Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/134

This page has been validated.




IN an address on The Impending Political Epoch, delivered last fall before the Ohio Society of New York, the Hon. John M. Ashley pointed out some features in the structure and workings of the Government of the United States which recent developments have shown to be full of peril to the integrity and security of our institutions. They may be described in a group by the phrase, "Unequal distribution of political power." The habit of regarding the Constitution of the United States as a perfect instrument, testifying to extraordinary wisdom and foresight on the part of its framers, ceased many years ago. The trials of the war and reconstruction disclosed many weak and some mischievous features in it, the existence of which was confessed, while they were hardly remedied, in the amendments. The course of events has disclosed other features which may also, in a more or less distant future, prove equally mischievous with those which we have tried to remedy. The most obvious of these is the roundabout system of electing a President by Electoral Colleges chosen by the voters of the several States. The framers of the Constitution are supposed to have intended to provide for the election as President of the man whom the body of electors, carefully chosen for their wisdom and experience as well as for their integrity, should decide to be most fit for the office. The plan has had no such effect, but has simply stood as an obstacle to the free exercise of their choice by the people. There is more positive mischief concealed in it, for, while the electors now respect the choice of the people, so far as it is shown in the nominating conventions, the case might arise in which they should combine to substitute for the ostensible candidate some man who had never been thought of, and who would be rejected by the people at once if he were proposed to them. Another danger is seen by Mr. Ashley in the provision that leaves the determination of the manner of choosing the electors to the Legislatures of the States, and thereby to the caprice of the party which may happen to be temporarily in the majority in the Legislature. A minority securing control for a single year may thus disfranchise or greatly weaken the influence of the majority of the voters of the State at the ensuing Presidential election—as the Republicans charge that the Democrats have attempted to do in Michigan, and a3 has been recently demonstrated by the action of the Republicans in Connecticut. The events that gave rise to the Electoral Commission in 1876 tell us of a danger growing out of the electoral college plan that we have already had to meet.

Possibilities of great mischief working in the electoral colleges and in the Senate are concealed in the powers possessed under the Constitution by States whose population is small and not likely to grow. Each State is entitled to two senators, and, according to the Constitution, it can not be deprived without its consent of its equal representation in the Senate. Under this provision, Nevada, whose population is not one third that of a normal congressional district, and is declining, is the peer in senatorial power of New York or any of the larger States; and there are now seventeen States in the Union whose combined population is that of the State of New York; but they have thirty-four senators to New York's two. Six new States, whose combined population is not more than enough to make one common-