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THE CHOICE OF PRESIDENTIAL
WHETHER presidential electors for the congressional districts ought to be chosen by such districts or State ticket, is a question that is more and more engaging public attention. Discussions of that sort are often premonitory of approaching changes in methods of government. Men of our race are principally guided in such subjects by the light of experience. They are not much concerned with theoretical speculations as to the future success of institutions, but rarely fail to profit by the lessons of the past. It is only when mischiefs have gradually made themselves apparent through a considerable period of time that the general intelligence begins to turn of its own accord towards a consideration of the remedy. The debate that ensues, and the comparison of views, not at first concurrent nor altogether mature, bring about at last such an agreement of the majority as produces a permanent, perhaps a constitutional change in the existing system.
It is to be remarked in the first place that the method of choosing presidential electors which now prevails (except in Michigan where it has been recently abolished), while constitutional in the sense that the Constitution does not prohibit it, is entirely at variance with the original design of that instrument. Its framers intended, and supposed they had provided, that the President should be selected as well as voted for by the electors. The function of the people was to elect the electors, not the President. The office of elector upon that theory was a very important one. Its members chose a President as the legislatures choose Senators, in the exercise of an independent judgment, limited only by the few conditions of eligibility imposed by the Constitution. It was not contemplated that the electors should be merely the registers to set down, and the messengers to carry votes for a candidate to whom they were pledged be forehand, and from whom they were under no circumstances at liberty to withdraw. During the first three presidential elections, the constitutional method was pursued. But custom for a long period has de prived the electors of the power originally conferred upon them, and has ordained that they shall be only the instructed instruments of their party to record a vote in favor of the person nominated before the election, by a political convention. No elector would now venture to use, nor indeed, as a man of honor, would he be at liberty to use, any discretion in the matter. Indeed it may be questioned whether if the candidate so nominated should happen to die after the election and before the meeting of the electors, those bodies would feel themselves authorized to exercise their constitutional power of voting for another man, until a new convention of their party should have presented him as the candidate. The consequence is that the right of the American citizen in a presidential election is practically limited to a choice between two persons previously selected by party conventions. Theoretically, he may vote for any electors whose names he chooses to inscribe on his ballot. But any ballot, except for one of the two party nominations, is only an elaborate and inconvenient contrivance for throwing his vote away. The President is really appointed, in the alternative, by the party conventions; all the voter has to do with the matter is to vote for one or the other of these nominees, or to abstain from voting at all. It is true that, if the dissatisfaction with party nominations should be so extensive as to lead to a third, which should have strength enough to command the electoral vote of some State or States, the election might be thrown into the House of Representatives. But as that body is now constituted, the choice of the House, restricted by the Constitution to the three candidates who had received the highest electoral vote, would almost certainly devolve upon the regular nomination on the side to which the majority of the House belonged. It is too late to consider, and useless to discuss the wisdom, policy, or consistency with the true theory of republican government, of the departure from the constitutional method which has thus become established in practice; for it is not easy to see how it is now to be avoided. Nothing short of an amendment of the Constitution would be effectual, and no such amendment has yet been proposed, or, as far as can be discerned, is like to be.
But it still remains to be considered how the sense of the people can be most fairly ascertained, in the exercise of the very limited right of choice that is left to them. For the last half century, and until Michigan introduced a change by recent legislative enactment, the electors, not only at large but for the Congressional districts, were chosen by general ticket in all the States. Consequently, though some or many such districts may give large majorities one way, if the aggregate majority in the State, however small, is the other way, that determines the choice of all its electors. And not only may the election be thus decided, but the large States, and often a single large State, obtain an almost absolute right of dictation in the nominating conventions of the respective parties. It not only decides which of the two nominees shall be elected, but determines beforehand who they shall be. It is regarded in practical politics, which constitutes nowadays the science of government, as fatal to the nomination of the most desirable and widely desired candidate, if it can be shown that the opposition, for whatever reason, of some relatively small faction in one of the large States, makes it doubtful whether he will obtain an aggregate majority there. The people of the other States, and indeed the majority of the people of that State, are therefore not only restricted in the election to the choice between the two party candidates, but they must submit to the dictation of perhaps a small minority in the selection of the candidates themselves. And it is considered as a grave objection to the nomination of any man that he lives in a small State. It is this condition of politics which has gradually drawn attention to the inquiry whether a change of the prevailing method of elections by general ticket, so far as the district electors are concerned, is not desirable. In the consideration of this subject, it will be admitted to be of the first and last consequence that it should not be regarded from a party standpoint. The question presented is not strictly a constitutional one, since either method is consistent with the letter of that instrument. It is nevertheless a question of that nature, because it involves the expediency of an important and probably permanent change in the manner of the exercise by the people of a great constitutional function and right. Such topics are not within the proper domain of party politics. The Constitution, its methods, and its machinery form the common basis upon which all political action should rest. They cannot be wisely or safely dealt with upon partisan motives, nor for partisan purposes. A change that should be brought about by one party for its own benefit would be likely to be abrogated by the other, when in its turn, which is certain to come, it succeeds to power. Higher and more statesmanlike views-something of the patriotic spirit that inspired the authors of our Constitution, and brought all parties into harmony in its adoption-a fair and thoughtful consideration, looking not to personal or party advantage, but solely to the requirements of the general welfare, will be necessary to the just determination of questions of this character. Nor, indeed, if it were attempted to deal with this subject aside from its merits, and only in aid of the necessities of one or the other of the political parties, would it be possible to foresee which would be the ultimate or even the immediate gainer by the proposed change. Each would be likely to gain in some quarters, and to lose in others; to succeed in some elections, and to