Democracy in Government
March 2, 1917 — Carnegie Hall, New York City
Perhaps some of you came here tonight hoping to learn something of the state that would send a woman to Congress; you may have the impression that there is something rather unusual about a state that will select a woman to be its representative in national affairs.
I will put you at ease at once by assuring you that Montana is unusual.
I am very proud of my native state. I remember when I was a small child going into town from the ranch with my mother. When we went into the store, the storekeeper greeted my mother with the news that Montana had been admitted into the Union. I remember being quite impressed with the idea that we then lived in a state. I am still thrilled by the consciousness that I live in Montana, that Montana belongs to me and I to Montana.
However, I hope my pride is not such that will blind me to its many shortcomings. But I trust that it is the kind of pride that will enable me to see its imperfections and spur me on to lend my services toward developing a civilization that is worthy of the great advantage given us in our natural resources, in our vastness, and in our people.
At first one thinks of Montana as a mineral state, perhaps because the first settlers came in with the discovery of gold or it may be because we are surpassed by only one state in the production of silver and by another in the production of copper. We produce lead and zinc and have an abundance of coal. We have precious gems, sapphires and rubies. The development of the mining industries have been so rapid and so startling that we were quite dazzled by it and forgot that the other more modest resources were even more valuable.
Our forests of douglas fir, western yellow pine and western larch are as beautiful as they are valuable. We have a stand of living timber of merchantable size estimated at thirty-three billion board feet.
When Lewis and Clark journeyed up the Missouri river on their way to the coast as the explorers of the Northwest Territory, they encountered insurmountable obstacles in what the Indians call The Great Falls. They were forced to carry their boats twenty miles over land. One of these falls they named the Black Eagle Falls in memory of the Black Eagle they saw hovering over the water. I often wonder what Lewis and Clark would think if they could see the waters of these falls being used to produce thousands of electrical horsepower and could know it was carried over the mountains starting 3,200 feet above sea level going up 5,000 feet higher and then down 2,000 feet traveling 152 miles to the destination where it turns the wheels of machinery and lights the passages of mines thousands of feet underground in one of the biggest mining camps in the world.
Some of the reports of my election in the Eastern papers said that I campaigned on horseback. To us, campaigning on horseback is very commonplace. We are amazed and delighted that we can reach almost every point by train or automobile. I traveled 6,000 miles by train and over 1,500 miles by automobile, but I wonder if any candidate in any other state could ride 500 miles through the mountains on an electrified train. The last Saturday night in the Primary, I spoke at Roundup, then went to bed in a comfortable sleeper and arrived at my home 380 miles distant in time for Sunday dinner.
Not only do we have electrified railroads, but many women have electrified kitchens. It is the unusual small town which does not boast of electricity. While we have the water power developed to the extent of two hundred thousand electrical horsepower, we have made only a beginning. We have water power enough in our state to cook every meal that is eaten, to do the hard work and heat every home if it were developed and used for the people, besides using it for the industrial purpose we generally associate with electricity.
But just as we are beginning to appreciate the possibilities of our water power and electricity we are discovering that we have natural gas in great quantities. Last winter was one of the severest winters we have had for many years and the inhabitants in the progressive town of Havre in the northern part of the state suffered no inconvenience, for they simply lit the gas. No one had to get up in the cold to shovel coal, not even the janitor. The big smelting companies are planning on piping the gas several hundred miles in order to use it in their plants. It is such a new discovery and has been found at such far distant points that one cannot even conjecture as to the possibilities of future development.
But with all these amazing facts, the most wonderful natural resource is the land, just the common land formerly used for grazing. We have thirty million acres. We have as much agricultural land as the state of Iowa or as Illinois. You are familiar with these states as agricultural states. Some day you will have to readjust your attitude toward Montana.
Within the last ten years, the rancher to whom so much dramatic interest has attracted has passed and the farmer is the one who is producing the food that helps to feed the world. Last year Montana produced enough wheat to make eighteen loaves of bread for every man, woman and child in the United States — thirty-three million, eight hundred thousand bushels. Our per-acre value of wheat is equal to that of Minnesota and South Dakota put together. The per-acre value of corn, oats, rye and barley easily leads in the United States and Montana has won the world’s prize for the quality of her flax.
Pat Carney at Sappington furnished the Northern Pacific Railway with the Big Baked Potato idea and also with the big potato. Recent government reports show that Montana farmers grow almost one and a half times as many bushels of potatoes to the acre as the average farmer in the United States.
Our land responds to the work of women as well as men. The record yield on the “dry land bench” in Yellowstone County is held by a young woman homesteader who raised Turkey Red wheat on 17 acres of her 320 acre plot and threshed almost 59 bushels of No. 1 grain to the acre. We win world prizes for our apples, we raise small fruits and vegetables. What I have said of the water power is true of agricultural resources, we have only made a beginning.
Added to all of this seriousness, we have two big national play grounds. The Yellowstone National Park, where we step across the border into Nature’s Vaudeville. And Glacier National Park, a resting place filled with radiant beauty.
In spite of all this, Montana is most interesting because of the people. They come from everywhere, from every state in the Union, from every country in the world. I was in Butte the first few months of the European war. In front of the newspaper bulletin were men from every belligerent nation eager for news and men have left that city for every trench along the firing line. In talking to informal gatherings of women, I have found in commenting on conditions in other states invariably there has been a woman present ready to defend her native state. Very many estimable virtues under such circumstances, so there is little danger of one thinking one part of the world contains all the good and another all the bad.
The West has constantly drawn the forces of discontent. Some misfits came who were discouraged. Some women are there because their families came and they could not be left behind, but most of them ventured out because they had an abundance of life and adventurous spirit and could see the opportunities in a new, undeveloped country. Because they had ideas that could not be worked out in an old and more fixed society and longed for more personal freedom that they might express themselves. They came with their ideas and with a splendid courage to face the hardships and the privations that are incident to pioneer life. It has been this pioneer life that has brought the men and women so close together in working out a better world.
The men still have a very clear picture of the part which women have taken. Some can remember the women crossing the plains, others see them in the mining camps or on the lonely ranches, in the home, and in the business world. They have found the women willing to share the burdens and the men are willing to share the privileges.
One of our splendid women doctors told this story at a suffrage meeting. She said that that day a young man came into her office and said, “I suppose you don’t remember me.” She looked at him and said, “I am afraid I do not.” Then he recalled to her memory a woman who years ago left her cabin early one morning to go to the nearest man and to a doctor. She went up the canyon and through the gulch, over the mountain, down the other side. She forded the river and crossed the plain, on to the town mining camps arriving late. She had traveled 60 miles on horseback alone. That night her son was born. The woman doctor remembered the incident. The young man said, “Well, I am her son, I heard you were working for the vote and so I thought I would come up and tell you I am for you.” Men who have been reared by such mothers couldn’t help but believe in women. And there is no hardship women will not go through to rear such men.
Now 60 miles may not seem very far to us today but it was a long way then. After one of my meetings in the last campaign, a woman came up to me to say that she had ridden 45 miles to the meeting and going back that night. A woman who heard her said, “Well I came 16 miles in a lumber wagon, and 16 miles in a lumber wagon is a lot farther than 45 miles in an automobile and I am going back tonight.”
I could relate many stories of the pioneer women on our dry land farms. Of the educated, refined, young women who came out to develop their land and who incidentally developed character.
We are all so near the beginning of things. We have seen so many changes in rapid succession that suggesting something new fills us with hope and despair. We are eager for variety, changes in living conditions, innovations in methods of production, variation in work, improvements in government. We don’t mind being the first. When I went to Delaware and suggested that it would be an honor to be the first state in that part of the country to give woman suffrage one legislator informed me that they were the first state to sign the Constitution and they refused to be first in anything else. One finds very little of that spirit in the West.
Underlying this naturalness, comradeship, and freedom has been a big economic principle responsible for its existence. The land was free; each one had the opportunity to wrest from nature his economic needs. The chances for success were about equal, for the government was not yet enough of a factor in the real life of the people to create special privileges. As a result there was social equality, more social democracy.
I have told you of some of our advantages. I will try to be fair and tell you also of our problems.
Our public lands are about gone and with their enclosure, the last of the free land of the nation is gone. We have suddenly realized that our other natural resources are concentrated in the hands of a few — our mines, our water power, and our timber. Of the privately owned timber, more than 80 percent is owned by two companies and four relatively small owners. We look in other states and find that the same is true of their resources. And continuing the inquiry, we find that the few that own the resources of our state are the same who own the resources of the other states. In fact, they own the resources of the nation and they are reaching out into other countries.
We have our difficulties with public utilities; those owned by individuals in the state and those owned by foreign corporations. We have given away our franchises, almost forced them on those who asked for them. Montana has always had before her the example of the Federal government, which gave hundreds of thousands of acres of land to the Northern Pacific Railway. These problems exist not because of the perversity of human nature but because many of our laws are made for the protection and special privilege of a few.
We had no labor problems when the workers could pick out a mine for himself when he became dissatisfied with his working conditions. The same was true when the cowboy could go over to the next section or across the range and pick out a ranch for his own. But from the skilled cowboy on the ranch we have passed to the traveling threshing crew on the farm.
With these changes in conditions, we now hear the employer talk of the unreasonableness of labor.” We hear of long discussions in Commercial Clubs and Chambers of Commerce of the industries that are kept out of the state because we cannot use cheap labor. While the wages are high in dollars and cents they are very low in food and shelter. Two years ago, there were literally thousands of men out of work. The life of the laborer is not considered of much value. Injury and violent death are very frequent. We are beginning to have occupational disease. So now we have real labor problems.
We have incipient cases of all your social problems. Perhaps not our full share of dependence, but they are gradually increasing. We have our delinquents, our vagrants — the Lumberjack who gets drunk, is hauled into court, fined the amount of money he has left and is then told to leave town. In the next town, he is arrested for stealing a ride on the train and so on. Our penitentiary is full of offenders against property. Our laws were copied from the older states where it was considered a greater crime to offend against property than to destroy human happiness.
Then we have the defective. When all our problems in government and industry are solved we will still have these unfortunate men and women who are destined to always be children and who should be cared for as such. When we have once provided for these, the solution of all other social problems will be much clearer.
In groping around for some way out of our difficulties, we are conscious of a new spirit in the world. We are beginning to tell that the people, all of the people working together, constitute our only hope. We can remember the free democracy, which we saw demonstrated with our freehold inheritance of land. And perhaps underneath the surface, the great movements of democracy — Political, Industrial, and Social — have been formed by the free land and a sense of freedom which it awakens in all. But the rise of Democracy can no longer be localized. It is calmly unaware of racial and national lines.
Each day we feel the question asked why, with our improved means of production resulting in such splendid material products, have we failed to increase the products of human happiness? Is it necessary to have so much poverty, misery, and crime? With these questions, the demands of the people for a controlling voice in their destiny will be impervious. This means we must have democracy in government, in industry, in social life, if we are to have social growth.
The first steps must be taken through education. “Let the people know.” Then they can care for themselves. It is easy to say, “Let the people know”; but it is not so easily done.
The press is the great educator of the masses. We all appreciate that the wealthy minority can control the press. While there is little to fear from an open and candid advocacy, a subtle and anonymous campaign of suppression and misrepresentation may deceive the most discriminating for a time. However, we learn by our mistakes. The lessons learned from activity in public affairs are deeply impressed. Every step that leads to a more direct participation in the affairs of life helps to widen the channels of education.
The vote is the fundamental device by which we enter directly into political affairs, and its educational value has been its most significant feature. Within the short time that the men of this country have been enfranchised, we have developed the public school system that extends from the kindergarten to the university; and the greatest factor in securing these greater educational facilities has been the extension of suffrage. The ascendant class vaguely realized after giving the illiterate man the vote, they must educate him or he would endanger their institution. With the ballot the new voter was given the power to make effective his demands for education, for himself and his children. And to this must be added the education he receives from exercising his judgment in deciding questions of general welfare for the vast majority of people. Their work is monotonous and self-centered, and the vote is a socializing factor in bringing them into contact with the problems of the outside world. Considering the short time men have had the vote their progress has been remarkable.
In working for women suffrage, I have found it difficult to be patient with men who failed to appreciate how recently they have been enfranchised. Not only the foreign-born citizens, many of whom never had a vote until a few years after their arrival here, but the mass of native-born Americans can boast of the franchise only within a few generations. Undoubtedly I would have more patience now since I find how very easy it is to accept the new position of voter. I was made conscious of this when an old fashioned Republican in speaking of my campaign to one of my friends said, “and to think she has never even voted the Republican ticket.” When I did vote the Republican ticket, I was accused of voting for myself, but in political life one is accused of so many things it is hardly worthwhile to deny them.
The women of New York are still trying to convince their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons that they have intelligence to vote. It is hard to talk about such a self-evident truth with the advance of democracy pressing on all sides. Still there is nothing else for the women to talk about, to think about, or to work for except their own enfranchisement. For until they have the opportunity, the power, and the self-respect that go with the ballot, they have nothing.
The women of Canada have the privilege of saying whether or not they were willing to give their men for war. That is, they had this privilege during times of peace, but when war was declared, it was taken away. However, since then the men of Western Canada have given their women full enfranchisement and this will not be taken away.
The women should have the vote for exactly the same reasons that men should directly participate in government. And then they should have it because they are women and have a different viewpoint to express. They should have it because they are closely related to a special interest in society — the children. Thus children should be represented not only at the polls by both men and women, but in legislative halls and in our national government and international conferences. For unless the children of this generation are protected, the next generation will be unable to cope with the increasingly difficult problems of our complex civilization.
When we asked for a direct part in the government that controls in many instances the very lives of the children we are not complaining of what the men have done in the past but we are asking to be permitted to do our work. It is not fair to ask the men to do their work and women’s work too and it is certainly women’s work to care for the children. We talk a great deal about motherhood but are we sincere? Do we demand all that we should of motherhood? Do we provide the various means through which the fulfillment of the demands are made possible? In other words, have we the right and proper respect for motherhood?
It seems to me that one of the most wonderful expressions of our civilization is fatherhood. When we realize that it is only within history that we have recognized paternity and today we see fathers toiling, slaving, and sacrificing, that the opportunities of their children should expect to have evolved a still greater motherhood, but without freedom there can be little development. Motherhood today is an expression of the freedom of yesterday. If we would have ideal mothers, we must open the channels of expression. Parenthood is the expression of the highest social function. We must secure to the child an acknowledged parenthood.
One step may be taken in developing a higher standard of motherhood by creating a broader and more universal interest in children through the ballot. Women will form opinions when they have been officially asked to express them. The vote is merely an expression of opinion and each year the elections are required to decide the question in selecting officials and in supporting or rejecting issues which have to do with the children. Women are going to be interested in officials when they know these officials are answerable to them. They will soon see that every bill that passes in the City Council, in the State Legislature, or in the National Congress has to do directly or indirectly with the child’s wellbeing. They will demand greater help for the children when they fully appreciate that the government is an instrument in their hands which may be adjusted to their needs.
Woman Suffrage is coming all over the world. Nothing can stop its progress, not even the Democratic Party. A Congressman in the sixty-third Congress expressed very neatly what appears to be the sentiments of the Democrats. When I went into his office he was very much amused that I wished to talk about woman suffrage, but he warned at first that he was opposed — In the city, in the state, and in the nation. I inquired if he were a Democrat; he assured me he was. I said, “Then you believe that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” He said, “I most certainly do.” I asked, “How about the women? You haven’t asked their consent.” He said, “The government doesn’t govern the women.” I was very much surprised and said, “Who does?” He answered, “The government governs the men and the men govern the women.”
If this is the attitude of the Democrats, the Republicans seem to have adopted their platform excepting perhaps the fact that equal suffrage will be established in our national Congress when a woman suffrage movement can be measured not only by the rapidly increasing number of women actually voting the world over, by the tremendous number of women demanding enfranchisement, and by the equally large number of men who are demanding that the justice of our cause be recognized.
I want to repeat that there is nothing for the women to think about, to talk about, or to work for until they have gained their enfranchisement. For until they have the opportunity, the power, and the self-respect that go with the ballot, they have nothing.
No state has the right to claim for itself Democratic government where a large half of the people, the women, do not vote.
Just having a vote is not all that is required if we are to have a voice in government. We must have the political machinery by which the votes may be cast. One of the simplest and most obvious practical laws that we have in Montana is the absent voters law by which a voter may cast his ballot regardless of where he is on election day. While Montana is a large state this does not prevent us from traveling around. The last two weeks before election I met men and women in every town who had already cast their ballots in other places. A few weeks after election, I received a paper from a small town in Florida which told of a parade to celebrate the Democratic victory. A young woman on a white horse led the parade, she carried a banner which read, “I voted for Wilson, for Jeannette Rankin for Congress, and to put Montana dry.” Her home is in Montana. She was spending the winter in Florida but this did not interfere with her using an absent voter ballot. For the first time, every railroad worker and every other worker who was forced to be away on election day had the same privilege as those at home.
We have a corrupt practices act that has been of great assistance to the people on election day. It prevents the soliciting of votes in any manner; even the conveying of voters to the polls is prohibited and any activity on election day jeopardizes the election of the candidate for whom it is carried on.
The corrupt practices act is aiding in the education of the people by requiring that all printed matter contain the names of all persons or organizations who paid for and circulated the information; also the names of the printers and they are all liable for false statements. Under the provisions of this act all advertising in newspapers must be so labeled. However, only a beginning has been made towards a corrupt practices act. One that will protect the voter and be fair to the honest candidate while it checks the dishonest candidate. One that will prevent a campaign of misrepresentations and aid an honest campaign of education. Each year our sense of political morality is higher. That which was countenanced this year will be punished next. An educated public opinion is the best kind of a corrupt practices act.
If the vote is to be really effective, the political machinery must be such that each voter will have a choice in the selection of the officers. The more direct that selection is the nearer we will come to hearing the voice of the people.
Montana had a direct preferential vote for United States Senators before the federal Constitution was amended to provide for their direct election. The People of Montana are perfectly confident that they are capable of choosing their Senators. We know we would have a much greater influence in presidential elections if we had a direct vote for president.
In the last election, for instance, we cast one hundred and seventy-seven thousand votes and had only four electoral votes, while Vermont with only sixty-three thousand voters also had four electoral votes. So one vote cast in Vermont had over twice the value of a vote in Montana. This is even more conspicuous in the southern states. Louisiana has just the number of voters and has just two and one-half times the number of electoral votes, so a vote in Louisiana has five times the value of a vote in Montana. This cannot be accounted for simply on the ground of the enfranchised woman, for South Carolina with the same number of voters as Vermont has nine electoral votes instead of four, and Delaware with three in the electoral college cast fifty thousand votes, while Nevada, a suffrage state with the same number of electoral votes, cast only thirty thousand at the general election? Direct election of presidents would increase the possibility of each vote having the same value. True democracy demands that each man has a vote and one man, one vote.
Montana has a direct primary law, which marks a forward step in direct democracy in government. I cannot say that the sentiment in favor of the direct primary is unanimous, but can say that those who oppose it are generally followers of self-appointed political bosses or are the henchmen of some special privilege.
By direct primary, I do not mean direct primaries for nominating conventions, but direct nominating primaries.
Our law provides that anyone may file with the Secretary of State or County Clerk his declaration of intention to run for any office on any party ticket. With this declaration the candidate may file a copy of the platform on which he wishes to be elected and a ten-word statement to be placed on the ballots. Then the candidate must circulate or have circulated petitions in a certain percentage of the counties and obtain the signatures equal to a certain percentage of the votes cast in the last election. The percentages vary with the office. The petitions must be filed before a certain date. A campaign book is published by the state and mailed to every registered voter. Candidates may buy space in this book in which to set forth their qualifications and platforms. Then the candidate must conduct his own campaign for the votes, for the party organization cannot properly take part in the nominating primary. This individual campaign is objected to by those who formerly manipulated the politics of the State. They say that it is expensive. That insufficient interest is taken by the voters, that the best men do not come out for office.
While the primary system is expensive for the candidate who fails, all the work done in the primary by the successful candidate counts in the final election. This expense may tend to discourage candidates who are unqualified. The expense to the state of holding practically two elections is greater from a monetary standpoint than the old nominating conventions. However, there are several ways of viewing expense. It seems to me that any expense incurred, no matter how slight, which does not increase the facilities for obtaining a true expression of public opinion is too costly for any government to indulge in. On the other side, any device which will cause the individual to feel a greater responsibility to the government will bring clear profit in general welfare.
The number of persons who take some interest in the selection of candidates by the direct nominating primary is many thousand times greater than it was with the old nominating convention. Each year the number interested is bound to increase, for the direct primary has this great advantage that it puts the burden of arousing the interest of the electorate on the candidate. Since there is no way to limit the number of candidates, the competitions for votes will always be keen. The electorate will learn by its mistakes and it will gradually learn to judge the candidates more and more accurately.
We have never felt that the best material in our state hesitated to come out for office on account of the primary law. There are some men in every state who might win an election if they had the undivided support of a party organization, and if the people felt that they had no choice, the candidate on each party being equally undesirable. These men could not win by an individual campaign. Yet these are the same men who talk a great deal about the best material not rushing into the scramble for votes. Temporary organizations will spring into existence to give their support to the best material whenever it fails to come out voluntarily.
Our primary law provides that the names of the candidates should be placed alphabetically on the ballot. There was great fear expressed that the electors would vote for the first two names, there being two Congressmen at large. My name came last.
I feel that I should apologize to the electorate of Montana every time I think of how I feared they would vote for the first two names on the ballot and forget mine. The vote for Congressman shows how discriminating our electors can be. The first two names each received about six thousand votes, the third received the lowest number, the fourth received fifteen thousand votes, and the fifth name thirteen thousand votes, the next two were low and the eighth received twenty-two thousand votes. The fourth and the last names were chosen with the fifth a close third, showing that the position on the ballot is of small importance. Some states rotate the names in printing so that each name will appear an equal number of times at the top, but this seems unnecessary where the electorate can read.
One feature of our primary law that is an improvement over the laws in some states is that it does not require the voter to tell his party affiliation. Each voter is given the ballot of all the parties. At our last primary election, there were three tickets in the field. In the booth, in perfect secrecy, each voter selected the party ticket he wished to vote; then he was obliged to cast one ballot in the ballot box and two in the waste box.
The possibility of there being a concerted effort on the part of one party to select a weak candidate in the opposite party is negligible for there would seldom be a time when there would be no contest either on the state or county ticket. For instance, there was little contest in the Democratic party for the state ticket this year, yet nearly everywhere on the county tickets the contest was keen, so that personal friendships which are stronger for county than for state candidates, kept them within their own party. In Butte, Silver Bow County, there were 135 Democrats running for 15 county offices.
Another great advantage in the primary law is the possibility of new ideas being placed in the party platform, ideas that are virtually selected by the people.
If I may, I will illustrate again by our last primary. While Montana has been justly labeled “The wettest state in the Union,” the sentiment for prohibition grew very rapidly in the last few years. Yet there were only two candidates in all the parties who came out squarely for prohibition — Mr. Ford, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, and myself. Mr. Ford’s opponent was a man equally able and a good campaigner. He went to the women and said he was a teetotaler, but refused to stand for prohibition. Mr. Ford came out in his first statement, filed with the Secretary of State, for prohibition and a strict enforcement of the prohibition law. He won by an overwhelming majority. I came out unequivocally for state and national prohibition and talked for it from the platform. I received twenty-two thousand votes and the next candidate for Congress had fifteen thousand. Under the primary laws, the candidates write the party platform so when we met for this purpose the Republicans were unanimously in favor of a prohibition plank. This forced the Democrats to put a prohibition plank in their platform the next week. Those who are familiar with Montana’s past political history will realize that this was rather a new departure. It was the unmistakable approval of the people that made them adopt such a plank. It took the primary to demonstrate that the people wanted to elect to office candidates who were of a progressive turn of mind and who were willing to make their movements a success.
Since there is no limit to the candidates for a nomination, there will always be competition for votes; this will make the candidates eager to select issues advocated by the men and women, and they will want to do it first. This will have a tendency to keep the platform more nearly the reflection of the ideas of the people, contemporary people.
After the people have accepted the responsibility of the government to the extent of voting for the candidates of their choice, obviously the next step would be to adopt some device, by which they might maintain control over their officers, whether they be legislative, executive or judicial.
The recall is the instrument which the people of Oregon have effectively used to secure this control. Oregon adopted the recall in 1911. Within the next four years, eight other western states profited by Oregon’s example. While Montana has been unable so far to secure such a law, we feel the need of it very much.
The recall provides a system by which the constituents can remove the officer they have elected when he has proved himself incompetent or unfaithful. It is based on the idea that an officer is a mere agent and can be dismissed at any time. The practice of the recall is nothing more than the application of good business principles to governmental affairs. Every wise employer reserves the right to discharge an employee whenever the service rendered is unsatisfactory. A government by the people should reserve the same power. A public officer can resign his position at any time so his employer should have the right to discharge him. In the case of a public official, the people are the employers and the recall is simply a vote to remove a man from office.
The machinery of the recall is very simple. Whenever the constituents of a public officer are dissatisfied with his actions, they can by signing and filing a petition for his recall suspend him from office. A new election is held and at this election the old officer is a candidate unless he resigns and others are nominated in the regular way.
The recall has been in effect in the West long enough to prove its value to a popular government. None of the disasters predicted by its opponents are substantiated. It is a precautionary measure the very existence of which prevents the necessity of its use. In only very few instances has it been used. The people never recall one who serves the general welfare. It protects the officer from responsibility to a boss or special privilege, in that it puts him in the power of the people. In other words, it prevents the officer from discriminating in favor of the individual class against the general welfare.
It prevents a small group of constituents from harboring discontent and harassing an officer when he is carrying out the wishes of the majority. I knew of an incidence where a mayor of the town was opposed by a group of influential people. They tried to stir up dissension in order to destroy his work. The friends of the mayor refused to be disturbed. They said, “You have the recall; if you don’t like the mayor recall him.” The influential few did not dare go to the whole people with their case for they knew it was against the general welfare.
Popular government requires the recall as an extension of the franchise.
In our battle for popular government, the initiative and referendum have proved indispensable weapons. The recall has had a very chastening effect on all officers, whether legislative, executive, or judiciary. Yet the legislation promoted or obstructed by a legislator is not in any way affected by the recall of the legislator himself, but it may be very materially affected through the initiative and referendum. Thus has the initiative and referendum filled a long-felt want by establishing a direct method of enacting legislation. It has infused new life in the worn-out right of petition, and provided a system whereby bills may be proposed under the initiative or disapproved under the referendum.
In other words, the initiative is a device whereby any person or group of persons may draft a proposal for a law, and when they have secured the signatures of a certain number of voters, they may have it submitted to the voters at large for their approval or disapproval. In the same way, laws passed by the legislatures may be carried back to the voters for their approval before going into effect. The referendum gives the people the veto power over bad laws.
The beneficial effects of such direct legislation cannot be measured by the mere enactment or removal of laws from the statute books. For quite aside from the great legislative value of this directness, it is impossible to estimate the educational value it has in arousing the people to a realization of their sovereignty.
Through this means of direct legislation, questions of public welfare are brought to the people, and the responsibility of evolving a solution is placed directly on them. This tends naturally to create among the mass of people a realization of the opportunity for self-expression through government. It promotes a community spirit and a common interest by distributing equally the responsibility for community government; and thus an unlimited field for individual and community development is opened up.
One interesting effect of the initiative and referendum has been that of making legislatures more sensitive to the demands of the people. When it is known that laws passed by the legislature can be annulled by the people in a referendum, or that certain desirable legislation can be initiated if the legislature refuses to pass it, the people watch the legislators more carefully and with much keener interest than they would if they felt there was no recourse from the decrees of the legislators. Our lawmakers are held accountable to the people. They study their desires, and strive to anticipate the demands of the people so that their actions will not be discredited later through the employment of initiative and referendum.
The simple machinery by which the initiative is handled step by step illustrates some of the far-reaching advantages of popular government. The initiated bill is generally drawn by a volunteer committee of voters who are especially interested in its promotion. This self-appointed committee — usually larger than the committee which would consider the bill in the legislature — approaches the work with a singleness of purpose, which assures a thorough consideration of all points involved, and results in a well-drawn bill. For since an initiated bill fortunately cannot be mutilated by amendments, the framers always work with a consciousness of the fact that if the bill is to receive the approval of the voters, it must be designed to promote the general well-being. For the individual voter may be relied upon not to vote for a change in government unless he is satisfied that that change will benefit him individually or will bring improved conditions generally to the community.
The first step after the bill is framed is to secure the signatures of a certain number of voters, to show that there is in truth a demand for the submission of such a proposal as is contained in the bill. This implies a fair amount of publicity, for as the bill passes among the voters for signatures, it is carefully considered and discussed. In many of the western states, the general discussion is aided by a pamphlet published by the state and sent to every registered voter not less than fifty-five days before election day. This pamphlet contains the text of the proposed law and the title as it will appear on the ballots, together with arguments setting forth the merits and defects of the proposal as viewed by the proponents and opponents of the bill. Thus each voter has an opportunity to study the proposition carefully; and this general scrutiny not only precludes the possibility of having a “joker” slipped into the bill, but it insures a fairly intelligent vote.
Through these avenues of popular education, an active thinking minority is enabled to enlighten the masses, and an opportunity is opened for the development of intellectual leaders — men and women who are earnestly concerned with public welfare rather than with political preferment, and who are willing to devote their energies to the common good.
That every individual leader has a chance to promote such legislation as he believes to be best for the community, and that the people will respond to a call for action when it is issued by a real leader, is illustrated by the case of our corrupt practices act in Montana. The bill proposing a law to establish direct primaries in Montana was being framed by a committee of voters, one member of which was in favor of accompanying the direct primaries bill with a corrupt practices bill. The other members of the committee were inclined to feel that they hadn’t the time to give it consideration. The young man was given charge of the printing and circulating of the petitions. He decided he would initiate a corrupt practices act himself, and so on his own responsibility and at his own expense, he framed and printed a corrupt practices act and circulated it along with the proposed primary bill. It is now a part of the Montana statutes and has saved more than one election for the people, and is now considered indispensable. It would be difficult to imagine practical politicians, in a legislature unguarded by the initiative and referendum, advocating a really effective act.
Thus, by putting political machinery in the hands of everyone who is interested enough in the government to take the lead in promoting public welfare, the initiative and referendum has not only stimulated a more active interest in the voter with regard to his government, but it has brought about a closer, more direct relationship between the voter and the government. Better laws have resulted; civic spirit has been stimulated. And in the hearts of the people there is steadily growing a recognition of their sovereignty and an impulse to work out their ideals.
It is the ambition of Montana, and to a greater or less degree the ambition of every state, to work out a system of government by which the sovereign power is vested in the people as a whole, and is exercised directly by them or by representatives chosen by them.
I have tried to point out some steps that tend to give the people more direct power in selecting and controlling legislative bodies, even to the extent of enabling the people to perform directly the service which has been delegated to the legislator. However, the great bulk of legislative work must be done by legislative bodies, and we have found that even with the initiative and referendum as a safeguard, our legislatures are still not truly representative of the people’s ideas. We are forced, then, to the conclusion that the trouble no longer lies in any limitation of the people’s power (for that limitation has been largely removed), but it lies rather in the limitations of the people’s method of selecting persons to represent them in their legislative halls.
John Stuart Mill said: “The true idea of democracy, according to its definition, is the government of the whole people by the whole people represented.” When we examine our legislative bodies, we find in many instances examples of government of the whole people by a mere majority of the people, exclusively represented. This means a government of privilege in favor of the numerical majority to the complete disfranchisement of the minority.
Take, for instance, the Oregon legislature. The lower house consists of 60 representatives. In the election of June, 1906, the Republicans cast approximately 54,000 votes; the Democrats 30,000; the Socialists 7,000; and the Prohibitionists 5,000. If the ideas of the people had been actually represented in the legislature as a result of that vote, each party would have sent representatives to the legislature, and the members of the house would have numbered 34 Republicans, 19 Democrats, 4 Socialists, and 3 Prohibitionists. Yet under the present system of selecting representatives, the Republicans sent 59 members to the house, the Democrats sent one representative, and the Socialists and the Prohibitionists sent none.
Mr. Garfield, while still a member of Congress in 1870, took occasion to speak of the injustice of lack of proportion in representation that has always been conspicuous in our government. “In my judgment,” he said, “it is the weak point in the theory of representative government, as now organized and administered, that a large portion of the voting people are permanently disfranchised. . .
Take my own district as an example; I have never been elected by less than 9,000 majority. Sometimes the majority has exceeded 12,000. There are about 10,000 Democratic voters in my district, and they have been voting there for the last forty years without any more hope of having a representative on the floor of Congress than of having one in the Commons of Great Britain.”
This discrepancy in representation has been aggravated by the practice of manipulating the boundary lines of electoral districts, so that every district in the state may include a majority of Republican votes or Democratic votes, as the case may be. The result is that the state is represented nationally in Congress by men from each district representing the same political party or the same interests, while the substantial minority in each district is left entirely without representation. This, however, would be the case even where electoral districts are not dishonestly created; for our present subjection to majority rule, regardless of the ideas of the minority, is bound to lead always to the same difficulty.
In order to avoid this unfairness in representation, a system of proportional representation has been devised which provides that each party shall be represented in the ratio of its proportion to the entire electorate. Under this method, in a state which casts say 50,000 votes for five representatives, one-fifth of that number of votes, or 10,000, would be sufficient to elect one representative. Thus every candidate who obtains 10,000 votes is sure of election, and every party is entitled to one representative for each 10,000 votes. In this way, a party having three-fifths of all the votes would be entitled to three representatives, instead of to all five, as under the present system.
This plan, with more or less simple modification, has been in use for some years in Japan, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Tasmania, and Finland. The success of the plan in these countries has been the cause of campaigns for the adoption of a similar method in Sweden, France, England, Australia, and the United States. The city of Ashtabula, Ohio, is working out an adaptation of this idea in municipal affairs, and is meeting with remarkable success. It is being found logical and simple, and readily commands itself as an indispensable instrument of a truly representative government. The fundamental changes in social growth are unobtrusive. The increase of wealth and intelligence, the rise of corporations, the organization of labor, the spread of democracy, and the unfolding of new ideals and ambitions are all fundamental processes essential to progress. The machinery and devices whereby the people work out their ideals must constantly change if they are to be made adaptable to social growth.
I have discussed some of the changes designed to aid the people in adjusting the government to their ideals of a new democracy. But democracy in government is not enough. We must have democracy in industry as well.
Mr. Henry Lloyd says, “It is by the people who do the work, that the hours of labor, the conditions of employment, and division of the produce is to be determined. It is by them that the captains of industry are to be chosen, and chosen to be servants, not masters. . .
Industry, like government, exists only by the co-operation of all, and like government, it must guarantee equal protection to all . . .
The Declaration of Independence yesterday meant self-government; today it means self-employment, which is but another kind of government.
This, however, is a subject we cannot go into tonight. I mention it simply as a suggestion of what is necessary that we may have democracy in social life. The more nearly we reach equality in social life the more rapidly will we approach the time when we will evolve a race provided with the instrumentalities for enjoying life and with the capacity for happiness.
Source: “Jeannette Rankin, ‘Democracy and Government,’ Carnegie Hall, New York, 2 March 1917,” edited by Tiffany Lewis, Advances in the History of Rhetoric, 20:1, pp. 57-74.
Also: Tiffany Lewis, “Democracy and Government: A Critical Edition of Jeannette Rankin’s 1917 Address at Carnegie Hall,” Advances in the History of Rhetoric, 20:1, pp. 47-56.