The Republican Party/Chapter XV

CHAPTER XV

PARTY READJUSTMENT

President Taft soon after his inauguration called a special session of Congress to revise the tariff, as the platform had promised. The result was the Payne-Aldrich tariff which Mr. Taft approved and which undoubtedly had many admirable qualities, but which failed to meet the expectations of many members of the party, especially in the West, who complained that it was too largely a revision upward than downward and that it favored too greatly “the Interests,” meaning great trusts and corporations. So considerable was the dissatisfaction with it that in 1910 the Republican party suffered defeat at the polls and lost control of the next Congress which met in 1911. In the fall of 1910 Mr. Taft urged further tariff reform in the shape of a reciprocity treaty with Canada. Although that would have been in accord with established Republican policy Congress failed to enact it. Thereupon Mr. Taft called a special session of the new Congress immediately upon the expiration of the old and renewed the proposal. It was readily passed by the House, the Democratic majority accepting the Republican doctrine; and it was also passed by the Senate, though by the aid of Democratic votes; the dissentient or “insurgent” Republicans opposing it because they thought it would be unfavorable to the agricultural interests of the West.

This reciprocity measure did not go into effect, because of the retirement from power of the Liberal party in Canada which had favored it. But its adoption by Congress was accepted as proof that the Republican party was getting ready to make a radical readjustment of the tariff, though unfortunately it revealed the presence of serious dissension within that party; the culmination of a certain disagreement between its progressive and conservative wings, which had existed for a number of years. The efforts of Mr. Taft to mediate between the two were unavailing and when the time came to nominate his successor a disastrous schism occurred. The conservative wing of the party renominated Mr. Taft and Mr. Sherman on a platform reaffirming the established principles of the party and the progressive wing organized itself into the Progresssive party and nominated Theodore Roosevelt for President and Hiram W. Johnson of California for Vice-President on a platform which in many details was substantially identical with the Republican, but which greatly emphasized the need of a more radical prosecution of the reforms which had been begun under the Roosevelt administration. It contained an unequivocal declaration in favor of “equal suffrage to men and women alike.”

The Democrats, in a convention dominated by Mr. Bryan, nominated Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey and Thomas R. Marshall of Indiana on a platform calling for a “tariff for revenue only,” an income tax, and abandonment of the Philippines. Socialist, Prohibitionist and Socialist Labor nominations were also made. A vigorous campaign was waged and the Republicans polled a large majority of the votes of the nation. Yet, owing to the division in their ranks, they were badly defeated and the Democratic ticket was elected. Mr. Wilson received 435 electoral votes, Mr. Roosvelt 88, and Mr. Taft only 8. Yet Mr. Wilson received only 6,292,670 popular votes, while Mr. Roosevelt got 4,169,482 and Mr. Taft 3,441,568; so that had the two wings of the Republican party remained united that party would have had 7,611,050 votes, or 1,318,380 more than the Democrats, and it would have had 379 electoral votes to the Democrats 152. In this election the Socialists polled 898,538, the Prohibitionists 207,959 and the Socialist Labor party 29,083 votes. The Democrats also gained control of Congress.

After the middle of the Taft administration, therefore, the Republican party had for a number of years no control of legislation, and after the close of that administration they also lost control of the executive for eight years. In 1916 the party was reunited on a basis of sanely progressive principles. Its platform spoke clearly for protection of American rights in all parts of the world, for maintenance of the Monroe doctrine, for a reasonable degree of military preparedness for the protection of the country, for a Tariff Commission which should place the tariff system of the country upon a scientific and non-political basis, for such regulation of business as should prevent abuses without crippling enterprise for impairing property rights, for exclusive Federal control of the railway transportation system, for restoration of the merchant marine, for the establishment of a budget system for the national treasury in the interest of economy and businesslike methods in government, for the careful husbandry of natural resources, for vocational education, laws against child labor, workmen's compensation and accident compensation laws, rural credits, extension of the rural free delivery mail service, full protection of naturalized citizens in the right of expatriation and the extension of the electoral franchise to women equally with men.

There was less difference than usual between the two platforms. The Republican stood for the protective principle in the tariff, while the Democratic repeated the demand for a tariff for revenue only; though the tariff which a Democratic Congress had enacted at the dictation of the Democratic President was very far from answering that description. The Republican insisted upon keeping the faith of the nation which had been pledged in the Treaty of Paris concerning the Philippines, while the Democratic advocated a policy of repudiation, scuttling and abandonment. The Republican platform proposed specific constructive legislation and executive action for the “rigid supervision and strict regulation of the great corporations of the country” in the interest of the encouragement of legitimate business, while the Democratic made no proposals on the subject save that for a general trade commission. The Republican, perceiving intrastate and interstate commerce to be inseparably interwoven, proposed that all railroad legislation should be committed to the national government, so as to avoid the mischievous confusion which had often arisen between federal and state control; while the Democratic was silent upon this immensely important subject. The Republican favored legislation which would promote the building of an adequate American merchant marine, while the Democratic favored the socialist plan of a marine owned and operated by the government.

The campaign of 1916 was conducted while the attention of the nation was supremely fixed upon the great war in Europe and while the issues of that war seemed paramount to those of our domestic affairs. The Democratic party pleaded for the re-election of the President on the specious and altogether insincere ground that he had “kept us out of war” and by that means gained some votes. The pro-German vote was chieuy cast for him also because of his tolerant attitude toward Germany in the war. In a few of the states there were still some lingering traces of the Republican schism of four years before. The Republican candidates were Charles Evans Hughes of New York and Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana; the Democratic, President Wilson and Vice-President Marshall. There was an attempt to put Theodore Roosevelt forward again as a Progressive candidate but he declined it and supported Mr. Hughes on the regular Republican ticket. The drift of popular sentiment was undoubtedly toward the Republican party. But owing to the circumstances mentioned, the Democrats won by the narrowest margin since the disputed election of 1876, forty years before. They got 277 electoral and 9,129,269 popular votes, while the Republicans got 254 electoral and 8,547,328 popular votes. The Socialist vote was 590,579, the Prohibitionist 221,329 and the Socialist Labor 14,180. The Democrats retained control of Congress.

Thereafter, for the first half of the second Wilson administration, covering the period of American participation in the great war, Democratic control of the government was complete and under it the President was invested with an autocratic and dictatorial power never before approximated or contemplated in American history. Shortly after his installation in the second term, to which he had been elected chiefly on the pretence that “he kept us out of war,” the President was compelled by the logic of events to ask that the nation be plunged into the war. To that momentous step and all through the succeeding transactions for the prosecution of the war the Republican minority offered no factious opposition. With patriotic zeal it co-operated heartily with the Democratic government in every measure that was necessary to win the victory. In some important respects, particularly the legislation for creating and preparing a great army, the Republicans gave the President more hearty support than did the members of his own party.

Nevertheless, as the war drew near its close and as the time approached for the election of a new Congress which would be in office during the period of peacemaking and reconstruction, President Wilson repudiated the loyal support which the Republicans had given him and in October, 1918 took the unprecedented step of issuing a public appeal to the nation to elect a Democratic Congress which would be subservient to his will. It is possible though not probable that without that astounding performance he might have secured a Democratic Congress. But the last hope of his doing so was destroyed by the issuance of that appeal—which in spirit was in fact an imperious demand. The nation revolted against such a display of despotic partisanship, refused the Democratic government the vote of confidence which the President had solicited and elected a Congress Republican in both Houses.

This body was kept from meeting as long as possible and then was greatly hampered and delayed in its work by the petulant and arrogant unwillingness of the President to co-operate with it, and by his insistence upon the Senate's ratification of his secretly-negotiated Treaty of Peace and Covenant of the League of Nations without any of the amendments or reservations, which the Senate was constitutionally entitled to make, and which were necessary for the protection of American interests and for making the treaty accord with the Constitution and fixed policies of the United States. The desire of the Republican leaders to ratify the treaty with proper reservations, acceptable to the other signatory powers, was finally thwarted by the President who instructed his subservient followers in the Senate to kill the treaty rather than have it ratified with the reservations required by the Constitution and by the overwhelming sentiment of the American people.

The chief legislation before Congress in 1919 and 1920 had to do with settling the issues of the war, with readjusting the finances of the country, and with restoring to a normal peace basis the enterprises which had been disturbed by the war. Foremost among these tasks was the enactment of a bill for the government supervision and regulation of the railroads after their return by the government to private control. The period of government war control, under the Democratic administration, had caused a deficit of more than half a billion dollars in the railroad account and had greatly disorganized the roads and enormously increased their expenses. These circumstances made the framing of a satisfactory law a difficult matter, but in the task the Republican majority in Congress succeeded in a manner which won almost universal approbation. In this and other post-bellum legislation the Republican party showed itself thoroughly reunited and steadfastly intent upon pursuing those progressive policies of service to the public welfare, and at the same time those resolute conservations of the rights of the individual citizen, of propery and of business, which had been characteristic of it from its foundation. In the pursuance of such policies it knew and it knows no sectional divisions, no class distinctions, no discrimination of race or sex in the vindication of civil rights. North, South, East, West; black and white; rich and poor; employer and employee; man and woman, native and naturalized—all are the same to the party which in the fulfilment of its name is devoted to the progress and prosperity of the Common Wealth.