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Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America


Part  A


The greater part of modern ideas of representation developed in close relation to the legislature. The public officers most associated with the word "representative" began their career as group spokesmen before the throne. The elected executive in America is an exception to this tradition. He is, rather, a distinct contribution to modern political institutions, and is comparable in a highly limited sense to the twin consuls of ancient Rome. His distinction occurs in two major respects: as the representative of the total community, he draws on sources of attachment, prestige, and belief which are foreign to the nature of representation by assemblies; and, though charged with administrative responsibilities, he is elected by the people.

Kingship by implied consent differs from this. Constitutional monarchies of the Swedish or British type are transmitted and traditional forms of personal authority or, as Max Weber put it, of "hereditary charisma" wherein "recognition is no longer paid to the charismatic qualities of the individual, but to the legitimacy of the position he has acquired by hereditary succession." [2]

Such kingship has representative qualities.[3] But the emphasis in representation falls first on the underlying, solidifying, and traditional community of the whole and then on the inactive, legalistic procedures of the society. The King does not have a consciously active role, or, when the "active" role does appear in times of crisis, it consist largely of representative acts of expression (visiting the sick, the wounded, the bombed-out and declaring the glorious, generalized symbols of the community's history). The representative assembly and its cabinet leaders are relied upon for the driving," rational" activity which the society needs.[4]

But in earlier days kingship had more important elements in common with the office of the elective executive today. The king, writes A.M. Hocart in Kings and Councillors, is a compound, and all the castes are contained within him. The castes, which are known by the specialized personal services they render the king, develop as specialized aspects of the king. The English constitution today still bears traces of such origin. In times of highest ceremony, the evidences reappear and confirm their origin, though now they have lost heir intrinsic significance for everyday life. "The old household offices, out of which our whole administration developed, reappear, however, at the coronation."[5] Parliament itself has no part in the coronation ceremonies.

Administration of government, however, is still in the name of the "Crown." As de Tocqueville pointed out in L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, the clerks of early modern times bored through the fabric of the old feudal structure prior to the great Revolution, [6] substituting new skills for old ones and consolidating the monarch's position. When the king of various countries vanished, the clerks remained. The American elected executive is unique in that he has acquired his administration without the loss of his activity.

He is chosen by majority or plurality; his term of office is limited. He is engaged in politics and has most of the time been a professional politician. He is a party leader. Publicity and news focus upon him rather than upon individual assembly-men for representation in all its aspects.

The task of this section, it follows, is to determine the sources of support for the executive as representative. The principle sources, we will conclude, come from that state of mind which we call "enlightened individualism." And, strangely enough, the idea of the representative executive is related in a complementary fashion to the idea of proportional representation which is discussed in the section to follow.

The first elected representative executives in America were the Puritan leaders of New England. With them begins a development which has grown stronger down to the present day, although it has rarely been perceived. The other colonial executives were delegates of the Crown and gave representation as the Crown gave it. They were not responsible to the people, though they may have been at times responsible for them. They appointed the officers of the administrative machinery and enforced the laws; they commanded the military forces and acted as the highest judicial officers of the colonies; and they called and dissolved the assemblies, recommended laws, wielded the veto, and nominated their councils.

Of the thirteen colonies, Connecticut and Rhode island had their own charters and controlled their executives. Massachusetts had a charter, but had also a governor appointed by the Crown who had been foisted on her only after a considerable experience with her own executive. The three proprietary colonies unwillingly had executives appointed by the Penn and Calvert families, and the seven Royal Provinces received their chief executives from the Crown.[7] If we consider that the New England colonies, in addition to possessing a religious inclination toward patriarchy, also had a less constant misfortune at the hands of uncontrolled executives, we might expect that the elected executive would have a more sympathetic audience in New England.

But, temporarily at least, all pro-executive sentiment was buried by the revolutionary upheaval.[8] New York's Revolutionary Constitution was alone in making the Governor popularly elective until the adoption of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Prior to that date, Massachusetts and three other states provided only for executive councils. Rhode Island and Connecticut kept their charter governor, who was popularly elected, but greatly increased the powers of the legislature in proportion to those of the executive.

The feeling against the executive carried over into the Continental Congress. Ad hoc committees of members of Congress carried on the administration for a time after the failure of administration by the Congress acting as body. Then experts from the outside were added to the committees, and finally, in 1781, after six years of unhappy experience with numerous committees of overlapping membership, the Congress settled on the principle of departments headed by single expert individuals, responsible to and reporting back to it. Needless to say, a single central executive received no serious consideration.

The executive did not regain his eminence in the states for many years. In the federal government, after a great debate in the Philadelphia Convention and in the ratification conventions, the advocates of a single executive were more successful. Compromises were made, to be sure. Indeed, the presidency under the Constitution summarized a variety of opinions on representation. The President was to be elected in a manner calculated to give some satisfaction both to the advocates of popular election and those of election by the legislature. The legislatures and voters chose the electors, and the people, though the voting was by states, had a hand in the House's power to choose the President if no single candidate received a majority of the electoral vote. The Senate controlled trials for impeachments and had the power to approve appointments - both arrangements flattered the states as sovereign bodies. But beyond the compromise was the major victory for single responsibility in the administration of the government.[9]

Thus the administrative ineptitude of the Continental Congress helped bring a great change to the federal system, which in turn influenced many state constitutions. In the Convention, Hamilton dwelt on the efficiency of the single executive. "Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government," he wrote later in the Federalist.[10] Hamilton received support from James Wilson, who placed greater trust in popular rule than he did but believed that the executive should be elective, subject to a fixed term of office, and preferably chosen by the direct suffrages of the people.[11] Governor Morris saw a paternal role in the office: "The Executive therefore ought to be so constituted as to be the great protector of the Mass of the people."[12] Madison felt that the President's ability to act as a balance against legislative excesses was important.[13]

So Randolph's plan for a triple executive to represent the three major geographic regions of the nation was rejected.[14] The establishment of the chief executive was a challenge to legislative dominance, not only because it was an office with some power but because its power had claims to being popularly representative. It was the first, radical step on the path of executive growth which has continued down to this day. The idea of the national interest was now contending in the field of representation.

What began as a Federalist concept of the executive spread throughout the states. At the time when the idea of direct representation was reaching its height, the executive was growing stronger. Merriam wrote that "one pronounced feature of the democratic movement in the first half of the century was the elevation of the executive and the degradation of the legislative power." [15] This happened despite the fact that the Jeffersonians and their successors were verbally opposed to the idea of executive power. In their ultimate ideal, there would be no administration and every man would be his own governor. Jefferson was a strong executive but only in spite of his convictions. In appraising his character while urging that he be chosen over Burr in 1800, Hamilton wrote:

"It is a fact...that, while we were in the administration together, he was generally for a large construction of the Executive authority and not backward to act upon it in cases which coincided with his views. Let it be added that in his theoretic idea he has considered as improper the participation of the Senate in the Executive authority." [16]

But then came Jackson, portraying, too, the idea of direct representation. Jackson regarded himself as the primary representative of the people and asserted in many ways the authority of his position over that of the Congress and the judiciary.[17] Clay, Calhoun, and Webster joined in violent protests against him. Webster declared that the executive had always been thought to be "a lion which must be caged."[18] Calhoun said:

"The executive power which represents the common force of society is, in every just theory, and in the nature of things, inferior to the legislative power, which is the representative of the common intelligence and the common will, and that, too, precisely in the degree to which brute force is inferior to reason." [19]

Can Jackson's position be regarded as fulfilling an ideal of direct representation? Probably no more so than can Jefferson's. History is too abundant in examples of direct democrats, Levellers, Radicals, and revolutionaries renouncing a single representative in favor of committees, assemblies, and directorates. One good reason for the elevation of the executive was a purely reactive one. The best way to rid the land of an elective aristocracy was to vest the people with the election of numerous administrative fiduciaries. Not only were governors being made elective, but other executive officers as well, and powers that had belonged to the legislatures were being parceled out to these offices.

Again, when Jackson stamped into the presidency, a horde accompanied him, brothers all in the cause of the common people. When the first chief executive arrived to take office, he rode up alone - an incidental contrast, historically speaking, but suggestive of divergent attitudes toward an office. The system of free patronage implies a long-term disrespect for the role of the executive branch of government. The leader becomes a strong executive so that he may carry out the majority will and distribute the political rewards.[20] Pro-spoils documents are found to contend generally that the people must govern themselves, literally. They must share the offices in turn. Efficiency is a secondary consideration.

That they should be represented by a strong representative rather than by a strong legislature is not of permanently great significance to the direct democrats. It is an accident of the majority finding its way. De Tocqueville thought that such accidents would necessarily befall direct democracy. Men in a state of equality hate any privilege, he argues. They do not resent the central power which is over all, but they resent any superiority of their neighbors. Just as equality breeds a love of uniformity, so does the central government love uniformity. "These common sentiments, which in democratic nations constantly unite the sovereign and every member of the community in one and the same conviction, establish a secret and lasting sympathy between them."[21]

Executive power, therefore, has grown in the past with the help of those who have believed in direct representation. They were seeking a single interest and were willing to concede "temporarily" their active participation in government to a leader who might give them a complete expression of the interests of the majority. Theodore Roosevelt was revered equally by those who sought the immediate establishment of the will of the people and by those who sought the effective organization of a national interest.[22]

As the nineteenth century drew to a close it became apparent that a movement on behalf of the executive was gaining strength. Bryce wrote in 1888 of the fetters that bound the Presidency and of the Congress which balked it, but added that "his office retains a measure of solid independence in the fact that the nation sees him as a direct representative and embodiment of its majesty," [23] The "embodiment" of the nation was there; it remained to fulfill the potentialities of the office as the active director of political energies. The civil-service reform movement, the assumption of legislative leadership by the President, the delegation of legislative authority to the executive branch, the city-manager movement, the advent of the executive budget, the reorganizations of the executive branches in nation and state, all moved together toward giving a hitherto unknown unity of direction and administration to republican representative government.

The theory of the executive does not rule out the existence of the legislature. It assigns the legislature a limited role. The legislature is not to be a counterweight in the traditional checks-and-balances system, as Madison would have it. The matter is rather one of separate competences, as Polk meant when he declared that "the President represents in he executive department the whole people of the United States, as each member of the legislative department represents portions of them."[24] There is no basic conflict - the legislature rightfully exists to present the diverse sentiments of the society, thus complementing the position of the executive.

The executive stands in his own right as the representative of the national interest. He is best suited to plan for society, to present the total program, and to direct the execution of the details of law. He is the enlightened reason of the society and is granted universal respect. His daily activities, sayings, characteristics, and preferences are received with emotion by virtue of his central position. To many individuals, his death brings shock akin to that brought by the loss of basic security at the death of an intimate protector, as Sebastian de Grazia has shown.[25]

The incomplete executive, like the limited king, gives incomplete representation. Society lacks the active direction which his representative strength as the embodiment of the society would otherwise give it. The supporters of the American executive have applied themselves to giving him an active role. They have sought to bring to him the powers of planning and directing the national energies. He must be equipped to discover the national interest, put it before the people, and administer it. He must have a competent administrative machine, responsible to his orders. Administrative efficiency has no basic appeal to (1) those who believe there is no plan, (2) those who believe there is no national interest, (3) or those who believe in the omnicompetence of the majority. And within these categories we find our direct representation, mobile interest representation, free-market representation and pluralism.

But where the influence of idealism is strong, we find the idea of the national interest reflecting itself in interest and activity in the field of social planning. Charles E. Merriam, whose writings and activities sum up generally the whole modern phase of enlightened individualism and the executive movement, is prominent in this field.[26] The idea of energetic leadership by the elective executive is found throughout Merriam's writings and in the reports of the President's Committee on Administrative Management.[27] Unity of direction, the co-ordination of movement, dislike of using office for spoils, and the invention of new tools of management efficiency underlay numbers of articles, reports, and activities.

It remains to place the legislature in the scheme of things, and in his Systematic Politics Professor Merriam demonstrates clearly that the idea of executive representation does not stand by itself. It has a matching principle in the legislature, which helps explain how proportional representation can be sympathetic, and brings out why enlightened individualism is unitary and in part derivative from Massachusetts puritanism. Significantly, Merriam treats legislatures under the term "conciliar organs." The council, as it has historically developed, has come out of the chief of state. Its primary function is to advice the chief of state, and its aim is to arrive at the best judgment on behalf of the whole, not to contend for power or engage in factionalism. This function implies reason and unity. Or, as Merriam puts it: the functions of councils are

"... (I) to ascertain the wisdom of the community in regard to some line of policy - for king or people as the case may be; (2) to aid in the formulation of the will of the community through definite policies of action; and (3) to strengthen community morale through the formalities of common deliberation through consultation of agencies and interests and through a sense of participation in the formation of common policy." [28]

The aim of government is a common one, not a concession to a victorious particularism.

The common good, to be sure, is made up through persons and groups, but the overruling basis of representation is that of the state or society as a whole and its general interests taken together... The legislator presumably knows the ends and purposes of the commonwealth in general and of the area in which he lives; he knows the relation of the general and the particular interest and is able to make a reasonable or workable pattern of the conflicting factors in operation.[29]

How should the contesting interest of society be treated? "These groups are not repressed, intimidated or controlled by the state, but their activity is encouraged in the interest of sound formulation of public policy - in the interest of the process of common consent to the broad policies of the nation."[30] The weaknesses of the legislatures in finding the common good reflects the weakness of the community and foreshadows its decline in vitality. The manner of arranging representation, believes Professor Merriam, is subordinate to the relationship between executive and legislature. The latter must seek the common good and the former must provide for it continuously.

Merriam's lack of enthusiasm for prescribing proportional representation or any other particular representative device may probably be assigned to a conviction that experience with no conciliar representative device has corrected the defects it has presumed to treat. But it can be seen that a "conciliar" theory of representation would be congenial to the proportional idea. Mutual requirements are a belief in reason as the end of legislation, a belief in the legislature as a map of the interests of the community, and a view of the functioning of the assembly which emphasizes its supervisory duties. At the same time, like proportional representation, conciliarism might tolerate some kinds of pluralist representation.

Before passing on to the beginnings of proportional representation, it may also be pointed out that John Stuart Mill, whose advocacy of proportional representation gave it much of its prestige as a movement in the late nineteenth century, made important contributions to the theory of the executive. But Mill's executive is a far more "rational" one than Merriam's American executive, for Mill likes permanence and impartiality in the top executive ranks, while Merriam values the popular, representative elements in the American executive.

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