AT a recent meeting of the Christian Citizenship League, of Chicago, in Willard Hall, for the purpose of examining into the qualifications of aspirants for the office of mayor, the discussion turned upon the subject of the enforceability of the laws. One of the candidates for the mayorship, Mr. Hesing, declared that no mayor of Chicago could enforce the laws. The Union Signal quotes Mr. Hesing as saying:—
“I am no hypocrite, gentlemen, and I tell you that many of our laws cannot be enforced. I want to be mayor of Chicago, and, if you vote for me I will enforce such laws as will be for the best interests of Chicago; not for the citizens who meet in Willard Hall; not for the saloon-keepers; not for the Prohibitionists, but for a great city of two million inhabitants!”
In a further description of the proceedings, the Union Signal says:—
“A gentleman immediately arose and asked two pertinent questions. First, ‘Who is to decide which laws shall be enforced and which shall not?’ To which Mr. Hesing replied, ‘Common sense.’ Then, second, ‘Whose common sense?’ To which the response came, ‘The common sense of the executive officer, after consultation with his advisory board.’”
Upon this the Union Signal comments:—
“Surely this is the light we have long sought, the missing link in the dark labyrinth of municipal, State and national affairs. The laws of our cities and our nation are enacted by the people. The executive officers are elected by the people, and one of the requirements made of them is that they shall enforce the laws. Surely, what could be more simple than the chain of logic which seems to deduce that laws made by the people, for the enforcement of which representatives are chosen by the people, must, of necessity, be enforced as the people desire. But, nay, a hitherto unacknowledged quantity comes to the front as a determinative factor, viz., the ‘common sense’ of the executive officer. The people have made the laws, he is to say whether or not they shall be enforced, and the absolutely infallible test which is to be applied in determining this point is his personal standard of common sense.”
The Union Signal seems to be striving, in common with many would-be reformers of the day, to establish the principle in the policy of the State and of the nation, that anything in the form of law must be enforced, good or bad, simply because it is “the law.” This is not a safe principle to follow.
It is a fact, and one too plain to be denied, that measures often get upon the statute books which are not susceptible of enforcement. It is much easier to enact laws than to enforce them; it is, indeed, easy to enact as a law that which cannot be enforced at all. And whenever this is done,—whenever a measure is passed which either cannot be enforced, or which becomes obsolete after a short period of attempted enforcement, the result is highly detrimental to the interests of law and order.
The truth which, more than any other, is emphasized by this, is that greater care and wisdom should be employed in legislation. Only such measures should be passed as have the support of justice and good sense, and are therefore susceptible of enforcement. There is an obvious tendency at this day toward legislation of the “freak” variety. This is largely due to the idea, which has become so prevalent, that legislation constitutes a means of moral reform; and so long as this idea prevails, so long will statutes be enacted which can work only harm within the range of their influence.
What is needed is not more legislation, but greater care in legislating; less heed paid to the clamors of would-be moral reformers, and more paid to the demands of justice; respect for right, rather than for that which claims respect only by having usurped the throne of right.
Only upon this basis can there be in truth a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”