PROBLEMS OF RECONSTRUCTION
STATE INSTITUTIONAL REFORM
In the foregoing chapter I have traced the larger aspects of a constructive relation between the national and democratic principles in the field of foreign politics. The task remains of depicting somewhat in detail the aspect which our more important domestic problems assume from the point of view of the same relationship. The general outlines of this picture have already been roughly sketched; but the mere sketch of a fruitful general policy is not enough. A national policy must be justified by the flexibility with which, without any loss of its integrity, it can be applied to specific problems, differing radically one from another in character and significance. That the idea of a constructive relationship between nationality and democracy is flexible without being invertebrate is one of its greatest merits. It is not a rigid abstract and partial ideal, as is that of an exclusively socialist or an exclusively individualist democracy. Neither is it merely a compromise, suited to certain practical exigencies, between individualism and socialism. Its central formative idea can lend itself to many different and novel applications, while still remaining true to its own fundamental interest.
Flexible though the national ideal may be, its demands are in one respect inflexible. It is the strenuous and irrevocable enemy of the policy of drift. It can counsel patience; but it cannot abide collective indifference or irresponsibility. A constructive national ideal must at least seek humbly to be constructive. The only question is, as to how this responsibility for the collective welfare can at any one time be most usefully redeemed. In the case of our own country at the present time an intelligent conception of the national interest will counsel patient agitation rather than any hazardous attempts at radical reconstruction. No such reform can be permanent, or even healthy, until American public opinion has been converted to a completer realization of the nature and extent of its national responsibilities. The ship of reform will gather most headway from the association of certain very moderate practical proposals with the issue of a deliberate, persistent, and far more radical challenge to popular political prejudices and errors. It will be sufficient, in case our practical proposals seek to accomplish some small measure both of political and economic reconstruction, and in case they occupy some sort of a family relation to plans of the same kind with which American public opinion is already more or less familiar.
In considering this matter of institutional reform, I shall be guided chiefly by the extent to which certain specific reforms have already become living questions. From this point of view it would be a sheer waste of time just at present to discuss seriously any radical modification, say, of the Federal Constitution. Certain transformations of the Constitution either by insidious effect of practice, by deliberate judicial construction, or by amendment are, of course, an inevitable aspect of the contemporary American political problem; but all such possible and proposed changes must be confined to specific details. They should not raise any question as to the fundamental desirability of a system of checks and balances or of the other principles upon which the Federal political organization is based. Much, consequently, as a political theorist may be interested in some ideal plan of American national organization, it will be of little benefit under existing conditions to enter into such a discussion. Let it wait until Americans have come to think seriously and consistently about fundamental political problems. The Federal Constitution is not all it should be, but it is better than any substitute upon which American public opinion could now agree. Modifications may and should somehow be made in details, but for the present not in fundamentals. On the other hand, no similar sanctity attaches to municipal charters and state constitutions. The ordinary state constitution is a sufficiently ephemeral piece of legislation. State and municipal political forms are being constantly changed, and they are being changed because they have been so extremely unsatisfactory in their actual operation. The local political machinery becomes, consequently, the natural and useful subject of reconstructive experiments. A policy of institutional reform must prove its value and gain its experience chiefly in this field; and in formulating such a policy reformers will be placing their hands upon the most palpable and best-recognized weakness in the American political system.
A popular but ill-founded American political illusion concerns the success of their state governments. Americans tend to believe that these governments have on the whole served them well, whereas in truth they have on the whole been ill served by their machinery of local administration and government. The failure has not, perhaps, been as egregious or as scandalous as has been that of their municipal institutions; but it has been sufficiently serious to provoke continual but abortive attempts to improve them; and it has had so many dangerous consequences that the cause and cure of their inefficiency constitute one of the most fundamental of American political problems. The consequences of the failure have been mitigated because the weakness of the state governments has been partly concealed and redeemed by the comparative strength and efficiency of the central government. But the failures have none the less been sufficiently distressing; and if they are permitted to continue, they will compromise the success of the American democratic experiment. The Federal government has done much to ameliorate the condition of the American people, whereas the state governments have done little or nothing. Instead of representing, as a government should, the better contemporary ideals and methods, they have reflected at best the average standard of popular behavior and at worst a standard decidedly below the average. The lawlessness which so many Americans bemoan in American life must be traced to the inefficiency of the state governments. If the central government had shared this weakness, the American political organism would have already dissolved in violence and bloodshed.
The local authorities retain under the American Federal organization many of the primary functions of government. They preserve order, administer civil and criminal justice, collect taxes for general and local purposes, and are directly or indirectly responsible for the system of public education. If it can be proved that the state governments have exercised any of these functions in an efficient manner, that proof certainly does not lie upon the surface of the facts. The provisions they have made for keeping order have been utterly inadequate, and have usually broken down when any serious reason for disorder has existed. A certain part of this violence is, moreover, the immediate result of the failure of American criminal justice. The criminal laws have been so carefully framed and so admirably expounded for the benefit of the lawyers and their clients, the malefactors, that a very large proportion of American murderers escape the proper penalty of their acts; and these dilatory and dubious judicial methods are undoubtedly one effective cause of the prevalence of lynching in the South. There is more to be said in favor of our civil than of our criminal courts. In spite of a good deal of corruption and of subserviency to special interests, the judges are usually honest men and good average lawyers; but the fact that they are elected for comparatively short terms has made them the creatures of the political machine, and has demoralized their political standards. They use court patronage largely for the benefit of the machine; and whatever influence they have in politics is usually exercised in favor of the professional politician. If they do not constitute a positive weakness in the system of local government, they are certainly far from constituting a source of strength; and considering the extent to which our government is a government of judges, they should exercise a far more beneficent influence than they do.
Neither are the administrative and legislative responsibilities of the states redeemed with any more success. The tax systems of the several states are in a chaotic condition. Their basis consists of the old property tax, which under its application to modern conditions has become both unjust and unproductive, but which the state legislatures seem to be wholly incapable of either abandoning or properly transforming. In the matter of education the states have been, except in the South, liberal; but they have not been as intelligent and well-informed as they have been well-intentioned. The educational system of the country is not only chaotic, but it is very imperfectly adapted to the needs of an industrial and agricultural democracy. Finally, if the legislatures of the several states have ever done anything to increase respect for the wisdom and conservatism of American representative government, it is certainly hard to discover indications thereof. The financial and economic legislation of the states has usually shown incompetence and frequently dishonesty. They have sometimes been ready to repudiate their debts. In their relations to the corporations they have occupied the positions alternately of blackmailers and creatures. They have been as ready to confiscate private property as they have to confer on it excessive privileges. If the word "law" means something less majestic and authoritative to Americans than it should, the mass of trivial, contradictory, unwise, ephemeral, and corrupt legislation passed by the state legislatures is largely responsible.
No doubt a certain part of this failure of the state governments is irremediable as long as existing standards of public and private morality prevail; but most assuredly a certain part is the direct result of unwise organization. American state governments have been corrupt and inefficient largely because they have been organized for the benefit of corrupt and inefficient men; and as long as they continue to be organized on such a basis, no permanent or substantial improvement can be expected. Moreover, any reorganization in order to be effective must not deal merely with details and expedients. It must be as radical as are the existing disorganization and abuses. It must be founded on a different relation between the executive and legislative branches and a wholly different conception of the function of a state legislative body.
The demand for some such reorganization has already become popular, particularly in the West. A generation or more ago the makers of new state constitutions, being confronted by palpable proofs of the inefficiency and corruption of the state governments, sought to provide a remedy chiefly by limiting the power of the legislature. All sorts of important details, which would have formerly been left to legislative action, were incorporated in the fundamental law; and in the same spirit severe restrictions were imposed on legislative procedure, designed to prevent the most flagrant existing abuses. These prudential measures have not served to improve the legislative output, and the reformers are now crying for more drastic remedies. In the West the tendency is to transfer legislative authority from a representative body directly to the people. A movement in favor of the initiative and the referendum is gaining so much headway, that in all probability it will spread throughout the country much as the Australian ballot did over a decade ago. But the adoption of the initiative and the referendum substitutes a new principle for the one which has hitherto underlain American local institutions. Representative government is either abandoned thereby or very much restricted; and direct government, so far as possible, is substituted for it. Such a fundamental principle and tradition as that of representation should not be thrown away, unless the change can be justified by a specific, comprehensive, and conclusive analysis of the causes of the failure of the state governments.
The analysis upon which the advocates of the initiative and the referendum base their reform has the merit of being obvious. American legislatures have betrayed the interests of their constituents, and have been systematically passing laws for the benefit of corrupt and special interests. The people must consequently take back the trust, which has been delegated to representative bodies. They must resume at least the power to initiate the legislation they want; and no law dealing with a really important subject should be passed without their direct consent.
Such an analysis of the causes of legislative corruption and incompetence is not as correct as it is obvious. It is based upon the old and baleful democratic tendency of always seeking the reason for the failure of a democratic enterprise in some personal betrayal of trust. It is never the people who are at fault. Neither is the betrayal attributed to some defect of organization, which neglects to give the representative individual a sufficient chance. The responsibility for the failure is fastened on the selected individual himself, and the conclusion is drawn that the people cannot trust representatives to serve them honestly and efficiently. The course of reasoning is precisely the same as that which prompted the Athenian democracy to order the execution of an unsuccessful general. In the case of our state legislatures, a most flagrant betrayal of trust has assuredly occurred, but before inferring from this betrayal that selected individuals cannot be trusted to legislate properly on behalf of their constituents, it would be just as well to inquire whether individual incompetence and turpitude are any sufficient reason for this particular failure of representative institutions.
As a matter of fact they are no sufficient reason. When a large number of individuals to whom authority is delegated exercise that authority improperly, one may safely infer that the system is at fault as much as the individual. Local American legislative organization has courted failure. Both the system of representation and functions of the representative body have been admirably calculated to debase the quality of the representatives and to nullify the value of their work. American state legislatures have really never had a fair opportunity. They have almost from the beginning been deprived of any effective responsibility. The state constitutions have gradually hedged them in with so many restrictions, have gone so much into detail in respect to state organization and policy that the legislatures really had comparatively little to do, except to deal with matters of current business. They offered no opportunity for a man of ability and public spirit. When such men drifted into a local legislature, they naturally escaped as soon as they could to some larger and less obstructed field of action. If the American people want better legislatures, they must adopt one of two courses. Either they must give their legislative bodies something more and better to do, or else they must arrange so that these bodies will have a chance to perform an inferior but definite service more capably.
The legislatures have been corrupt and incapable, chiefly because they have not been permitted any sufficient responsibility, but this irresponsibility itself has had more than one cause. It cannot be traced exclusively to the diminished confidence and power reposed in representative bodies by the state constitutions. Early in the nineteenth century, the legislatures were granted almost full legislative powers; and if they did not use those powers well, they used them much better than at a later period. Their corruption began with the domination of the political machine; and it is during the last two generations that their powers and responsibilities have been more and more restricted. They have undoubtedly been more corrupt and incompetent in proportion as they have been increasingly deprived of power; but therestrictions imposed upon them have been as much an effect as a cause of their corruption. There is a deeper reason for their deficiencies; and this reason is connected with mal-adaptation of the whole system of American state government to its place in a Federal system. The Federal organization took away from the states a number of the most important governmental functions, and in certain respects absolutely subordinated the state to the nation. In this way the actual responsibilities and the powers of the state governments were very much diminished, while at the same time no sufficient allowance for such a diminution was made in framing their organization. Their governments were organized along the same lines as that of an independent state—in spite of the fact that they had abandoned so many of the responsibilities and prerogatives of independence.
The effect of this mal-adaptation of the state political institutions to their place in a Federal system has been much more important than is usually supposed. The former were planned to fulfill a much completer responsibility than the one which they actually possessed. The public business of a wholly or technically independent state naturally arouses in its citizens a much graver sense of responsibility than does the public business of a state in the American Union. The latter retained many important duties; but it surrendered, if not the most essential of its functions, at least the most critical and momentous, while in the exercise of the remainder it was to a certain extent protected against the worst consequences of mistakes or perversities. It surrendered the power of making peace or declaring war. Its relation to the other states in the Union was strictly defined, so that it had no foreign policy and responsibilities corresponding to its purely domestic ones. Its citizens were aware that the protection of such fundamental institutions as that of private property was lodged in the Federal government, and that in the end that government had the power to guarantee them even against the worst consequences of domestic disorder. Thus the state governments were placed in the easy situation of rich annuitants, who had surrendered the control of some political capital in order to enjoy with less care the opportunities of a plethoric income.
The foregoing comment is not intended as any disparagement of a Federal as contrasted with a centralized political system. Its purpose is to justify the statement that, in a Federal system, local political institutions should be adapted to their necessarily restricted functions. The state governments were organized as smaller copies of the central government, and the only alterations in the type permitted by the Democrats looked in the direction of a further distribution of responsibility. But a system which was adapted to the comprehensive task of securing the welfare of a whole people might well fail as an engine of merely local government,—even though the local government retained certain major political functions. As a matter of fact, such has been the case. The system of a triple division of specific powers, each one of which was vigorous in its own sphere while at the same time checked and balanced by the other branches of the government, has certain advantages and certain disadvantages. Its great advantage is its comparative safety, because under it no one function of government can attain to any dangerous excess of power. Its great disadvantage consists in the division of responsibility among three independent departments, and the possibility that the public interest would suffer either from lack of coöperation or from actual conflicts. In the case of the general government, the comparative safety of the system of checks and balances was of paramount importance, because the despotic exercise of its vast powers would have wrecked the whole American political system. On the other hand, the disadvantages of such a system—its division of responsibility and the possible lack of coöperation among the several departments—were mitigated to a considerable, if not to a sufficient, extent. National parties came into existence with the function of assuming a responsibility which no single group of Federal officials possessed; and in their management of national affairs, the partisan leaders were prompted by a certain amount of patriotism and interest in the public welfare. Even at Washington the system works badly enough in certain respects; but in general the dominant party can be held to a measure of responsibility; and effective coöperation is frequently obtained in matters of foreign policy and the like through the action of patriotic and disinterested motives.
In the state governments the advantages of a system of checks and balances were of small importance, while its disadvantages were magnified. The state governments had no reason to sacrifice concentrated efficiency to safety, because in a Federal organization the temporary exercise of arbitrary executive or legislative power in one locality would not have entailed any irretrievable consequences, and could not impair the fundamental integrity of the American system. But if a state had less to lose from a betrayal by a legislature or an executive of a substantially complete responsibility for the public welfare, it was not protected to the same extent as the central government against the abuses of a diffused responsibility. In the state capitals, as at Washington, the national parties did, indeed, make themselves responsible for the management of public affairs and for the harmonious coöperation of the executive and the legislature; but in their conduct of local business the national parties retained scarcely a vestige of national patriotism. Their behavior was dictated by the most selfish factional and personal motives. They did, indeed, secure the coöperation of the different branches of the government, but largely for corrupt or undesirable purposes; and after the work was done the real authors of it could hide behind the official division of responsibility.
If the foregoing analysis is correct, the partial failure of American state governments is to be imputed chiefly to their lack of a centralized responsible organization. In their case a very simple and very efficient legislative and administrative system is the more necessary, because only through such a machinery can the local public spirit receive any effective expression. It can hardly be expected that American citizens will bring as much public spirit to their local public business as to the more stirring affairs of the whole nation; and what local patriotism there is should be confronted by no unnecessary obstacles. If a mistake or an abuse occurs, the responsibility for it should be unmistakable and absolute, while if a reform candidate or party is victorious, they should control a machinery of government wholly sufficient for their purposes.
As soon as any attempt is made to devise a system which does concentrate responsibility and power, serious difficulties are encountered. Concentration of responsibility can be brought about in one of two ways—either by subordinating the legislature to the executive or the executive to the legislature. There are precedents both here and abroad in favor of each of these methods, and their comparative advantages must be briefly sketched.
The subordination of the executive to the legislature would conform to the early American political tradition. We have usually associated executive authority with arbitrary and despotic political methods, and we have tended to assume that a legislative body was much more representative of popular opinion. During or immediately succeeding the Revolutionary War, the legislatures of the several states were endowed with almost complete control—a control which was subject only to the constitutional bills of rights; and it has been seriously and frequently proposed to revive this complete legislative responsibility. Under such a system, the legislature would elect the chief executive, if not the judicial officials; and it would become like the British Parliament exclusively and comprehensively responsible for the work of government—both in its legislative and administrative branches.
The foregoing type of organization has so many theoretical advantages that one would like to see it tried in some American states. But for the present it is not likely to be tried. The responsibility of the legislature could not be exercised without the creation of some institution corresponding to the British Cabinet: and the whole tendency of American political development has been away from any approach to the English Parliamentary system. Whatever the theoretical advantages of legislative omnipotence, it would constitute in this country a dangerous and dubious method of concentrating local governmental responsibility and power. It might succeed, in case it were accompanied by the adoption of some effective measures for improving the quality of the representation—such, for instance, as the abandonment of all existing traditions necessitating the residence of the representative in the district he represents. This American political practice always has and always will tend to give mediocrity to the American popular representation, but it corresponds to one of the most fundamental of American political prejudices, and for the present its abandonment is out of the question. The work of improving the quality of the average American representative from a small district appears to be hopeless, because as a matter of fact such small districts and the work imposed on their representatives can hardly prove tempting to able men; and unless the American legislator is really capable of becoming exceptionally representative, the fastening of exclusive responsibility upon the state legislatures could hardly result in immediate success. Its intrinsic merits might carry it to ultimate success, but not until it had transformed many American political practices and traditions.
The truth is, that certain very deep and permanent causes underlie American legislative degeneracy. When the American legislative system was framed, a representative assembly possessed a much better chance than it does now of becoming a really representative body. It constituted at the time an effective vehicle for the formation and expression of public opinion. Public questions had not received the complete ventilation on the platform and in the press that they obtain at the present time; and in the debate of a representative assembly the chance existed of a really illuminating and formative conflict of opinion. Representatives were often selected, who were capable of adding something to the candid and serious consideration of a question of public policy. The need helped to develop men capable of meeting it. Now, however, American legislatures, with the partial exception of the Federal Senate, have ceased to be deliberative bodies. Public questions receive their effective discussion in the press and on the platform. Public opinion is definitely formed before the meeting of the legislature; and the latter has become simply a vehicle for realizing or betraying the mandates of popular opinion. Its function is or should be to devise or to help in the devising of means, necessary to accomplish a predetermined policy. Its members have little or no initiative and little or no independence. Legislative projects are imposed upon them either by party leaders, by special interests, or at times by the executive and public opinion. Their work is at best that of committee-men and at worst that of mercenaries, paid to betray their original employers. A successful attempt to bestow upon legislative bodies, composed of such doubtful material and subject to such equivocal traditions anything resembling complete governmental responsibility, would be a dangerous business. Legislatures have degenerated into the condition of being merely agents, rather than principals in the work of government; and the strength and the propriety of the contemporary movement in favor of the initiative and the referendum is to be attributed to this condition.
The increasing introduction of the referendum into the local political organization is partly a recognition of the fact that the legislatures have ceased to play an independent part in the work of government. There is every reason to believe that hereafter the voters will obtain and keep a much more complete and direct control over the making of their laws than that which they have exerted hitherto; and the possible desirability of the direct exercise of this function cannot be disputed by any loyal democrat. The principle upon which the referendum is based is unimpeachable; but a question remains as to the manner in which the principle of direct legislation can be best embodied in a piece of practical political machinery; and the attempt to solve this question involves a consideration of the general changes in our system of local government, which may be required, as a result of the application of the new principle.
The necessary limits of this discussion forbid any exhaustive consideration of the foregoing questions; and I must content myself with a brief summary of the method in which the principle of direct legislation can be made the part of an efficient local political system. The difficulty is to find some means of distinguishing that part of the legislative responsibility which should be retained by the people and that part which, in order to be effectively redeemed, must be delegated. Obviously the part to be retained is the function of accepting or rejecting certain general proposals respecting state organization or policy. An American electorate is or should be entirely competent to decide whether in general it wishes gambling or the sale of intoxicating liquors to be suppressed, whether it is willing or unwilling to delegate large judicial and legislative authority to commissions, or whether it wishes to exempt buildings from local taxation. In retaining the power of deciding for itself these broad questions of public legislative policy, it is exercising a function, adapted to the popular intelligence and both disciplinary and formative in its effect on those who take the responsibility seriously. Under any system of popular government—even under a parliamentary system—such general questions are eventually submitted to popular decision; and the more decisively they can be submitted, the better. On the other hand, there is a large part of the work of government, which must be delegated by the people to select individuals, because it can be efficiently exercised only by peculiarly experienced or competent men. The people are capable of passing upon the general principle embodied in a proposed law; but they cannot be expected to decide with any certainty of judgment about amendments or details, which involve for their intelligent consideration technical and special knowledge. Efficient law-making is as much a matter of well-prepared and well-tempered detail as it is of an excellent general principle, and this branch of legislation must necessarily be left to experts selected in one way or another to represent the popular interest. How can they best be selected and what should be their functions?
An answer to these questions involves a consideration of the changes which the referendum should bring with it in the whole system of local government—an aspect of the matter which according to the usual American habit has hitherto been neglected. In states like Oregon the power of initiating and consummating legislation is bestowed on the electorate without being taken away from the legislature; and a certain share of necessary political business is left to a body which has been expressly declared unworthy to exercise a more important share of the same task. A legislative body, whose responsibilities and power are still further reduced, will probably exercise their remaining functions with even greater incompetence, and will, if possible, be composed of a still more inferior class of legislative agents. If the legislature is to perform the inferior but still necessary functions that will necessarily remain in its hands, an attempt should certainly be made to obtain a better quality of representation. No direct system of state government can constitute any really substantial improvement on the existing system, unless either the legislature is deprived of all really essential functions, or the quality of its membership improved.
The legislature, or some representative body corresponding to it, cannot, however, be deprived of certain really essential functions. The task of preparing legislation for reference to the people, so that a question of public policy will be submitted in a decisive and acceptable form, belongs naturally to a representative body; and the same statement is true respecting the legislative work essential to the administration of a state's business affairs. The supply bills demand an amount of inspection in detail, which can obtain only by expert supervision; and so it is in respect to various minor legislative matters which do not raise question of general policy but which amount to little more than problems of local administrative detail. A representative body must be provided which shall perform work of this kind; and again, it must be said that existing legislatures would perform these more restricted functions even worse than they have performed a completer legislative duty. Their members are experts in nothing but petty local politics. They are usually wholly incapable of drawing a bill, or of passing intelligently on matters either of technical or financial detail. If they represent anything, it is the interest of their district rather than that of the state. The principle of direct legislation, in order to become really constructive, must bring with it a more effective auxiliary machinery than any which existing legislatures can supply.
The kind of machinery needed can be deduced from the character of the work. The function of the representative body, needed under a system of direct legislation, is substantially that of a legislative and administrative council or commission. It should be an experienced body of legal, administrative, and financial experts, comparatively limited in numbers, and selected in a manner to make them solicitous of the interests of the whole state. They should be elected, consequently, from comparatively large districts, or, if possible, by the electorate of the whole state under some system of cumulative voting. The work of such a council would not be in any real sense legislative; and its creation would simply constitute a candid recognition of the plain fact that our existing legislatures, either with or without the referendum, no longer perform a responsible legislative function. It would be tantamount to a scientific organization of the legislative committees, which at the present time exercise an efficient control over the so-called legislative output. This council would mediate between the governor, who administered the laws, and the people, who enacted them. It would constitute a check upon the governor, and would in turn be checked by him; while it would act in relation to the people as a sort of technical advisory commission, with the duty of preparing legislation for popular enactment or rejection.
But how would such specific legislative proposals originate? Before answering this question let us consider how important bills actually originate under the existing system. They are in almost every case imposed upon the legislature by some outside influence. Sometimes they are prepared by corporation lawyers and are introduced by the special corporation representatives. Sometimes they originate with the party "bosses," and are intended to promote some more or less important partisan purpose. Sometimes they are drawn by associations of reformers, and go to the legislature with whatever support from public opinion the association can collect. Finally, they are frequently introduced at the suggestion of the governor; and of late years during the growth of the reform movement, the executive has in point of fact become more and more responsible for imposing on the legislature laws desired or supposed to be desired by the electorate. Of these different sources of existing legislation, the last suggests a manner of initiating legislation, which is most likely to make for the efficient concentration of governmental responsibility. The governor should be empowered not merely to suggest legislation to the council, but to introduce it into the council. His right to introduce legislation need not be exclusive, but bills introduced by him should have a certain precedence and their consideration should claim a definite amount of the council's time. The council would possess, of course, full right of rejection or amendment. In the case of rejection or an amendment not acceptable to the governor the question at issue would be submitted to popular vote.
The method of originating legislation suggested above is, of course, entirely different from that ordinarily associated with the referendum. According to the usual methods of direct legislation, any body of electors of a certain size can effect the introduction of a bill and its submission to popular vote; but a method of this kind is really no method at all. It allows the electorate to be bombarded with a succession of legislative proposals, turning perhaps on radical questions of public policy like the single tax, which may be well or ill drawn, which may or may not be living questions of the day, which may or may not have received sufficient preparatory discussion, and which would keep public opinion in a wholly unnecessary condition of ferment. Some organized control over the legislative proposals submitted to popular approval is absolutely necessary; and the sort of control suggested above merely conforms to the existing unofficial practice of those states wherein public opinion has been aroused. The best reform legislation now enacted usually originates in executive mansions. Why should not the practice be made official? If it were so, every candidate for governor would have to announce either a definite legislative policy or the lack of one; and the various items composing this policy would be fully discussed during the campaign. In proposing such a policy the governor would be held to a high sense of responsibility. He could not escape from the penalties of an unwise, an ill-drawn, or a foolhardy legislative proposal. At the same time he would be obliged constantly to meet severe criticism both as to the principle and details of his measures on the part of the legislative council. Such criticism would fasten upon any weakness and would sufficiently protect the public against the submission of unnecessary, foolish, or dangerous legislative proposals.
I am aware, of course, that the plan of legislative organization, vaguely sketched above, will seem to be most dubious to the great majority of Americans, intelligently interested in political matters; but before absolutely condemning these suggestions as wild or dangerous, the reader should consider the spirit in which and the purpose for which they are made. My intention has not been to prepare a detailed plan of local governmental organization and to stamp it as the only one, which is correct in principle and coherent in detail. In a sense I care nothing about the precise suggestions submitted in the preceding paragraphs. They are offered, not as a definite plan of local political organization, but as the illustration of a principle. The principle is that both power and responsibility in affairs of local government should be peculiarly concentrated. It cannot be concentrated without some simplification of machinery and without giving either the legislature or the executive a dominant authority. In the foregoing plan the executive has been made dominant, because as a matter of fact recent political experience has conclusively proved that the executives, elected by the whole constituency, are much more representative of public opinion than are the delegates of petty districts. One hundred district agents represent only one hundred districts and not the whole state, or the state in so far as it is whole. In the light of current American political realities the executive deserves the greater share of responsibility and power; and that is why the proposal is made to bestow it on him. The other details of the foregoing plan have been proposed in a similar spirit. They are innovations; but they are innovations which may naturally (and perhaps should) result from certain living practices and movements in American local politics. They merely constitute an attempt to give those ideas and practices candid recognition. No such reorganization may ever be reached in American local government; and I may have made essential mistakes in estimating the real force of certain current practices and the real value of certain remedial expedients. But on two points the argument admits of no concession. Any practical scheme of local institutional reform must be based on the principle of more concentrated responsibility and power, and it must be reached by successive experimental attempts to give a more consistent and efficient form to actual American political practices.
The bestowal upon an executive of increased official responsibility and power will be stigmatized by "old-fashioned Democrats" as dangerously despotic; and it may be admitted that in the case of the central government, any official increase of executive power might bring with it the risk of usurpation. The Constitution of the United States has made the President a much more responsible and vigorous executive in his own sphere of action than are the governors of the several states in theirs; and he can with his present power exercise a tolerably effective control over legislation. But the states, for reasons already given, are protected against the worst possible consequences of illegal usurpation; and in any event the people, in case their interests were threatened, could make use of a simple and absolutely effective remedy. The action of the governor or of any member of the legislative council could be challenged by the application of the recall. He could be made to prove his loyalty to the Constitution and to the public interest by the holding of a special election at the instance of a sufficient number of voters; and if he could not justify any possibly dubious practices, he could be displaced and replaced. The recall is for this purpose a useful and legitimate political device. It has the appearance at the first glance of depriving an elected official of the sense of independence and security which he may derive from his term of office; and unquestionably if applied to officials who served for very short terms and exercised no effective responsibility during service it would deprive them of what little power of public service they possessed. On the other hand, it is right that really responsible and vigorous officials serving for comparatively long terms should be subjected to the check of a possible recall of the popular trust.
No plan of political organization can in the nature of things offer an absolute guarantee that a government will not misuse its powers; but a government of the kind suggested, should it prove to be either corrupt or incompetent, could remain in control only by the express acquiescence of the electorate. Its corruption and incompetence could not be concealed, and would inevitably entail serious consequences. On the other hand, the results of any peculiar efficiency and political wisdom would be equally conspicuous. Men of integrity, force, and ability would be tempted to run for office by the stimulating opportunity offered for effective achievement. Such a government would, consequently press into its service whatever public-spirited and energetic men the community possessed; and it would represent not an inferior or even an average standard public opinion and ideas, but the highest standard which the people could be made to accept. Provided only the voters themselves were on the whole patriotic, well-intentioned, and loyal, it would be bound to make not for a stagnant routine, but for a gradually higher level of local political action.
STATE ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM
The foregoing discussion of the means which may be taken to make American local governments more alive to their responsibilities has been confined to the department of legislation. The department of administration is, however, almost equally important; and some attempt must be made to associate with a reform of the local legislature a reform of the local administration. The questions of administrative efficiency and the best method of obtaining it demand special and detailed consideration. In this case the conclusions reached will apply as much to the central and municipal as they do to the state administrations; but the whole matter of administrative efficiency can be most conveniently discussed in relation to the proper organization of a state government. The false ideas and practices which have caused so much American administrative inefficiency originated in the states and thence infected the central government. On the other hand, the reform of these practices made its first conquests at Washington and thereafter was languidly and indifferently taken over by many of the states. The state politicians have never adopted it in good faith, because real administrative efficiency would, by virtue of the means necessarily taken to accomplish it, undermine the stability of the political machine. The power of the machine can never be broken without a complete reform of our local administrative systems; and the discussion of that reform is more helpful in relation to the state than in relation to the central government.
Civil service reform was the very first movement of the kind to make any headway in American politics. Within a few years after the close of the War it had waxed into an issue which the politicians could not ignore; and while its first substantial triumph was postponed until late in the seventies, it has, on the whole, been more completely accepted than any important reforming idea. It has secured the energetic support of every President during the last twenty-five years; it has received at all events the verbal homage of the two national parties; and it can point to affirmative legislation in the great majority of the states. It meets at the present time with practically no open and influential opposition. Nevertheless, the "merit system" has not met the expectations of its most enthusiastic supporters. Abuses have been abolished wherever the reform has been introduced, but the abolition of abuses has not made for any marked increase of efficiency. The civil service is still very far from being in a satisfactory condition either in the central, state, or municipal offices. Moreover, the passage of reform laws has not had any appreciable effect upon the vitality or the power of the professional politician. The machine has, on the whole, increased rather than diminished in power, during the past twenty-five years. Civil service reform is no longer as vigorously opposed as it used to be, because it is no longer feared. The politicians have found that in its ordinary shape it really does not do them any essential harm. The consequence is that the agitation has drifted to the rear of the American political battle, and fails to excite either the enthusiasm, the enmity, or the interest that it did fifteen years ago.
Its partial failure has been due to the fact that the reformers merely attacked one of the symptoms of a disease which was more deeply rooted and more virulent than they supposed. They were outraged by the appointment of administrative officials solely as a reward for partisan service and without reference to their qualifications for their official duties; and two means were devised to strike at this abuse. Lower administrative officials were protected in their positions by depriving their superiors of the power of removing them except for cause; and it was provided that new appointments should be made from lists of candidates whose eligibility was guaranteed by their ability to pass examinations in subjects connected with the work of the office. These were undoubtedly steps in a better direction; but they have failed to be effective, because the attempt to secure a more meritorious selection of public servants was not applied to higher grades of the service. At the head of every public office was a man who had been appointed or elected chiefly for partisan reasons; who served only for a short time; who could become familiar with the work of his office, if at all, only slowly; and who, because of his desire to be surrounded by his own henchmen, was the possible enemy of the permanent staff. The civil service laws have been designed, consequently, to a very considerable extent for the purpose of protecting the subordinates against their chiefs; and that is scarcely to be conceived as a method of organizing administrative employees helpful to administrative efficiency. The chiefs were allowed comparatively little effective authority over their subordinates, and subordinates could not be held to any effective responsibility. A premium was placed upon ordinary routine work which observed carefully all the official forms, but which was calculated with equal care not to task its perpetrators.
The American civil service will never be really reformed by the sort of civil service laws which have hitherto been passed—no matter how faithfully those laws may be executed. The only way in which administrative efficiency can be secured is by means of an organization which makes a departmental chief absolutely responsible for energetic work and economical administration in his office; and no such responsibility can exist as long as his subordinates are independent of him. He need not necessarily have the power to discharge his subordinates, except with the consent of a Board of Inspectors; but he should have the power to promote them to positions of greater responsibility and income, or to degrade them to comparatively insignificant positions. Efficiency cannot be secured in any other way, because no executive official can be held accountable for good work unless his control over his subordinates is effective. So far as the existing civil service laws in city, state, and the United States fail to bestow full responsibility, coupled with sufficient authority, upon departmental chiefs, they should be altered; and their alteration should be made part of any plan of constructive reform in the civil service.
The responsibility of departmental chiefs and their effective authority over their subordinates necessarily imply changes in the current methods of selecting these officials. The prevailing methods are unwise and chaotic. In some cases they are appointed by the chief executive. In other cases they are elected. But whether appointed or elected, they are selected chiefly for partisan service. They hold office only for a few years. They rarely have any particular qualification for their work. They cannot be expected either to take very much interest in their official duties or use their powers in an efficient manner. To give such temporary officeholders a large measure of authority over their subordinates would mean in the long run that such authority would be used chiefly for political purposes. Administrative efficiency, consequently, can only be secured by the adoption of a method of selecting departmental chiefs which will tend to make them expert public servants rather than politicians. They must be divorced from political associations. They must be emancipated from political vicissitudes. The success of their career must depend exclusively upon the excellence of their departmental work.
As long as these public servants are elected, no such result can be expected. The practice of electing the incumbents of subordinate executive positions inevitably invites the evasion of responsibility and the selection of the candidate chiefly for partisan service. When such a man stands for renomination or reëlection, his administrative efficiency or inefficiency (unless the latter should chance to be particularly flagrant) does not affect his chances. He is renominated in case he has served his party well, or in case no one else who wants the job has in the meantime served it better. He is reëlected in case his party happens to have kept public confidence. Departmental chiefs can be made responsible for their work only by being subordinated to a chief executive whose duty it is to keep his eye on his subordinates and who is accountable to the people for the efficient conduct of all the administrative offices. The former, consequently, must be selected by appointment, they must be installed in office for an indefinite period, and they must be subject to removal by the chief executive. Those are terms upon which all private employees serve; and on no other terms will equally efficient results be obtained from public officials.
Under a democratic political system there is, of course, no way of absolutely guaranteeing that any method of administrative organization, however excellent in itself, will accomplish the desired and the desirable result. Administrative authority must at some point always originate in an election. The election can delegate power only for a limited period. At the end of the limited period another executive will be chosen—possibly a man representing a wholly different political policy. Such a man will want his immediate advisers to share his political point of view; and it is always possible that in electing him the voters will make a mistake and choose an incompetent and irresponsible person. An incompetent or disloyal executive could undoubtedly under such a system do much to disorganize the public service; but what will you have? There can be no efficiency without responsibility. There can be no responsibility without authority. The authority and responsibility residing ultimately in the people must be delegated; and it must not be emasculated in the process of delegation. If it is abused, the people should at all events be able to fix the offense and to punish the offender. At present our administration is organized chiefly upon the principle that the executive shall not be permitted to do much good for fear that he will do harm. It ought to be organized on the principle that he shall have full power to do either well or ill, but that if he does do ill, he will have no defense against punishment. The principle is the same as it is in the case of legislative responsibility. If under those conditions the voters should persist in electing incompetent or corrupt executives, they would deserve the sort of government they would get and would probably in the end be deprived of their vote.
A system of local government, designed for concentrating power and responsibility, might, consequently, be shaped along the following general lines. Its core would be a chief executive, elected for a comparatively long term, and subject to recall under certain defined conditions. He would be surrounded by an executive council, similar to the President's Cabinet, appointed by himself and consisting of a Controller, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Commissioner of Public Works, and the like. So far his position would not differ radically from that of the President of the United States, except that he would be subject to recall. But he would have the additional power of introducing legislation into a legislative council and, in case his proposed legislation were rejected or amended in an inacceptable manner, of appealing to the electorate. The legislative council would be elected from large districts and, if possible, by some cumulative system of voting. They, also, might be subject to recall. They would have the power, dependent on the governor's veto, of authorizing the appropriation of public money and, also, of passing on certain minor classes of legislation—closely associated with administrative functions. But in relation to all legislation of substantial importance express popular approval would be necessary. The chief executive should possess the power of removing any administrative official in the employ of the state and of appointing a successor. He would be expected to choose an executive council who agreed with him in all essential matters of public policy, just as the President is expected to appoint his Cabinet. His several councilors would be executive officials, responsible for particular departments of the public service; but they would exercise their authority through permanent departmental chiefs—just as the Secretary of War delegates much of his authority to a chief of staff, or an English minister to a permanent under-secretary. The system could offer no guarantee that the subordinate departmental chiefs would be absolutely permanent; but at all events they would not be changed at fixed periods or for irrelevant reasons. They would be just as permanent or as transient as the good of the service demanded. In so far, that is, as the system was carried out in good faith they would be experts, absolutely the masters of the technical business of the offices and of the abilities and services of their subordinates. The weak point in such administrative organization is undoubtedly the relation between the members of the governor's council and their chiefs of staff; but there must be a weak link in any organization which seeks to convert the changing views of public policy, dependent upon an election, into responsible, efficient, and detailed administrative acts. If the system were not accepted in good faith, if in the long run it were not carried out by officials, who were disinterestedly and intelligently working in the public interest, it would be bound to fail; but so would any method of political organization. This particular plan simply embodies the principle that the way to get good public service out of men is to give them a sufficient chance.
Under the proposed system the only powers possessed by the state executive, not now bestowed upon the President of the United States, would consist in an express and an effective control over legislation. It would be his duty to introduce legislation whenever it was in his opinion desirable; and in case his bills were amended to death or rejected, it would be his right to appeal to the people. He would, in addition, appoint all state officials except the legislative council, and perhaps the judges of the highest court. On the other hand, he would be limited by the recall and he could not get any important legislative measure on the statute books except after severe technical criticism, and express popular consent. He could accomplish nothing without the support of public opinion; yet he could be held absolutely responsible for the good government of the state. A demagogue elected to a position of such power and responsibility might do a great deal of harm; but if a democratic political body cannot distinguish between the leadership of able and disinterested men and self-seeking charlatans, the loss and perhaps the suffering, resulting from their indiscriminate blindness, would constitute a desirable means of political education,—particularly when the demagogue, as in the case under consideration, could not really damage the foundations of the state. And the charlatan or the incompetent could be sent into retreat just as soon as exposed. The danger not only has a salutary aspect, but it seems a small price to pay for the chance, thereby afforded, for really efficient and responsible government. The chief executive, when supported by public opinion, would become a veritable "Boss"; and he would inevitably be the sworn enemy of unofficial "Bosses" who now dominate local politics. He would have the power to purify American local politics, and this power he would be obliged to use. The logic of his whole position would convert him into an enemy of the machine, in so far as the machine was using any governmental function for private, special, or partisan purposes. The real "Boss" would destroy the sham "Bosses"; and no other means, as yet suggested, will, I believe, be sufficient to accomplish such a result.
After the creation of such a system of local government the power of the professional politician would not last a year longer than the people wanted it to last. The governor would control the distribution of all those fruits of the administrative and legislative system upon which the machine has lived. There could be no trafficking in offices, in public contracts, or in legislation; and the man who wished to serve the state unofficially would have to do so from disinterested motives. Moreover, the professional politician could not only be destroyed, but he would not be needed. At present he is needed, because of the prodigious amount of business entailed by the multiplicity of elective officials. Somebody must take charge of this political detail; and it has, as we have already remarked, drifted into the hands of specialists. These specialists cannot be expected to serve for nothing. Their effort to convert their work into a means of support is the source of the greater part of the petty American political corruption; and such corruption will persist as long as any real need exists for the men who live upon it. The simplest way to dispense with the professional politician is to dispense with the service he performs. Reduce the number of elective officials. Under the proposed method of organization the number of elections and the number of men to be elected would be comparatively few. The voter would cast his ballot only for his local selectmen or commissioners, a governor, one or more legislative councilmen, the justices of the state court of appeals, and his Federal congressman and executive. The professional politician would be left without a profession. He would have to pass on his power to men who would be officially designated to rule the people for a limited period, and who could not escape full responsibility for their public performances.
I have said that no less drastic plan of institutional reorganization will be sufficient to accomplish the proposed result; and a brief justification must be afforded for this statement. It was expected, for instance, that the secret Australian ballot would do much to undermine the power of the professional politician. He would be prevented thereby from controlling his followers and, in case of electoral trades, from, "delivering the goods." Well! the Australian ballot has been adopted more or less completely in the majority of the states; and it has undoubtedly made open electoral corruption more difficult and less common than it once was. But it has not diminished the personal and partisan allegiance on which the power of the local "Boss" is based; and it has done the professional politician as little serious harm as have the civil service laws. Neither can it be considered an ideal method of balloting for the citizens of a free democracy. Independent voting and the splitting of tickets is essential to a wholesome expression of public opinion; but in so far as such independence has to be purchased by secrecy its ultimate value may be doubted. American politics will never be "purified" or its general standards improved by an independence which is afraid to come out into the open; and it is curious that with all the current talk about the wholesome effects of "publicity" the reformed ballot sends a voter sneaking into a closet in order to perform his primary political duty. If American voters are more independent than they used to be, it is not because they have been protected by the state against the penalties of independence, but because they have been aroused to more independent thought and action by the intrusion and the discussion of momentous issues. In the long run that vote which is really useful and significant is the vote cast in the open with a full sense of conviction and responsibility.
Another popular reforming device which belongs to the same class and which will fail to accomplish the expected result is the system of direct primaries. It may well be that this device will in the long run merely emphasize the evil which it is intended to abate. It will tend to perpetuate the power of the professional politician by making his services still more necessary. Under it the number of elections will be very much increased, and the amount of political business to be transacted will grow in the same proportion. In one way or another the professional politician will transact this business; and in one way or another he will make it pay. Under a system of direct primaries the machine could not prevent the nomination of the popular candidate whenever public opinion was aroused; so it is with the existing system. But whenever public interest flags,—and it is bound to flag under such an absurd multiplication of elections and under such a complication of electoral machinery,—the politicians can easily nominate their own candidates. Up to date no method has been devised which would prevent them from using their personal followers in the primary elections of both parties; and no such method can be devised without enforcing some comparatively fixed distinction between a Republican and a Democrat, and thus increasing the difficulties of independent voting. In case the number of elective officials were decreased, as has been proposed above, there would be fewer objections to the direct primary. Under the suggested method of organization each election would become of such importance that public opinion would be awakened and would be likely to obtain effective expression; and the balloting for the party candidates would arouse as much interest, particularly in the case of the dominant party, as the final election itself. In fact, the danger would be under such circumstances that the primaries would arouse too much interest, and that the parties would become divided into embittered and unscrupulous factions. Genuinely patriotic and national parties may exist; but a genuinely patriotic faction within a party would be a plant of much rarer growth. From every point of view, consequently, the direct primary has its doubtful aspects. The device is becoming so popular that it will probably prevail; and as it prevails, it may have the indirect beneficial result of diminishing the number of regular elections; but at bottom it is a clumsy and mechanical device for the selection of party candidates. It is merely one of the many means generated by American political practice for cheapening the ballot. The way to make votes important and effective is not to increase but to diminish their number.
A democracy has no interest in making good government complicated, difficult, and costly. It has, on the contrary, every interest in so simplifying its machinery that only decisive decisions and choices are submitted to the voter. Every attempt should be made to arouse his interest and to turn his public spirit to account; and for that reason it should not be fatigued by excessive demands and confused by complicated decisions. The cost of government in time, ability, training, and energy should fall not upon the followers but upon the leaders; and the latter should have every opportunity to make the expenditure pay. Such is the object of the foregoing suggestions towards reconstruction which, radical as they may seem, have been suggested chiefly by an examination of the practical conditions of contemporary reform. Only by the adoption of some such plan can the reformers become something better than perpetual moral protestants who are fighting a battle in which a victory may be less fruitful than defeat. As it is, they are usually flourishing in the eyes of the American people a flask of virtue which, when it is uncorked, proves to be filled with oaths of office. The reformers must put strong wine into their bottle. They must make office-holding worth while by giving to the officeholders the power of effecting substantial public benefits.
POSSIBILITIES OF EFFECTIVE STATE ACTION
The questions relating to the kind of reforms which these reorganized state governments might and should attempt to bring about need not be considered in any detail. In the case of the states institutional reconstruction is necessarily prior to social reconstruction; and the objects for which their improved powers can be best used need at present only be indicated. These objects include, in fact, practically all the primary benefits which a state ought to confer upon its citizens; and it is because the states have so largely failed to confer these primary benefits that the reconstruction necessarily assumes a radical complexion. It is absurd to discuss American local governments as agents of individual and social amelioration until they begin to meet their most essential and ordinary responsibilities in a more satisfactory manner.
Take, for instance, the most essential function of all—that of maintaining order. A state government which could not escape and had the courage to meet its responsibilities would necessarily demand from the people a police force which was really capable of keeping the peace. It could not afford to rely upon local "posses" and the militia. It would need a state constabulary, subject to its control and numerous enough for all ordinary emergencies. Such bodies of state police, efficiently used, could not only prevent the lawlessness which frequently accompanies strikes, but it could gradually stamp out lynch law. Lynching, which is the product of excited local feeling, will never be stopped by the sheriffs, because they are afraid of local public opinion. It will never be stopped by the militia, because the militia is slow to arrive and is frequently undisciplined. But it can be stopped by a well-trained and well-disciplined state constabulary, which can be quickly concentrated, and which would be independent of merely local public opinion. When other states besides Pennsylvania establish constabularies, it will be an indication that they really want to keep order; and when the Southern states in particular organize forces of this kind, there will be reason to believe that they really desire to do justice to the negro criminal and remove one of the ugliest aspects of the race question.
A well-informed state government would also necessarily recognize the intimate connection between the prevention of lynching and the speedy and certain administration of criminal justice. It would seek not merely to stamp out disorder, but to anticipate it by doing away with the substantial injustice wrought by the procedure of the great majority of American criminal courts. It is unnecessary to dwell at any length upon the work of reorganization which would confront a responsible state government in relation to the punishment and the prevention of crime, because public opinion is becoming aroused to the dangers which threaten American society from the escape of criminals and the lax and sluggish administration of the criminal laws. But the remark must be made that our existing methods of framing, executing, and expounding criminal laws are merely an illustration of the extent to which the state governments, under the influence of traditional legal and political preconceptions, have subordinated the collective social interest to that of the possible individual criminal; and no thorough-going reform will be possible until these traditional preconceptions have themselves been abandoned, and a system substituted which makes the state the efficient friend of the collective public interest and the selected individual.
Assuming, then, that they use their increased powers more effectually for the primary duty of keeping order, and administering civil and criminal justice, reforming state governments could proceed to many additional tasks. They could redeem very much better than they do their responsibility to their wards—the insane and the convicted criminals. At the present time some states have fairly satisfactory penitentiaries, reformatories, and insane asylums, while other states have utterly unsatisfactory ones; but in all the states both the machinery and the management are capable of considerable improvement. The steady increase both of crime and insanity is demanding the most serious consideration of the whole problem presented by social dereliction—particularly for the purpose of separating out those criminals and feeble-minded people who are capable of being restored to the class of useful citizens. In fact a really regenerated state government might even consider the possible means of preventing crime and insanity. It might have the hardihood to inquire whether the institution of marriage, which would remain under exclusive state protection, does not in its existing form have something to do with the prevalence and increase of insanity and crime; and it might conceivably reach the conclusion that the enforced celibacy of hereditary criminals and incipient lunatics would make for individual and social improvement even more than would a maximum passenger fare on the railroads of two cents a mile. Moreover, while their eyes were turned to our American success in increasing the social as well as the economic output, they might pause a moment to consider the marvelous increase of divorces. They might reflect whether this increase, like that of the criminals and the insane, did not afford a possible subject of legislation, but I doubt whether even a regenerate state government would reach any very quick or satisfactory conclusions in respect to this matter. Public opinion does not appear to have decided whether the social fact of divorce abounding is to be considered as an abuse or as a fulfillment of the existing institution of marriage.
Neither need the pernicious activity of such a government cease, after it has succeeded in radically improving its treatment of the criminal and its lunatics, and in possibly doing something to make the American home less precarious, if less cheerful. It might then turn its attention to the organization of labor, in relation to which, as we shall see presently, the states may have the opportunity for effective work. Or an inquiry might be made as to whether the educational system of the country, which should remain under exclusive state jurisdiction, is well adapted to the extremely complicated purpose of endowing its various pupils with the general and special training most helpful to the creation of genuine individuals, useful public servants, and loyal and contented citizens of their own states. In this matter of education the state governments, particularly in the North, have shown abundant and encouraging good will; but it is characteristic of their general inefficiency that a good will has found its expression in a comparatively bad way.
It would serve no good purpose to push any farther the list of excellent objects to which the state governments might devote their liberated and liberalized energies. We need only add that they would then be capable, not merely of more efficient separate action, but also of far more profitable coöperation. In case the states were emancipated from their existing powerless subjection to individual, special, and parochial interests, the advantages of a system of federated states would be immediately raised to the limit. The various questions of social and educational reform can only be advanced towards a better understanding and perhaps a partial solution by a continual process of experimentation—undertaken with the full appreciation that they were tentative and would be pushed further or withdrawn according to the nature of their results. Obviously a state government is a much better political agency for the making of such experiments than is a government whose errors would affect the population of the whole country. No better machinery for the accomplishment of a progressive programme of social reform could be advised than a collection of governments endowed with the powers of an American state, and really desirous of advancing particular social questions towards their solution. Such a system would be flexible; it would provoke emulation; it would encourage initiative; and it would take advantage of local ebullitions of courage and insight and any peculiarly happy local collection of circumstances. Finally, if in addition to the merits of a system of generous competition, it could add those of occasional consultation and coöperation, such as is implied by the proposed "House of Governors," the organization for social reform would leave little to be desired. The governors who would meet in consultation would be the real political leaders of their several states; and they should meet, not so much for the purpose of agreeing upon any single group of reforming measures, as for the purpose of comparing notes obtained under widely different conditions and as the result of different legislative experiments. Just in so far as this mixture of generous competition and candid coöperation was seeking to accomplish constructive social purposes, for which the powers of the states, each within its geographical limits, were fully adequate, just to that extent it could hardly fail to make headway in the direction of social reform.
If the state governments are to reach their maximum usefulness in the American political system, they must not only be self-denying in respect to the central government, but generous in respect to their creatures—the municipal corporations. There are certain business and social questions of exclusively or chiefly local importance which should be left to the municipal governments; and it is as characteristic of the unregenerate state governments of the past and the present that they have interfered where they ought not to interfere as that they have not interfered where they had an excellent opportunity for effective action. A politically regenerated state would guarantee in its constitution a much larger measure of home rule to the cities than they now enjoy, while at the same time the reformed legislative authority would endeavor to secure the edifying exercise of these larger powers, not by an embarrassing system of supervision, but by the concentration of the administrative power and responsibility of the municipal authorities. I shall not attempt to define in detail how far the measure of home rule should go; but it may be said in general that the functions delegated or preserved should so far as possible be completely delegated or preserved. This rule cannot be rigidly applied to such essential functions of the state governments as the preservation of order and the system of education. The delegation of certain police powers and a certain control over local schools is considered at present both convenient and necessary, although in the course of time such may no longer be the case; but if these essential functions are delegated, the state should retain a certain supervision over the manner of their exercise. On the other hand, the municipality as an economic and business organism should be left pretty much to its own devices; and it is not too much to say that the state should not interfere in these matters at all, except under the rarest and most exceptional conditions.
The reasons for municipal home rule in all economic and business questions are sufficiently obvious. A state is a political and legal body; and as a political and legal body it cannot escape its appropriate political and social responsibilities. But a state has in the great majority of cases no meaning at all as a center of economic organization and direction. The business carried on within state limits is either essentially related by competition to the national economic system,—or else it is essentially municipal in its scope and meaning. Of course, such a statement is not strictly true. The states have certain essential economic duties in respect to the conservation and development of agricultural resources and methods and to the construction and maintenance of a comprehensive system of highways. But these legitimate economic responsibilities are not very numerous or very onerous compared to those which should be left to the central government on the one hand or to the municipal governments on the other. A municipality is a living center of economic activity—a genuine case of essentially local economic interests. To be sure, the greater part of the manufacturing or commercial business transacted in a city belongs undubitably to the national economic system; but there is a minor part which is exclusively local. Public service corporations which control franchises in cities do not enter into inter-state commerce at all—except in those unusual cases (as in New York) where certain parts of the economic municipal body are situated in another state. They should be subject, consequently, to municipal jurisdiction and only that. The city alone has anything really important to gain or to lose from their proper or improper treatment; and its legal responsibility should be as complete as its economic localization is real.
There is no need of discussing in any detail the way in which a municipal government which does enjoy the advantage of home rule and an efficient organization can contribute to the work of national economic and social reconstruction. Public opinion is tending to accept much more advanced ideas in this field of municipal reform than it is in any other part of the political battle-field. Experiments are already being tried, looking in the direction of an increasingly responsible municipal organization, and an increasing assumption by the city of economic and social functions. Numerous books are being written on various aspects of the movement, which is showing the utmost vitality and is constantly making progress in the right direction. In all probability, the American city will become in the near future the most fruitful field for economically and socially constructive experimentation; and the effect of the example set therein will have a beneficially reactive effect upon both state and Federal politics. The benefits which the city governments can slowly accomplish within their own jurisdiction are considerable. They do not, indeed, constitute the exclusive "Hope of Democracy," because the ultimate democratic hope depends on the fulfillment of national responsibilities; and they cannot deal effectively with certain of the fundamental social questions. But by taking advantage of its economic opportunities, the American city can gradually diminish the economic stress within its own jurisdiction. It has unique chance of appropriating for the local community those sources of economic value which are created by the community, and it has an equally unique opportunity of spending the money so obtained for the amelioration of the sanitary, if not of the fundamental economic and social, condition of the poorer people.
There is, finally, one fundamental national problem with which the state governments, no matter to what extent they may be liberated and invigorated, are wholly incompetent to deal. The regulation of commerce, the control of corporations, and the still more radical questions connected with the distribution of wealth and the prevention of poverty—questions of this kind should be left exclusively to the central government; or in case they are to any extent allowed to remain under the jurisdiction of the states, they should exercise such jurisdiction as the agents of the central government. The state governments lack and must always lack the power and the independence necessary to deal with this whole group of problems; and as long as they remain preoccupied therewith, their effective energy and good intentions will be diverted from the consideration of those aspects of political and social reform with which they are peculiarly competent to deal. The whole future prosperity and persistence of the American Federal system is bound up in the progressive solution of this group of problems; and if it is left to the conflicting jurisdictions of the central and local governments, the American democracy will have to abandon in this respect the idea of seeking the realization of a really national policy. Justification for these statements will be offered in the following chapter.