History of the United States eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 731 pages of information about History of the United States.

THE NEW DEMOCRACY ENTERS THE ARENA

The spirit of the new order soon had a pronounced effect on the machinery of government and the practice of politics.  The enfranchised electors were not long in demanding for themselves a larger share in administration.

=The Spoils System and Rotation in Office.=—­First of all they wanted office for themselves, regardless of their fitness.  They therefore extended the system of rewarding party workers with government positions—­a system early established in several states, notably New York and Pennsylvania.  Closely connected with it was the practice of fixing short terms for officers and making frequent changes in personnel.  “Long continuance in office,” explained a champion of this idea in Pennsylvania in 1837, “unfits a man for the discharge of its duties, by rendering him arbitrary and aristocratic, and tends to beget, first life office, and then hereditary office, which leads to the destruction of free government.”  The solution offered was the historic doctrine of “rotation in office.”  At the same time the principle of popular election was extended to an increasing number of officials who had once been appointed either by the governor or the legislature.  Even geologists, veterinarians, surveyors, and other technical officers were declared elective on the theory that their appointment “smacked of monarchy.”

=Popular Election of Presidential Electors.=—­In a short time the spirit of democracy, while playing havoc with the old order in state government, made its way upward into the federal system.  The framers of the Constitution, bewildered by many proposals and unable to agree on any single plan, had committed the choice of presidential electors to the discretion of the state legislatures.  The legislatures, in turn, greedy of power, early adopted the practice of choosing the electors themselves; but they did not enjoy it long undisturbed.  Democracy, thundering at their doors, demanded that they surrender the privilege to the people.  Reluctantly they yielded, sometimes granting popular election and then withdrawing it.  The drift was inevitable, and the climax came with the advent of Jacksonian democracy.  In 1824, Vermont, New York, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana, though some had experimented with popular election, still left the choice of electors with the legislature.  Eight years later South Carolina alone held to the old practice.  Popular election had become the final word.  The fanciful idea of an electoral college of “good and wise men,” selected without passion or partisanship by state legislatures acting as deliberative bodies, was exploded for all time; the election of the nation’s chief magistrate was committed to the tempestuous methods of democracy.

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History of the United States from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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