Tis Sixty Years Since Part 2

Tis Sixty Years Since -

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I would respectfully inquire if the above does not apply word for word to the condition of affairs with which we are familiar in America.

But let me here again cite a concrete case, still fresh in memory; nothing in abstract discussion tells so much. Take the late Carl Schurz. If there was one man in our public life since 1865 who showed a genius for the parliamentary career, and who in six short years in the United States Senate--a single term--displayed there constructive legislating qualities of the highest order, it was Carl Schurz. Yet at the end of that single senatorial term, for local and temporary reasons he failed to obtain the support of a majority, or the support of anything approaching a majority, of those composing the const.i.tuency upon which he depended. Consequently he was retired from that parliamentary position necessary for the accomplishment, through him, of best public results. Yet at that very time there was no man in the United States who commanded so large and so personal a const.i.tuency as Carl Schurz; for he represented the entire Germanic element in the United States. Distributed as that element was, however, with its vote localized under our law, unwritten as well as statutory, there was no possibility of any const.i.tuency so concentrating itself that Carl Schurz could be kept in the position where he could continue to render services of the greatest possible value to the country. I, therefore, confidently here submit a doubt whether human ingenuity could devise any system calculated to lead to a greater waste of parliamentary ability, or more effectually keep from the front and position of influence that legislative superiority which was the arm of Aristotle to secure.

"Cant-patriotism," as your Francis Lieber termed it; and, on this score, he waxed eloquent. "Do we not live in a world of cant," he wrote from Columbia here to a friend at the North seventy-five years ago, "that cant-patriotism which plumes itself in selecting men from within the State confines only. The truer a nation is, the more essentially it is elevated, the more it disregards petty considerations, and takes the true and the good from whatever quarter it may come. Look at history and you find the proof. Look around you, where you are, and you find it now." And, were Lieber living to-day, he would find a striking exemplification of the consequences of a total and systematic disregard of this elementary proposition in studying the United States Senate from and through its reporters' gallery. The decline in the standards of that body, whether of aspect, intelligence, education or character, under the operation of the local primary has been not less p.r.o.nounced than startling. The outcome and ripe result of "cant-patriotism," it affords to the curious observer an impressive object-lesson,--provincialism reduced to a political system; what a witty and incisive French writer has recently termed the "Cult of Incompetence." Speaking of conditions prevailing not here but in France, this observer says:--"Democracy in its modern form chooses its' delegates in its own image.... What ought the character of the legislator to be? The very opposite, it seems to me, of the democratic legislator, for he ought to be well-informed and entirely devoid of prejudice." Taken as a whole, and a few striking individual exceptions apart, are those composing the Senate of the United States conspicuous in these respects? They certainly do not so impress the casual observer. That, as a body, they increasingly fail to command confidence and attention is matter of common remark. Nor is the reason far to seek. It would be the same as respects literature, science and art, were their representatives chosen and results reached through a count of noses localized, with selection severely confined to home talent.

I am well aware of the criticism which will at once be pa.s.sed on what I now advance. Local representation through choice by numerical majorities within given confines, geographically and mathematically fixed, is a system so rooted and intrenched in the convictions and traditions of the American community that even to question its wisdom evinces a lack of political common-sense. It in fact resembles nothing so much as the attempt to whistle down a strongly prevailing October wind from the West. The attempt so to do is not practical politics! In reply, however, I would suggest that such a criticism is wholly irrelevant. The publicist has nothing to do with practical politics. It is as if it were objected to a physician who prescribed sanitation against epidemics that the community in question was by custom and tradition wedded to filth and surface-drainage, and could not possibly be induced to abandon them in favor of any new-fangled theories of soap-and-water cleanliness. So why waste time in prescribing such? Better be common-sensed and practical, taking things as they are. In the case suggested, and confronted with such criticism, the medical adviser simply shrugs his shoulders, and is silent; the alternative he knows is inescapable. After a sufficiency of sound scourgings the objecting community will probably know better, and may listen to reason; in a way, conforming thereto. So, also, the body politic. If Ephraim is indeed thus joined to idols, the publicist simply shrugs his shoulders, and on; possibly, after Ephraim has been sufficiently scourged, he may in that indefinite future popularly known as "one of these days" be more clear sighted and wiser.

None the less, so far as our national parliamentary system is concerned, could I have my way in a revision of the Const.i.tution, I would increase the senatorial term to ten years, and I would, were such a thing within the range of possibility, break down the system of the necessary senatorial selection by a State of an inhabitant of the State. If I could, I would introduce the British system. For example, though I never voted for Mr. Bryan and have not been in general sympathy with Mr.

Roosevelt, yet few things would give me greater political satisfaction than to see Mr. Bryan, we will say, elected a Senator from Arizona or Oregon, Mr. Roosevelt elected from Illinois or Pennsylvania, President Taft from Utah or Vermont. They apparently best represent existing feelings and the ideals prevailing in those communities; why, then, should they not voice those feelings and ideals in our highest parliamentary chamber?

As respects our House of Representatives, it would in principle be the same. I do not care to go into the rationale of what is known as proportional representation, nor have I time so to do; but, were it in my power, I would prescribe to-morrow that hereafter the national House of Representatives should be const.i.tuted on the proportional basis,--the choice of representatives to be by States, but, as respects the nomination of candidates, irrespective of district lines. Like many others, I am very weary of provincial n.o.bodies, "good men" locally known to be such!

As I have already said, in parliamentary government all depends in the end on the truly representative character of the legislative body. If that is as it should be, the rest surely follows. The objective of Aristotle is attained.

Exceeding the limits a.s.signed to it, my discussion has, however, extended too far. I must close. One word before so doing. Why am I here?

I am here,--a man considerably exceeding in age the allotted threescore and ten--to deliver a message, be the value of the same greater or less.

I greatly fear it is less. I would, however, impart the lessons of an experience stretching over sixty years,--the results of such observation as my intelligence has enabled me to exercise. I do so, addressing myself to a local inst.i.tution of the advanced education. Why? Because, looking over the country, diagnosing its conditions as well as my capacity enables me, observing the evolution of the past and forecasting, in as far as I may, the outcome, I am persuaded that the future of the country rests more largely in the hands of such inst.i.tutions as this than in those of any other agency or activity. Do not say I flatter; for, while I can hope for no advancement, I think I have not overstated the case; I certainly have not overstated my conviction. There has been no man who has influenced the course of modern thought more deeply and profoundly than Adam Smith, a Professor in a Scotch University of the second cla.s.s. So here in Columbia seventy years ago, Francis Lieber prepared and published his "Manual of Political Ethics." Adam Smith and Francis Lieber were but prototypes--examples of what I have in mind. The days were when the Senate of the United States afforded a rostrum from which thinkers and teachers first formulated, and then advanced, great policies. Those days, and I say it regretfully, are past. Unless I am greatly mistaken, however, a new political force is now a.s.serting itself. I have recently, at a meeting of historical and scientific a.s.sociations in Boston, had my attention forcibly called to this aspect of the situation now shaping itself. I there met young men, many, and not the least noticeable of whom, came from this section. They inspired me with a renewed confidence in our political future. Essentially teachers,--I might add, they were publicists as well as professors. Observers and students, they actively followed the course of developing thought in Europe as in this country.

Exact in their processes, philosophical and scientific in their methods, unselfish in their devotion, they were broad of view. It is for them to realize in a future not remote the University ideal pictured, and correctly pictured, from this stage by one who here preceded me a short six months ago. They, const.i.tuting the University, are the "hope of the State in the direction of its practical affairs; in teaching the lawyer the better standards of his profession, his duty to place character above money making; in teaching the legislator the philosophy of legislation, and that the constructive forces of legislation carefully considered should precede every effort to change an existing status; in teaching those in official life, executive and judicial, that demagogy, and theories of life uncontrolled by true principles, do not make for success, when final success is considered, but that, if they did lead to success, they should be avoided for their inherent imperfection.... The province of the University is to educate citizens.h.i.+p in the abstract."

It is the presence of this cla.s.s, to those composing which I bow as distinctly of a period superior to mine, that you owe my presence to-day,--whatever that presence may be worth. I regard their existence and their coming forward in such inst.i.tutions as this University of South Carolina, as the arc of the bow of promise spanning the political horizon of our future.

Through you, to them my message is addressed.

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