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A Review devoted to the historical, statistical and comparative study of
politics, economics and public law.
Plan – The field of the Quarterly is indicated by its title; its object is to give the results of scientific investigation in this field. The Quarterly follows the most important movements of foreign politics, but devotes chief attention to questions of present interest in the United States. On such questions its attitude is non-partisan. Every article is signed ; and every article, including those of the editors, expresses simply the personal view of the writer.
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Literature. Each number contains careful reviews by specialists of recent publications. At least twice a year these reviews will be supplemented by a series of short Book Notes.
Record. — The Record of Political Events, published twice a year, gives a résumé of political and social movements throughout the world.
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THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM.1
HE system of choosing the president and vice-president by
electors is established in the Constitution of the United States. To amend that Constitution is not easy, even where there is no objection to the proposed change. Jackson, fifty years ago, proposed to extend the term of the president from four to six years and to make him ineligible. That was right, and was generally favored as a great reform; but it is not yet adopted. Some, however, propose to abolish the electoral college altogether, to choose the president and vice-president by a direct vote, and to let a plurality of the popular vote of all the states make that choice. As such a change would decrease the power of the small states and enlarge that of the great ones, and thereby affect the dignity and equality of the states as such, so far as now recognized in that choice, it would certainly meet with serious, and probably with successful opposition. While it is only in the Senate that the absolute equality of the states is guaranteed forever, it is not likely that the smaller states would ratify an amendment to deprive them of their relative power in choosing the chief executive. Each state now casts two votes in the electoral college, as a state, which would not be the rule in case of a direct vote by the people. Besides, a majority of all the electors is now necessary to a choice. If no one has that, then the choice is to be made by the House of Representatives, where each state has one vote and a majority of all is necessary, and where Rhode Island would be equal to New York. It is therefore safe to conclude that such a change is not practicable, as it would fail to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. It might also be feared and opposed as a step towards centralism. As long as parties in the great states are evenly balanced, the smaller ones might retain their relative weight; but in a crisis two or three great states might unite their vote and overwhelm the other states in the choice of a president.
* This paper was prepared by the late James Rood Doolittle, sometime Senator from Wisconsin, shortly after the general election in November, 1884. At that general election, it will be remembered, Grover Cleveland was elected president of the United States over James G. Blaine. Judge Doolittle was greatly interested in that campaign, and contributed to the result with his voice and vote for Mr. Cleveland. The able and distinguished character of Judge Doolittle, his great familiarity with all matters pertaining to the public service and to official life, his long and intimate connection with public affairs, local and national, both in an official way and as a member of the legal profession, his luminous presentation of the questions considered in this paper, make the publication of it a contribution of more than passing interest or of ordinary value, whether viewed in the light of history or of politics. Although the article was prepared by request, it has never been published. It came into the possession of the undersigned, who has been engaged in the preparation of a sketch of the distinguished publicist. MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, DECEMBER, 1903.
Against the wisdom of a direct popular vote it might also be objected that a president might be chosen by one party and a vice-president by another, in which case the death of the president would change the control of the government from one party to another. Within the last twenty years' two presidents have been assassinated, and mainly for political reasons. Both assassins, it is true, were near if not across the border line between sanity and insanity; yet the motives for those bloody deeds were more or less political. They were not done from personal malice, but to remove the president. Neither act ousted the party in power; but both show how dangerous it might be to have a single life stand between the continued power of a great party and the installation of its opponent.
The idea which underlies a presidential election is peaceful revolution. At stated intervals, the people not only change the names of their rulers, but change the administration and policy of their government, by peaceful revolution, which is authorized and regulated in the Constitution itself. That is both the essence and the crowning glory of our system. What other nations, under other forms of government, cannot do except by bloody civil war and expending millions of treasure, we do without shedding
1 Ex-Senator Doolittle was writing in 1884. - D. M.
one drop of blood, by peaceful assemblies, free discussion, and the ballot. But when such a change is once determined upon by the sovereign people, it is certainly wiser that the vice-president should be chosen to carry out the same policy as the president whose place he is to fill in case of a vacancy.
But an important and very desirable change in our electoral system which would remove many of its evils can be made without abolishing the electoral college or disturbing the relative power of the several states in that body.
That change should provide that two electors at large, for president and vice-president, be chosen by a plurality of the voters of each state on a general ticket, and that one elector be chosen by a plurality of the voters in each congressional district. This would preserve to each state the same relative weight in the choice which it now has. It could be effected before another presidential election, if all the states would join in it by common consent. But it is doubtful, to say the least, whether all of them acting independently would join in adopting it. Jealousies, arising from doubts whether they would always stand by it in case a partisan advantage could be gained by overthrowing it, might prevent it. Probably the only way in which it could be adopted would be by a change in the Constitution. That, as we have said, is not easy to be made, and it could be made only if favored by both of the great existing parties.
But should that change be made, two electors in each state would be chosen by the party which casts a plurality of the votes of the entire state, and one elector in each congressional district by the political party which casts a plurality of the votes in that district. The electors chosen in each state would thus very nearly represent the relative strength of its political parties. A state would not vote as a unit for president and vice-president unless all of its electors were of the same party faith; and minorities would not be so completely stripped as at present of all part in the election of the president.
The proposed measure is neither so radical nor so popular as the direct vote; but while it retains the conservative feature of the electoral college and leaves undisturbed state representation in that body, it is a long stride toward the exercise of local power