Government by a “Single Mind”

SOME time ago, in these columns, we queried as to how long this country could remain a republic, a government of the people by the people, and at the same time work hand-in-hand with two monarchies in world affairs.

In Harpers Weekly of December 30, 1899, there is printed a long argument by one of the regular staff of the Weekly, in favor of a one-man power in the Government of the United States. The material of the article is derived from the subject of treaties.

The rider advocates “understandings” rather than treaties with foreign powers. He cites the fact that treaties which had been arranged satisfactorily by the executives of the powers concerned “fell before clamor,” or “fell by the refusal of the Senate to ratify;” and then says:—

“Perhaps this bit of our recent history illustrates as well as any other the reason why an American executive, bent on accomplishing an object through co-operation with a foreign power, would prefer an unformulated understanding rather than face the almost certain defeat involved in the submission of the treaty to the Senate.”

But when it is the government of the people why should an American executive be bent on accomplishing an object in himself alone with the voice of the people or in spite of the voice of the people? In such case he is not an executive of the government of the people, but the executive of his own will. He alone becomes the government; and whatsoever does not conform to his personal will can have no place. And that is nothing but the advocacy of a one-man power.

The National Constitution has settled it that treaties shall be made “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.” By the Constitution the executive has no power at all in any matter of treaties, apart from the Senate; and he has no right to have or to exercise any will of his own in the subject. Here are the words: “He [the executive] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur.” If the Senate advises contrary, or refuses to consent, that is nothing to him: he has no further responsibility in the matter—provided the he cares anything for the Constitution, provided that he cares anything for the voice of the people through their chosen representatives, provided he recognizes government of the people by the people. But if he cares nothing for all this, and is “bent on accomplishing an object” himself according to his own will, Constitution or no Constitution, Senate or no Senate, people or no people, then if the Senate refuses consent, he will resent it and do the thing anyhow, by agreement or understanding; or if he thinks he has reason to suppose that the Senate will not consent, then he will execute his own will through an understanding without giving the Senate any chance at all, either to advise or consent. And this is only government by one—a one-man power.

If the quotations already given are not sufficient to convince that a one-man power here is thus openly demanded, then read the following:—

“The participation of the Senate in the treaty-making function is the cause of the difficulties; and while the weakness has thus far wrought no serious harm, it is something to be gravely considered if we take a place among the Asiatic powers… The fact is that the power to make treaties, if we are to enter into a course of national progression, or retrogression—call it what you will, but involving those close mutual relations which Jefferson described as ‘entangling alliances’—must include the power to make conventions quickly and secretly and the power to abide by them. Moreover, it is essential that the single mind with which our Government deals must be met by a single mind on our side…. In short, if foreign alliances are to become essential to us, we must set up a power that can make treaties quickly, keep them secret if necessary, and abide by them to the end.”

All of that is certainly plain enough to be grasped by anybody. And surely the thing advocated as “essential” is rather startling, even though it be the inevitable accompaniment of any effort to have a republic to work hand-in-hand with monarchies. Yet startling as it is that this thing should be thus openly advocated, at so early a stage in the new career, it is yet more startling to be authoritatively informed that not only is this thing advocated by this writer, but it is actually being studiously put into practise by the present administration. More than a month ago Washington correspondence gave to the country the information that it was not expected that the agreement between the United States and the other powers concerning China will be arranged in “a general and formal treaty;” and for the reason that—

“It would be extremely difficult to frame any such convention so as to secure the approval of the United States Senate without a protracted struggle, which might disclose disagreeable weaknesses in the Government’s policy, and besides, the effort would be sure to arouse opposition from the considerable element in the United States that is unalterably opposed to any sort of foreign entanglements.”

And that is simply to say that in this matter the national affairs are to be conducted without the people. A certain course—the strictly proper governmental course—is studiously avoided, because it would be “difficult to secure the approval” of the representatives of the people, and because it would arouse opposition among the people themselves, and “might disclose disagreeable weaknesses in the Government’s policies.” That is to say, because the administration doubts that the approval of the people would be given, the thing shall be done anyhow, and therefore without its coming within reach of the people at all.

This is nothing else than in principle, and for the occasion even in practise, the abandonment of government of the people by the people. People are informed that since the administration fears that the people will not approve its policies, the administration will execute its policies in the anyhow; that the administration cannot trust the people, and therefore the people shall not be consulted.

This is precisely the course of the republic of Rome over again. First it was a government of the people by the people. Then it was government by a few, which could not trust the people. Then, as in a little while it came about that these few cannot trust one another, it became a government by one; and that one the most powerful. And how rapidly this later great republic is running the course of that ancient great republic!

It is true that, so far, this is all said and done in connection with treaties. But how long will the practise be carried on in that connection before it shall be extended to other things? The principle once adopted, when shall be set the limits to its application?

A. T. J.

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