All Commentary
Thursday, October 1, 1959

A Better Way of Selecting Presidents

Dr. Manchester views a timely sub­ject from still another angle (see his “Apropos of the Presidency” in The Freeman for June 1959), and argues for what is in essentials the Constitu­tional method of choosing our Chief Ex­ecutive. Commenting on the present article, he says: “I am of course under no illusion, as I trust I make plain, that my plan, or any other closely resembling it, will be put into practice in the im­mediate future. Before that can happen, an enormous change must take place in the political outlook of a sufficient num­ber of us to constitute a prevailing in­fluence, direct and indirect, in the councils of government; and this change, as you of The Freeman never tire of insisting, can come about only through a process of education. I should like to think that in this process the survey of an important topic I here make, and the considerations I assemble and bring forward, might play a useful part.”

Just one more of our involuntary, unplanned trips around the sun, and we in America shall be en­gaged in an act of literally incal­culable importance. We shall be selecting our next President. Over the years a particular way of do­ing this has developed, one which has grown so familiar that we are likely to take it for granted, good-naturedly tolerate its half-realized defects, and fail to consider whether another and better may not be found. Perhaps the surest stimulus to reflection upon this topic is a fresh, frank look at the established procedure.

This has two main stages: first, the nominating of candidates; sec­ond, the choosing from among the candidates in a popular election.

Nominations by Politicians

The nominating is done neither by the nation, nor by the states, nor by any agency of either, but by voluntary associations of voters, of fluctuating membership, known as political parties. These vary in number, but two have long pre­dominated, the Democratic and the Republican. Each of these has an organization in each state, as well as a national organization, and each state organization sends delegates of its own choosing, or else delegates chosen by party voters in a primary election, to a convention known as a nominating convention. It is this body which selects a party candidate for Pres­ident—and also a party candidate for Vice-President.

The convention has a set pro­gram. It disposes of various rou­tine matters, adopts a statement of party policy, called a platform, which probably few read and fewer take seriously, and finally gets to its principal business. In a book published in 1924 a former Solici­tor General of the United States describes the convention of his time:

Twenty thousand men and women are gathered in a great hall to wit­ness the so-called “deliberations” of the representatives of a political party. Everything is done to give to such a convention the character of a vulgar hippodrome…. When nomi­nations are made, a hysterical speech is bawled out through the media of amplifiers, and then follows an or­ganized and purely mechanical dem­onstration, whose purpose is to sur­pass all past records in prolonged and meaningless noise. Men with stop watches keep the record of the vocif­erous cheering as though it were a horse race, and upon the faintest in­dication that it is diminishing all manner of circus tactics are resorted to to keep up the enthusiasm. When previous records of meaningless noise have been shattered the vocal volume is reluctantly permitted to die down. No votes are influenced, and all that has been accomplished is a meaning­less spectacle, at which the world stands in amazement. If Washington or Franklin were to visit such an as­sembly of either of the two historic parties of American politics, would they not gaze at each other in stupe­faction and say: “Is this Bedlam, or is it America?”¹

Had the great men just men­tioned been at the Democratic Convention of 1924 at the moment when Franklin D. Roosevelt fin­ished nominating Alfred E. Smith, their answer to the question, “Is this Bedlam, or is it America?” could hardly have been doubtful. Thus, in part, the New York Times, June 27, reported:

The fingers pressed the buttons. The contact was made. Volcanoes of sound burst forth, shrill, unearthly, and horrible. It was a screech of charging squadrons of ambulances and speeding hook-and-ladder trucks, a mingled racket which New Yorkers associate with falling buildings, six-alarm fires, elevated collisions, Black Tom explosions, and other great ca­lamities. Men and women… leaped to their feet and staggered about, shell-shocked. Although the Garden was crowded and seats at a premium, scores rushed out and never came back.2

An Earlier Philadelphia Convention

 And no wonder! As the Times reporter observes, “the electric claque had come into its own.” One recalls by contrast the conditions under which an earlier political convention performed its duties. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 met in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, and during its use of this building, according to a local annalist, “the Chestnut Street pavement was covered with earth to silence the rumble of wheels.”3 The times seem changed indeed, and we with them.

But this, after all, is hardly fair. The Philadelphia convention as­sembled to deliberate, and as a convention it deliberated. The mod­ern nominating convention pro­ceeds otherwise. “While the dele­gates and onlookers are being… entertained… the real business of the convention is being trans­acted elsewhere behind closed doors. From the time that the first delegations arrive until the final ballots are cast, the aspirants [to the nomination for President], their managers, and the leaders of delegations are engaged in con­tinuous conferences and negotia­tions. It is here that the final strategy of the battle is agreed upon, the promises given and ex­acted, and the deals arranged.”4

On occasion, it appears, the lo­cale of “deals,” as in the follow­ing instance, may extend far be­yond the “closed doors,” and im­portant influence may be exerted by a person having no connection whatsoever with the official nomi­nating agency. We owe to Henry L. Stoddard’s It Costs To Be Presi­dent this circumstantial account of certain events which took place in connection with the Democratic Nominating Convention of 1932 (the passage is long, but so vari­ously and eloquently suggestive that I hestitate to abbreviate it):

Roosevelt realized that he must make a drastic move. He had to have aid.

There was just one man who could supply enough votes in a bunch to insure success. That man was Wil­liam Randolph Hearst. He was spon­sor for the John Nance Garner boom. He had persuaded the Texas Con­gressman into the race and had aided him to carry the Texas delega­tion. He was solely responsible for defeating Roosevelt in the California primaries, and for instructing the Golden Gate delegates, headed by William Gibbs McAdoo, for Garner.

Roosevelt knew that there was no need to open negotiations with Garner and his lieutenants; the real decision was with Hearst—the others could be talked with later. Farley was given the job of telephoning Hearst at his Sam Simeon ranch in California. He did it. Straight to Hearst went the Roosevelt argument that “if you don’t take me you will get Smith or Baker.” That was no news to Hearst; he had foreseen that possibility. He preferred Roosevelt to either of the other two.

Two hours later Paul Block, the well-known publisher, and I sat in his room for a good-night exchange of opinion. He then said that he had been talking over the telephone with “W. R.” and that a deal had been arranged by which the 69 Texas and California delegates, after compli­menting Garner on two or three ballots, would swing to Roosevelt. He added that Garner would go on the ticket as Vice-President and McAdoo was to have no opposition in Cali­fornia for the Democratic nomina­tion for U. S. Senator.

The news was in confidence. how­ever, for Hearst, of course, had no power to release delegates pledged to any candidate. That was for Garner and McAdoo to do. Hearst, however, undertook to talk with both of them and with Mayor Cermak of Chicago, who controlled the Illinois delegation. He persuaded all three that after a few ballots they should turn to Roosevelt, and they did.5

Roosevelt of course got what he wanted. Harry S. Truman’s nomination for the Vice-Presidency led him swiftly to the Presidency. How did it come about?

It was by the action of a group of bosses who did not like Henry Wallace that Harry Truman became the Democratic candidate for Vice-President in 1944. Edward J. Flynn, who frankly calls himself a boss, gave his version of the events in his remarkable book, You’re the Boss. Flynn, at the direction of President Roosevelt, got together a sort of com­mittee of bosses and other politicians to consider the candidate for Vice-President. Among them were Robert Hannegan of St. Louis, Edward J. Kelly of Chicago, and Flynn. “The question of Senator Truman’s asso­ciation with the Pendergast machine was thoroughly discussed,” wrote Flynn, and “he just dropped into the slot.”6

It is worth remarking that in the curious ways just related we obtained two recent Presidents whose administrations witnessed, or confirmed, revolutionary changes in our mode of government.

As to the role played by rank­and-file delegates to national nominating conventions, we have now perhaps inferred enough to be prepared for the following statement:

In theory the convention delegates who nominate the candidates are the representatives of the party voters, but in practice they are pawns in the complicated game of party poli­tics played by powerful state party bosses.?

The November Choice

The second stage in the current process of selecting Presidents is the November election. In this the people choose, not necessarily the man they would like for their Chief Executive, but the one they prefer among the candidates named by the party conventions. Many make their choice for rea­sons intelligently and conscien­tiously arrived at on the basis of adequate knowledge—but few will think that these constitute more than a minor fraction of the vot­ing electorate. Who has not wryly reflected, at one time or another, that the considered decision he registers at the polls is certain to be canceled over and over again by the utterly incompetent? “Rea­son has small effect upon numbers,” said Lord Bolingbroke long ago: “a turn of imagination, often as violent and as sudden as a gust of wind, determines their con­duct.”8 A. L. Rowse (writing in 1947) describes as the “Ration­alist Fallacy in political thinking” the “assumption that human be­ings largely act in politics upon rational motives and trains of in­telligent reasoning.” His comment is trenchant: “We in our time, alas, know what fatuous nonsense this is. The whole life of the so­ciety of our time is strewn with ocular demonstrations of its fal­sity.”9

The Precinct Worker

Now if anyone has the courage to face universal suffrage at its worst, I invite him to learn about the activities of the party precinct worker in the less prosperous areas of our great cities.¹º This man’s function is to get and hold votes for his party. To this end he labors not merely at election time but the whole year round. Let us glimpse at him on his job.

At one level he has the “respon­sibility for a certain amount of `entertaining,’ as witness the neighborhood club, the picnics and clambakes, and the free beer.” He makes himself the ever-ready friend. He “provides food, clothing, coal, and rent or lodging to his needy constituents. He manifests an interest in children by helping widowed mothers secure pensions, by arranging for the adoption of children, by procuring birth cer­tificates or work certificates”; he serves “as family adjuster, espe­cially when the ways of the for­eign-born parent clash with those of his American-born child.” He is on hand in illness and bereavement with “warm sympathy and good fellowship,” and as he “mourns with his neighbors, so he rejoices with them by attending weddings and sometimes christenings.” But enough of such detail. He is, one sees, kindness itself.

Against the hospitality and the benevolence thus far suggested, what can one say? Nothing, noth­ing at all—apart from the pri­mary, impelling, essentially illegit­imate and shameful motive. But there is a lower level. Here the precinct worker, in the interest of his constituents, tampers with the law. One way of doing this is to accomplish a “fix.” A “matter par­ticularly subject” to this amiable and brazen art is bail.

The “fix” sometimes starts with the police officers, the janitors of the court, the clerks, or bailiffs. The trail may lead through the ward commit­teeman to the judge, in all cases de­pending upon the influence of the fixer and the power of his party. For minor offenses in the local police sta­tion, some precinct workers find the promise of a few dollars to an offi­cial or the assurance of a job to an ordinary “cop” sufficient to do the trick. When more serious offenses are involved, the judge is reached through the bailiff or by a party rep­resentative higher in the hierarchy, who has power to threaten the de­feat of the judge in the next election if the “fix” does not go through.

Is there a lower level still? Let the reader judge. In lodging house areas, votes are bargained for in blocks through the owners of the “hobo” hotels…. In Chicago, the precinct captain chooses the men and women he desires as election officials, then submits the list to the ward commit­teeman, who in turn conveys these lists to the bipartisan Board of Elec­tion Commissioners, which after a perfunctory examination of these of­ficials, appoints them. In the more congested or river areas, the election officials are not too infrequently pick­pockets, card sharks, confidence-game men, or criminals, skilled in the art of manipulating, effacing, or mis­counting ballots…. The precinct worker… smells out votes as a terrier tracks a rat, his methods be­coming more desperate as the approaches when he must prey, the party that he has been work He draws upon additional aides __ his campaign, i.e., canvassers, party challengers, and, in malodorous pre­cincts, impersonators, ballot-treaters, “floaters,” or “repeaters.”… [Money is spent on] hiring “strong-arm men” to intimidate, or hiring extra work­ers, with or without legitimate func­tions, but specifically to get their votes. It is evident that one-fourth to one-third of the campaign ex­penses are used for this purpose alone. The price for the vote ranges from $3.00 to $5.00 or sometimes as little as “two bits.”

But enough of all this, too. There are things at which one may pre­fer only to glance—then pass on quickly.

Just how many meaningless votes our big cities cast in an elec­tion—votes seduced by good deeds, exchanged for illicit favors, fraud­ulently manipulated, falsely counted, bought for a price, or ex­torted by threat of bodily harm (remember the “strong-arm men”?)—one can only guess; but there would seem little doubt that in a close Presidential election they might be quite sufficient, by themselves, to determine our next Chief Executive, and in so doing to shape in no small degree our national destiny.

Such, then, is our present way of selecting Presidents: a nomination of candidates by means that are never to be commended, and that may at times be grotesquely offensive; a popular election in which the outcome may be de­cided—no one can say how often—by voters who are completely ir­responsible.

A Suggested Better Way

My title promises mention of a better way. One is entitled to question, I think, whether there could be a worse. At any rate, I consider myself immune to charges of immodesty—particularly so since what I have to offer is no invention of my own but the method devised by no less eminent a body than the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

By this method, the choice of both President and Vice-President is made entirely (save in circum­stances indicated below) by elec­tors appointed by the states in such manner as the respective leg­islatures may direct, each state being entitled to as many as it has senators and representatives in Congress—but no United States Senator or Representative, or per­son holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, can be an elector. The electors meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President, and in a dis­tinct ballot for Vice-President—one of the two not being an in­habitant of the same state with themselves. In accordance with prescribed rules, the results of the balloting are reported to Washington and there examined. The person getting the greatest number of votes for President be­comes President—provided the number is a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; if no one gets such a majority, then from the persons having the high­est numbers of votes, not exceed­ing three, “the House of Repre­sentatives shall choose immedi­ately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a ma­jority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.”

The Vice-Presidency is not here our special concern, but it may be added that if no one is named for this office by a majority of all the electors appointed, then from the two persons receiving the highest number of votes the Senate, gov­erned by certain rules, makes the final selection.¹¹

If a layman may venture into such a matter, I would suggest that in one respect the Constitu­tional provision that the electors be appointed by the states, in such manner as the respective legisla­tures may direct, might well be made more specific. I should like the appointment to be made di­rectly by the legislature (as before 1832 was much done), with the re­striction that at least one-half of those chosen should be persons holding no governmental office, federal or state, of any kind. The restriction would bring a com­pletely unofficial, nonpolitical point of view into the selection of Presi­dents and eliminate one common type of improper influence.

As Provided in the Constitution

My better way is, then, the Con­stitutional way, with only a minor modification. How is it superior?

Above all, in the hope it inspires that by its use we may obtain, in general, a far higher quality of President than has hitherto pre­vailed.

The grounds for this hope are many, but chiefly that the method is one of hierarchical selection. The total, unsifted electorate of each of the states selects the members of its legislature. The legislature in turn selects from the state as a whole the Presidential electors. These electors—who may reason­ably be expected, in general, to be outstanding citizens, especially in­formed, intelligent, discerning; and to be honorably sensitive to the trust reposed in them—in their turn select the man who in their belief would best serve the nation as President. The members of the legislature directly, the electors indirectly, represent all of us, so that “the sense of the peo­ple” (Alexander Hamilton’s phrase) has come into operation.12 Thus is exhibited in the choice of President the great representative principle—a principle basic in our Constitution.”

Apart from its authentic em­bodiment of this principle, the electoral system designed by the Constitution has, in comparison with the present nominating con­vention, certain special merits. The electors, meeting in the several states, act (in Hamilton‘s words) “under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements” which are to govern their choice; under circumstances, moreover, affording the least pos­sible opportunity for deals and counter-deals, corruption, and in­trigue. Further, the choice open to an elector is not limited by many considerations, intrinsically ir­relevant, that may influence de­cisions in nominating conventions. He does not need to ask whether a man he thinks of voting for comes from a politically auspi­cious section of the country, or from a populous or otherwise strategic state, whether his face is familiar to every newspaper reader in the land, whether he is a past-master in all “the little arts of popularity” (Hamilton’s phrase), whether he will be thought to have a witching voice, a taking smile, glamor, charm. In short, he would be free to select a man who comes from politically the most insignifi­cant spot in the nation, whose ex­cellence lies well below the surface, invisible to the crowd, who would unquestionably make a distin­guished President—but who would be likely to run an exceedingly poor second in any popular elec­tion.

Other Advantages

But not only would the Consti­tutional plan tend to give us great Presidents—genuinely educated Presidents, wise Presidents—it would secure at least a half-dozen other advantages.

1. It would keep the executive branch of the national government separate from the legislative branch, and completely indepen­dent of it—as was clearly desired by the Founding Fathers. Why else the restriction in the Consti­tution that no Senator or Repre­sentative could be an elector? But what have we now? Let us glance at one item of the record.

In the Republican National Con­vention of 1920, which of course, in effect; named the next Presi­dent, “there were 18 Senators who had [had] themselves chosen as delegates from nine states, and 4 more who were chosen singly from different states.—The Senators represented, or assumed to repre­sent, 400 of 984 delegates.—Sena­tor Lodge of Massachusetts was Chairman of the Convention.”14

Could there be a more obvious flouting of the spirit of the Con­stitution?

2.       The Constitutional plan would tend to keep the President free from miscellaneous, extra-legisla­tive entanglements, whether orig­inated by his agents and henchmen or by himself. He would have made no promises of office in exchange for financial or other support. He would have placed himself under obligation to no faction or special interest. He would have entered into no preposterous agreement with members of any Thousand Dollar Club contributing to his campaign that each of them “would be taken into the councils of the government.”15

3.         The plan would put an end to the apparent ease with which a President, competent or not, can bring about his own nomination for a second term. The Constitu­tionally chosen electors would have no special reason for wanting to continue a President in office, and would be expected to do so only in case he had made an excellent rec­ord—a consideration that would work especially to put every incoming President on his mettle. At the expiration of every four years freshly appointed men and women would be at perfect liberty to se­lect from the entire nation—the current President of course in­cluded—the man they believed best fitted for the office.

4.         The plan would have the effect—a probably desirable one in our system—of enhancing the inde­pendence and importance of na­tional party organizations and their leaders. The national party conventions, relieved of the nomi­nating function, disburdened in consequence of a horde of curious spectators, quietly deliberative at last, could devote themselves mainly to the drawing up of their platforms. These statements of policy, no longer competing in the election campaign with the speeches of Presidential candidates, would become centers of a new and vivid interest. Party leaders, in and out of Congress, many now little known to the general public, would be the natural and only spokesmen for their organizations, and in this ca­pacity would enjoy a degree of at­tention that few would have pre­viously experienced, and fewer still would be likely to resent.

5.         The plan would assure at all times a proper emphasis on the highly important state and local elections. As things stand now, every four years the election of a Chief Executive tends to push into the background minor positions and minor issues and so lessen the public attention bestowed upon them. To say that such and such men rode into office on the coat­tails of a popular candidate for President—what a comment on the soundness, in the instances concerned, of our electoral ma­chinery!

6. The plan would confer on the Presidency an elevation and a dig­nity which now it can scarcely possess. Its occupant would not have involved himself in pre-con­vention struggles for delegates (why, incidentally, if delegates are really to deliberate on and choose candidates, should they be induced to commit themselves, months per­haps, in advance?); nor would he have excited animosities in a tur­bulent and possibly scurrilous cam­paign. It would thus be easy for him to become, as Washington was, President of all the people. It is true that before he was chosen for the office, he would doubtless have been associated with one or other of the major parties; but when he entered upon his duties, he would certainly, as the superior man we presume him to be, divest himself so far as was humanly pos­sible of party prejudices and pre­possessions, function on a plane above the tumult of party strife and antagonisms, and devote him­self with maximum disinterested­ness to the general welfare.¹°

Possible Objections

I have indicated some of the ar­guments in support of the Consti­tutional plan, but thus far I have said nothing of possible—or ac­tual—objections to it.

One of these is doubtless ines­capable: it did not work. But to this the answer is easy. As I once heard G. Lowes Dickinson say of Christianity, it was never tried. The electoral college, as the elec­tors have been collectively called, “died before it was born. It never had an opportunity of selecting a President in the way intended. In the first two elections the members did not need to make a decision. In every subsequent election the deci­sion was made for them, and even­tually no man was chosen for the job unless he were certain to con­form to the dictates of the party.”¹7 In the Constitutional Convention, we are told, “there may have been a vague idea of political parties, but certainly there was no conception of the party organization that was to twist to its own devices the carefully devised scheme of the con­vention.”18 Comment would seem superfluous. The latest Cadillac cannot be expected to get you to your destination if you begin by wrecking its engine.

A Utopian Scheme?

Another objection is that the scheme is utopian. “But it is com­mon knowledge,” writes a political scientist previously quoted, “that the utopian plan of the fram­ers….”19 Now “utopian” means “pertaining to nowhere,” and to call a plan utopian is to say that it is impracticable, a mere product of the fancy, the sort of thing only the naive might be expected to take seriously. What then, one is curious to inquire, can have been the credentials of a scheme that can thus be so casually con­demned? Let us see.

Among the distinguished mem­bers of the Convention that con­ceived the plan was Benjamin Franklin, whose reputation for sheer practicality probably exceeds that of any other modern man. Moreover, how the President should be chosen was a difficult question much before the Conven­tion. Of the compromise plan fi­nally adopted it is said that “of all things done in the convention the members seemed to have been prouder of that than of any other, and they seemed to regard it as having solved the problem for any country of how to choose a chief magistrate.”²º Even contemporary adverse critics of the Constitution were impressed. “The mode of ap­pointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents.” Thus Hamilton.

What Hamilton himself, perhaps the most brilliant man in the en­tire membership of the Conven­tion, thought of the plan, he has made plain. “I… hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.” And, further: “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications…. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”

Somehow, in the face of such credentials as these, it would seem prudent not to dismiss any plan as utopian—especially a plan that has never been tried.

What Democratic Genius?

Another objection is voiced by James M. Beck in his The Consti­tution of the United States. The Constitutional plan was “alto­gether alien,” he says, “to the democratic genius of the Ameri­can people.” In the matter “of the chief magistrate… the American people, with their democratic in­stincts, would never have tolerated any plan that was not in substance and in fact a direct election by the people.”²¹

As to the democratic genius of the American people, one may fairly inquire, What American people?—inasmuch as our na­tional character has undergone no little alteration in the century and a half, and more, since the fram­ing of the Constitution, and is still in process of change. If the democratic genius referred to is anything like universally present, as one of our marked traits, it must not be confined to the Eng­lish people but distributed pretty widely among all the races and na­tions of the globe. However, per­haps a more significant comment on Beck’s melancholy view of the electoral system is a memorable remark he makes fifty pages later in his book. “Time may yet vindi­cate the theory of the framers,” he says, “that the limit of democ­racy is the selection of true and tried representatives.”22 Some of us would venture to suggest that the potential vindication has al­ready taken place.

Again, it may be urged that the President must lead his party, and that this function is inconsistent with the Constitutional plan for his election. A book on American government regards this function as important, and as more or less a by-product of the President’s Constitutional position.23 Now it is not clear that it is important, if by this is meant important to the office of President, and it is less clear that it is a by-product of the President’s Constitutional posi­tion. Political parties are unknown to the Constitution and therefore were certainly not considered nec­essary to its operation; and there would seem to be no law in nature requiring that when parties devel­oped one of them should be led by the man chosen for President. The fact that a certain institution or custom has grown up does not necessarily mean that its growth was either inevitable or desirable, nor that a better might not have developed in its place.

Does Congress Need a Leader?

A further possible objection should be anticipated. The con­gressional legislative process, to be efficient, requires a degree of leadership from the President, it may be said, which, as the non­partisan President of all the peo­ple I have envisaged, he could not give. The strength of this argu­ment would rest, I think, on two misconceptions: one that the pau­city of great leaders in Congress needs to exist or continue, and the other that a nonpartisan Presi­dent could not exert an extraordi­nary and effective influence.

James Bryce remarks that our Presidents from Jackson to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 “were intellectual pigmies beside the real leaders of their genera­tion—Clay, Calhoun, and Web­ster.”24 If we do not now find leaders in Congress equal to the three senators named—leaders re­quiring no supplementing from the White House—perhaps a part of the reason is the extent to which the Chief Executive has presumed to make of himself, not merely the Chief Executive, as the Constitution intended, but also Chief Legislator, as the Constitu­tion certainly did not intend. Once the President has withdrawn to the bounds proper to his office, it may well be that Clays, Calhouns, and Websters will again appear, and that we shall no longer read about “the need on Capitol Hill for leadership and direction from some outside source.”25

As to the great potential influ­ence on legislation of a nonparti­san President, acting distinctly within Constitutional limits, there seems no doubt. The Constitution directs that the President “shall from time to time give to the Con­gress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedi­ent.” No hampering limitation is placed on the frequency or extent of his communications of informa­tion, nor on the manner in which his recommendations shall be made. He is at liberty to present his views at any time, at any length, in person or otherwise, and in doing so he may bring into ac­tion all the intellect, learning, zeal, and eloquence at his command. He can suggest, if he wishes, a whole program of legislation. The fact that he stood on a level above party and party interests would of itself give a special persuasiveness to everything he says. His influ­ence on Congress would be much the same type of influence as that exerted by Washington. Would not that suffice? In any case, to go farther, as has been done, is to violate the principle of separation of powers and so to challenge the wisdom of the Founding Fathers at one of its most critical points.26

Such are some of the objections that have been or may be raised against use of the Constitutional plan—one cannot speak of return­ing to it—and some of the replies with which they can be met. If we never adopt that plan, it will not be because rational objections to it cannot be rationally disposed of, but, as it seems to me, because of two obstinate facts.

The Force of Habit

One is that the momentum of long use of another system is against it, together with the ac­cumulation of what amounts to vested interests. Political bosses and machines are accustomed to the present procedure, know ex­actly how to take advantage of the opportunities it offers, and would naturally oppose any other that would deprive them of an impor­tant part of their power. Ardent Presidential aspirants are, of course, familiar with its every as­pect, including prenomination com­petition for delegates, and would find, under the Constitutional plan, that any political influence they could exert in their own behalf would be reduced to a minimum or be nonexistent, and that any demagogic appeals to the people they might be tempted to make would be without effect. There would be nothing left for them to do—and this is as it should be—but to devote themselves energet­ically to their duties, whatever these might be, and perhaps, as leisure permitted and their thought on great national issues matured, to present their political views—Lincoln-like—directly to the public. Their one hope of suc­cess would lie in rendering them­selves pre-eminently meritorious in the eyes of unusually intelli­gent, perspicacious, and impartial judges.27

The Trend Toward Democracy

The other and perhaps still more effective obstacle to adoption of the Constitutional plan is the obvious drift, especially for some half century, toward what is thought of as more and more de­mocracy—that is, toward leaving political decisions to direct vote of the total electorate concerned. The substitution, for the Constitu­tional plan, of choice of the Presi­dent, in its final stage by the people as a whole, was itself an early move in this direction. The initiative, referendum, and recall (insofar as they have been prac­ticed), the direct election of United States Senators, largely abolishing a main function of the upper house of Congress, and the direct primary (employed in nearly all the states, and includ­ing in a part of the states the Presidential primary) are further familiar examples.

Moreover, it is highly signifi­cant that while numerous sugges­tio

  • Dr. Manchester is an educator, formerly of the Department of English, University of Wisconsin.