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power of the majority as to deprive the districts of their independent representation, and to confer it upon the States.
The true theory of the Constitution is further very clearly shown, in its provision for the election of President by the House of Representatives, in case a choice fails to be made by the electors. In that event the election takes place by ballot, from the persons, not exceeding three, who had the highest number of electoral votes. A majority of States is necessary to a choice, and each State has but one vote. That vote is therefore determined by the majority of the members of Congress from the State. If a State has, for instance, seventeen members of Congress, nine of one party and eight of the other, its one vote may be cast by the nine, though the State may have voted by a large majority for the opposite candidate, and though the nine may have been elected by majorities in their districts, the sum of which is largely in the minority of the entire vote of the State. This result is right, under the Constitution, and would be universally acquiesced in; because the choice of the House is decided by districts, and the member represents his district, and not the State at large, in casting the individual vote which may determine the vote of the State. Precisely as the electors would do, if chosen by districts. Both methods of electing a President provided by the Constitution would thus become harmonious in principle. But if when the election is through electors the vote of the State is to be controlled by its aggregate majority instead of the majority of districts, then the two methods are diametrically opposed to each other. It is not easy to believe that such was the intention. There is a spirit of the Constitution, and a letter; a theory of government, and express provisions which to a certain extent carry the theory into effect, leaving the rest in the discretion of the States, or of Congress, or of the Executive, as the case may be. The spirit and the theory may undoubtedly be violated with impunity, if the express conditions are not infringed, because without such infringement there can be no judicial interference. But how far it is ever prudent or safe to disregard the intent of the fundamental law, is for wise men to consider. It is the highest proof of the symmetry and far reaching wisdom of that instrument, that whenever such an experiment is tried, its result is unfortunate.
But looking at the question as one of policy merely, and waiving for that purpose the inquiry as to the theory of the Constitution, what are the considerations that ought then to decide it? It may well be asked why, if members of Congress are elected by districts, electors should not be chosen in the same way, as they formerly were. If it is fair and right and in accordance with the republican idea in the one case, why not in the other? The Constitution, as has been seen, puts both Representatives and electors on precisely the same basis, and in the same analogy. Upon what principle, or for what purpose, should district elections be adopted in one case and not in the other? It is believed that none can be stated. If a State having two congressional districts and four electoral votes should cast in one of these districts a majority one way of one thousand, and in the other a majority the other way of twelve hundred, can any just reason be given why this aggregate majority of two hundred should control not only the electoral vote of the district in which it exists, and the two electoral votes of the State, but also the remaining vote in the other district, against its popular majority of one thousand? And if it should, then how is it possible to maintain that it ought not likewise to elect the members of Congress from both districts? The motives for the departure from the earlier method of the choice of electors by districts were never distinctly stated, and are not now apparent. It was a change in political fashion, that came about as other changes in fashion do, without any definite cause. The evils that it has brought about, especially since the great changes that have followed the unexampled growth of the country, are very serious. The great States, as has been shown, have attained a predominance both in the nomination and in the election of President, far beyond what is due to their relative population. That predominance has demoralized the whole business of choosing the executive head of the government. These States have meanwhile, in the growth of the country, become much larger, and the others relatively smaller. A single congressional district in one of them may, and not infrequently does, change the majority in the whole State, and thereby not only determine its entire electoral vote, but the election of the President. It is further to be remembered that in the great cities of the country are to be found, without regard to party, the dregs of the popular vote-that which is most easily purchased, controlled, and marshalled by unscrupulous men; that which tends to cast the gravest doubt upon the theory of universal suffrage. The facilities in those cities for political management increase the power of this vote, precisely as the efficiency of the rank and file of an army is increased by organization, drill, and competent leadership. No one would suppose that if the greater part of the population of our large cities was to be diffused through the rural districts, its political vote would remain the same. Other influences of all sorts would be brought to bear upon
it. Much of it would coalesce with the majority in its new surroundings, as it did with that in its old. The tendency is all the time, unfortunately, towards the increase of the cities at the expense of the country. And it is becoming more and more true every day that the vote of the great cities is unfairly overriding that of the rest of the country, and deciding the elections not only of the States in which they are situated, but the nation at large. It will hardly be regarded by thoughtful men as wise or republican or consistent with the true principles of our government to increase rather than to check the predominating influence of these cities, beyond what fairly belongs to them, and to place virtually the national government as well as those of the States within their control.
Whatever tends towards a diminution of the odious power of the political "boss" is likely to be accepted as beneficial. And whatever promotes a just equilibrium between the different portions of the country, whether urban or rural, so that a majority in one quarter shall have no greater relative weight than an equal majority in another, is certainly a step in the direction of the true principles of republican government.
President Harrison, in his recent message to Congress, has justly deemed this subject worthy of notice.
His views are clearly and fairly presented, and are entitled to respect. He undoubtedly states the argument against the proposed change in the most forcible light possible. If the objections he makes to it are not found sufficient to overcome its advantages, it is safe to infer that no others can be discovered which will need to be considered. He does not question that the election of the district electors by the vote of the districts would be in conformity with the Constitution, and concedes that an amendment of that instrument would be necessary to preclude it, where States may think proper to adopt it. The principal and almost only point which he makes against it is that districts might, by unscrupulous action on the part of the legislatures, be so constructed geographically as to create majorities where by a just and natural division they would not exist-or, to use the slang political phrase in vogue, be "gerrymandered.” In other words, that the proposed system may be capable of abuse. This is to some extent true, as past experience has unhappily shown. There are doubtless at this time congressional districts in the United States, fortunately very few, which by the partisan conduct of one or the other of the political parties have been unfairly created, so as to give to one side or the other more members of Congress than it is fairly entitled to. If the possibility of abuse is a decisive objection to an institution or a method of procedure, the wit of man has never devised one that could stand. There is no feature in any system of government that ever existed or ever can exist which is not capable of abuse, and is not open to objection. A perfect political code has never been discovered, and never will be.