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POLITICAL LINES OF 1896.
The campaign of 1896 has muck in common with preceding ones, yet is so different in vital respects as to be of an exceptional kind in American political history.
The turmoil incident to a national election, the blight of uncertainty that settles on enterprise, the suspension of industrial and mercantile energies in the midst of excitement, have, too often, contributed to the feeling that such an election was more of a visitation than a welcome event.
Happily for the one now pending, it is eagerly looked to by all parties, and even by all classes of men, as an event which is to dispose of questions that more nearly concern their business efforts, mechanical skill and economic welfare, than their partisan prejudices. Never heretofore have the masses been in so subdued and thoughtful a mood, and never before have the issues in their hands for disposal readied down closer to their homes, pockets, prosperity and happiness. Therefore the campaign is more than ever a period of serious consideration rather than noisy excitement, and the election a welcome opportunity rather than a simple and recurrent political event.
One feature not hitherto uncommon to national campaigns, and which, while fascinating, has been least productive of satisfactory results, is the outside place at pres. ent accorded to the politician pure and simple. This feature has been prominent ever since the beginning of the presidential year. In all those preliminary stages of the campaign, when ground was being broken for the national conventions, and when political leaders expected to find rich soil in which to cultivate their crops of selfish pipelaying and sordid patronage manipulation, they were, as a rule, relegated to the rear, or thwarted in their most cunning designs, by a majestic and irresistible flow of general sentiment. This was so marked in the Republican organization as to place both a unanimous party policy and a prospective candidate far beyond reach of ambitious coteries or scheming juntas; and in the Democratic organization, as to amount to a proclamation, "hands off till the hour of final counsel."
And as the contentions took the glow and gleam of heated campaign, as the stump became radiant with controversy and redolent with eloquence, as the grand surges of political thought swept onward toward the goal of the ballot, more than ever was the politician lost sight of as either an animating or directing energy. He became as a mere piece of drift in a resistless current. There was no toleration of his presence or plans, no time nor opportunity for him to intrigue, flatter or control.
In the two or three preceding presidential campaigns the presence of a cold-blooded, calculating element, capable of dark, designing work which might have the effect of entrapping candidates, modifying vital party measures, securing dangerous selfish concessions, or entirely controlling the problems of defeat and victory, served to cloud and chill the situations, to provoke doubts and asperities, and to degrade all the functions of open, honorable canvass. Good men grew ashamed, earnest men lost heart, candid men became puzzled, convinced men wavered, those who sought conviction at the shrines of leaders came away in a shroud of doubt, or oftener, and what was worse, filled with false notions of duty to self, party and country. Such an element has been eliminated from this campaign by force of its very earliest conditions —a determination on the part of voters to think, speak and act more largely and independently for themselves.
The highest educative political forces, the most teachable object lessons, of many years past, have so wrought uponindividual welfares, have entered so minutely every sphere of activity, have so punctured every mind susceptible to impression, that independency has come to be looked upon as a salvation. What was once holy allegiance to party creed is- now the application of experience—often hard and bitter experience—to the more immediate conditions of existence. The party shibboleth is as nothing compared with the ultimate principle, the overspreading, all pervading law, whose practical application means the mental and moral lifting up, the social and industrial betterment,of those whose destinies are in their own keeping. It is likely that the radical political revolutions of the last few years have done more to call the attention of voters to themselves, to their personal and home needs, to the effect of tried principles upon the nation, its institutions, its industries, its prosperity, than any other events could possibly have done. These revolutions have taught voters their power, yet at the same time that simple impulses should never be mistaken for judgments, and that where the latter strike so deeply as to reach the workshop and the hearthstone, they ought to be the most seriously considered of all judgments. They have still further taught that in the application of great ecouomic laws and broad business principles to human situations, mutation, even when it assumes the brilliant and fascinating hues of revolution, may prove to be means of devastation rather than help. Says that exquisite pundit, James Russell Lowell;—
"Change jea for change is like them big hotels,
But independency on the part of voters is often inseparable from a species of turbulency most distracting to exact campaign methods. However it may gratify personal sentiment or conviction, whatever the effect may be on individual or general welfare, there is, for the time being, party disconcert, amounting to even the fracture of old established lines, to the enunciation of fresh principles, to the establishment of new parties, to the multiplication of candidatures. The time has been when these have gone so far as to entirely befog real situations and to lead to results quite contrary to what was desired by anyone. The present situation may not, in all respects, exactly repeat that above alluded to, but if not, it is because the average voter sought a landing place before he took his leap. He has not allowed broken party allegiance to run wild, but has anchored it quickly and spontaneously on a previously chosen bottom. In changing boats he has not become a waif, to be tossed helplessly on waves of tumultuous sentiment. Hence the very discords that have characterized former analogous situations and often thwarted their aims, are not now either dangerous or undesirable. Even supposing the disconcert to become most distracting, and the tumult most discordant, the life lines of very peculiar circumstances are out in plenitude, and voters can, if they choose, land themselves