Table of Contents 

PC.GIF     PC.GIF    

Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America


Part  B


Representation under any system is biased. It favors or extracts some characteristics of the population over other characteristics. No matter how constituencies are drawn, even if by the most exacting numerical and atomistic principles, some sectionalism will be exhibited from one district to the next. Selection by lot, or a controlled random sample, would be best calculated to produce the microcosm of he whole body of the people. But it would, by that very fact, favor certain mass values. Consequently, when one notices a new movement away from a traditional mode of representation into a new mode of representation, he need not think for a moment that the new direction is towards "science," "neutrality," or "abstract justice against personal justice." For it must have its moral premises, no matter how well-concealed they may be.

A brief history of the movement with particular reference to America will show that the principal element distinguishing proportional representation from the more traditional ideas of American representation is its search for a democratic solution of the problems of minorities, including the corollary problem of the role of intelligence in making political decisions. In common with traditional democracy, it believed in reason as the feasible method of solving political problems and in the employment of reason in an individualistic form, that is, through the sporadic and voluntary combinations of intelligent individuals to govern society.

Minorities have generally had some voice in government. In representative government under the majority principle, as was indicated in the second part of the last chapter, allowances are often made for the representation of minor groups in the population. Even though the theory of majority rule is absolute, minorities have abounded in practice and have found their way into the final legislative process and the administration of laws. Godkin, writing in The Nation, which published many articles on minority rights and "personal representation," declared that President Hayes ought not to use executive office "as a means of soothing the ambition or procuring the support of particular classes of the voters by giving them `representation' in it, knowing well that it is not and ought not to be a representative body at all, and that neither Irish, German, African, nor Malay descent can give one man a better claim to a place in it than another."[31] Rather, thought Godkin, Hayes should act as a "prudent merchant" in filling places.

Proportional representation was more than a haphazard way of giving minorities a voice. It was a mathematical framing of the proposition that each voice should be represented in the legislature according to its numerical strength in the population. There was a strong strain in it, too, of that theory dear to the English Radicals and Jeffersonian democrats, that the duties of the representatives were delegated duties and that they were necessary only because the whole body of people could not conveniently undertake the task of legislating. Proportional representation or minority representation is an older idea than is commonly believed. In the revolutionary period in America and France, statements were heard to the effect that interests in society require representation. John Adams and Mirabeau both expressed such views.

Apparently the first historical example of proportional representation applied deliberately to elections was the Norwegian Constitution of 1814. In 1831, while the debate over the Great Reform Bill was going on in England, a member of Parliament, a poet named Praed, called the House's attention to the fact that if they wanted a representation of the "aggregate masses of every numerous constituency," they could not hope to get it from the majority system.[32] In 1834 Victor Considerant, a disciple of Fourier, the "Scientific Socialist," proposed a plan of minority representation which received consideration by the Grand Council of Geneva in 1846. But in 1844 an American, Thomas Gilpin, had published a pamphlet under the title of "The Representation of Minorities of Electors to Act with the Majority in Elected Assemblies." In England proposals for minority representation by cumulative voting were made in J.G. Marshall's On Minorities and Majorities (London; 1853), in the Spectator of the same year and in the Edinburgh Review of the year following. Lord John Russell's Reform Bill of 1854 contained a plan of minority representation by the limited vote. In 1855 the Danish Kingdom used the idea of the preferential vote for the election of members to the Rigsraad after a plan worked out by Andrae. But the book which finally touched off the dynamism of a movement was Thomas Hare's On the Election of Representatives, Parliamentary and Municipal (1859) as it was popularized by John Stuart Mill.[33]

Mill's work was already well known in the United States, and his enthusiastic endorsement of the Hare system caused the press and academic world to give immediate attention to the proposals. J. Francis Fisher, who had been evolving a scheme of his own with the encouragement of a group of friends, wrote in his Trial of the Constitution (1862) that the Civil War might have been prevented if the excessive fluctuations of the majority system had not brought such a radical turnover of the government. In 1863 Fisher's book on The Degradation of Our Representative System and Its Reform appeared, with a novel plan calculated to maximize the informal, spontaneous participation of the electorate in a selection based on the quota idea.

The election of delegates to the New York Constitutional Convention of 1867 saw the first application of proportional representation in America. One hundred and twenty-eight delegates were elected by districts and the remaining thirty-two delegates were elected at large, with the proviso that no voter might vote for more than sixteen candidates. The results were interesting: the ratio of the traditionally elected was 81 Republicans to 47 Democrats, while the ratio of the proportionally elected was 16 to 16.[34]

Cumulative voting for the election of Senators and Representatives was proposed in the Convention by Horace Greeley. By allowing the minority to be represented, he urged the delegates, they would "allow the whole people to be represented."[35] Another delegate, supporting Greeley's position, declared that "a representative legislature approximates the end for which it was designed just in proportion to the completeness and exactness with which it represents the whole people, not a majority only, but all the people." Party tyranny would end, he predicted, and the people of the respective localities would prevent the destruction of localism feared by many.

In opposition, another delegate stated that he was a "believer in the representation of majorities rather than minorities. And I believe," said he," it is a democratic doctrine, and a doctrine which is essential to the perpetuity and the strength of the republic that the majority should rule, and that the minority should be represented only as far as they can be." Another member of the convention asserted that all interests were already represented, either by proxy or by petition, or through the incontestable power of public opinion which even minorities can exercise. The proposal lost by a sizable majority.

When the proposal for cumulative voting was revived shortly afterward in connection with private corporation laws, the same arguments were repeated, and expressions of sympathy for minority stockholders were tendered. But most delegates were inclined to let matters stand and this proposal was also defeated.

In Congress, Senator Buckalew was active on behalf of proportional representation. In the same year as the New York Convention, he introduced a motion to allow cumulative voting in the supplementary reconstruction bill governing the southern states.[36] It is wrong to deprive the minority of all representation, he declared in support of his motion. People were speaking as if it were a sacred principle that majorities should have absolute power; the American system was based on no such idea. Cumulative voting would substitute real representation for the present fictional representation and would assure the people that their delegates would obey their specific desire. Buckalew declared that the "free vote" would impede electoral corruption, would disseminate knowledge and experience of representative government where there was now only political stagnancy. If the Unionists in the South, he said, had possessed representatives before the Civil War, they would have successfully blocked secession. And at the present time, much of the antagonism between the races in the South would disappear if Negroes could be assured their own representation in Congress.

Buckalew's proposal was defeated and, though it was reconsidered in 1869 in connection with all of the states rather than simply the southern states (which had caused objections on constitutional grounds), it made no further progress.[37] That there was considerable sympathy for proportional representation (including cumulative voting) in the Congress as well as in the country at large is evidenced in the debates on the proposals. When in 1870 a new apportionment of federal representatives was being made, a proposal by Representative Marshall of Illinois that the cumulative vote be applied to the new members elected at large was well received; it failed probably because a number of states would have had to apply the system to two candidates only and because the overlapping with the traditional system would have been confusing.[38]

Illinois in 1870 was the first state to apply a thorough plan of cumulative voting; at that time it introduced the system in the elections of its representatives to the lower house.[39] The proposal was backed by the leading newspapers of both parties in Chicago, and Joseph Medill, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, was a member of the Convention to draft the new constitution and led the fight for proportional representation.

Medill stated in defense of his proposals that proportional representation was one of the greatest improvements in representative government ever devised, and predicted that it would succeed everywhere in the world. Without taking away the right of the majority to rule, it allows the whole people to be represented, rather than a part. Under it, the minority, no longer paying taxation without representation, would be able to present its views and defend its interests.[40]

The flurry of activity over proportional representation lasted only a few years. Several states adopted the principle not only in the election of legislatures but also in the election of judges, municipal councils, country administrators, and the officers of corporations. Before the end of the 1870's, some of the enthusiasm had waned and the opposition in party councils had stiffened. Another generation review appeared (1893). After that important event, the advocates of proportional representation, organized in a more satisfactory fashion into the American Proportional Representation League, though deprived of the wide popularity that greeted the first years of the movement, carried on a sober and persistent agitation for their proposals, achieving the most notable successes in local election laws.[41]

The tendency in the courts has been gradually to view with greater lenience the attempts of various legislatures to overlay the majority system with procedures for proportional representation. Early legislation often encountered two constitutional provisions which proved stumbling blocks: the provisions guaranteeing the electors the "right to vote in all elections" or the "right to vote for all officers." Inasmuch as proportional representation generally required that the vote be "limited" or cumulative," in order to provide mode of ingress for the minority, there seemed to be a conflict with such clauses and several courts so decided.[42] The growing idea that systems of proportional representation followed an acceptable pattern of electoral justice apparently was more effective than legal changes in gaining the more liberal construction of today.[43]

But political writing recently has accorded a very different treatment to the advocates of proportional representation. The fact that the fall of democracy in Germany coincided with the possession of proportional representation in Germany has elicited an extensive literature opposing proportional representation in any form.[44] American proportionalists, who sometimes thought they were sadly unnoticed, discovered that they had started World War II. We may find material in the developing writings on proportional representation from Thomas Gilpin onward which lend relevance to a critical discussion of proportional representation.

Thomas Gilpin's little book, published thirteen years before Hare's first pamphlet on representation, contained all the elements of the technique of representing minorities and of the justifications which later became commonplace. Gilpin points out that the representation of the majority under the majority system is absolute, often barring completely the voice of the minority. Such exclusive representation often is subversive of honest administration, but, even where it is not," it is subversive of the harmony and confidence which ought to be afforded to it." This is a contention which is often encountered in the early proportionalists. It is significant in that it reveals the proportionalists to be concerned with a unity of direction and purpose in society. We have said elsewhere that the majority principle is characteristic of the thinking of the orthodox direct democrats. The proportionalists, in asserting the rights of the minority of individuals, believed that they were forming a rational representative body which might attain a degree of united direction and satisfaction unheard of under the majority system. Therefore we must not confuse the proportionalists with the modern free-market school of representation, or with pluralism proper; even though the proportionalists in some cases realized that pluralistic representation of a fluid nature might come from proportional representation, the end result was to be reasonable, and a compromise was to be only in terms of means to ends, not as a good in itself.[45]

Under his proposed list-system of proportional representation, the parties would be unlikely to accomplish, by misrepresentation to the marginal voters, a complete turnover in the government with its accompanying corruption through spoils and its drastic changes in policy. Rather, their talk would have to be sober, their aims specific. Respectable people would be able to enter politics because politics would have in it less of propaganda and more of professional attitudes to specific objects.

Gilpin uses a most apt phrase, startlingly modern in its application, to describe the psychological change that would take place with the new system of representation. It would "reorganize the attention of the community" in breaking up the party caucuses and control through spoils.[46] It would throw "immediately before the public the objects which should claim its attention, in order to produce an immediate connection between he people and their interests, and this can only be effected by a representation independent of politics."[47] We shall see that Gilpin's arguments still carry great weight among proportionalists.

Among Thomas Gilpin's early successors, two Americans, J.F. Fisher and S. Sterne, deserve serious consideration. But first, a few remarks may be in order on Thomas Hare's book, which after 1860 was common currency in America and influenced the thinking of American proportionalists. In the introduction to his book, Hare defines representation in a way that reveals what his tendency would be. "Representation is the vicarious performance of duties which cannot be personally executed."[48] The specialization of tasks, therefore, will be for him what it had been for the direct democrats of the old school: a way of preventing inconveniences without metamorphosing the performance of the specialized tasks. Party, of course, has no place in the ideal representative system, where freely moving individuals choose representatives who appeal to their higher faculties. Working backward on this principle, it was not odd that Mill, in a speech in defense of his proportional bill before the Commons in 1867, declared: "I am inclined to think that almost the only electors who are represented exactly as they would wish to be, are those who were bribed."[49] That was the extremity to which the purely intellectual idea of representation as complete confluence of mind led him.

The associational psychology which fixed on Mill early in life and never abandoned him in political theory, despite his assertions of doubt in the more abstract spheres of logic and psychology, is found in the mathematically-minded Hare, and explains much of Mill's enthusiasm for the Hare plan. Hare wrote:

"The means by which the [voters]... who are not associated by any pervading harmony of mind or feeling, but are gathered together by the mere accident of living in the same district or town, are led or forced, on pain of political extinction, always to agree in the choice of their representatives, are inconsistent with the free exercise of individual will guided by those diversities of thought and sentiment upon which men form their various estimates of character; and their subjection to such compulsion tend to the mental and moral deterioration of the electors and the elected." [50]

Or, as Mill put it in his same speech," Against this class-predominance [of the masses], as against all other class predominance, the personal representation of every voter, and therefore the full representation of every minority, is the most valuable of all protections."[51] Both Hare and Mill agreed that the essential advantage of proportional representation lay in its capacity to extract intelligence from the population and give this intelligence a prominent role in politics. Their lack of concern with party organization and popular movements was deliberate. They were not of the opinion that politics was an irrational science of compromise but rather that it must be made into a machinery of deliberation employing the best technicians and philosophers which the society afforded.

It is notable that one of the two primary reasons given for the resumption of separate publication of the Proportional Representation Review, which from 1896 to 1914 had been published as part of the magazine Equity, was that many members of the Proportional Representation League disliked associating proportional representation with a magazine containing appeals also for the Initiative, Referendum and Recall. This fact tends to confirm our theory of an ideational incompatibility between enlightened individualism and direct democracy.

Another point worthy of attention is that Mill and Hare not only proposed a system basically mechanical and atomistic but also fostered the idea that the working mechanics of the system could be similarly divorced from humanistic content. That is, the ultimate psychology of proportional representation was individualistic and rational, revealing a lack of attention to the factors making up social consensus, and promoting the elements in society which were potentially tangential to the movement of the main social forces. Assuming for the moment that this social generalization is true - that conditions of increasing crisis are associated with extreme fluctuations in opinions in opposite directions - then the Hare system is inclined by its favoritism to minorities to foster the reflection of such fluctuations in the representative body.

That is what is meant by a basic psychology of proportional representation. But, in addition, the Hare system condoned and even emphasized a central disability in the majority system -- the "formalization" of the representative system which Ostrogorski has described and which Gilpin hinted at. For neither Hare nor Mill took account of the "humanizing" and "community" services that perhaps might be desired of a representative structure when they advocated a formal, mechanical, academic type of structure, providing for elections at infrequent periods as if "election-day citizenship" could suffice. If Mill had stopped to think more about his statement that the only fully represented voter is a bribed one, he might have been led to a closer, more keen insight into political motivation. It was characteristic of the English proportionalists, as well as of most American ones, that the only allowable motives for voting were considered to be rational applications of social values to specific men and policies.[52]

Fisher's work marks in America the earliest signs of transition from a promising contribution in representation to a formula. He had been thinking of plans of proportional representation before learning of Hare's book, and his final plan differed in several respects from Hare's scheme. Fisher realized, first of all, that Hare's plan was based on a political system without the network of caucuses and primary elections found in America, and that the ramification of party in America spread far beyond the limited professional group found in England.[53] Therefore the American system presents a threat to any new idea of representation in that the "Party Oligarchy" is always ready to remove itself one step farther into the background in order to continue its operations outside the system. Fisher would allow nominations freely to any group of citizens; the nominators would proceed to form a canvassing committee publicly announced, to open an office, and to invite voters' support.

The quota for election having been determined beforehand by dividing the estimated vote cast by the number of offices available, all voters on the central register would be given a ticket which they might then assign to their candidate in the presence of a notary public. When the quota of a candidate was filled, that candidate, by presenting his tickets in the prescribed number to the office of the legislative body to which he was seeking election, completed the election process. When more supporters gave him their tickets than were necessary to fill his quota, he might reassign the tickets to another member of his party or another sympathetic candidate.

One of the results of such a system, Fisher states, would be to dissolve finally the remnants of representation of land contained in the geographical constituency idea. The division of states into districts must be abandoned, because "it is not land, nor the owners of it, who form our constituencies, but the citizens generally; and that the opinions, principles, and interests of the people, which really ought to find expression in their representatives, can never be expected to conform to any possible territorial division."[54] Here then is the culmination of the idea of representation which found its beginnings in the first representation of burgesses in the English parliament and of the claim that a virtue other than the land lay behind the right to representation. Individualism had come far from the representation of estates in the Middle Ages and even from its place in the decision of Chief Justice Holt in Ashby v. White.[55]

Another result of Fisher's system, in his opinion, would be a new entente cordiale between the functional components of the society. This would encourage the employers to treat their workers well and even to give them a share of the profits. "A sort of sentiment" would be "aroused analogous to clanship."[56] Mutual prosperity would be the motive for unity between workers and employers on behalf of a candidate of real worth and independence, whereas now there was little to commend unity in their relations to a remote political division built on false opposition.

A third important result peculiar to Fisher's method would be the changed character of the canvass. Instead of the old lack of intimacy and deliberation, the candidate would have to confront the electorate directly, and a direct selling job would be required.[57] There would be none of the polling-day confusion, tension, and strangeness found under the present methods, and the voter could make up his mind in the proper seclusion and with the proper deliberation.

Fisher's plan was overwhelmed by the approbation given the Hare-Mill proposals. When Simon Sterne published his book On Representative Government and Personal Representation, he gave polite notice to Fisher, summarized his proposals, and went on to convert the Hare proposals to American conditions. Like the other early American writers on proportional representation, Sterne devoted considerable time to describing the many defects of the party system then current. The spoils system, bossism, the lobbies, and inferior political leadership are related to the system under which the enlightened elements of the community are excluded from representation. By "personal," "totality," and "minority" representation, as Sterne alternately refers to his system, the lobby and the control of politics by secret party machination would have to go.

The process of creating a majority demoralizes most of those who compose it, wrote Sterne.[58] It excludes the action of their higher moral attributes, and brings into operation only their lower motives. This contention is often found among the proportionalists. The tendency of politics in a democracy to represent the lowest common denominator of morality and characteristics is regarded by them as a necessary consequence of the majority election system. The fault lies with using an instrument of action as an instrument of representation. Gilpin had first made the distinction. He allowed that the majority had the right to govern, but insisted that the total community, by reference to all the interests which went into making up the community, had the right to participate in the deliberations, that is, the representation.[59]

Sterne agrees that there were "confounded two independent and entirely different political ideas and processes -- the right of representation and the right of decision."[60] Each man is entitled to appear by deputy in the government to present his case, but action is by majority will. He quotes with approval Mirabeau's famous statement in the French Constituent Assembly of 1789 "that a representative body is to the nation what a chart is for the physical configuration of the soil...." The right of the majority to govern does not carry with it the right of the majority to sole representation.[61] The establishment of proportional representation he regards as the logical extension of the traditional democratic idea of representation. In an earlier lecture he had declared,

"...if the doctrine of the sovereignty of the individual, and the arguments for the natural right of suffrage, be not a tissue of empty words, they mean that each individual of the body politic having the right of suffrage, should, either immediately or mediately, have a voice in the framing of those laws to which as a citizen his obedience is demanded." [62]

The writings of many of the advocates of proportional representation in the nineteenth century cannot be treated at length here. Buckalew's writings and speeches in Congress are good in that they present a politician's approach to the subject.[63] A lecture by Willard Warner given in 1870 is an excellent example of how the fine mathematical proportions of the personal representation idea stimulated and attracted the scientifically-minded.[64] Multiplication of individuals produced the conduct of the group. John M. Berry printed in large type at the beginning of his booklet on representation the motto: "Where citizens are equal -- if ten men are to elect ten representatives, each man ought to elect one -- if ten thousand are to elect ten representatives, each thousand ought to elect one."[65] He wrote that "all the beneficial movements of mankind have been the work of determined minorities" in justifying proportional representation.

Professor J.W. Jenks, writing in the Annals of the American Academy, decried the absolute power of the majority to govern the minority, especially since the majority was most often a fictitious thing, ruled by a wealthy minority and raising false issues.[66] Most men have a public spirit, he claimed, and they can be trusted to elect a representative who will represent their own and society's interests if the choice is put squarely before them in a recognizable fashion. The classes which existed in politics are mostly created and artificial. Under a proper system of representation, each group in society could organize and cast its vote effectively. Thereupon new groupings would form and change around as conditions changed.

Jenk's article again introduced the question of the representation of interest groups, and it is important that the position of the proportionalists on diversity in society be made explicit. That they are rationalistic and unitary has already been pointed out. Society has an end; progress, the belief in social and political movement toward that end, is accepted. Compromise is not made for its own sake, but as an interruption on the road toward some distant point. The role of groups of individuals, however, is not denied and does not force upon the proportionalists the relative viewpoint that groups struggling for power are equally moral.

An example from the pages of the Proportional Representation Review will show, too, that while they admitted differentiation of interests in society, that difference was among individuals, not among groups. A New Republic article had declared that a scientific view of society required men

"... to find the groups where there really is some measure of common experience and common judgment and make these groups our political units.... The true social brain-center is the group that functions in common, that has interests and knowledge in common. Until we tap such centers as these, we shall remain as we now are, socially and politically brainless." [67]

The editor of the Review expresses his opinion that the case is made to fit proportional representation. But he cautions that the group need not be occupational. The essential consideration is that the group be a "unanimous constituency built up by voters acting in freedom."[68] Such is the belief of the proportionalists from Gilpin to the present. Proportional representation is pluralist in a sense, but the group is always swayed by the free individual.[69] A hostile decision, an exercise of will on his part, is sufficient to kill the group politically. This differs, indeed, from pluralistic representation, and it becomes necessary always, if one would understand fully what a representative proposal means to the political structure, to ask what is the internal mobility of it constituencies.

PC.GIF     PC.GIF    

 Table of Contents