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A PAPER ON ELECTIONS, ELECTION STATISTICS AND
GENERAL VOTES OF YES OR NO.
CONSCIENTIOUS and well informed men may possibly differ in opinion as to the question whether Cromwell was at any time the freely accepted ruler of the English people; whether he was gladly supported by the people at large and readily acquiesced in by a small minority; whether he imposed himself upon the country by the army and allayed opposition by the wisdom of his statesmanship; or whether he chiefly ruled by armed fanaticism. But it may be asserted without hesitation, that there is neither Englishman nor American, substantially acquainted with elections, whose judgment on this subject could be influenced in any degree, one way or the other, were he informed that Cromwell had received an overwhelming majority of votes all over England confirming him in his absolutism, after he had passed his famous act of 1656, by which he divided the British territory into twelve districts, each presided over by a major-general with absolute power over the inhabitants, all existing laws to the contrary notwithstanding. There is not an American or Englishman, I think, who believes that such a confirmatory vote could have added to his right, or that, had such an event taken place, it could bave kept Richard Cromwell on the protectorial throne, or retarded the return of Charles the Second, a single day. And
the larger the majority for Cromwell should have been, the more we would now consider it as a proof of the activity exerted by the major-generals indeed, both in pressing and compressing, but no one of us would connect it in any way with a presumed popularity of Cromwell, or consider it as an index of the opinion which the people at large entertained of his repeated making and unmaking of parliaments.
A real or pretended result of such ex post facto votes may have a certain proclamatory value; it may be convenient to point to it and decline all farther discussion ; “The People's Elect” may be a welcome formula for ribboned orators, expectant poets, or adaptive editors; but there is no intrinsic value in it. Votes of this sort have no meaning for the historian, at least so far as the subject voted on is concerned, and they have a melancholy meaning for the contemporary patriot. There seems to be a Nemesis eagerly watching these votes, and each time to prove, by events succeeding shortly after, how hollow they were at the time.
An election, which takes place to pass judgment on a series of acts of a person, or to decide on the adoption or rejection of a fundamental law, can have no value whatever, if the following conditions are not fulfilled :
1. The question must have been fairly before the people for a period sufficiently long to discuss the matter thoroughly, and under circumstances to allow a free discussion. Neither the police restrictions of government, nor the riotous procedures of mobs, nor the tyranny of associations ought to prevent the formation of a well-sifted and duly modified average public opinion. The liberty of the press, therefore, is a conditio sine qua non. If this be not the case, a mere
1 There is no other term in our language, although it is obvious that these processes cannot be properly called elections. Votings would be more correct.
general opinion of the moment, a panic on the one hand, or a maddened gratitude, for real or imaginary benefits, of a multitude excited for the day or the period, may hastily and unrighteously settle the fate of generations to come, and passion, fear or vainglory may decide that which ought to be settled by the largest and freest exchange of opinions and the broadest reciprocal modification of interests. It requires time for a great subject to present itself in all the aspects in which it ought to be viewed and examined, and it requires time for a great public opinion to form itselfthe more time, the vaster the subject is. All the laws regulating the formation of opinion in the individual apply with greater force to the formation of public opinion.
It is especially necessary that the army be in abeyance, as it were, with reference to all subjects and movements appertaining to the question at issue. The English law requires the removal of the garrison from every place where a common election for parliament is going on. Much more necessary is the total neutrality of the army in an election of the sort of which we now treat.
2. The election must be carried on by well organized election institutions, extending over small districts, because in that case alone can a really general voting be secured.
3. All elections must be superintended by election judges and officers independent of the executive or any other organized or unorganized power of government. The indecency as well as the absurdity and immorality of government recommending what is to be voted ought never to be permitted.
4. The election returns ought to be made so that they are not subject to any falsification. They must not be fingered by the government officers. This is especially important if the country labors under a stringent centralism in which
every civil officer avowedly acknowledges, and is, according to command, bound to acknowledge, no principle or law above the direct command of his immediate superior; in which the host of executive, administrative, police and semi-military officers form a compact body receiving its impulse of action exclusively from one centre; in which publicity is no pervading element of acts relating to the public interest; and in which no habits have yet been formed nor customs settled concerning the whole comprehensive election business.
5. He, or that power, which passes under judgment, ought to be in a position that, should the judgment turn against him, he can be believed to abide by the judgment. If not, the whole is nothing but a farce.
6. There must be really two things to choose between. If this is not the case, the whole procedure amounts to no more than what we familiarly call “Hobson's choice," on a gigantic scale.
If there be any reader who should object to this rule that, since we speak of elections, it is cvident that there must be two things at least to select from, and that therefore this rule borders on the ridiculous, I would only say that history shows people have not always adopted it. There may be something ridiculous somewhere, but it is not in the rule. It would be ridiculous to lay down the rule that, if people invite others to dinner, there ought to be something to eat, only so long as invitations to empty tables are assumed not actually to have taken place.
7. The power claiming the apparent judgment ought not to have committed a criminal act, and then, as the law expresses it, insist on deriving benefit from his own wrong. Nor ought he, who pretends to present himself for judgment, stand in the position of a trustee, disputing the validity of the power by which nevertheless he has acted, and under