by legislative authority are revolutionary and subversive of a republican form of government. The attempt of any other force, combination or agency to control the right of suffrage and to abridge or destroy the complete control of the voice of the people is revolutionary and destructive of freedom.

There would be no need for primary laws if the people at large were permitted to have a free and full expression in the selection of the candidates. And it is only when abuses creep in and the nefarious work of the ward-heeler, grafter and political boss usurp the sovereignty of the people that a law is invoked to control these enemies of free government.

The very worst elements of our great cities and in some of the States of the Union have congregated or combined under the standards of vicious political pirates, and by them the decent, respectable element have been banished from primary elections. The caucuses and town meetings of former times became the scenes of disgraceful riot, bloodshed and political debauchery. The American people are a patient people. They have waited patiently in the hope that the better element would prevail but they waited in vain. The political boss, the secret enemy of popular will, has entrenched himself behind every artifice that he and his followers can construct or invent. His political henchmen have been elected to office and he often controls the very laws that should punish him. He has been wiser than his generation, for the average voter, too busy to bother with politics, left him to control the political affairs and never took notice of the political conflict until after nominations were made. The political boss knows full well that if he control or make the selection of candidates and can defeat independent movements when the public becomes dissatisfied he can afford to trust the public with the election of the men he has selected for them. The political boss, however, is merely the tool of other interests. His forte


[blocks in formation]

is in nominating candidates acceptable to certain interests that pay him for his services. He is able to secure remuneration from his employer and the poor puppet that he nominates. The convention he controls is but the market place where the candidates mortgage or pledge their future services for the sake of nomination.

To cure this evil a direct primary, without the intervention of a convention, was demanded, in no uncertain tone, at the general election in 1904.

The General Assembly met in January, 1905, and proceeded to pass a bill for the conducting of primary elections. There have been two' primary enactments, since the election of 1904. One of them was declared unconstitutional because of its attempt to rob the people of their sovereign rights and a new one has been passed which I shall take the privilege as an attorney and citizen to criticise.

When we consider the reason for the enactment of a primary law it is astonishing to study the two bills passed by the legislature. It was generally understood that a law was demanded that would protect the people from the political pirate and restore to them their sovereign rights to rule themselves.

In my humble opinion the only control that the recent enactment makes is in favor of political organization, under boss rule or not, as against the public. The bill recently passed has many defects.

These are some of them:

1st. It gives to the county central committee of each party, an irresponsible body having no legal identity, the leg. islative power to district the county, and gives it almost unlimited discretionary power to gerrymander the same.

2nd. It fails to provide, that these committees clothed with such power, should be elected by the people, or to make

[blocks in formation]

them officers of the court like the judges of election, and amenable to the county court for malfeasance in office.

3rd. If the Attorney General's opinion is correct it would be a cause of invalidating a ticket to attempt to elect this august body.

4th. It was constructed with the evident intent of giving the ring power to defeat candidates not desired by it.

5th. It is uncertain in its construction, incomplete in detail and cumbersome and unintelligible.

6th. It protects the grafter and political boss against the people instead of protecting the people against the political pirate.

7th. It gives the convention papal power of absolving the delegate from the obligations of his plighted faith.

8th. Without sufficient return it entails a great expense on the public.

9th. It undertakes to legislate the sovereign power to private bodies and attempts to remove from the people the right to dictate their public servants.

I contend that no State legislature has a constitutional right to grant to any body of individuals having no legal identity, the right to carve out districts that may disfranchise half of the voters. When the section giving the extraordinary power to the county committees to district the county into delegate districts with little or no restriction was discussed, an amendment was offered intended to place such committees under the direction of the County Court, have them elected by the voters and sworn to discharge their duties as election officers. That amendment was tabled without debate. Is it not singular that where a law was demanded for the protection of the public from the usurpation of cliques, rings and bosses, that the first and most important part of the work of primary elections should be placed in the henchmen of the very class the law was expected to defeat? The object of the

[blocks in formation]


law was declared by every speaker and from every forum to be a law that would return to the people their God-given right to rule themselves and to select their servants without dictation from anybody. The Governor in his message to the legislature recognized this fact and thus expressed it:

"The duty of the legislature is plain. Their solemn pledge given to the people in a matter touching the fundamental condition of Republican government should be redeemed. This will not have been done until there has been placed upon the statute books a law which, while complying with constitutional requirements, will secure the substantial relief sought. The people have demanded the substance instead of the semblance of participation in the nomination of candidates. Their demand can be answered only by the enactment of laws which will restore to the people control of the entrances to public life.” It is your duty to see that this is accomplished that

the voters shall have the power not merely of electing, but of selecting their candidates."

Will any person for one moment deny that that statement of the Governor is not the whole truth? And yet notwithstanding that fact the entire natural tendency of the last bill enacted by the legislature defeats the will of the people whenever the ring is powerful enough and inclined to exercise its authority.

There were reasons given by some for defeating the bill promised by both parties to the people at large. One of the members said in substance: "I am not fool enough to legis

“ late myself out of office.” Another said: “The people were not cognizant and did not realize what they asked by a direct primary law and were ignorant of the real effect of it." Still another very eminent gentleman, in an address before the legislature, said that he did not believe it was right to leave to the crowd, meaning the people at large, the privilege of selecting candidates, that it was wrong to do so. He argued that in the selection of delegates by the machinery of a convention, a higher class of intelligence would be brought to bear in the selection of candidates.

[blocks in formation]

Another class of antagonists to a direct primary contended that the thickly settled districts of our large cities would suffer because the voter knew nothing of the candidates as a general thing and went to the polls ignorant of the qualifications of most of the candidates. Therefore they favored a convention. My opinion is this was sophistry used for argument with their own conscience when contemplating the act they committed. One thing sure they expressed a mistrust of the popular will.

Abraham Lincoln at the close of the Rebellion recognized the necessity of placing all power in the sovereign will of the American people. On the site of one of the bloodiest dramas of that fearful struggle he stood facing the field of glory, the memorable acts of valor fresh in his memory, and said:

"It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us,—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion,That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,-That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

That was the idea of Lincoln. It was the central idea of Washington and his compatriots. It was the inspiring idea of the framers of our Constitution and if it is destroyed, the national liberty will go with it. I contend it is absolutely necessary for our freedom,—our life as freemen that the idea of a government of the people, by the people and for the people, must be held as sacred as Wallace guarded the crown of Scotland. Not one particle of the sentiment must be frittered away.

Now let me call your attention to an unusual sentence in the Governor's message to the legislature last April. He said:

“The problem before you, therefore, is how to achieve a government of the people and for the people through agents and agencies selected by the people.”

There is a portentous modification of the government

« PreviousContinue »