Problems in American Democracy
by Thames Ross Williamson
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Problems are the growing pains of civilization, offering opportunities for personal achievement and pointing the way to national progress.


My Mother



There is an increasing demand for a textbook which will bring the student into direct contact with the great current issues of American life, and which will afford practical training to those who soon must grapple with the economic, social, and political problems of our own time. It is with the hope of meeting such a demand that this text has been prepared.

The plan of the book calls for a word of explanation. It is poor pedagogy to expect the student to attack the defects of American life, and at the same time to place in his hands a book which deals predominantly with the mechanism of government. As well send a boy to a hardware store to buy tools before he is told whether he is to make a mouse-trap or a boat. Furthermore, to spend much more time on the mechanism of government than on the actual problems of democracy is a mistake in emphasis. Government is a means, not an end. It is a tool by means of which we attack and solve our problems.

Therefore the student of this text begins, not with the mechanism of government, but with the historical background of American democracy, its origin, development, and promise for the future. Following this is a brief survey of the economic life of the nation, because that economic life constitutes the fundamental basis of our problems. Considerable space has been devoted to a problem growing directly out of economic conditions, i.e. the question of social justice or industrial reform. This is the most pressing question before any modern people, but strangely enough one which heretofore has been neglected by our schools.

Because they tend to arise primarily from a bad economic situation, such social problems as industrial relations, health in industry, and immigration are next considered. From social problems the text passes to the economic and social functions of government, and thence to the question of making government effective. The mechanism of government has been placed last, and for the reason already given, i.e. because a knowledge of the framework of government is valuable only after the citizen knows something of the needs which that mechanism must be made to fill.

It has not been easy to compress into a single volume the most important of our national problems. Obviously, a rigid selection has been necessary. In this selection the aim has been to discuss the more important issues of American life, whether economic, social, or purely political. In dealing with these issues, the attempt has been made to keep in mind the student's previous preparation; on the other hand, the civic demands which the future will make upon him have not been ignored. Some of the problems are difficult, but they are also of vital importance. Very shortly the student will be confronted, in his everyday activities, with such puzzling matters as socialism, the control of immigration, and taxation reform. If the school does not prepare him to grapple with these questions intelligently, he can only partially fulfill the obligations of citizenship.

Throughout the text the aim has been to go directly to the heart of the problem under consideration. The student is not burdened with a mass of data which would prove confusing, and which would be out of date before he is out of school. Instead, an effort has been made to outline, first the essential nature of the problem, and second the fundamental principles which affect its solution. Care has been taken to cultivate the problem attitude, and to encourage the spirit of independent investigation and open-minded judgment on the part of the student.

It goes without saying that the success of this book will depend largely upon the use which the teacher makes of it. The text aims to supply the basic facts and the fundamental principles involved in specific problems, but the teacher must interpret many of those facts and principles, and ought, in addition, to furnish illustrative material. The book is not intended to be an encyclopedia, but rather a suggestive guide.

The text covers the fundamentals of three distinct fields: economics, sociology, and government. Sufficient reference and topic work is offered to enable teachers to expand the text along particular lines. Thus Part II might serve as a nucleus around which to build up a special course in economics, while Part III would serve as a basis for a similar course in applied sociology, if for some reason it were not feasible to take up other parts of the book.

Though the text is the result of the coperative efforts of a considerable number of specialists, its treatment of the problems of American life is neither dogmatic nor arbitrary. The effort has been to treat all of our problems sanely and hopefully, but at the same time to make it clear that many of these questions are still unsettled and the best method of disposing of them is yet hotly debated. This fact has strongly influenced the manner in which the problems have been treated.


Following each chapter are suggestions for work to supplement the text. These suggestions are of six kinds, and are intended to meet a variety of needs.

A number of easy questions on the text is first supplied.

Following these is a number of required readings to supplement each chapter of the text. The student may be asked to read a single chapter from Williamson's Readings in American Democracy, collected and arranged so as to furnish in compact form and in a single volume supplementary material which otherwise the teacher would have to find in a number of separate books. In case the use of the Readings is not feasible, some or all of the alternative required readings may be available.

The required readings are followed by a number of questions thereon. Questions on the material contained in Williamson's Readings in American Democracy will be found at the end of each chapter in that volume; questions on the required readings cited as alternative to this volume will be found at the end of each chapter in the text.

Topic work is provided in two groups. Topics in the first group form a link between the text and the everyday experience of the student on the one hand, and between the activities of the student's local community and national problems on the other. The student is called upon, for example, to investigate the attitude of the local press toward controversial questions, or to examine the administration of local charitable relief. Topic work of this sort not only quickens the interest of the student, but it encourages original investigation and independent thought. It lets the student know what is going on in his community, and it informs individuals and institutions beyond the school that this agency is beginning to connect with the problems of the municipality, state, and nation. This sort of topic work also allows the student to test the accuracy of the text, and to interpret local conditions in the light of broad, national tendencies.

The second group of topics contains material for report work. In the case of practically all of these topics, the student is referred specifically to books and other publications.

Beginning with Chapter XVIII of the text, the topics are followed by a series of questions for classroom discussion. Some of these may be turned into classroom debates. Others allow the student to challenge statements in the text. A few of these questions have never been satisfactorily answered by anyone, yet the student must face them in the world outside the school, and it cannot be time wasted to understand their content now.


In the preparation of this text the author has received valuable assistance from a number of sources. Though such assistance in no way diminishes his responsibility for the shortcomings of the book, the author desires here to acknowledge the aid extended him.

The entire manuscript has been carefully worked over and criticized by Clarence D. Kingsley, Chairman of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education. Payson Smith, Commissioner of Education for the State of Massachusetts offered valuable suggestions in connection with certain parts of the manuscript. The thanks of the author are also due to L. L. Jackson Assistant Commissioner of Education for the State of New Jersey.

Invaluable aid has been received from numerous members of the faculty of Harvard University. Parts of the text were read and criticized by A. Lawrence Lowell, President; Roscoe Pound, Dean of the Law School; and Paul H. Hanus, Dean of the Graduate School of Education. Professors Edward Channing and F. J. Turner, and Dr. Marcus L. Hanson offered valuable suggestions in connection with the historical chapters.

In the Department of Economics, helpful criticisms were contributed by Professors F. W. Taussig, T. N. Carver, O. M. W. Sprague, C. J. Bullock, W. Z. Ripley, and E. E. Lincoln; and by Dr. E. A. Monroe and Dr. Mixter.

Various chapters dealing with social problems were read and criticized by Professors Richard Cabot, James Ford, R. F. Foerster, and Dr. Niles Carpenter of the Department of Socials Ethics, as well as by Dr. John M. Brewer of the Department of Education. Substantial aid was received from Professors W. B. Munro, A. B. Hart, and A. N. Holcombe; and from Dr. A. C. Hanford, in the preparation of the chapters on political problems.

Professor Edwin R. A. Seligman of the Department of Economics, and Professor Lindsay Rogers of the Department of Government, in Columbia University, contributed helpful suggestions.

Professor Irving Fisher of Yale College read and criticized some of the material on economic subjects. Professor John L. Silberling at Dartmouth College went over the chapters dealing with the economic problems and pointed out numerous opportunities for their improvement.

Professor Frederick A. Cleveland of Boston University read the chapters on political problems. Professor Abbott P. Usher of the Department of Economic History helped with several of the chapters, while Professor Ernest R. Groves of the same institution kindly criticized the chapter on Rural Life.

Henry Lefavour, President of Simmons College, and Sara H. Stites, Dean of the same institution, read various of the chapters on economic and social problems.

Stuart Queen, Director of the Boston School for Social Workers, read the chapters on social problems, and strengthened especially the chapter on Dependency.

At Smith College, the author is indebted to several of his colleagues, especially, perhaps, to Professors J. S. Basset and Sidney B. Fay of the Department of History, and to Professors Esther Lowenthal, Julius Drachsler, Harriette M. Dilla, and to Miss McMasters, of the Department of Economics and Sociology.

At Amherst College the author is under great obligations to Professor J. W. Crook of the Department of Economics, and to Dr. John M. Gaus of the Department of Government.

At the Massachusetts Agricultural College the author is indebted to Kenyon L. Butterfield, President, and to Professor Newell L. Sims, for help on the chapters dealing with social problems.

A number of teachers in the West kindly helped with various portions of the book. At the University of Wisconsin the author is under obligations to Professors John R. Commons and Donald D. Lescohier of the Department of Economics.

A. S. Roberts of the University of Illinois read various of the historical chapters.

At the University of Iowa, the author is especially grateful for the help of Professor F. E. Horack of the Department of Government.

Professor Charles Ellwood of the University of Missouri read and criticized the Chapter on the Family.

Especially valuable were the suggestions which Professor James E. Le Rossignol of the University of Nebraska offered with respect to the Chapters on Socialism.

At Leland Stanford University the author acknowledges his obligations to Professor Eliot Jones of the Department of Economics.

In the United States Department of State, the author is indebted to Arthur N. Young for a critical reading of the Chapter on Single Tax.

In the United States Department of Labor, the author is under obligations to John B. Andrews for many suggestions on the Chapter on Industrial Relations.

Gifford Pinchot, President of the National Conservation Association, kindly read and criticized the Chapter on Conservation.

Edward R. Johnstone, Superintendent of the Training School at Vineland, N. J., kindly read and criticized several of the chapters on social problems.

Edward T. Devine of New York City offered valuable suggestions with regard to the Chapter on Dependency.

Owen R. Lovejoy, Secretary of the National Child Labor Committee, strengthened the Chapter on Health in Industry.

The Chapter on Crime and Correction was notably improved by the suggestions of Reginald Heber Smith, member of the Massachusetts Bar, and author of the admirable Justice and the Poor.

J. P. Warbasse, President of the Coperative League of America, went over the Chapter on Profit Sharing and Coperation painstakingly.

The Chapter on the Negro was criticized helpfully by Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, Editor of the Crisis.

W. M. Steuart, Director of the United States Census, kindly supplied advance figures on the 1920 Census.

The author is also indebted to Houghton Mifflin Company, Ginn and Company, and the Macmillan Company, either for advance information on certain of their new books, or for permission slightly to adapt some of the material appearing in books copyrighted by them.

Lastly, the author is grateful to his wife for valuable assistance in correcting the proof.


Cambridge, Mass.

February 7, 1922.




I. The Background of American Democracy

II. The Origin of American Democracy

III. The Development of American Democracy

IV. Essentials of American Constitutional Government

V. The Problems of American Democracy



VI. The Nature of American Industry

VII. What is Meant by Production

VIII. Exchanging the Products of Industry

IX. Distributing the Income of Industry

X. Bases of the Capitalistic System


XI. Single Tax

XII. Profit Sharing and Coperation

XIII. The General Nature of Socialism

XIV. Militant Socialism: The I. W. W.

XV. Militant Socialism: The Bolshevists

XVI. The Case Against Socialism

XVII. A Democratic Program of Industrial Reform


XVIII. Industrial Relations

XIX. Health in Industry

XX. Immigration and Assimilation

XXI. Crime and Correction

XXII. The Negro

XXIII. The Family

XXIV. Dependency: Its Relief and Prevention

XXV. Rural Life

XXVI. Education



XXVII. Public Interest in Business: Regulation

XXVIII. Public Interest in Business Ownership

XXIX. The Tariff

XXX. Conservation

XXXI. Credit and Banking

XXXII. Taxation


XXXIII. Who Shall Share in Government

XXXIV. The Political Party

XXXV. Choosing the Agents of Government

XXXVI. Honesty and Efficiency in Office

XXXVII. The Extension of Popular Control

XXXVIII. Public Opinion



XXXIX. The Federal System of Government

XL. The President of the United States

XLI. The National Administration

XLIL. Nature and Powers of Congress

XLIII. Congress in Action

XLIV. The Federal Courts


XLV. Constitutional Basis of State Government

XLVI. The State Executive

XLVII. The State Legislature

XLVIII. The State Courts

XLIX. Municipal Government

L. Rural Local Government



The Constitution of the United States






1. THE MEANING OF NATIONAL GREATNESS.—We apply the term greatness to nations that have made substantial contributions to civilization. By civilization is meant a well-rounded and highly developed culture, or, to say the same thing in different words, an advanced state of material and social well-being.

Civilization is so vast and so many-sided that it may receive contributions in very diverse forms. The invention of the hieroglyphic system of writing is among the leading achievements of ancient Egypt, but the art and literature of Greece have been no less conspicuous in the onward sweep of human progress. The promotion of the science of navigation by the Phoenicians, and the development of law and architecture by Rome, illustrate a few of the forms in which peoples may confer marked benefits upon the world. The advancement of music and painting by Italy, France, and other European nations, and the application and expansion of the idea of parliamentary government by England, are further examples of ways in which nations may earn for themselves the title of greatness.

2. THE CONDITIONS OF NATIONAL GREATNESS.—In order that a nation may become great, i.e. make some distinct contribution to civilization, two conditions must be fulfilled.

The first condition of national greatness is that the land under that nation's control must be encouraging to man's honest, helpful efforts. [Footnote: As used in this chapter the term "land" is held to include not only such natural resources as soil, minerals, forests, and bodies of water, but climate as well.] The vigorous Scandinavians have made great advances in inhospitable Iceland and Greenland, the French have reclaimed an important section of Algeria, and the British have worked wonders with some of the barren parts of Australia; nevertheless, it is with great difficulty that prosperous communities are developed in lands relatively barren of natural resources, or unusually severe in climate.

A high and stable civilization has rarely arisen in the tropics, because there the overabundance of Nature renders sustained work unnecessary, while the hot, enervating climate tends to destroy initiative and ambition. It is no accident that the greatest nations of modern times are located chiefly within the stimulating temperate zones, where Nature is richly endowed, but where, too, her treasures are rarely bestowed upon those who do not struggle consistently for them.

The second condition of national greatness is an intelligent and industrious population, willing to abide by the law, and devoted to the building of homes. The combination of an unpromising land and an inferior population effectually prevents the rise of a high civilization. And just as the choicest of men can do relatively little in an unfriendly land, so the most promising of countries may be despoiled or temporarily ruined by a slothful or lawless population.

From the standpoint of civilization, the best results are obtained when a virile and law-abiding people exercise control over a land rich in natural resources and possessed of a stimulating climate. France and Great Britain in Europe, and Canada and the United States in North America, are examples of great nations which have been built up in such lands and by such peoples.

3. THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF NORTH AMERICA.—It will be interesting to examine North America in the light of the two conditions of national greatness discussed in the preceding section. We may note, first of all, that by far the greater part of the territory now comprising the United States and Canada is distinctly favorable to settlement. This territory lies almost entirely within the temperate zone: it has unattractive spots, but in general it is neither so barren of resources as to discourage the home-maker, nor so tropical in its abundance as to reward him without his putting forth considerable effort. Particularly within the bounds of the United States is a well- balanced national life encouraged by the diversity of soils and the wide variety of climate. [Footnote: For a fuller discussion of the natural resources of the United States, see Chapter VI.] Certainly the continent of North America fulfills the first condition of national greatness.

4. THE COMING OF THE EUROPEAN.—The discovery of America in 1492 opened a new era in world history. The nations of western Europe were disappointed when their earlier explorers found the way to Cathay blocked by a new land-mass, but the Spanish discovery of treasure in Mexico and South America soon turned disappointment into keen interest. No magic palaces or spice islands were found, but there were revealed two virgin continents inviting colonial expansion on a scale previously unknown. Of the European powers which at various times laid claim to parts of the New World, Spain, France, Holland, and England occupy significant positions in the background of American democracy. We may briefly notice the influence of each of these four powers upon America.

5. SPAIN.—Though the Spanish were the first in the field, the motives of the colonists limited their ultimate success in the new land. The earlier Spaniards were missionaries and treasure-seekers, rather than home builders and artisans. The early discovery of great quantities of gold and silver had the effect of encouraging the continued search for treasure. In this treasure-quest, often fruitless, the Spanish practically confined themselves to Mexico and the region to the south. In these areas they did valuable work in Christianizing and educating the natives, but little industrial progress was made. Except for the missionary work of the Spanish, their earlier colonization was largely transient and engaged in for the purpose of exploitation.

6. FRANCE.—France disputed the claim of Spain to North America soon after the opening of the sixteenth century. The French attempted to settle in Florida and in South Carolina, but the opposition of the near-by Spanish forced the newcomers to leave. In 1524 Verrazano explored the North Atlantic coast for the French, and ten years later Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence and founded the claim of France to that section of the New World.

Following the example of Spain, France dispatched missionaries to the New World to convert the Indians. Soldiers and trappers were sent out to develop the valuable fur trade by the establishment of widely separated forts and trading posts. But the French settlers had no popular lawmaking bodies, being completely under the power of the king. Only along the St. Lawrence, where agricultural colonies were planted, did the French really attach themselves to the soil. Elsewhere there were few French women and therefore few normal French homes, and when in 1763 all of the French possessions east of the Mississippi were ceded to England, it was largely true that the French colonies had not yet taken root in the country. Infinite courage, devotion, and self-sacrifice were ultimately wasted, largely because of the lack of homes, the absence of self-government, and the failure to develop an industrial basis of colonization.

7. HOLLAND.—The Dutch became aware of the commercial possibilities of the New World when in 1609 Henry Hudson discovered the river which bears his name. Trading posts were soon established in the neighborhood, and in 1621 the West India Company was given full authority to plant colonies in New Netherland. A brisk trade in furs developed, but though the Company grew rich, the colonists were not satisfied. The agriculturists along the Hudson had the benefit of a fertile soil and a genial climate, but they operated their farms under a feudal land system which allowed an overlord to take most of their surplus produce. Moreover, the Dutch governors were autocratic, and the settlers had little voice in the government of the colony. Loyalty to Holland waned as the Dutch saw their English neighbors thriving under less restrictive laws and a more generous land system, so that when in 1664 the colony passed into the possession of the English, the majority of the settlers welcomed the change.

8. ENGLAND.—The Spanish had been in the New World a century before the English made any appreciable impression upon the continent of North America. In 1583 Sir Humphrey Gilbert had made an unsuccessful attempt to found a colony on the coast of Newfoundland, and a few years later Sir Walter Raleigh's venture at Roanoke Island proved equally disastrous. Colonization was retarded until 1588, in which year England's defeat of the Spanish Armada destroyed the sea power of her most formidable rival. The English may be said to have made serious and consistent attempts at colonization only after this event.

Like France, England desired to set herself up as a successful colonizing rival of Spain. Impelled by this motive, the earlier English adventurers sought treasure rather than homes. But the high hopes of the early English joint stock companies were not justified. Those who had looked to America for treasure were disappointed: no gold was forthcoming, and such groups as the Jamestown settlers of 1607 very nearly perished before they learned that America's treasure- house could be unlocked only by hard work. In spite of heavy investments and repeated attempts at colonization, these first ventures were largely failures.

9. THE COMING OF THE HOME-MAKER.—It may truly be said that the seeds of national greatness were not planted in America until home-making succeeded exploitation by governments and joint stock companies. Home- making received little or no encouragement in the early Spanish, French, and Dutch colonies. Almost from the first, England allowed her colonies a large measure of self-government, but it is significant that these colonies made little progress so long as they were dominated by joint stock companies intent upon exploitation. It was only when individuals, and groups of individuals, settled independently of the companies that the colonies began to thrive. The first really tenacious settlers on the Atlantic seaboard were groups of families who were willing to brave the dangers of an unknown land for the sake of religious freedom, economic independence, and a large share of self-government. It was with the coming of these people that our second condition of national greatness was fulfilled.

10. GROWTH OF THE ENGLISH COLONIES.—The English annexation of New Netherland in 1664, and the concessions of the French in 1763, left the English in undisputed possession of the greater part of the Atlantic seaboard. The English colonies in this area grew with astonishing rapidity. Cheap land, religious freedom, and the privilege of self-government attracted settlers from all parts of northern Europe. At the close of the seventeenth century there were 260,000 English subjects in North America; in 1750 there were approximately 1,000,000; and in 1775 there were probably 3,000,000.

Although in most sections the dominant element was of English extraction, other nationalities contributed to the population. Along the Delaware, Swedes were interspersed with the English, while in Pennsylvania there were large groups of Germans. Numerous Dutch settlers had continued to live along the Hudson after New Netherland had passed into English hands. Some of the most frugal and industrious of the settlers of Georgia and South Carolina were French Huguenots, while along the seaboard and inland the Scotch-Irish were found scatteringly in agriculture and trade. Such was the composition of the people who were destined to begin an unexampled experiment in democracy, an experiment upon the successful termination of which rests our chief claim to national greatness.


1. What is meant by civilization?

2. What two conditions must be fulfilled in order that a nation may become great?

3. In what way does America fulfill the first condition?

4. Discuss the character of the early Spanish colonization.

5. What were the chief reasons for the failure of the French in America?

6. What were the chief defects of the Dutch colonial system in America?

7. Compare the earlier English colonization with that of Spain, France, and Holland.

8. When were the seeds of national greatness planted in America?

9. Who were the first really tenacious settlers on the Atlantic seaboard?

10. Outline the growth of the English colonies.

11. Upon what does our chief claim to national greatness depend?


1. Williamson, Readings in American Democracy, chapter i.

Or all of the following:

2. Bogart, Economic History of the United States, chapter ii.

3. Coman, Industrial History of the United States, chapter i.

4. Huntington and Gushing, Principles of Human Geography, chapters i and xii.

5. Smith, Commerce and Industry, introduction.


1. Discuss the statement, "Civilization is a product of adversity." (Smith, page 2.)

2. What is the effect of tropic abundance upon civilization? (Smith, page 2.)

3. What is the relation of efficiency to climate? (Huntington and Cushing, page 6.)

4. In what way is civilization related to density of population? (Huntington and Cushing, page 10.)

5. What is an ideal climate, and where is such a climate found? (Huntington and Cushing, page 254.)

6. How does national progress depend upon beasts of burden? (Smith, page 8.)

7. Name some of the political motives of colonization in America. (Bogart, pages 29-30.)

8. Name the chief religious motives of colonization. (Bogart, page 30.)

9. What were the chief economic motives of colonization? (Bogart, pages 31-34.)

10. Why did the English finally prevail in the struggle for the Atlantic seaboard? (Coman, pages 19-21.)



1. Check up your own experience carefully in order to determine during what season of the year you work most effectively. What light does your answer throw upon Topic 5?

2. To what extent is the climate of your section favorable to an energetic life? To what extent, if to any, is it discouraging to initiative and ambition?

3. Trace the influence of the geography of your section upon the economic life of your community.

4. The nature of civilization.


5. Relation of civilization to climate. (Huntington, Civilization and Climate, pages 148-182.)

6. The relation of cheap food to the growth of population. (Carver, Sociology and Social Progress, pages 235-243.)

7. The effect of desert life upon health and spirits. (Carver, Sociology and Social Progress, pages 273-275.)

8. Effect of the climate of North America upon persons of European descent. (Bullock, Selected Readings in Economics, pages 1-22.)

9. The influence of the Appalachian barrier upon American colonial history. (Semple, American History and Its Geographic Conditions chapter iii.)

10. The Spanish in America. (Consult any standard history text.)

11. The French in America. (Consult any standard history text.)

12. The Dutch in America. (Consult any standard history text.)

13. The English in America. (Consult any standard history text.)

14. The qualities of an ideal people. (Carver, Elementary Economics, chapter iv.)



11. THE NATURE OF GOVERNMENT.—A government may be defined as an agency through which the purposes of a state or nation are formulated and carried out. This agency develops where men live in groups. One of the chief objects of government is to adjust individual interests, or, to say the same thing in slightly different words, to control members of the group in their social relations.

Where groups are small and culture is at a low level, government may consist in little more than the arbitrary rules of a self-appointed chieftain. From this stage there are numerous gradations up to the great complex governments of the leading nations of to-day. With the origin and general development of government we are not here concerned, and we may accordingly confine our attention to those types of modern government which throw light upon the development of American democracy.

12. THE ABSOULUTE MONARCHY.—An absolute monarchy may be defined as a government in which supreme power or sovereignty is lodged in one individual. This monarch holds his position for life, generally with hereditary succession. Often the absolute monarchy arose out of the ancient chieftainship, when, as the result of territorial expansion and cultural development, the chief of a group of tribes became the king of a settled and civilized people. The absolute monarchy existed in most of the countries of Europe previous to the end of the eighteenth century. In its most extreme form the absolute monarchy rested upon the claim of the monarch that he ruled by "divine right," i.e., that God had authorized him to rule. France in the era of Louis XIV is one of the best known examples of a modern nation ruled by a "divine right" monarch.

13. THE LIMITED MONARCHY.—When a monarch has been restricted in his powers a limited or constitutional monarchy is said to exist. Almost always the establishment of a limited monarchy has been preceded by a series of struggles between king and people. In many cases these struggles have been precipitated or intensified by the monarch's abuse of power. A striking example is offered by English history. As the result of his arbitrary rule, King John was in 1215 obliged to sign the Magna Charta, by which act he gave up many important powers. The limits thus set upon the kingly power were affirmed and extended by the Petition of Right of 1628 and by the Bill of Rights of 1689. A similar limiting process has gone on in other countries, either by the framing of constitutions, or by the enlargement of the powers of legislatures, or by both methods. To-day the absolute monarchy is practically unknown among civilized nations.

14. THE REPUBLIC.—The republic is a form of government in which ultimate power or sovereignty resides with the people as a whole rather than with a single individual. Instead of a monarch there is generally an elective president, with varying powers. The republic is a very old form of government, but in the republics of Greece, Rome and Venice the powers of government were exercised by a class composed of a small minority of the people. In modern republics a larger proportion of the adult population participates in government.

A republic may arise in any one of several ways, but most of the republics of modern times have grown out of monarchical conditions, either directly or indirectly. Our republic arose as a reaction against English monarchy, while the French republic came into being as the result of the destruction of a monarchical government. Most of the republics of Latin America date from the throwing off of the Spanish yoke in the first half of the nineteenth century. More recently, the World War has given rise to a number of European republics, composed of peoples formerly under the control of monarchical governments.

15. DEMOCRACY AS A POLITICAL IDEA.—The term democracy is derived from two Greek words which taken together mean "control by the people." Strictly speaking, democracy is a form of government only where a small group governs itself directly, i.e., without making use of the representative device. This "pure" democracy, such as existed in the early New England town, becomes a representative democracy, or a republic, when a greater population and an increasing political complexity require the people to act through their representatives, rather than as a body. In the sense that democracy is popular control, the term democracy may conceivably be applied to any form of government. The present government of Great Britain, for example, is technically a limited monarchy, yet the gradual extension of popular control has made it one of the most democratic governments in the world. Nevertheless, the modern republic is so generally associated with the democratic movement that many authorities speak of a democracy as identical with a republic. For the time being we may use the term democracy to describe a form of government in which considerable control is exercised by the people. More briefly, democracy may be thought of as self-government.

16. WHY DEMOCRACY DEVELOPED IN AMERICA.—There are four reasons why democracy developed early in America.

The first is to be found in the conditions of pioneer life in the colonies. The wilderness forced self-government upon the settlers. Clearing the forests, subduing the Indians, and conquering animal foes was stern work, which weeded out the indolent and inefficient, and rewarded the capable and self-reliant. Pioneer conditions did not encourage a cringing or submissive spirit, but fostered independence and individualism. The spirit of equality tended to become a dominant feature of American life, for despite the existence of social classes, the great majority of the population had to rely for their living upon their own efforts. Under such conditions self-reliance and self- government were natural developments.

The selected character of the colonists is a second reason for the rise of democracy in America. Restless spirits who had chafed under the restraints of monarchy in Europe, thronged to the new land. Once here they often found the older American communities intolerant, and so struck out into the wilderness to found new and, to them, more democratic colonies. The founding of Rhode Island by Roger Williams, and the settlement of the Connecticut valley by Thomas Hooker, illustrate this tendency.

It should be remembered, thirdly, that the English colonists brought with them very definite ideas as to the rights of man. The concessions granted by the Magna Charta were made an essential part of their political philosophy. The belief that all men were born free and equal, and that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, became prominent in early American politics. Where the democratic tendencies of the settlers were reinforced by such traditions, an oppressive government could not last. In Carolina in 1670, for example, an attempt to set up an undemocratic government failed, and when half a century later a similar attempt was made in Georgia, the settlers objected so ardently that the founders of the colony were obliged to grant the privilege of self-government.

A fourth explanation of the rise of democracy in America is that, left to themselves, the settlers came to feel that self-government was morally right. Largely removed from the traditions of monarchy, they soon realized the elemental significance of government. Seeing government as a device to help people get along together, they concluded that that government is best which most helps the masses of the people. The existence of a British monarch was a small factor in the everyday life of the early settlers, and from this it was a short step to asserting that his control over them was unjust. Living under primitive economic conditions, the minds of the people turned naturally to freely formed agreements as a basis of group action. Under such conditions democracy appeared to the colonists as moral, just, and natural.

17. APPLYING THE DEMOCRATIC IDEA.—Partly because of the isolation of early American life, and partly because England was busy with European politics, the settlers were left relatively free to work out their ideas of democracy. The Pilgrims had not yet set foot upon the new land when they drew up the Mayflower Compact, by the terms of which they agreed to establish a pure democracy in their new home. In 1639 the inhabitants of three Connecticut towns came together in a mass meeting, and drew up the Connecticut Fundamental Orders, which many authorities regard as the first written constitution in this country. Aside from the fact that the Orders created a small republic in the heart of the wilderness, they are of importance because they issued directly from the people, without suggestion from, or direction by, any outside agency. Elsewhere in New England, too, local self- government was a spontaneous growth. Usually the settlers grouped themselves in small, compact communities known as towns, the freemen coming together in the town meeting for the purpose of passing laws and electing officials. The town meeting constituted a pure democracy, in which the freemen governed themselves consciously and directly.

18. SPREAD OF THE REPRESENTATIVE IDEA.—The principle of representative government appeared very early in English history, expressing itself most clearly in the houses of Parliament. The principle was early transplanted to America, for in 1619 we find the London Company establishing in Virginia a House of Burgesses, the first representative assembly in the New World. The representative democracy spread rapidly through the colonies, in many cases replacing the pure democracy as a form of local government. In Massachusetts Bay, for example, the population of the colony became so dispersed, and the complexity of its government so great, that it was necessary for most freemen to remain at home, and to content themselves with choosing a small number of individuals to represent their interests. These representatives gathered in the General Court and transacted the business of the colony.

19. THE SEPARATION OF POWERS.—As government develops in scope and complexity, there is a tendency for the agents of government to specialize in various types of work. A more or less recognizable separation of the governmental machinery into legislative, executive, and judicial branches had long been a feature of English government. Early in the seventeenth century this principle was transferred to the government of the English colonies in America. There was established in each colony a legislative branch for the enactment of laws, an executive branch to see that the laws were enforced, and a judicial branch for the interpretation of the laws. This separation of functions was more definite in America than in England because the jealousy existing between colonial legislature and colonial executive tended sharply to separate their powers. In America, too, the judiciary was more clearly an independent branch of government than in England.

20. THE COLONIES AS SELF-GOVERNING STATES.—It has often been said that for a considerable period prior to the American Revolution, the thirteen colonies were in reality self-governing states. For most practical purposes they were independent, indeed, some American patriots insisted that they were only nominally subject to England. In each colony there was an assembly chosen by a restricted number of voters. This popular assembly championed the cause of the colonists against the governor, who in most of the colonies was primarily an agent of the Crown. After the middle of the eighteenth century, the struggles between assembly and governor increased in number and in intensity, and victory rested more and more often with the assembly. [Footnote: For the similarities existing among the various colonial governments see Chapter XXXIX.]

21. EFFECT OF THE REVOLUTION UPON AMERICAN GOVERNMENTS.—The Revolution did not greatly affect the character of American governments. Democracy, at first weak and ill diffused, had been spreading steadily during the preceding century, and when at last the break with England came, it found the states trained in self- government and able to conduct their own affairs. In many cases the Revolution simply erased the name of the king from documents and institutions already American in spirit and character. The states either retained their old charters as constitutions, as in the case of Connecticut and Rhode Island, or framed new constitutions based upon the experience of colonial government. The popular legislative assembly was everywhere retained. The common law of England continued in force, and the system of courts was retained in practically its pre-Revolution form. The basis of state government had been laid long before the Revolution, the new states simply accepting the basic political principles with which they, as colonies, had long been familiar. The defeat of English claims was only an incident in the irresistible progress of American democracy.


1. What is one of the chief objects of government?

2. What is the essential feature of the absolute monarchy?

3. Give an example of a country once ruled by a "divine right" monarch.

4. Explain the difference between an absolute and a limited monarchy.

5. What is the distinction between a monarchy and a republic?

6. Name some modern republics and explain their origin.

7. Explain clearly the nature of political democracy, and show its relation to the monarchy and to the republic.

8. What are the four reasons for the rise of democracy in early America?

9. Trace the early application of the democratic idea in America.

10. Where in America was the representative principle first applied?

11. Explain the principle of the "separation of powers."

12. To what extent were the colonies self-governing states?

13. Explain the effect of the Revolution upon American governments.


1. Williamson, Readings in American Democracy, chapter ii.

Or all of the following:

2. Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. i, chapters i and xii.

3. Beard, American Government and Politics, chapter i.

4. McLaughlin, Steps in the Development of American Democracy, chapter i.

5. Turner, The Frontier in American History, chapter i.


1. What was the extent of democracy in the world a century ago? (Bryce, page 3.)

2. Why is the study of democracy increasingly important? (Bryce, pages 4-5.)

3. What is the fundamental significance of local self-government? (Bryce, pages 131-133.)

4. In what way has the advance of the frontier meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe? (Turner, page 4.)

5. How did the frontier promote individualism? (Turner, page 30.)

6. What intellectual traits are fostered by pioneer life? (Turner, pages 37-38.)

7. Explain the significance of the Virginia House of Burgesses. (McLaughlin, pages 11-13.)

8. Discuss the character of the colonial governor. (Beard, pages 3-7.)

9. What were the chief powers of the colonial legislature? (Beard, page 8.)

10. Describe the colonial judiciary. (Beard, pages 12-14.)

11. What was the extent of the suffrage in colonial times? (Beard, pages 8-10.)



1. Illustrate the nature of government by tracing the origin and development of a club or society of which you are a member, or with which you are familiar.

2. Early pioneer life in your community, with particular reference to social and economic conditions. (Consult local histories, or, where possible, interview an old settler in your section.)

3. Origin and development of local government in your section. (Proceed as with Topic 2.)

4. The origin of the first constitution of your State.

5. A classification of the present-day governments of the world on the basis of their democratic character.


6. Genesis of the limited monarchy. (White, The Making of the English Constitution, pages 253-285.)

7. Origin and development of Parliament. (White, The Making of the English Constitution, pages 298-322.)

8. Origin and development of the English judiciary. (White, The Making of the English Constitution, pages 122-252.)

9. Historical evolution of democracy. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1, chapter iv.)

10. Theoretical basis of democracy. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1, chapter v.)

11. Difficulty of defining the term "democracy." (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1, chapter iii.)

12. American political theory before the Revolution. (Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 14-16.)

13. Contributions of the West to American Democracy. (Turner, The Frontier in American History, chapter ix.)

14. Development of the General Court in Massachusetts. (Osgood, The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, vol. i, pages 141-166.)

15. A Boston town meeting. (Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 11-13.)

16. Local government in Virginia. (Bruce, Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, vol. ii, chapter xx. Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 13-14.)



22. LOCAL VERSUS NATIONAL SPIRIT.—The outbreak of the American Revolution proved that the colonies were so deeply attached to democracy that they were willing to fight for it. But the spirit which animated the Revolution was local, rather than national. The colonial protests which in 1776 reached their climax in the Declaration of Independence, had to do almost entirely with the rights of the colonies as individual states, and with the determination of those states to defend the principle of self-government. The war created thirteen practically independent states, among which the spirit of state sovereignty was much stronger than was the inclination to form an indissoluble union. The Revolution emphasized local and state interests rather than intercolonial coperation, and however much the colonists appreciated local democracy in 1776, they had yet to learn to think in terms of a national patriotism. A brief review of the attempts at union before 1787 will serve to illustrate this important point.

23. EARLY ATTEMPTS AT UNION.—The first notable attempt at union was made in 1643, when Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven formed a league, chiefly for the purpose of mutual defense. This league was in force for forty years, and rendered effective service in the Indian wars.

In 1754 delegates from seven of the colonies met at Albany and adopted a plan of union proposed by Benjamin Franklin. The plan provided for a colonial army, the control of public lands, legislation affecting the general welfare, and the levying of taxes for intercolonial projects. In America Franklin's plan was regarded with considerable favor, but it was never given serious consideration by the British Parliament. The project fell through.

Still later (1765) delegates from nine of the colonies met in the Stamp Act Congress, for the purpose of drawing up a protest against the taxation policy of the mother country.

The two continental congresses may also be regarded as steps toward union. The first of these met in 1774 and concerned itself chiefly with a declaration of rights and grievances. The second (1775-1781) assumed revolutionary powers, and, with the consent of the people, exercised those powers during the greater part of the war period.

24. THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION.—Nothing so clearly illustrates the sectional feeling of that era as the history of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1777, but on account of the tardiness with which some of the states ratified them, they were not put into actual operation until March 1, 1781. By the terms of the Articles the states yielded some of their powers, the central government being given the right to declare war, borrow and coin money, establish post offices, and otherwise act for the general good. On the other hand, the Articles declared that "each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by this federation delegated to the United States."

Thus the new government was a confederation or league of states, rather than a federal government such as we have to-day. There was no national executive, and no judiciary. All authority was concentrated in a one-chambered congress, in which each state was represented by not fewer than two and not more than seven members. The delegates were subject to recall by the legislatures of their respective states. Each state had one vote, which was determined by a majority of the state's delegates who were present when the vote was taken.

25. DEFECTS OF THE CONFEDERATION GOVERNMENT.—The government established by the Articles of Confederation had a number of grave defects. The fundamental difficulty was that the central government had no real authority or power. The Congress of the Confederation could reach individuals only through the action of the state governments, and these it could not coerce. Thus the Congress could declare war, and make requisitions upon the states for troops, but it could not enlist a single soldier. It could make laws, but had no power to enforce them. It could make treaties with foreign governments, but could not oblige the states to respect those agreements. The central government could not levy taxes, but was obliged to accept whatever sums the states chose to contribute. The Confederation government could not even protect itself, or the states, against violence. It lacked force, and without the ability to exert force, a government is a government in name only.

Not only did the central government fail to enlist the respect and support of the states, but it could not induce the states to respect or support one another. Congress had no power to regulate either foreign or domestic commerce, each state being free to control the commercial activities of its citizens as it saw fit In many cases the states engaged in trade wars, that is, they levied heavy duties upon the commerce of one another, or even refused to allow their citizens to buy goods from, or sell goods to, persons in neighboring states. Matters calling for unity of action and friendly coperation, such as roads and canals, were ignored or neglected because of interstate jealousy. Whereas they should have united against the grave dangers of the period immediately following the war, the states often wasted time and energy in controversy and strife.

26. FAILURE OF THE CONFEDERATION GOVERNMENT.—The Confederation government, established in 1781, functioned weakly during the remaining two years of the war, and then declined rapidly in power and influence. The defects of the Articles could not be remedied, for amendment was by unanimous consent only, and on every occasion that an amendment was proposed, one or more states refused their assent.

According to John Fiske, the five years following the peace of 1783 constituted the most critical period in the history of the American people. Business was demoralized. Most of the states were issuing worthless paper money, and several of them passed laws impairing the obligation of contracts. In a movement known as Shay's Rebellion (1786-1787), a portion of the debtor class of Massachusetts attempted to prevent the collection of debts. Paper money depreciated so greatly that in many places it ceased to pass as currency. The central government could not raise money to meet its ordinary expenses, and in 1783 Congress was forced to flee Philadelphia to escape the wrath of some eighty Pennsylvania soldiers whom it could not pay.

Demoralization and civil strife at home were matched by ridicule and suspicion abroad. Congress could not pay the interest on the national debt. As early as 1783 our foreign credit was gone. Many European statesmen scoffed at the American government. France denied the existence of a general government in America. In England our diplomatic representatives suffered numerous humiliations. They were told, for example, that the British would not relinquish the western forts promised us by the Treaty of Paris until our national government was able to force the several American states to observe the treaty.

27. OBSTACLES TO UNION.—There are three important reasons why the states failed to draw together into a firm union before 1787.

In the first place, each state considered itself a sovereign body, and of governments above and beyond itself it was naturally suspicious. Many of the Americans had regarded the British government as a super- government, imposed against the will of the American people, and maintained in spite of their protests. The Dominion of New England, which, prior to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, had been the nearest approach to union, was recalled with anger and in fear. This plan, forced upon the Americans in 1686 by the king, united eight of the colonies under the rule of Governor Andros. The union was dissolved by the Bloodless Revolution of 1688, but the arbitrary rule of Andros was long cited by the Americans as proof of the despotic character of any government beyond that of the individual states.

A second explanation of the failure of the states to unite before 1787 is to be found in the social and economic differences existing among the states. Most of the inhabitants of New England were grouped in small, compact communities, and were engaged in shipbuilding and commerce, rather than in agriculture. There was an aristocratic group, but most of the people belonged to the middle class, and were simple and even severe in their tastes. In the middle colonies, on the other hand, most of the people were small farmers of mixed religious and racial character. Social classes existed to a considerable extent. Finally, the South was devoted to large plantations, cultivated by black slaves. Social lines were sharply drawn, and a genuine aristocratic class was already well formed.

A third reason for the weakness of the coperative spirit among the states is to be found in the lack of means of transportation and communication. Travel was mostly confined to natural waterways, or to rude paths over which horses proceeded with great difficulty. As late as 1800 it often took a horseman longer to go from Boston to New York than it now takes to go by rail from New York to San Francisco and back again. There were no railroads in those days, no telephones, no telegraph, and practically no postal service. Life was primarily rural, even on the seacoast. Most interests centered about the local community, or at farthest, about the colony or state. In many sections there was little exchange of products or of ideas. From the resulting isolation there developed a strong feeling of localism or provincialism. Ignorance and suspicion of intercolonial affairs gave rise to misunderstandings, and emphasized differences and disputes which in themselves were unimportant. Thus jealousy and hostility often sprang up where mutual confidence and coperation were sorely needed.

28. NEGATIVE FORCES FAVORING UNION.—The failure of the Articles of Confederation is one of the most discouraging chapters in the development of American democracy. And yet it is an indispensable chapter, for it demonstrated, far more convincingly than could any theoretical argument, that there must be one great American nation rather than thirteen or more unrelated republics. Six years of practical experience with the Articles of Confederation taught the absolute necessity of a strong central government. The weaknesses of the Confederation government constituted the most spectacular of the forces favoring union in 1787, and yet these forces were negative in character: the states accepted the Constitution of 1787 not so much because they were attracted by it, as because they saw little chance of getting along without it.

29. POSITIVE FORCES FAVORING UNION.—It should be noted, on the other hand, that for a long period previous to the adoption of the Constitution of 1787, certain positive forces were impelling the states toward union. In their Old World homes most of the settlers had occupied somewhat the same social position, and had been used to somewhat the same economic conditions. This common background constituted, in their New World homes, a unifying force of great importance. Long before 1787, too, the great majority of the settlers were of English descent, speaking the English language, and, except for the Roman Catholics of Maryland, professing some form of Protestantism.

In spite of the numerous jealousies and rivalries among the various sections of the country, there were at work forces which tended to break down the spirit of localism or provincialism. Though the Revolution established thirteen separate states, the war had encouraged the Americans to feel that they were a single people with a common destiny. The soldiers of various sections had rubbed elbows with one another during the French and Indian wars, and during the Revolution. This had served to encourage a feeling of comradeship between the inhabitants of different communities. The population of the country was doubling every twenty years, and groups previously isolated were coming into contact with one another. Interstate coperation was not only more necessary than ever before, but it was less difficult to bring about. Highways were being improved, and the postal service gradually extended, with the result that a more wholesome social life was made possible.

In an economic sense the American people were increasingly interdependent. Especially on the frontier many communities were still economically self-sufficing, but to an increasing extent the development of commerce and manufacturing was everywhere calling for a closer coperation between various sections of the country. The Annapolis Convention of 1786, indeed, was called for the purpose of promoting commercial coperation among the states. According to Professor Beard, the formation of the Federal Constitution itself may in large measure be traced to the desire throughout the country for interstate coperation in industry and commerce.

30. AMERICAN DEMOCRACY IN 1787.—The constitutional convention of 1787 expanded American democracy from a local idea to a political concept of national proportions. But though this was an important step forward, American democracy had not yet been fully developed. Religious freedom, indeed, had been guaranteed by the Constitution, but the suffrage was still narrowly restricted. The adoption of the Constitution was due primarily to negative forces; the full development of the positive forces, upon which the ultimate integrity of the union rests, was to be delayed for almost a century. The states technically abandoned state sovereignty when they accepted the Constitution of 1787, but not until the Civil War had been won was permanent union assured. Most important of all, American democracy was in 1787 only a political concept. There was at that time no suspicion that democracy was later to be expanded into a philosophy of life, applicable not only to purely governmental affairs, but to the individual in his economic and social relations as well.


1. Distinguish between local and national spirit in the Revolutionary period.

2. Describe the first notable attempt at union.

3. What plan of union was proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1754?

4. Name several other early attempts at union.

5. Outline the character of the Articles of Confederation.

6. What were the chief defects of the Confederation government?

7. Describe the failure of the Confederation government.

8. Outline clearly the three important reasons for the failure of the states to unite before 1787.

9. Explain the phrase, "Negative forces favoring union."

10. To what extent was the constitutional convention of 1787 the result of positive forces?

11. Explain clearly the statement that in 1787 American democracy had not yet been fully developed.


1. Williamson, Readings in American Democracy, chapter iii.

Or all of the following:

2. Becker, Beginnings of the American People, chapter v.

3. Fiske, The Critical Period of American History, chapter iv.

4. Guitteau, Government and Politics in the United States, chapter xix.

5. McLaughlin, The Confederation and the Constitution, chapter xiii.


1. In what sense was Benjamin Franklin the first American? (Becker, pages 190-200.)

2. Describe the commercial warfare carried on by the several states during the critical period. (Fiske, pages 144-147.)

3. Explain why American credit in Europe failed during the critical period. (Fiske, pages 155-157.)

4. Describe the attempts to patch up the Confederation government. (McLaughlin, chapter xiii.)

5. Explain the statement that "division is sometimes the prelude to more effective union." (Becker, pages 189-191.)

6. What did the Alexandria Conference of 1785 accomplish? (Guitteau, page 215.)

7. What was the Virginia plan? (Guitteau, page 217.)

8. What was the New Jersey plan? (Guitteau, page 217.)

9. What was the "Great Compromise"? (Guitteau, page 218.)

10. What was the Three-Fifths Compromise? (Guitteau, pages 218-219.)

11. Describe the opposition to the ratification of the Constitution (Guitteau, pages 222-224.)



1. Trace the beginnings of railroad transportation in your section, and describe the effect of improved methods of transportation upon the ability of different communities in your section to coperate with one another. (Consult local histories.)

2. To what extent does the newspaper help you to understand the character and ideals of individuals beyond your community?

3. Contrast the telephone and the postal service as influencing the development of the coperative spirit in the city. In rural districts.

4. To what extent would improved methods of transportation and communication lead to a closer coperation between the rural and urban districts in your state?

5. To what extent has the economic interdependence of different members of your community led to a better understanding? To a closer identity of interests?


6. Difficulties of travel in colonial times. (Crawford, Social Life in Old New England, chapter x.)

7. Postal facilities in the colonial period. (Bogart, Economic History of the United States, pages 82-83.)

8. Diversity of economic interests among the colonies. (Bogart and Thompson, Readings in the Economic History of the United States, pages 29-42.)

9. Union under the Continental Congresses. (Beard, American Government and Politics, pages 21-25.)

10. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. (McLaughlin, The Confederation and the Constitution, pages 187-190.)

11. The work of the Constitutional Convention. (Beard, American Government and Politics, pages 44-53. See also any other standard text on American history or government.)

12. Madison's criticism of the Articles of Confederation. (Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 38-43.)

13. Hamilton's plea for a strong national government. (Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 47-49.)

14. The influence of economic interests upon the Constitution of 1787. (Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, pages 324-325.)

15. The outlook for American democracy in 1789. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. ii, chapter xxxviii.)



31. THE AIM OF THIS CHAPTER.—The form of government established in this country by the Constitution of 1787 is known as a republic. A republic may be defined as a representative democracy, or, in the popular sense of the term, simply as a democracy. Now, to point out that a government is democratic does not necessarily mean that it is a sound government. Granting that self-government is morally right, the fate of a democracy will depend, partly upon the character of the people, and partly upon the nature of the governmental machinery through which that people expresses its will. The proof of democracy is in its workings. The aim of this chapter is not to pass judgment upon democracy, but rather to outline the essential characteristics of American constitutional government. When this background has been secured we shall be in a position to begin a detailed study of applied democracy, to point out its merits, to call attention to its defects, and to consider how and to what extent it may be improved.

32. STRENGTH.—American constitutional government is a strong government. The weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation were avoided in framing the Constitution of 1787. Whereas the Confederation government was really headless, the Constitution of 1787 provided for a strong executive. The Confederation Congress could not levy taxes, but the Congress of the United States has adequate powers in this regard. There can be no recurrence of one of the chief financial troubles of the Revolutionary period, for at the present time the several states may neither coin money nor emit bills of credit. The Federal government has exclusive control of foreign affairs, so that no state may individually enter into any agreement with a foreign power. The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and no state action may contradict it. Unity has given us strength, and great crises, such as the Civil War and the World War, have ended by increasing that strength.

33. THE CHECK AND BALANCE SYSTEM.—A striking characteristic feature of American constitutional government is the check and balance system. By this system we mean all those constitutional provisions which divide and subdivide governmental power among various sets of public agents. [Footnote: For a fuller discussion of the check and balance system see Chapter XXXIX.]

This division of powers is threefold. First, there is a division of power between the Federal government and the governments of the several states. The states are obliged to act in concert on most questions involving the nation as a whole, but the Federal Constitution safeguards the rights of the states by reserving to them all powers not specifically delegated to the Federal government. Second, in both Federal and state governments, power is still further distributed among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches in such a way that each branch constitutes a check upon the other two. Third, in both Federal and state governments there is a division of power within each of the three branches of government. Thus both the President of the United States and the governors of the various states are at least partially controlled by subordinate executive officials, while in the legislative branch of both Federal and state governments the upper and lower houses constitute a check upon one another. In the case of both Federal and state judicial systems there is a division of jurisdiction.

34. THE CHECK AND BALANCE SYSTEM SECURES STABILITY.—American government is not only strong, it is stable. This stability is due chiefly to the admirable way in which different governmental agents are balanced against one another. The check and balance system renders us safe from the danger of anarchy, for though ultimate control is vested in the people, sufficient powers are entrusted to the governmental mechanism to protect it against popular passion. The system likewise protects us against despotism. So long as the Constitution endures, neither the Federal government nor the governments of the states may destroy each other. The undue concentration of political power is likewise rendered difficult by the division of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of both Federal and state governments.

The significance of a properly applied check and balance system appears clearly when we compare our government with that of various other republics. In many of the ancient republics, for example, the powers of government were so unequally and so indefinitely divided that republican government degenerated either to despotism or to anarchy. Within the last century many Latin-American republics have modeled their governments after ours, and yet some of these republics are constantly threatened by either revolution or despotism. The explanation of this, according to Elihu Root, is that these republics have adapted our check and balance system so carelessly that they find it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a really stable government. [Footnote: Here we are pointing out the fundamental merits of the check and balance system; later (Chapters XXXIV, XXXV, and XXXVI) we shall have occasion to notice some of the disadvantages of this system.]

35. THE RIGHTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL.—We have not purchased strength and stability at the expense of personal freedom, for both Federal and state constitutions specifically safeguard the rights of the individual. The fundamental guarantees set forth in the Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights were cherished by the American colonists, and in 1791 they formed the basis of the first ten Amendments to the Federal Constitution. Provisions similarly designed to safeguard individual rights are found in the constitution of every state in the Union. [Footnote: For an enumeration of these rights, see the first ten Amendments to the Federal Constitution, Appendix. Consult also the Bill of Rights in the constitution of your state.] From the beginning of our national history a fundamental principle of American government has been to allow the individual as much freedom of thought and action as is compatible with the general welfare.

36. CONTROL BY THE PEOPLE.—Under American constitutional government, sovereignty resides with the people as a whole, though the people act through their chosen representatives. There is no power in American government beyond that created or permitted by the people themselves. The suffrage, so narrowly restricted in the eighteenth century, has since widened to include the great majority of adults, both male and female. Elections are frequent, so that ill-chosen officials may not long abuse their position. The Initiative, the Referendum and the Recall are methods of popular control which in many sections are spreading. Constitutional amendment in the United States is not easy; on the other hand, if any considerable percentage of the voters evince a sustained desire for change, an amendment is the normal result. [Footnote: In Part IV of the text we shall consider the dangers of an over-extension of popular control; here it is only necessary to point out that American government is essentially government by the people.]

37. EFFICIENCY.—The division of functions between the Federal and state governments on the one hand, and between state and local governments on the other, provides a solid foundation for the economical administration of government.

The Federal government attends to most matters which are of national importance, and which cannot properly be looked after by the states individually. For example, foreign relations, the postal service, and the coinage of money, are Federal functions. The separation of Federal and state functions is not always clear, but such matters as contracts, property rights, crime, and education are probably best administered by the state. There is, similarly, no sharp dividing line between the functions of state and local governments, but at present it appears that the local authorities are the most efficient administrators of roads and bridges, water and paving, the elementary schools, and similar concerns.

The essential economy of this threefold division of functions is that each of the three sets of officials tends to concern itself with those matters with which it is best acquainted, and which are most advantageously administered by it.

38. UNITY.—The earlier European critics of our government declared that the division of powers between Federal and state governments would encourage civil strife. It is true that this division of powers has resulted in a decentralized rather than in a centralized form of government. It is equally true that the quarrel over states' rights was the fundamental cause of the Civil War. But that war settled the question of states' rights once and for all, and there has never again been any serious question as to the proper status of states and Union. American democracy has been found compatible with unity.

Nor has the decentralized character of American government kept us from presenting a united front in foreign wars. The concentration of war powers in the hands of President Lincoln during the Civil War was matched by the temporary dictatorship wielded by President Wilson during the World War. In both cases, the national executive became, for the period of the emergency, as powerful and as efficient as the executive of a highly centralized monarchy. This ability to exhibit unity of control and singleness of purpose in war-time enables us to claim for our form of government one of the most important assets of the centralized monarchy.

39. THE SPIRIT OF PROGRESS.—Certainly one test of good government is the extent to which it renders the masses of the people happy and prosperous. American government has not yet exhausted the possibilities of helpfulness, but one of the chief aims of our political system is to encourage the individual in every pursuit which is legal and honorable. Lord Bryce has called America the land of Hope, because in spite of the defects of American government, a feeling of buoyancy and optimism is characteristic of our political institutions. America might also be called the land of Sane Endeavor, for we lend force and justification to our optimism by consistently working for the attainment of our ideals. To improve every condition of American life, and yet to work in harmony with the principles of constitutional government, that is our ideal. Progress must come through authorized channels, for, as Abraham Lincoln has said, "a majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing with the deliberate changes of popular opinion and sentiment, is the only true sovereign of a free people, and whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or despotism."


1. Upon what does the fate of a democracy depend?

2. Contrast the strength of our present government with the strength of the government established by the Articles of Confederation.

3. What is the check and balance system? Explain clearly.

4. Show how the check and balance system renders American government stable.

5. Why is stability not a feature of some of the Latin-American republics which have adapted our check and balance system?

6. What can be said as to the rights of the individual under American constitutional government?

7. To what extent is American government subject to popular control?

8. How does American government provide for a solid foundation for the economical administration of government?

9. What charge did the earlier European critics bring against American government? Has history substantiated or disproved this charge? Explain.

10. Compare the American democracy with a monarchy with respect to efficiency in war-time.

11. Why may America be called the land of Hope? To what extent may it properly be called the land of Sane Endeavor?

12. What did Lincoln say as to the only true sovereign of a free people?


1. Williamson, Readings in American Democracy, chapter iv.

Or all of the following:

2. Beard, American Government and Politics, chapter viii.

3. Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. ii, chapters c and cii.

4. Cleveland and Schafer, Democracy in Reconstruction, pages 48-66.

5. Root, Addresses on Government and Citizenship, pages 98-117.


1. What is meant by the doctrine of limited government? (Beard, pages 145-147.)

2. What are the two classes of constitutional limitations upon the Federal government? (Beard, pages 147-148.)

3. Describe the position of the judiciary in American government. (Beard, pages 164-165.)

4. What was the attitude of the republics of Greece and Rome toward the individual? (Root, page 98.)

5. Contrast this attitude with the "Anglo-Saxon idea." (Root, pages 98-99.)

6. Why is it important that a constitution be a written document? (Cleveland and Schafer, pages 54-S5.)

7. Why is it dangerous to suspend the constitutional guarantees of personal liberty? (Root, pages 114-115.)

8. What faults have philosophers and popular writers generally attributed to democratic governments? (Bryce, pages 613-614.)

9. To what extent are these faults attributable to American democracy? (Bryce, pages 614-629.)

10. Explain the capacity of our government to develop great vigor. (Bryce, pages 650-652.)



1. Make a study of a club or society of which you are a member, or with which you are familiar. To what extent does its organization illustrate the check and balance system?

2. Classify local or state officials in your commonwealth, in order to show differences in term and differences in the method of choosing them. To what extent do these differences constitute a check and balance system?

3. Make a list of the guarantees of personal liberty which are contained in the constitution of your state. Compare this list with similar lists made from the constitutions of other states. Compare the list with the first ten Amendments to the Federal Constitution.

4. Methods by which the constitution of your state may be amended.

5. Make a list of the chief public activities in your community or section. Which are local, which state, and which Federal? Do you believe that any of these functions could be more advantageously performed by some other division of government than that which is now performing it? Give reasons.


6. "Why democracy is best." (Tufts, The Real Business of Living, chapter xxxvii.)

7. Philosophy of the American constitutional system. (Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 49-53.)

8. The relation of Federal and state governments in the United States. (Guitteau, Government and Politics in the United States, chapter xxi.)

9. Framework of American government. (Bryce, Modern Democracies vol. ii, chapter xxxix.)

10. The check and balance system. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. ii, chapter lxiii. See also any standard text on American government.)

11. The theory of the separation of powers. (Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 138-140.)

12. The supremacy of Federal law. (Beard, Readings in American Government and Politics, pages 140-143.)

13. The meaning of liberty. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. i, chapter vi.)

14. The meaning of equality. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. i, chapter vii.)

15. A brief comparison of the American and European systems of government. (Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol i, chapter xxv.)

16. American democracy contrasted with other democratic governments. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. ii, pages 446-452.)

17. Democracy compared with undemocratic forms of government. (Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. ii, chapter lxxiv.)

18. Efficiency of American democracy in the World War. (West, The War and the New Age, chapter x.)



40. NO GOVERNMENT IS PERFECT.—All government is a compromise, in that it is adopted or created for the purpose of harmonizing the interests of the individual with the interests of the group. The types of government are numerous, varying with the character of the group, and with the particular conditions under which it exists. But we know of no government which is perfect: all have shortcomings, some very serious, others less so. There is nothing to be gained, therefore, by debating whether or not American government is imperfect. A much more profitable question is this: What are the faults of American democracy, and how may they be eliminated or minimized? The most constructive work which the American citizen is called upon to do is to grasp the character of the problems confronting his country, and then to attempt their solution.

41. THE WIDENING CIRCLE OF PROBLEMS.—The last two centuries have constituted an age of rapid change and development in all of the major phases of civilization. There have been rapid shifts in population, particularly in the younger countries of the world. Important discoveries have greatly increased our knowledge of natural science; epoch-making inventions have revolutionized manufacturing, commerce and transportation. In every civilized land there have been readjustments of political beliefs, as well as important changes in intellectual, religious, and social standards. Such an age is peculiarly an age of problems: it is a period of change and stress, a time of readjustment, of adaptation to changed conditions, of growth, and of development.

We in America are confronted by an ever widening circle of problems, and this chiefly for two reasons. In the first place, we have felt the impact of those forces which for the last two centuries have been creating problems the world over. In the second place, the whole period of our national development has fallen within this age of change and readjustment This means that we have had to grapple with the problems common to all modern countries during a period in which the origin and development of American democracy have been creating purely domestic problems. These facts at least partially explain the growing importance of the problems of American democracy during the past century.

42. EFFECT OF AN ENLARGED SOCIAL CONSCIENCE.—Many of the issues of contemporary American life have come into prominence because we have enlarged the concept of democracy within the last century. The term democracy has come to imply, not merely a form of government, but actually a philosophy of life stressing justice and happiness for the individual, whether in his political, social, or economic capacity. The more humanitarian our view, the more situations calling for remedy fall within it. Child labor, to give a single example, was not generally considered an evil a century ago, but to-day an enlarged social conscience condemns it.

43. NECESSITY OF AVOIDING PATERNALISM.—The solution of many national problems implies an extension of government control. Now, it is not generally appreciated that while an enlarged social conscience has increased the number of our problems, the individualistic strain in the American nature resists that paternalism which at present appears necessary to an effective treatment of certain problems. We are behind Germany in legislation designed to prevent industrial accidents, lessen the evils of unemployment, and otherwise protect the worker against the risks of industry. But Germany has built up this system of social insurance by restricting personal liberty, and by greatly extending the power of government over the individual. The great task confronting our government is to do as much for the individual as any paternalistic government, without endangering his rights by an undue extension of governmental control.

44. THE COMPLEXITY OF OUR PROBLEMS.—The mistake is sometimes made of thinking that national issues can be nicely defined, and separated from one another. The human mind has its limitations, and we are prone to emphasize the outline and content of particular problems in order to perceive their essential character the more clearly. But though this is permissible for purposes of study, we must bear in mind that the questions which we are to discuss are connected with one another in a most baffling way. To understand the administration of charity, for example, we ought to know the social, economic, and political background of the community under observation. The thorough study of this background would lead us to crime, education and other problems, which in turn have their connections with issues still further removed from the immediate problem of charity. The thorough understanding of a specific question thus implies consideration of many inter-related questions. Likewise, the solution of a particular question affects and is affected by the whole mass of related phenomena.

45. IMPORTANCE OF THE ECONOMIC BACKGROUND.—It would be unwise, perhaps, to claim that any definite group of problems is of greater importance than any other group. But at least we may say that some problems are primary in origin, while others appear to be secondary, i.e. derived from those called primary. In the chapters which follow, the attempt has been made to arrange the groups of problems with some regard to their primary or secondary origin. Probably the most fundamental problems which face us to-day are those of economic organization. Properly to understand these problems the student must first grasp the essential facts of American industry. We shall begin our study of the problems of American democracy, therefore, with a survey of the economic life of the nation. Only after we have mastered the principles upon which American industry is based, shall we be in a position to solve the problems which arise directly from the nature of our economic organization.

46. INDUSTRIAL REFORM.—Our industrial life is so clearly based upon certain fundamental institutions, such as private property, free contract, and free competition, that an industrial "system" is said to exist. Certain great evils, notably poverty, have accompanied the development of this system. We shall discuss a number of programs designed to eliminate these evils. The doctrine of single tax is of interest as advocating the abolition or confiscation of land value. The coperative conduct of industry is of increasing importance of late years. We must also reckon with socialism as a movement which seeks the redistribution of wealth. Under the general head of socialism we shall have occasion to notice a small but active group known as the Industrial Workers of the World, and the larger, though related, group which recently conducted a socialist experiment in Russia. The discussion of socialism completed, we shall sum up the attitude of American democracy toward the whole problem of industrial reform.

47. SOCIAL PROBLEMS.—Of the social problems which grow out of a bad economic situation, none is more vital than the fostering of peace and good will between labor and capital. Following the discussion of industrial relations, we shall have occasion to notice a whole series of social questions which have either been derived from, or accentuated by, the rapid industrialization of our country. Grave questions arise in connection with immigration, health, and the cityward drift. The consideration of the problems of the city in turn directs attention to the necessity of a normal rural life, and to the importance of safeguarding the American home. Dependency is a familiar problem, but one which, in the light of an awakened community spirit, is now being studied from new and interesting angles. Last among social problems is the fundamental matter of education. It is not too much to claim that the ultimate fate of American democracy depends, to a great extent, upon the vigor and intelligence with which we improve and extend our educational system.

48. RELATION OF GOVERNMENT TO BUSINESS.—Since our material well-being rests upon an economic basis, the public has a vital interest in business. The rise of great corporations and the necessity of safeguarding the public from monopolistic abuses make necessary a careful examination into the relation of government to business. We shall meet with this question: Shall the government regulate, or actually own, businesses of vital importance to the public? Equally knotty, but fully as interesting, is the tariff question. Should Congress tax foreign goods entering this country, and, if so, upon what principles should this tax be determined? This will bring us to the general problem of taxation, a subject to which the American people will probably devote an increasing amount of attention in the next few decades. The question of conserving our natural resources must also be discussed. Last in this group of problems may be mentioned the question of money and banking. In discussing this important subject we shall notice, among other things, the interesting Federal reserve system, which, it is hoped, will protect us from panics in the future.

49. PROBLEMS IN EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT.—The economist has good reason for declaring that the getting of a living is one of the most fundamental concerns in life; on the other hand, no people can long get a comfortable living without the aid of a helpful system of government. Government must be made effective. This introduces us to another series of problems. First of all, who shall share in government? And how may we improve the methods by which we select the agents of government? How may corruption and inefficiency be eliminated from American government? What is the significance of the Initiative, the Referendum, and the Recall?

These questions must prove of fascinating interest to those who think of democracy as a living institution which is constantly growing, developing, adapting itself to changed conditions.

50. WHAT IS THE PROMISE OF AMERICAN LIFE?—Rich in natural resources, ample in extent, encouraging to man's helpful efforts, America fulfills the first condition of national greatness. Intelligent and industrious, law-abiding and, devoted to the building of homes, our population fulfills the second condition.

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