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Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America


Part  C


While the ideas of direct democracy held the field most of the time in the ante-bellum period and conflicting ideas were few, certain new tendencies were developing out of the political thought of the time which were to have considerable meaning for the future. There was first the political milieu created by the organization of political parties. The result in terms of representation was often the setting up of a "bargain counter" across which innumerable deals were made. At the same time, the developing economy of the country brought an increase in lobbyists who presented themselves at the seats of government. Too, the age saw a burgeoning of the socialistic and communistic experiments whose ideas were the ultimate reduction of those of the direct democrats, and whose political ancestry can therefore be more clearly traced to the individualistic line of descent. Meanwhile, traditional individualism was being restated in a idealistic form by the Transcendentalists, the followers of Bentham and James Mill and others, all of whom wished to reap the harvest of direct democracy and thought it might be best done through the agency of enlightened individualism rather than through other extralegal or radical changes.

The introduction of parties into the political system of antebellum America had a depressing effect on the participation of individuals in politics for the sake of principles. The nature of political organization is such that continuity and expertness are favored over dilettantism and good intentions. Proper management and individual favors performed under unexciting conditions produce more votes than a firm position on issues confronting the government. When the great parties were organizing in the early nineteenth century, most of the characteristics of the party system as we know it were already present. The party bureaucracy ran the party.

A universal complaint was the lack of issues. De Tocqueville wrote that "to a stranger, all the domestic controversies of the Americans at first appear to be incomprehensible or puerile, and he is at a loss whether to pity a people who take such arrant trifles in good earnest or to envy that happiness which enables a community to discuss them.[60]" There was a general division of parties between the more and the less democratic, but the difference lay hidden beneath a mass of petty issues and was arrived at by the most devious routes.

Most campaigns were fought over small points. Most of those engaged in political warfare began to concentrate on careful organization and individual favors. Parties were connected with the monopolization of the government, as Calhoun pointed out. In some places they centralized the traffic in the hands of the party leaders. The distribution of political favors and legislation was centralized in the same hands. The boss, as Ostrogorski pointed out, arose to satisfy the need for an intermediary between government and business interests, and for a central dispensary of political goods. Thus the influence of wealth in politics, which had been excluded to a great extent in the legal framework of representation, was effected. Votes were delivered by part agents who received in return party perquisites - jobs, money, and help. The aggregate of individuals composing the electorate were separated into the various party inclosures on election day. The largest inclosure gave the prize of efforts. And the direct representation of individuals in the government was modified by the representation of the individual interest of the party workers and the special interests from the outside with whom they dealt.

Special interest groups also began to expand their influence on government in the early nineteenth century. The person who seeks favors from the government and who uses his connections near the seat of power to help his cause is a phenomenon as old as government itself. The growth of organized industry and especially of corporate strength gave to what had been an individual effort the status of an organized and continuous effort. The initial organization of national and state government had not contemplated that interests of a durable sort would require a position in the government apart from that of sharing the legal status of the throng of electors who composed the sovereign body.

An analogy might be drawn between the constitutional guarantees of due process of law which, originally designed for living individuals, were extended to corporate entities as well, and the constitutional guarantee of the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances, which after a time grew to cover not only sporadic activities of groups of people but also the organized, concerted pressure on the government by permanent special interests. In each case, the political treatment of a situation has been measured by a yardstick gauged originally on a fairly clear legal conception. Individuals were to be able to contract, to hold property, and to petition the government, all without major governmental restraint. Also in each case, the individuals, as redefined by an individualistic law, grew enormously in power until it became debatable whether in protecting one "individual's" right, the welfare of a great many other real individuals was not being sacrificed.

The difference between a lobby, which is an organized and continuous effort to influence the course of legislation, and the individual petition, which is for most practical purposes a sporadic attempt to influence the course of legislation by loosely organized individuals, is often not easily definable. The distinction is mainly one of degree of organization, financing, and permanence of effort. When those qualities are present to a large degree in a group attempting to influence legislation, that group may be called a lobby.

On December 30, 1857, in a letter to President Buchanan, H.C. Carey described the lobby in Congress in terms which are adequate for portraying the new element in America government. Ten years ago, wrote Carey, one would have been regarded as a false prophet if he had ventured to predict "that there would have arisen a `third house of Congress' - composed of lobby members and embracing men who had filled almost the highest legislative and executive offices - abundantly supplied, to use the words of Colonel Benton, 'with the means required for conciliating members and combining interests,' and thus securing the passage of almost any bill, the applicants were willing, sufficiently liberally, to pay.[61]" The legislation of the country, he said in alarm, had fallen entirely into the hands of the navigation, railroads, and other transportation companies, and the legislators were participating in the profit from the transaction in public lands, and the grants of public money.

Lord Bryce, writing a generation later, ascribed part of the blame for harmful lobbying to the committee system, where unpublicized actions and great legislative power went together.[62] Procedural lacunae in the representative system undoubtedly created a condition under which the representation of special interests might prosper. But the fragmentation of economic activities and the subsequent growth of diversified interests in the society projected a need for representation which could hardly be provided for under the grandiose, vague unity of direct representation of the majority of the people. The tendency of practical political campaigning under geographic representation and universal suffrage is to water down campaign issues until they mean all things to all men. Only issues of supreme importance are likely to receive public consideration.

On the other hand, the tendency of a growing industrial and commercial economy is to produce a wide variety of specific problems which are of minor importance to the total picture, especially in a prosperous land, but of extreme importance to a small group. In the period under discussion, there was no idea of providing for the representation of small groups. The very suggestion the particular problems ought to be treated with particular knowledge was repugnant to he belief in popular omnicompetence, as Jackson had indicated in his first annual message to Congress.

Those problems, therefore, ignored in all the constitutional drafting of representative structures, forced an entrance at other points in the political system. Unblessed by existing rules or recognition, lobbying methods were unscrupulous. The public, not recognizing their meaning, treated them with fear and hatred. Lobbying was commonly believed to be criminal. The first court decisions held only the attorney functions of a lobbyist to be legal.[63] California declared lobbying was a felony, and Georgia called it a crime. Yet, despite all opposition, the use of the lobby grew and flourished until in the twentieth century it took for itself the final attribute of extralegal representative bodies in a democracy - a public expansion that its activities had as their aim the representation of interests of the whole people.

Still another interesting development may be observed in the early nineteenth century. We may call its central idea "presentation through anarchism." The salient characteristic of representation, as conceived by the direct democrats, according to our theory, is the immediacy of relationship between the governing and the governed. The representative is most acceptable when he looks, acts, and governs as if he were recently plucked out of the aggregate of individuals almost by chance. In fact, it would be in bad taste for him to state that ability rather than chance had anything to do with his possessing political office. The great mistrust of governmental officers which possessed the direct democrats from the Levellers to the pioneers, taken together with the ever growing belief in the integrity and unassailability of the individual, tended always to make of government nothing more than the individuals who composed it. The tendency was to make of representation a condition of "presentation." Such an extreme of psychology may temper men's minds and give a cast to their thinking about political institutions, but it can hardly bear itself out in complete practice.

The anarchists of the early nineteenth century held many divergent beliefs. There were individualist anarchist, Christian anarchists, communistic anarchists, mutual anarchists, and syndicalist anarchists. They all agreed that the freedom of the individual was of great importance and that all restraint must come from the conscience of the individual. None were content to allow an outside arbitration of their relationship to their fellow men or to the existing social institutions. Liberty came before order and was not a result of order. To put it another way, liberty and order were bound up in the righteous conscience of the individual.

The anarchists denied that the social compact required the concession of rights to society. Just as Calhoun had decreed a "concurrent majority" as the law of sovereign state units, the anarchists put forward a "concurrent majority" of individuals as the only right guide to social conduct. Penn's division of laws as "fundamental" and "superficial" found wide acceptance among the half-anarchistic Quakers and left them partly within and partly without the society in which they dwelt. For fundamental laws, a "concurrent majority" of individuals was required.

Self-government is the goal of individuals and cannot be attained through government, for the essence of government is force. John Humphrey Noyes wrote that exhortation, persuasion, and example, rather than legal obligation, were the means of attaining consensus. Men would voluntarily subject themselves to properly-enlightened leadership, he believed.[64] "Men, as a government over men," wrote Henry C. Wright," in the legitimate use of their governmental powers have trampled under foot the moral government of God."[65]

The logical denouement of "presentation" is to deny the division of interests. Thoreau characteristically experimented with the "Robinson Crusoe" life and exalted the guild system, for without a division of labor, conflict is diminished.[66]

The anarchists, unlike Rousseau, stopped themselves when they reached the majority. They could not read into it the superindividual character given it by Rousseau. They examined the greater number and found it to be nothing beyond its numerical quantity. It could not be defended as an expedient, for there was no expedient to the right conscience. Nor could it be defended because it was strong, for force was evil. Therefore, they went no further than the level of the individual. Only individuals following their consciences could be right and, if they followed the majority will, by that very fact they would be wrong.

Unabashed by the logic of hyper-individualism, however the American direct democrats held to the majority and pursued the Jeffersonian idea relentlessly. The new era that followed the Civil War saw the climactic attempt of direct representation to hold its psychological and structural pre-eminence and to extend its devices by the creation of new institutions.

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