Page:The Green Bag (1889–1914), Volume 25.pdf/281

This page needs to be proofread.


The Essentials of the Constitution

TWO able lectures were given by Senator Elihu Root at Princeton University April 15 and 16, on "The Essentials of the Constitution," the lectures being delivered on the Stafford Little foundation. The need of organization for the pur pose of effecting the purpose of society was pointed out. "The first considera tion is that free government is impossible except through prescribed and established governmental institutions, which work out the ends of government through many separate human agents, each doing his part in obedience to law. Popular will cannot execute itself directly except through a mob. "We should, therefore, reject every proposal which involves the idea that the people can rule merely by voting, or merely by voting and having one man or group of men to execute their will." After emphasizing that due regard must be had for the natural limitations on what it is possible for government to accomplish, and that government must not attempt too many things, . Senator Root said: "A fourth consideration is that in the nature of things all government must be imperfect, because men are imperfect. Every system has its short comings and inconveniences, and these are seen and felt as they exist in the system under which we live, while the shortcomings and inconveniences of other systems are forgotten or ignored. "A fifth consideration is that what ever changes in government are to be made we should follow the method which undertakes as one of its cardinal points to hold fast that which is good."

Mr. Root thought it unnecessary to pay much attention to direct nomina tions, instructions to delegates, and kindred extra-constitutional contri vances, as they all relate to "forms of voluntary action outside the proper field of governmental institutions" and are the result of efforts of the rank and file of voluntary parties to avoid being controlled by organized minorities pos sessing the support of organized capital. But the initiative and the compulsory referendum do not come within this class, as they relate to the actual struc ture of government. At this point Senator Root offered wise counsel : "In this field the weakness, both of the initiative and of the compulsory referendum, is that they are based upon a radical error as to what constitutes the true difficulty of wise legislation. The difficulty is not to determine what ought to be accomplished, but to deter mine how to accomplish it. The affairs with which statutes have to deal as a rule involve the working of a great num ber and variety of motives incident to human nature, and the working of those motives depends upon compli cated and often obscure facts of pro duction, trade, social life, with which men generally are not familiar, and which require study and investigation to understand. "In ordinary cases the voters will not and cannot possibly bring to the con sideration of proposed statutes the time, attention, and knowledge required to determine whether such statutes will accomplish what they are intended to accomplish; and the vote usually will turn upon the avowed intention of such proposals rather than upon