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Leaderless Government

Woodrow Wilson


Virginia Law Register Vol. 3, No. 5, Sep., 1897


An address delivered by Prof. Woodrow Wilson, of Princeton University, before the Virginia Slate Bar Association, held at the Hot Springs of Virginia, August 3, 4 and 5, 1897.

3 Gentlemen of the Virginia State Bar Association: Before I enter on the discussion of my theme, permit me to express my keen gratification at finding myself in this congenial company. I am a lawyer and a Virginian. I feel here the sort of exhilaration that must always come to a man who returns from a distance to breathe his native air again and mix once more with those to whom he feels bound by a sort of intellectual consanguinity. I am proud of Virginia's traditions, as you are. I feel, as you do, that she gave the country its first life, long kept a sort of presidency in its affairs, and has always been one of the strategic centres of its society and its politics. I feel as if her great University, where, like so many of you, I was trained in the law, were still in no small part my academic home — and I know that here, among men of my own race and breeding, I can speak my mind frankly upon any theme, as the best men have always spoken in Virginia, ever since Sir George Yeardley summoned that first Assembly in the little church at Jamestown in the far year 1619.

4 It heartens a man not a little to know that he may speak his real thought and be understood, if he but speak it in the right temper. It is my purpose today to speak of public affairs; and we have a longer tradition than that of Virginia even to give us warrant for free speech in that field. We have the immemorial practice of the English race itself, to which we belong. Nowhere else has the pure strain of the nation which planted the Colonies and made the independent government under which we live, been kept so without taint or mixture as it has been in Virginia, and hitherto in all the South. One feels here that the origin and breeding, the impulse and the memory of the men he deals with, are unmistakable; that he reckons with an ascertained force and a certain habit — a force and a habit that have not changed since the great days of the Revolution, when Virginia led the country in the making of the Constitution — and that he ought to be able to count now, among the offspring of that achieving generation, upon the same fearless examination of policies and institutions that enabled Washington and Mason and Henry and Madison to win triumphs in their heroic day.

5 This is not a day of revolution, but it is a day of change; and of such change as may breed revolution should we fail to guide and moderate it. Institutions, if they live, must grow and suffer the alterations of growth — must rise to new uses; must lose some parts and take others on. They cannot stand still; they cannot even stiffen to a single shape and use. The nation must at every turn make its choice, not only as to legislative policy, but also as to the uses to which it shall put its fundamental law and its very principles of government.

6 If ever a nation was transformed this nation has been, under the eyes of a single generation — and processes that run so fast are perilous. The choices made in the midst of them are not deliberate but hasty, and almost at hazard; the necessary adjustments of life and institutions are made, not by plan, but upon the suggestion of the instant. It is matter, surely, of common prudence that we should pause and look the time through when we can, with a purpose to gain distinct knowledge of what is going forward, discover its force and direction, and make ourselves ready to assume control of it for the future, seeing that the pace is now set, the running determined. It is time we should speak frankly with each other about the present and about the future.

7 I mean to go if I can today to the centre of some of the chief topics of government. We chose the forms of political life under which we live, and it is our duty to scrutinize them from season to season, if we would keep them incorrupt and suitable to our use. We talk of statesmanship and of policy sometimes as if they arose out of institutions; but we know that they do not. They are the children of individual initiative and of individual strength of character. The framers of our Constitutions in this country made a great deal of institutions; but, after all, institutions only create the conditions under which action must be planned: they do not breed action. No government will run itself. The excellence of any form of government depends upon the provision it has made for the action of those who conduct it and choose its policies. It gets its character from what they find it possible to do. The men who chose our present forms of government made much of law and of method because they were engaged in a work of actual creation. They were constructing a policy which was novel and without model, and they knew that definiteness of plan was for the time being everything. They were forging and fitting and bolting the structural iron of the whole fabric of which they were the originating architects. But we are now choosing policies, not forms, of government. The nation is made: its mode of action is determined; what we now want to know is, What is it going to do with its life, its material resources and its spiritual strength? How is it to gain and keep a common purpose in the midst of complex affairs? How is its government to afford it wisdom in action?

8 This is the question I have chosen to discuss. Put in its most direct form it is this, How is the nation to get definite leadership and form steady and effective parties? Take what government you will, this question includes all others, if you inquire concerning efficiency. Among a free people there can be no other method of government than such as permits an undictated choice of leaders and a strong, unhampered making up of bodies of active men to give them effective support. When party government fails all definiteness goes out of politics. Who is to be held responsible for policy? By what legerdemain are you to get anything done? Shall you convince one man at a time the nation through, assume that your neighbor counts for as much in affairs as any one else, hazard the fortunes of the nation upon a chance concurrence of opinion? Policy — where there is no absolute and arbitrary ruler to do the choosing for a whole people — means massed opinion, and the forming of the mass is the whole art and mastery of politics. How is the massing done among us? Who chooses our leaders, and by what process? What guides our parties, and what do we know them to stand for? These are questions of fact, to be answered first without attention to the criticisms our answers may suggest with regard to some of the radical features of our constitutional arrangements. Let those criticisms follow after, if they must. We cannot afford to blink either the facts or their necessary revelations.

9 I have told you my own conclusion with regard to our present constitutional usage in the title I have chosen for this address. By the words “Leaderless Government” I mean to describe the Government of the United States. I do not utter the words with the least touch of censoriousness or cynicism or even discouragement. In using them I am simply speaking a careful, and, if I may so say, a dispassionate judgment. I do not believe it a necessary feature of our government that we should be without leaders; neither do I believe that we shall continue to be without them; but, as a matter of fact, we are without them, and we ought to ask ourselves, Why? I mean, of course, that we are without official leaders — without leaders who can be held immediately responsible for the action and policy of the government, alike upon its legislative and upon its administrative side. Leaders of some sort we, of course, always have; but they come and go like phantoms, put forward as if by accident, withdrawn, not by our choice, but as if upon some secret turn of fortune which we neither anticipate nor as a nation control — some local quarrel, some obscure movement of politics within a single district, some manipulation of a primary or some miscarriage in a convention. They are not of the nation, but come and go as if unbidden by any general voice. The government does not put them forward, but groups of men formed, we hardly know where, planning we hardly know what; the government suffers no change when they disappear — that is the private affair of some single constituency and of the men who have supported them.

10 Look at the familiar system for a little with this matter in view, and you shall see that, as we now use it, it seems devised as if to prevent official and responsible leadership. The President cannot lead. We call his office great, say that the Queen of England has no power to be compared with his, and make choice of nominees for the Presidency as if our votes decided a constructive policy for the four years to come; but we know that, in fact, he has as little power to originate as the Queen has. He may, no doubt, stand in the way of measures with a veto very hard to overleap; and we think oftentimes with deep comfort of the laws he can kill, when we are afraid of the majority in Congress. Congressional majorities are doubtless swayed, too, by what they know the President will do with the bills they send him. But they are swayed sometimes one way and sometimes another, according to the temper of times and the state of parties. They as often make his assured veto a pretext for recklessness as a reason for self-restraint. They take a sort of irresponsible and defiant pleasure in "giving him the dare": in proposing things they know many people - want, and put upon him the lonely responsibility of saying they shall not have them. And if he stand for long in the way of any serious party purpose, they heat opinion against him and make his position more and more unpleasant until he either yields or is finally discredited. It is a game in which he has no means of attack and few effective weapons of defense.

11 Of course he can send a message to Congress whenever he likes; the Constitution bids him do so "from time to time," in order to "give the Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall deem necessary' and expedient;" and we know that, if he be a man of real power and statesmanlike initiative, he may often hit the wish and purpose of the action so in the quick in what he urges upon Congress that the Houses will heed him promptly and seriously enough. But there is a stubborn and very natural pride in the Houses with respect to this matter. They, not he, are the nation's representatives in the making of laws; and they would deem themselves subservient were they too often to permit him leadership in legislative policy. It is easy to stir their resentment by too much suggestion, and it is best that a message should be general, not special; best that it should cover a good many topics and not confine itself too narrowly to one if a President would keep in credit with those who shape matters within the House and Senate. In all ordinary times the President recognizes this and preserves a sort of modesty, a tone as if of a chronicler merely and setter forth of things administrative, when he addresses Congress. He makes it his study to use only a private influence and never to seem a maker of resolutions. And even when the occasion is extraordinary and his own mind definitely made up, he argues and urges; he cannot command. In short, in making suggestions to Congress the President of the United States has only this advantage over any other influential person in the nation who might choose to send to Congress a letter of information and advice: it is the duty of Congress to read what he says; all the larger newspapers will print it; most of them will have editorial comments upon it; and some will have letters from their Washington correspondents devoted to guessing what effect, if any, it will have upon legislation. The President can make his message a means of concentrating public opinion upon particular topics of his own choosing, and so force those topics upon the attention of the Houses. But that is all; and, under ordinary circumstances, it is not much.

12 It was not so in the early years of the government. Roughly speaking, Presidents were leaders until Andrew Jackson went home to the "Hermitage." Sometimes they have been leaders since; but in the old days it was a matter of course that they should be. Since Jackson's masterful figure passed off the stage, the ordinary courses of politics have been drawing us away from the state of things which once made the country, and politicians themselves instinctively turn to the President for guidance, as if he were a sort of prime minister as well as the official head of the permanent administration. Washington led, of course, and fashioned the government itself — for reasons no man any longer needs to have stated to him; and his first cabinet, as everybody knows, was made up of the party masters of the day — men whom all knew to be chief political figures not for the moment only, but also for the years to come. John Adams, the second President, was almost as great a figure in all civil affairs as Washington himself. Jefferson was a born leader of men, who not only led his party, but first created it, and then taught it the methods of power. Madison felt, in no small measure, that compulsion by which later Presidents by the half dozen have been led and mastered, the compulsion of Congressional initiative — resident in that day of change in the person of Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, under whom, themselves youngsters in the arena, a young party was coming to self-consciousness and authority. But Madison was of a stature and eminence in affairs which even the high and taking qualities of these men could not dwarf. Monroe saw times of quiet peace, parties seemed for a little to have fallen asleep. John Quincy Adams but kept the seat warm for Jackson — and not very warm at that; and with Jackson came in a new democracy, which was to change the whole face of affairs.

13 Merely to name these men is to call the roll of two generations. It was taken for granted at the first that the real leaders of the nation would be put into the Presidential chair. For a little while Vice-Presidents succeeded Presidents, as if of course, and then for a season Presidents were allowed to name their own successors in their appointments to the office of Secretary of State — or, rather, were expected to fill that great office with men whom their party accepted as second only to Presidents themselves in weight and influence, their natural successors. The management of these things was left in that day to well-known groups of men, which all the country knew to constitute, each for its own party, a sort of unofficial ministry. Nominations were arranged in Congressional caucus, by men in whose hands rested not only the conduct of these matters, but the whole shaping of party policies as well; and they naturally chose according to some recognized plan, compatible with the immediate objects of their organization, putting those in authority who were their actual leaders, and to whom they looked for guidance whether in office or out.

14 It was no doubt inevitable that this system of congressional nomination should come to an end. The nation began before very long to look upon it as a system which bred intrigue and threatened to put affairs, of the first importance into the hands of cliques and "rings." But in rejecting that system to pass to the use of nominating conventions we certainly rendered it impossible — or, at any rate, in the highest degree unlikely — that our presidents should ever be leaders again. Do what you will in such a matter, you do not very much lessen the overwhelming weight of Congress. You still have the real energy of the government with the men who make the laws, pay the bills, and create the conditions under which the Presidents must act. Roger Sherman declared very bluntly, in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, that "he considered the executive magistracy as nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the legislature into effect;" and, although we may not be willing to go the length of saying quite so much as that, we see even more clearly now than Roger Sherman did at the beginning that, in the last resort, it lies with Congress, and not with the executive, to choose what the government shall be and do. And we know that it is a serious matter that the intimate relations which once existed between Congress and the President should have been so completely broken.

15 The men who are sent to our nominating conventions are men, for the most part, little known — and in other matters little regarded; men who have nothing to do with legislation and who are without any responsible part whatever in the choice of policies for the nation. An incalculable number of local influences, utterly obscure to the country at large, and unconnected, as we know, with any general party purpose or policy of which the country can know anything, determine the instructions with which delegates are sent. They run together to press the claims of a score of candidates, selected, not by the general voice of any party, but upon grounds of preference which only their special friends and partisans can explain. Generally it turns out that the candidates whom all the country knows have been too much talked about beforehand, too definitely preferred or rejected in the preliminary contests in which the delegates were chosen. Some “dark horse”; some man hitherto little thought of; some one whom his friends have astutely known how to push in the secret conferences of separate delegations; some man whose personal tact or force has caught of a sudden the enthusiasm of the convention itself and of the crowds in the galleries; some man unheralded and untried it may' be, catches the drift of the vote and is nominated. A good man he may be, and a fair President — Providence has been kind to us much beyond the encouragement we have given it; but he is not always a man whom we know, and he is seldom a man accepted in Washington as of course a leader and maker of affairs.

16 Singular things happen in the process. A new figure emerges, sometimes, behind the accepted candidate, the figure of his backer and manager. Nobody has known him, until now, outside his State. Men hear his name with curiosity. But, if his candidate be elected they hear it for a little while with awe — and behold, a new Colossus in the midst of our shifting politics! Seasoned congressmen smile in their beards, Bo doubt, to see the new man come radiant to Washington, beaming authority on every side; but they court him for a brief space, as one who has the ear of the President in the making of appointments; and then, when the appointments are made and the President has found his place, they draw aside to see whether this crack coach will slip into oblivion or not. And so each man has his entry and his exit.

17 And even if things go differently, even when the man whom the convention nominates is some one whose career and influence' we know or can assess, how often does it happen that he is such a man as will be accepted as a real leader at Washington — where alone he can lead? Nobody supposes, I take it, that Mr. McKinley was ever the real leader of the Republican party. He did not even play a really constructive part in the framing of the celebrated tariff law which we call by his name; but the country thought he did and rejected what they deemed his handiwork in the most emphatic manner, by name and title. Whatever personal admiration Mr. McKinley may have excited by reason of the sincerity, simplicity, and directness of his character, he was clearly dwarfed in all matters of party choice by Mr. Reed and Mr. Lodge and the real leaders of the Republican ranks. It was much the same as if Mr. Depew had been taken in his stead, a prominent person but no master of policy, except that congressmen particularly resent the selection of an outsider. Mr. McKinley had at least been bred to politics in the atmosphere of Washington, and might be expected to know something of the temper and tact of dealings between the President and the Houses. Plainly the nominating convention has separated legislature and executive much more sharply than the makers of the Constitution intended; has brought utterly incalculable forces into play for the choice of our Presidents; and has cut us off once and for all from the old traditions of party leadership. We must take our Presidents at somewhat haphazard and by a special, clumsy machinery out of the general body of the nation; and the Houses must provide themselves with purposes and leaders of their own.

18 And yet the Houses show a notable lack of efficient organization; for I take it for granted that when one is speaking of a representative legislature he must mean by "an efficient organization,” an organization which provides for deliberate, and deliberative, action, and which enables the nation to affix responsibility for what is done and for what is not done. The Senate is deliberative enough; but it is hardly deliberative after its ancient and better manner; and who shall say who is responsible for what it does and for what it does not do? The House of Representatives is neither deliberate nor deliberative. We have not forgotten that one of the most energetic of its recent Speakers thanked God, in his frankness, that the House was not a deliberative body. It has not time for the leadership of argument; it has not time, therefore, to disclose the individual weight of its members. Debate takes time. It also lets the nation hear the prevailing voices and the reasons for action. For debate and leadership in that sort the House must have a party organization and discipline such as it never has had.

19 The Speaker of the House is its master — how absolutely members of the House have known these two generations and more, but the general public have only recently begun to find out. It has time out of mind been the custom amongst us to elevate the leader of the dominant party in the popular House to its Speakership — ever since colonial times when the Speaker of the Assembly was our spokesman against the domineering governor and council whom the Crown had appointed. We have long been familiar with the idea that, for some reason which we have not very carefully looked into, the presiding officer of our representative chamber is not a mere moderator, but also a guiding spirit in legislation; and so we have not very carefully noted the several steps by which he has come to be a sort of dictator. In the first place, the House sifts and handles all its business by means of standing committees. Thousand of bills are presented for consideration every session; it would be impossible to consider them all, or even to vote upon them all, were the House to give itself up exclusively to voting. They naturally fall into classes according to their subjects, and for each class there is a standing committee, to which they are referred. But it is a critical matter for a bill that it should pass into the hands of a committee along with hundreds of other bills, relating to the same or like matters. It may be it will not come back alive. The committee is very likely to pocket most of the proposals sent it, and to modify the rest — and the net result is, that all legislation in effect originates with the committees, or at any rate comes before the House unmistakably marked by their handling.

20 And the Speaker appoints the committees. Of course he has not a perfectly free hand in the matter. Length and priority of service entitle certain members to certain chief posts of honor on the committee lists; and the Speaker, besides regarding their claims, must take counsel in some decent degree with the other leaders of his party before he finally makes up his mind whom he shall put upon the committees; but he none the less determines their make-up, and their make-up determines legislation. That is the Speaker's power of creation; and that is the reason the session disappoints the country and discredits the party if the Speaker be not a consummate party leader.

21 But that is only a part of the Speaker's power. He also retains control of the business of the House from day to day in a very autocratic manner. The rules of the House themselves in part determine what the course of business shall be. They give precedence to the reports of the committees which have charge of bills touching the raising and the spending of revenue; and they determine in what order and at what times the other committees shall be allowed to report. When important matters pile up and it becomes necessary to fix a special order by which questions of the first consequence shall gain precedence and the docket be relieved of its congestion, the Committee on Rules is authorized to bring in a temporary programme for the purpose. But the Speaker appoints the Committee on Rules and is himself its chairman. He steers as well as presides.

22 The rules are adopted afresh at the opening of every new Congress, with such modifications as the Committee may have to suggest — and that committee is always the first to be appointed. Its regulations, alike in ordinary and extraordinary cases, aim always at this single and consistent object, to keep business in the hands of the committees and rigidly exclude personal initiative on the part of individual members. It requires unanimous consent for a member to get any matter before the House independently of the committees; and you cannot even ask for unanimous consent unless you can obtain recognition and get the floor. The Speaker's eye is his own. He can see whom he pleases; and he must know your object before he will recognize you. If he do not know it, he will not see you. He will never see you even when he does know it, if he knows it to be something that will upset or interfere with party plans or the settled programme of the session, if only by taking up time. You may remonstrate with him and pray to him in private as you will, he will not let you cross the purposes he has in view as the leader of his party. Or, if, by reason of your importunity, he should at last seem to yield, and agree to accord you recognition and a chance to make your motion, you may be sure he will take very good care to get some member's promise that he will promptly object, and you will fail of unanimous consent and be silenced after all.

23 Here, then, is your silent master of men and of policies in the House, the Speaker, who appoints the committees which originate legislation, determines the order of business at every critical point through the Committee on Rules, and sees whom he will amongst those who would put themselves forward in the business of the House. I have not described him to condemn him. I do not see how else business could go forward in an assembly which would otherwise be a mere mass-meeting. But I do wish to make it evident that this is an extraordinary picture, and that it sets our national legislature apart as unique among the representative assemblies of the world — unique in having its leader silent and in the form of his office a mere moderator, and in having its course of action determined by management and not by debate.

24 And what of leadership in the Senate? When you have described the House of Representatives you have described but half of Congress, and that, senators would say, the lower half. The Senate unquestionably, whatever we may say of the House of Representatives, stands unique among legislative bodies in the modern time. Whether we relish its uniqueness in the present generation quite as much as it was relished among our fathers is an open question, but its individuality is indubitable. This singular body has assumed of late what I may, perhaps, be allowed to call a sort of Romo-Polish character. Like the Roman Senate, it has magnified its administrative powers and its right of negative in the great fields of finance and foreign affairs, as well as in all ordinary legislation; and, following Polish precedents, it has seemed to arrogate to its members the right of individual veto. Each senator, like each prince of ancient Poland, insists, it would seem, upon consulting his own interests and preferences before he will allow measures to reach their final consideration and passage. In the field of administration it seems plain, the Senate expects the executive very generally to submit to its oversight and suggestion as Roman magistrates submitted to the Senate of their singular republic.

25 I am anxious not to distort the true proportions of the picture, even in pleasantry; and, if to put the matter as I have just put it savors too much of exaggerating temporary tendencies into established practices, let us rest content with saying merely that this noted assembly has at almost every critical juncture of our recent political history had an influence in affairs greater, much greater, than that of the House of Representatives; and that the methods by which this great council is led are likely to be of the utmost consequence to the nation at every turn in its fortunes. Who leads the Senate? Can anyone say? It, too, has its standing committees, to which all of its business is in the first place sent, as to the committees of the House; but it accords them no such mastery as is accorded the committees of the House. Debate and amendment make free with committee reports, as with any other matter, and upon the open floor of the Senate no man is master. The Vice-President is an outsider, not the leader of his party — even if his party have the majority in the Senate — and generally not a very influential outsider, timid about asserting even the natural powers of a parliamentary moderator. Among the senators themselves there is an equality as absolute as the equality of the sovereign states which they represent. It is give and take amongst them. Personal conferences are the only means for the adjustment of views and the compounding of differences. One senator is as formidable as a dozen in the obstruction of business. The Senate as a whole is jealous of its dignity and of its prerogatives; and its members severally stand out distinct unite in every matter of controversy. Who shall say who leads and who obeys amongst them?

26 And so we have the composite thing which we call the Government of the United States. Its several parts are severally chosen; it is no unified and corporate whole. Its President is chosen, not by proof of leadership among the men whose confidence he must have if he is to play an effective part in the making of affairs, but by management, the management of obscure men, and through the uncertain chances of an ephemeral convention which has no other part in politics. Its popular chamber shapes its affairs, not by conference with those who must execute the laws and show them feasible, nor yet by any classifying process of debate, but chiefly by means of the silent management of its moderator, whose office is fixed for a two years' term, and who represents not the country, but a single constituency. Its Senate is a band of individuals, amongst whom it is impossible to maintain leadership, and to whom it is difficult to extend the discipline of party organization. This is not a government of systematic checks and balances; a system of checks and balances would enable you to distinguish causes and calculate effects. It is a government without definite order, showing a confused interplay of forces, in which no man stands at the helm to steer, whose course is beaten out by the shifting winds of personal influence and popular opinion.

27 On the whole, however, it has not worked ill, you will say; and what was good enough for our fathers is good enough for us. I heartily assent to the one proposition, but not to the other. A colonial government was once good enough for our fathers, if you will but go back so far; but it was not good enough for their sons; and our government as we use it is not as good as when they used it. Our fathers were choosing men, and so must we be. They chose governments to suit their circumstances, not to suit their ancestors; and we must follow the like good rule — praying that we may choose wisely, as they did. The colonial governments were not failures so long as they were good enough to last; and certainly the government of the United States has been no failure, but a success so conspicuous, for the most part, that the nations of the world have stood at gaze to see so great a thing done in the West, upon the new continent whither they supposed none but radicals had gone. You shall not find me uttering aught in dispraise of the great work of that memorable body of statesmen who met in Philadelphia in that year, 1787, which they have made illustrious. They have won an imperishable name in the history of politics, and no man can take away from them, were he churl enough to wish to do so. Neither shall you find me an advocate of radical changes. The men who made our government showed themselves statesmen in nothing so much as in this, that they adapted what they had to a new age; and we shall not, be wise if we outrun their great example. But let us know the facts; and, if need be, fit our institutions to suit them. There is cowardice, sometimes, in mere self-satisfaction.

28 The government of the United States as we use it, besides, is not the government of the United States as they used it. Why is it that this leaderless character of our government did not disclose itself to an earlier generation as it has disclosed itself to us? The government has the same formal structure now that it always has had; why has its weakness been so long concealed? Why can it not serve the new time as well as it served the old? Because the new time is not like the old — for us or any other nation — the changes which we have witnessed have transformed us. But tasks set the government now differ both in magnitude and in kind from those set in days gone by. It is no old man's fancy that the old days were different from those we now see. For one thing — and this can be no news to any man — an industrial revolution separates us from the times that went by no longer ago than when the war between the States came on, and that industrial revolution, like the war itself, has not affected all parts of the country alike, has left us more various and more unequal, part by part, than ever before. We speak nowadays of a new sectionalism, and I, for one, deprecate the phrase. I rejoice to believe that there are no longer any permanent sectional lines in this country. But there is an unprecedented diversification of interests, and for the time, no doubt, differences of interests mark also differences of region and development. And these differences of condition and of economic growth as between region and region, though temporary, are more sharply marked than they ever were before. Moreover, there is a confused variety; region differs from region in an almost incalculable number of significant details. And there is added to this everywhere a swift process of change, a shifting of elements, a perplexing vicissitude in affairs. Here and there communities have a fixed life, and are still and quiet as of old; but these lie apart from the great forces that are making the nation, and the law is change.

29 These things do not need demonstration; they hardly need illustration. No man is so ill-informed as not to know that the conditions which existed before the war were simple and uniform the country through as compared with those which have sprung up since the war. And where conditions are comparatively simple and uniform constructive leadership is little needed. Men readily see things alike and easily come to a common opinion upon the larger sort of questions, or, at any rate, to two general opinions, widespread and definite enough to form parties on. For well-nigh a generation after the war, moreover, the problems which the government of the Union had to settle were very definite problems indeed which no man could mistake, and upon which opinion could readily be concentrated. I think the country sadly needed responsible and conscientious leadership during the period of Reconstruction, and it has suffered many things because it did not get it — things of which we still keenly feel the consequences. But the tasks, at least, were definite and unmistakable, and parties formed themselves upon sharp-cut issues.

30 Since then how has the scene changed! It is not now fundamental matters of structure and franchise upon which we have to center our choice; but those general questions of policy upon which every nation has to exercise its discretion; foreign policy, our duty to our neighbors, customs tariffs, coinage, currency, immigration, the law of corporations and of trusts, the regulation of railway traffic and of the great industries which supply the necessaries of life and the stuffs of manufacture. These are questions of economic policy chiefly; and how shall we settle questions of economic policy except upon grounds of interest? Who is to reconcile our interests and extract what is national and liberal out of what is sectional and selfish? These are not questions upon which it is easy to concentrate general opinion. It is infinitely difficult to effect a general enlightenment of the public mind in regard to their real merits and significance for the nation as a whole. Their settlement in any one way affects the several parts of the country unequally. They cannot be settled justly by a mere compounding of differences, a mere unguided interplay of rival individual forces, without leadership and the courage of definite party action. Such questions are as complex and as difficult of adequate comprehension as the now infinitely varied life of the nation itself; and we run incalculable risks in leaving their settlement to the action of a House of Representatives whose leaders are silent and do not tell us upon what principle they act, or upon what motive; to a Senate whose undiciplined members insist upon making each an individual contribution to the result; and to a President chosen by processes which have little or nothing to do with party organization or with the solution of questions of state. We can seldom in this way see a single year ahead of us.

31 I, for my part, when I vote at a critical election, should like to be able to vote for a definite line of policy with regard to the great questions of the day — not for platforms, which, Heaven knows, mean little enough — but for men known and tried in the public service; with records open to be scrutinized with reference to these very matters; and pledged to do this or that particular thing, to take this or that definite course of action. As it is, I vote for nobody I can depend upon to do anything — no, not if I were to vote for myself. It may be that, if I vote with the successful party, my representative in the House is a perfectly honest, well-meaning, and moreover able man; but how do I know upon which committee Mr. Speaker will put him? How do I know where his influence will come in, in the silent play of influences (it may be perfectly legitimate influences) that runs through the committee rooms in so heady a stream? How do I know what the Speaker and those with whom he takes counsel will let the House do? I do not vote for the senators of my State; I do not always know just why those who do choose them make the particular selections they hit upon. When I vote for presidential electors, I know only what the candidate's friends say he will do. He accepts a platform made for him by a convention which he did not lead and which does not have to carry out its own programme; and I know that he may have no constructive power at all when he gets to Washington. No man can vote with real hope or confidence, or with intelligent interest even, under such a system.

32 What would I have? I feel the embarrassment of the question. If I answer it, I make the unpleasant impression of posing as a statesman, and tempt those who wish to keep every man in his place to remind me that I am only a college professor, whom it would better become to stick to his legitimate business of describing things as they are, leaving it to men of affairs to determine what they ought to be. I have been trying to describe things as they are, and that has brought me, whether I would or no, straight upon this question of the future. I am not addressing a college class, but men of affairs, who want their doctrine in the concrete and with no shirking of hard questions. Moreover, the things I have been describing are the proper objects of my study. In lecturing upon politics I try, indeed, not to lecture as a politician; but I try also not to lecture as a fossil. I must study affairs of the day as well as things dead and buried and all but forgot. I remember, too, that this is not a convention, but a body of students. You will want from me not a programme of reform, but a suggestion for thought.

33 My studies have taught me this one thing with a definiteness which cannot be mistaken: successful governments have never been conducted safely in the midst of complex and critical affairs except when guided by those who were responsible for carrying out and bringing to an issue the measures they proposed; and the separation of the right to plan from the duty to execute has always led to blundering and inefficiency; and modern representative bodies cannot of themselves combine the two. The Roman Senate, the only efficient administrative assembly that I know of in the history of the world, was a permanent body, made up for the most part of men who had served their terms as executive officials through a long succession of offices. It undertook actually to direct the affairs of the state as our Houses do; but its members had had varied executive experience, and, what was of still more significance, its mistakes came back upon itself. The shame of failure fell upon it, and not upon those who were merely its agents. Moreover, it was a thoroughly national power; it stood for no constituencies; in its days of success it represented, not a divided, but a thoroughly homogeneous state. If you would have the present error of our system in a word, it is this, that Congress is the motive power in the government and yet has in it nowhere any representative of the nation as a whole. Our executive, on the other hand, is national; at any rate may be made so, and yet has no longer any place of guidance in our system. It represents no constituency, but the whole people; and yet, though it alone is national, it has no originative voice in domestic national policy.

34 The sum of the matter is that we have carried the application of the notion that the powers of government must be separated to a dangerous and unheard-of length by thus holding our only national representative, the executive, at arm's-length from Congress, whose very commission it seems to be to represent, not the people, but the communities into which the people are divided. We should have Presidents and cabinets of a different calibre were we to make it their bounden duty to act as a committee for the whole nation to choose and formulate matters for the consideration of Congress in the name of a party and an administration; and then, if Congress consented to the measures, what they are already, a committee to execute them, make them work and approve themselves practicable and wise. And that is exactly what we ought to do. We should have not a little light thrown daily, and often when it was least expected, upon the conduct of the departments, if the heads of the departments had daily to face the representatives of the people, to propose, defend, explain administrative policy, upon the floor of the Houses, where such a plan would put them; and heads of departments would be happy under such a system only when they were very straightforward and honest and able men. I am not suggesting that initiative in legislation be by any means confined to the administration; that would be radical indeed; but only that they be given a free, though responsible, share in it, and that, I conceive, would bring the government back very nearly to the conception and practice of Washington. It would be a return to our first models of statesmanship and political custom.

35 I ask you to put this question to yourselves: Should we not draw the executive and legislature closer together? Should we not, on the one hand, give the individual leaders of opinion in Congress a better chance to have an intimate part in determining who should be President, and the President, on the other hand, a better chance to approve himself a statesman, and his advisers capable men of affairs, in the guidance of Congress? This will be done when the executive is given an authoritative initiative in the Houses. I see no other way to create national figures in the field in which domestic policy is chosen, or to bring forward tested persons to vote for. I do not suggest methods — this is not the place or the occasion — I suggest an idea, a way out of chaos, the nationalization of the motive power of the government, to offset the economic sectionalization of the country; I suggest the addition to Congress, which represents us severally, of a power, constituted how you will, which shall represent us collectively in the proposing of laws; which shall have the right as of course to press national motives and courses of action to a vote in the Congress. This will not subordinate Congress; it may accept the proposals of the administration or not, as it pleases (it once took a scolding from Washington himself for not accepting them); but the country will at least have a mouth-piece, and not all of policy will lurk with committees and in executive sessions of the Senate.

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