A Batch Of Legacies
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THERE never has been another such large batch of legacies left by any retiring political party in the United States since the origin of the Republic as that devised by the Democratic party to its successors in office. Not one of the various reforms which the President introduced and had toiled over many a day and night during eight years was satisfactorily consummated. All were left in such an inchoate condition that we might aptly refer to them as " unfinished business." If that archaic prejudice which stands in the way of a President's enjoying a third term did not exist, perhaps Mr. Cleveland might have been afforded an opportunity of seeing the fruits of his anxious thoughts and arduous labors, and the country might have been made permanently prosperous and happy by the result. Republics are proverbially ungrateful, however, and Mr. Cleveland found this to be true. Perhaps the numerous cautions and the sound advice which he has been in the habit of giving the Democratic party may bear fruit when that party gets into power again, and his reforms may be prosecuted, but probably not with the same vigor and enthusiasm with which they were begun. Future generations may produce men of as great vim and self-confidence as Mr. Cleveland, but it is doubtful. Chief among the legacies, that of the tariff has been already dealt with by the McKinley administration, and the deficit in the revenue, which was a source of so much trouble to the Democrats, has been changed into a surplus. It may not be out of place to note here that England and English manufacturers were even more disappointed than Mr. Cleveland that he was not chosen for a third term. He is one of the most popular Americans in Great Britain. Yes, many of the English regard Mr. Cleveland as a second Washington, despite the matter of the Venezuela boundary, thus proving that the bread-and-butter question appeals more strongly to the human heart with many people than does any feeling of patriotism. Free trade with this country would be one of the greatest instrumentalities possible for enriching England at our expense. It would make of us a semi-philanthropic treasury from which England could draw largely as long as we should be able to avert national bankruptcy. When this crisis should arrive, England might send over a receiver, wind the thing up, and establish most of her manufactures on this soil. This would have the merit of being a bloodless victory for the autocrats of cheap labor. Of the other half dozen or so of reforms projected by Mr. Cleveland, none but the repeal of the purchasing clause of the Sherman Silver Law came to any definite result, and that, as I have shown elsewhere, was so ill-timed and otherwise mismanaged that it caused a disastrous panic. The abortive attempts made at these reforms were a fruitful auxiliary cause of our financial ills during the four years prior to Mr. McKinley's election. With regard to Mr. Cleveland's personal interference in originating legislation, as in the case of the Sherman Bill, he seems to have disregarded two of his own maxims, namely, "Public office is a public trust," and "The duty of a President is simply executive." As I have formerly remarked, the rule of action as laid down in the Constitution regarding the extent to which the President may go in giving Congress " information of the state of the Union," and in " recommending for its consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," may give rise to some nice distinctions, as may also the further power accorded to him by the same instrument ' to convene both Houses or either of them on extraordinary occasions." These points have been subjects of considerable comment by jurists, politicians, and statesmen; but Abraham Lincoln, in one of his short, pithy, common-sense analyses, has probably thrown more light on the subject than the majority of those who have attempted it. Mr. Lincoln, referring to this provision in the Constitution (Article II., 3, I) and also to the tariff question, says: “By the Constitution, the Executive may recommend measures which he may think proper, and he may veto those which he thinks improper, and it is supposed that he may add to these certain indirect influences to affect the action of Congress. My political education strongly inclines me against a free use of any of these means by the Executive to control the legislation of the country. As a rule, I think it better that Congress should originate as well as perfect its measures without external bias. I therefore would rather recommend to every gentleman who knows that he is to be a member of the next Congress, to take an enlarged view and post himself thoroughly, so as to contribute his part to such an adjustment of the tariff as shall produce a sufficient revenue, and in its other bearings, so far as possible, be just and equal to all sections of the country and classes of the people." If this wise advice of the martyr President had been always taken by his successors, what a boon it would have conferred on the country! But it was not consonant with the disposition or cultivated habits of our late Executive to pay much heed to advice, either of ancient sages or modern legislators. When a legislator or expert financier, thinking he had a good thing to communicate to the presumable fountain of legislative wisdom, would call at the White House, President Cleveland would receive him cordially, listen to his statement, and then make a brief reply, at the conclusion of which he would mentally move the previous question, cutting off all debate while he preserved an attitude of politeness toward his visitor, who in most instances soon grew weary of the one-sided conversation, and was gracefully bowed out by the secretary, who doubtless congratulated his chief that another "crank" had been summarily disposed of. The attempt to run the government on theories, as substitutes for practical measures, proved, and always will prove, a signal failure. Hence the people thought that it was safer to return to the old practical method that had worked so well, generally, for thirty-two years. One of the remarkable features of the attempted legislation of the late Democratic administration was the ill-considered and crude character of the greater number of the measures formulated. They showed evidence of being mentally undigested, and exhibited a deficiency in breadth of view and comprehensiveness. Take, for example, the Income Tax Bill, which was killed by the United States Supreme Court. That measure provided for throwing more than half the burden on the State of New York, and pretty nearly all that half on New York City. This was pleasing enough to the Southern and Northwestern people, and of course made the bill very popular in those sections. Such crudeness and narrowness appeared in many legislative measures during the last Democratic administration. It was so with the currency question, and also when the administration essayed to settle international complications by applying to these the ordinary methods of running party politics. The idea of the fitness of things seemed frequently lost sight of, and often discord instead of harmony ruled in administration affairs.