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spoken of by the great Emancipator, and that government mentioned by the Governor.
By a fiction all governments are supposed to exist as governments of the people and for the people. The means of conducting the government determines its character. All governments are supposed to be carried on through agents and agencies of the people except a republic and that it is or should be a government such as Abraham Lincoln named,--a government by the people.
For a century this country flourished without a primary law. The members of each party assembled and selected their candidates in caucus, town meeting or convention. They did so, however, by a free and untrammeled expression of the popular will. By degrees "agencies” began to appear like clouds on the political horizon. Corrupt influences and corrupt men actuated by a thirst for office, knowing that they were not desired by the public, sought subterfuge and foul means to control the nominations. They learned that combination gave force to their efforts. And they met behind closed doors to concoct schemes to defeat the public will. There is not a state in the Union and but few of the great cities have not felt the baneful effects of these combined forces. New York, Philadelphia, Colorado and Delaware are notable examples of the ruinous effect of these destroyers of our public institutions, who have filled the offices with their henchmen and plundered the people for years. Parties have struggled against them in vain. Courts have been sought with indifferent success. Reformation within party lines has seldom succeeded. The greatest foe to the ring and grafter was the independent voter. Even he was powerless unless he combined with others. It will be noticeable in all primary legislation where the work of the ringmaster has been employed that the independent voter has been one of the targets of repressive legislation. Unfortunately there are certain large corporate bodies who are reaching out to grasp the
commercial arteries of the nation and drain them. They are aware that sooner or later they must come in conflict with the natural rights of others and that laws will be asked to regulate and control them; that upon a fair contest with the ballot their chances with success would be nothing; so they, too, seek to combine. The average voter has little or no time that his business does not claim. He leaves his party matters to the party managers. These managers are sought by the financial and other interests that are liable to legislative regulation and before long the aspiring political boss, the merchantable candidate, the political ward-heeler, and the henchmen who have little or nothing to do, form a combination known as “The ring.” Then follows the prostitution of public office to the interest of private gain and the public awaken to the knowledge that they have been deceived. They protest, plead and threaten, but their protest, pleading and threatening is in vain. A wave of reform strikes the people. They seek the various means of combating the corrupt influence of the boss and "ring," then finally ask that some laws be made to give them the right to select the candidate for whom they must vote. The demand comes when forbearance ceases to be a virtue. It comes when party pride and affiliation can no longer hide from the people the desperate condition of boss rule. It came late,-perhaps too late, the political boss is in the saddle. He has a firm grasp on the situation and rules with a scepter of iron. He has extended his dominion over the political field from the ward meeting to the occupants of the executive or legislative branches of the government.
A significant meeting took place in Chicago immediately following the passage of the last bill. A few political bosses met here to deliver the vote of this great city with all the assurance and claim of ownership that a Texas ranchman would arrange to deliver a herd of cattle.
The ringmaster of politics has succeeded in installing his
pliant tools in office, and neither he nor his clientage are willing to give the public a chance to dislodge them.
There can be but one sovereign in a nation. In a republic that sovereign must be the will of The People. There can be no mixing the power. When the people cease to rule some other power assumes control. The object and only object of a primary bill should be to restore by law the natural, constitutional right of self-government to the people where that right has been denied.
To restore to the people their rights, 600,000 voters called upon our legislature. Did that body respond to the call of duty ? Let the facts answer. Several bills were introduced in the 44th General Assembly tending to regulate primary elections. There was one that provided that each party casting 5 per cent or more of the vote at the general election next preceding might nominate its candidates by a direct vote of the people of that party and the person receiving the highest number of votes for any office should be the nominee.
The idea was to place in the hands of the people at large the right of selection of the candidates. The bill provided every safeguard to the popular will that general elections have, and was direct and simple in its working. That bill was turned down without debate by being tabled at the first session.
After much labor and mental strategy the Assembly passed out an act with many good features, but not enough to hide its hideous results on a fair and free ballot. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. The Executive re-convened the legislature to enact another law. Six weeks were consumed in its construction. And yet when it was conceived and brought forth it presented a worse character and fewer redeeming traits than its predecessor. True it compels all parties to hold the primaries on the same day and provides sufficient penalties to punish judges and clerks for violation of duty. It contains some general provisions that are commendable, but on the whole, as a law, it is wrong. Under its provisions it is impos
sible for the candidate who is not in the combine to secure his nomination. It places the voter at the mercy of machine polities and in its general outline is so uncertain as to defy interpretation. With the right of districting the county placed in the committee and the committee not responsible to its constituency the people are powerless. Under its provisions the convention, known now to be the incubator of the worst traits of corrupt politics, hatches the committeemen and candidates, and the candidates and committeemen run the machine. One man in speaking of the bill said that it was the combination of brute force and immoral suasion.
It has been admitted on all sides that a simple, direct, plain primary law, where the people went to the polls and a plurality of the votes of each party selected the candidate, would vest the entire control of the nominations where it belongs, with the people. The people demanded a primary that would restore to them the rights of which they had been robbed by the machine politician. There is no reason why the legislature and the parties who promised such a law should have defeated the most effective means of giving the people what they wanted. Nevertheless the direct primary wherein the people could control the selection was summarily defeated.
It was not a partisan battle. The passage of the present bill was not a republican victory, nor a democratic defeat. It failed to rise to the dignity of a party measure.
The machine brought the bill in and passed it by the same methods they always employ to defeat the popular will. Its most bitter antagonists were republicans, and many who voted for it did it under the sting of the ring-master's lash and while holding their political noses. That bill abridges the right of the wards and townships to elect their committeemen. It gives to the machine plenary power to defeat the popular will. As citizens we cannot but look upon it as a series of strides in the direction which the boodler and corrupt politicians have already dragged us.
All attempts to abridge or deprive the people of this sovereign right by a legislature are revolutionary and subversive of a good government. Can a citizen of the State of Illinois knowing the constitutional limitations upon the legislative body, knowing the reason that called forth the demand for a primary election law at the present time, knowing the outrages and abuses that have grown up and obtained control of the primaries; can a citizen knowing these things defend the enactment of laws that fail to sustain and insure the full expression and successful denouement of the popular will ?
The primary is more vital to our country than the general election. If the major portion of the voters composing a political party can select a candidate, they generally get the best material in that party, and if the parties are permitted to select candidates by a fair free vote it is not easy for bad men long to dominate the offices.
On the other hand if the primary is to be the child of intrigue, conspiracy and boss rule the voter is left with only a choice between evils. Especially is this so, where the law substitutes for the popular will, the will of delegates selected under conditions dominated by corrupt men.
Why employ the unwieldy, ungainly and cumbersome convention when the voter could just as easily select his candidate by a direct vote?
Two classes only can object to a direct primary, viz: First, those whose unsavory reputation makes them afraid of the popular will, the other is that class that have special interests that conflict with the general welfare and want their friends and tools to administer public affairs. The direct primary, with legal safeguards, would restore to the people the substance as well as the semblance of a free government.
If this is a government of the people, by the people nd for the people, let us have it. If it is not such a government let us know it.