Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Understanding Woodrow Wilson, by Peter Clark Macfarlane

Understanding Woodrow Wilson (on Archive.org)

It is highly important that the people of the United States should not deceive themselves regarding Woodrow Wilson. The man is less transparent than he seems. He thinks in ultimates. He sees to the end of the road before ever he takes the trail. In his book on "Congressional Government,"' written twenty-seven years ago, there are not wanting evidences that he was thinking even then that he might some day be President. He has the most undaunted faith in the results of his own mental processes. His personal resources have apparently not even been taxed - no man knows whether the bottom of them lies just under his present keel or fathoms deeper. He enters the arena rejoicing as a strong man to run a race. He has never been beaten. His supposed defeat at Princeton was a victory. The trustees who voted him down, knighted him; they plumed and heralded him as the champion of democracy. That was the launching of the man upon his career.

The first task to his hand was the governorship of New Jersey. The conflict was short and sharp. He turned the bosses out and the people in with ridiculous ease. By methods the most simple and direct he went out and won the nomination for the Presidency on the Democratic ticket. Immediately thereafter, without the quiver of an eye-lash, he reached out and turned the National Democratic Committee into a piece of political pottery conceived strictly for purposes of ornamentation. By the same twist of his wrist he created something else entirely new in Democratic Party management, the executive committee or campaign cabinet. This machine is small but of great power and geared high. Wilson himself sits at the wheel. And the old leaders did not even gasp; the spell of the cock-sureness of Woodrow Wilson was upon them.

Two Views of Wilson

NOW there are two sets of opinions regarding Governor Wilson. Some argue that he is a good mixer; others argue that he is not a good mixer, being a professorial, arm's-length, prune-eating sort of person for whom even heart-throbs are merely muscular reflexes to be measured and observed as scientific phenomena. Some will tell you that he has no intimates, - they make it even stronger - not a single intimate, with whom he shares the inner stirrings of his mind: that the only person who has ever stood with him in the conning tower while he steers the ship of his career is his wife. Others aver that he has quite a group of intimates: eminent lawyers, business men and university professors, who come regularly to see him, and that he spends hours with them in the frank disclosure of his political soul. The probability is that both judgments are correct; yes, life is at least as contrary as that, and individuals constitute the originating contrariness of life. From my own experience, I can only make this one venture: when you sit down with the Governor of New Jersey upon his broad piazza at Sea Girt with two of the many great rocking-chairs set closely vis-a-vis, and the conversation which starts at random begins to lead into the deep-lying purposes of the man's heart and his voice drops to a confidential note, while his long fingers steal up your wrist past the elbow to a gentle pulling grip upon your upper arm as if he would hold your very soul to him while he talks, you are going to feel as you leave that you have been close to a very great and simple man who has trusted you and whose confidences you would not betray and whose cause you would not injure for ten thousand worlds.

And yet I must write with unvarnished words: not a sketch of his life - everybody knows that by now - but a survey of his thinking, must try to show Metropolitan readers enough of his mental history for them to form accurate conclusions as to what manner of man Woodrow Wilson is, and for what goal he is making. There is a blemish on the brow of Woodrow Wilson, a mole-like patch just at the end of the white line that marks the part in the dappled gray of his hair. You will not observe this in many photographs; the camera sees it, of course, but the considerate artists touch it out; yet those who love Woodrow Wilson intimately must love the brown mole also. And now as we look at his career let us push our camera close and try to see both accurately and fairly the perfections that are admirable and the faults that are lovable.

Wrote a Book about Government at Twenty-nine

YOUNG as Woodrow Wilson was when he published "Congressional Government," twenty-nine years old, in fact, he made a book that went to the heart of our Governmental system like an X-ray. He was dissatisfied with what he found - and said so. Hear his saucy indictment:

As at present constituted, the Federal Government lacks strength because its powers are divided, lacks promptness because its authorities are multiplied, lacks wieldiness because its processes arc roundabout, lacks efficiency because its responsibility is indistinct and its action without competent direction.

Oh, lackaday! A plentiful aggregation of lacks, indeed! Yet one need not follow the young man's arguments far to see that he was thinking pertinently and truly. The years that have passed only make his judgments seem the more accurate.

Our young economist did not like things done in a corner. He complains when the white light of publicity is not shining. He tells us that "ours is a Government by the standing committees of Congress," and that "the privileges of the standing committees are the beginning and the end of the rules"; that "as a rule a bill committed is a bill doomed . . . It crosses a parliamentary bridge of sighs to dim dungeons of silence . . ."

"Power," he complains, "is nowhere concentrated . . . scattered among many small chiefs," i.e., the chairmen of the standing committees.

He believes very much in parties: "The great need is not to get rid of parties but to find and use some expedient by which they can be managed and made amenable from day to day . . . outside of Congress the organization of the National parties is exceedingly well-defined and tangible. Within it is obscure and intangible ... no visible and therefore no controllable party organization."

And now hear him go on: "In the British House of Commons the functions and privileges of our standing committees are all concentrated in the hands of the ministry, who have besides some prerogatives of leadership which even our committees do not possess so that they carry all responsibility as well as great power . . . the ministry, this great standing committee, goes out whenever it crosses the will of the majority." We, too, he thinks, must make our parties responsible. "It is plainly the representation of both parties on the committees that makes party responsibility indistinct . . . the difference between our device and the British is that we have a standing committee drawn from both parties for the consideration of each topic of legislation, whereas our English cousins have but a single standing committee which is charged with the origination of legislation ... A committee composed of the men who are recognized as the leaders of the party dominant in the state, and who serve at the same time as the political heads of the executive departments of government. The British system is perfect party government."

And his conclusion is that: "We have in this country, therefore no real leadership because no man is allowed to direct the course of Congress, and there is no way of governing the country save through Congress which is supreme."

Nor had young Woodrow Wilson any very great use for the Senate of the United States when he wrote his book, because among other reasons, he regarded the Senate as lording it over the President after a manner that was somewhat more lordly than the Constitution-makers intended. Indeed, the author of "Congressional Government" wrote with an unconcealed sympathy for the Executive. "The English system," he explains, "is a limited monarchy because of Commons and Cabinet: ours may be said to be a limited Democracy because of the Senate." Not strange is it, in the light of this, that the other day the Senate was pointing resolutions at Presidents and forewarning both itself and candidate Wilson by reading parts of this book and meditating aloud thereon. Evidently, too, those book-reading, speech-quoting Senators failed to realize that they were merely illustrating Professor Wilson's book afresh for him. As for instance, this: "All through the direct dealings of the Senate with the President there runs this characteristic spirit of irresponsible dictation . . . the President may tire the Senate by dogged persistence, but he can never deal with it upon a ground of equality . . . the Senate always has the last word ... it dictates to another branch of the Government which was intended to be coordinate and coequal with it."

And by way of full measure for the Senate, the book-writer has the aptest word for its presiding officer, the Vice-president, that was ever set into type, observing most sententiously, "His importance consists in the fact that he may cease to be Vice-president."

And when he comes to talk of the Executive, to whose position the twenty-nine-year-old may already have begun to aspire, the book loses none of its spiciness. He reveals his impatience with the semi-responsible position of the dominant party through our system of office tenures, when he observes with unveiled sarcasm: "A prime minister must keep himself in favor with the majority. A President need only keep alive."

Views on "The Highest Office"

THERE were moments, too, while this book was making, that the professor did not think highly of the President's job, as, witness: "The business of the President, occasionally great, is usually not much above routine - most of the time it is mere administration, mere obedience of directions from the masters of policy, the standing committees."

The Baltimore platform proposes to limit the Presidency to a single term. The youthful professor had no such idea when he wrote: "But even Americans are not Presidents in their cradles. One cannot have too much preparatory training and experience who is to fill so high an office. It is difficult to perceive, therefore, upon what safe ground of reason are built the opinions of those persons who regard short terms of service as sacred and peculiarly Republican principles." He felt like suggesting also that "for the sort of Presidents needed under the present arrangement, it is best to choose amongst the ablest and most experienced state governors."

State governors! Do we not begin to see something uncanny in the exceeding canniness of this book of seven and twenty years agone? Its author blazed the course for others and is now himself upon that way.

But reverting finally and for the last time to the general drift of the book, it should be understood clearly that what its author was inveighing against most sharply was our good, old, our holy and hoary, our vaunted and revered, system of checks and balances. Because of these he finds authority pieced, cut into small bits and responsibility not fixed, and finally he blurts out: "Somebody must be trusted! Power and strict accountability for its use are the essential constituents of good government."

Doubtless the opponents of Woodrow Wilson will make use of this book to embarrass him; yet truly there is nothing in it to make a thoughtful citizen anything but proud of the man who wrote it ere he came to thirty years. Besides, if Woodrow Wilson wrote anything in the book likely to embarrass him now, he ought to be excused and absolved of it before he enters upon the campaign. He says so in the book. That is the uncanniness creeping in again. The man wrote with strange prescience; he seemed to know his mind would range far, that he might do and say some things he would wish to be quit of when he ran for President twenty-seven years later, so here is what he printed at the bottom of page forty two. "A decisive career which gives a man a well-understood place in public estimation constitutes a positive disability for the Presidency, because candidacy must precede election, and the shoals of candidacy can be passed only by a light boat which carries little freight and can be turned readily about to suit the intricacies of the passage."

Does not the sageness and the pertinence of this observation become amusing in the present situation? To-day the good ship "Woodrow Wilson," draws a good deal of water, and already its captain has unhesitatingly pitched from his decks by frank retraction or plausible explanation several embarrassing pieces of cargo.

Strongly Partisan

WHEN we come to inspect Woodrow Wilson's political speeches of the last two years, it is evident at once we are looking on finished work. Every phrase is balanced and weighed. No speaker in America is a more skilful picker and sorter of words. He avoids strong language but he makes strong statements. His paragraphs are burglar proof. They may appear lightly thrown together but they resist attack. Many of his sentences are like slip-knots; the more they are struggled against the tighter they press. Not that Governor Wilson is incapable of platitudes. He is. And none is more skilful in the wooing of an audience with amiable nothings, although even at such times it stands one in good stead to see if the Governor has not tied the nosegay with some strand of thought that will later serve to bind stouter things than sprays of rhetoric.

The first thing to notice about the statesmanship of the mature Wilson is that it is strongly partisan. He believes in political parties. Particularly he believes in the Democratic Party. This cannot be stated too clearly or emphatically. Woodrow Wilson cannot be understood as a non-party man, nor as a biparty man, nor as a Progressive Republican running on a Democratic ticket; he must be interpreted as a Democrat, and a Democrat with the biggest "D" in the case. He was born a Democrat. He has consistently lived and voted a Democrat. His appeal for the Presidency was made to the Democratic Party, and he has expressed his admiration for that party in terms as undiscriminatingly enthusiastic as any man whoever pronounced its shibboleths or shouted its slogans. He declares that "the Democratic Party has remained free to act, free to take on new elements of popular impulse, free to read new times in new terms."

His next faith is in party leadership. He thinks the Executive in state or nation should be the leader of the party which elected him, not titularly but actually. "Do not vote for me," he said to the electors in his New Jersey campaign, "if you do not wish me to be the leader of the party."

His Republican opponent announced that he would be a constitutional governor, meaning thereby that he would concern himself solely with the administrative function of his office and not seek to influence law-making. This rang upon the shield of Wilson like a challenge. Doctor Wilson answered back: "If that is what it means to be a constitutional governor," and there was a gleam in his eye as he said it - "then I will be an unconstitutional governor." And he has been!

He had nothing to do with the making of the Democratic platform of 1910 in New Jersey. But he stood on it, campaigned on it, and made himself responsible for it, and directly upon inauguration went to work to see that its pledges were enacted into law. When members of the Democratic majority in the lower house resented his activity as interference, saying in effect: "We are the legislature; you are the governor. Keep your hands off!" he replied. "I am the leader of the Democratic Party in the state. I am going to see that the Democratic legislature keeps its pledges to the people." When that Democratic majority caucussed on the Geran Election Bill, Woodrow Wilson walked into the caucus in his dual capacity of governor of the state and leader of the party, and asked for the bill. The argument was fierce, but the Governor stood on his feet for three solid hours and fought the bill to victory.

It was in accordance with this conviction - that the executive is the head of the party - that Governor Wilson immediately after his nomination seized absolutely the reins of Democratic Party government. He became the dictator, the boss, probably more completely for the time being than any man has ever been the boss of the Democratic Party. But there is a difference between the boss-ship of Wilson and that of a Sullivan or a Murphy. The distinction is happily made for us in an address before the General Assembly of Virginia on February 1, 1912, wherein Governor Wilson said:

I believe that party success is impossible without organization; but I make this distinction between the organization and the machine - organization is a systematic cooperation of men for a common purpose, while the machine is a systematic cooperation of men for a private purpose.

Thus do we begin to understand Governor Wilson clearly. He is appealing to the voters of the United States as a Democrat; he is asking them to register their faith in the ability of the Democratic Party - quoting from his Harrisburg speech on Democracy's opportunity - "to prove true to its traditions and supply them with men and measures." Yet the Governor is only too conscious that there are many voters who have small faith in the working efficiency of the Democratic Party. Speaking of them in his Nashville speech on "The Tariff and the Trusts," he said: "They believe the Republican Party is the only party which has shown practical genius in understanding and administering the affairs of the nation . . . They say, 'Yes, we agree with the Democrats, but the Democrats don't know how to do it.'"

Now Woodrow Wilson believes that he does "know how to do it." He thinks he proved this in New Jersey. He is anxious to prove it in Washington. Should the opportunity come, he will immediately set himself to the task of helping Congress to do better than it otherwise could. His instruments are two: his theory of party leadership and his skill in appeal to the public voice. Undoubtedly he will prefer persuasive measures; but in Jersey when a legislator was not amenable to the soft phrase of peace, the Governor used to propose to debate the issue before the man's own constituents. Imagine the President of the United States going down into Tennessee or out into North Dakota to tell the folks at home how their Congressman was behaving; few Congressmen will lightly court such odium.

Summing thus much of what has been written, the reader now gets a picture of the new Democratic tiger, in mortar-board and spectacles, peering out of his lair, keen, masterful and purposing. And what does he purpose?

His Indictment of the Tariff

ABOVE and beyond all else he purposes an assault on the tariff - such an assault as the tariff has never sustained before. Woodrow Wilson regards the protective tariff as the root of most of our evils. He seems always to have been against it. We see him in his school days at Princeton refusing to enter a debate where he might have won a coveted prize, simply because he had drawn the affirmative side of the Protective Tariff question. He would not argue in support of a thing in the evil of which he believed so emphatically even then. His book from which we have quoted so freely, issued in 1885, frequently reveals the bias of his mind on this subject, and nowhere more clearly than when referring to Alexander Hamilton's famous report on manufactures, in which, he says, "were laid the foundations of that set of protective tariff duties which was destined to hang all the industries of the country upon the skirts of the federal power, and to make every trade and craft in the land sensitive to every wind of party that might blow at Washington."

To the Economic Club of New York so recently as May twenty-third, Governor Wilson said of some other point: "Let me illustrate it by the tariff, because every business question in this country, whether you think so or not, gentlemen, comes back, no matter how much you put on the brakes, to the question of the tariff."

The tariff he holds responsible for the trusts. "It is behind the shelter of the tariff wall," he tells a reporter for the New York World, in December, 1911, "that the trusts have been able to build up a system by which they have limited opportunity, and all but shut the door upon independent enterprise."

Governor Wilson charges the tariff, too, with having deliberately destroyed our merchant marine. "By the most stupendous stupidity on record," he tells the people of Nashville in his address on the tariff and trusts, "we have obliterated our merchant marine." He tells the real estate men of Boston, too, that, "We have bound ourselves hand and foot in a smug domestic helplessness by this jacket of a tariff we have wound around us." But it is not until he gets down into his native Virginia that all the pent-up convictions of his soul as to the tariff as a commerce-killer are poured out. There he says that "every manufacturer is waking up to the fact that if we do not let anybody climb over the tariff wall to get in, he has got to climb to get out; that we have deliberately domesticated ourselves, that we have deliberately cut ourselves off from the currents of trade; that we have deliberately divorced ourselves from the world's commerce; and now if we are not going to stifle economically, we have got to find our way out into the great international exchanges of the world."

These, from the mild-speaking Woodrow Wilson, are strong words; very, very strong words. But he is not without hope. To the Economic Club of New York in his very recent speech already mentioned, he was able to speak of "some prospect of breaking our isolation by lowering the tariff wall between us and other nations; now that we see some possibility of flinging our own flag out upon the seas again."

The Baltimore Platform declares for the restoration of our Merchant Marine; but declares against subsidies. Governor Wilson demands the restoration of the Merchant Marine. He makes it quite clear that he thinks the abolition of the protective tariff will bring about its renascence in a natural way without any other action.

Governor Wilson also holds the tariff emphatically responsible for a large part of the high cost of living. He animadverts to that portion of the theory of the protective tariff which holds that behind its walls the people of the United States would have free trade among themselves, and thus internal competition would keep prices down. "And I happen to know," he says sharply, "that there is not any internal competition. The great combinations of modern business have made the old theory of protection absolutely antiquated." These two sentences are quoted, the one from a Virginia speech and the other from a New York speech, but they happen to complete his thought upon the subject in the compass of a very few words. His reasoning is that there never was any logic in the protective tariff, even in the beginning, but if there was, the modern combinations in business which have throttled domestic competition, have knocked even that questionable portion out.

But Governor Wilson brings yet another damning indictment against the tariff. He holds it responsible for the corrupting entrance of business into national politics. He said as much to the National Democratic Club in New York on January third: "The reason business is in politics now is that it has thrust itself in by going upon every occasion to Washington and insisting upon getting all that it can from Congress. Politicians have not put the question of the tariff into politics. Business men have put the question of the tariff into politics."

The Governor thinks the Democratic tariff bills of last winter on wool, metals, chemicals, etc., were properly conceived and this is the way he will advance to the attack. To the National Democratic Club, he said: "Though I am not for drastic changes, yet I wish I saw some escape from it. At present I do not . . . We are to act upon the fundamental principle of the Democratic Party, not free trade but tariff for revenue, and we have got to approach that by such avenues and such stages, and at such paces as will be consistent with the stability and safety of the business of the country."

Be warned, however, of the danger of giving too narrow an interpretation to Woodrow Wilson's expression. "The business of the country." He has a larger term which he considers to be exactly synonymous, "The economic interests of the whole community." Now Woodrow Wilson thinks the economic interests of the whole community are affected harmfully by the protective tariff. He says: "There are no separate and distinguishable business interests of the country in a matter like this, or in any other matter of general economic policy. The whole country depends upon its business; where will you draw the line between those whom business affects and those whom it does not affect?"

So there you are again, with just one thing standing out perfectly clear, Woodrow Wilson, if he gets a chance, is going straight to work to rip the protective tariff policy entirely out of our political system, and leave us instead a "tariff for revenue." We have heard this slogan before, but with Wilson it is not a slogan. It is a purpose. It is almost the whole of his program. He will try to do it - sanely, of course, as he has said, but - he will try to do it!

And while Governor Wilson is convinced that the tariff has fostered the trusts, he by no means thinks that the adjustment of the tariff will adjust the trusts. He has a feeling that something is wrong - both with business and with the laws that regulate business. To the Iroquois Club in Chicago he said, "As our economic affairs are organized they cannot go on ;" while to the Virginia Assembly he observed: "Our laws are just about a generation belated, as compared with what other advanced nations have done to bring about adjustments." To the Economic Club of New York he brought this warning: "I merely say that by certain processes now well known and perhaps natural in themselves, there has come about so extraordinary a concentration in the control of business in this country that the people are afraid there will be a concentration in the control of government."

Still he makes it perfectly clear that his objection is not to combinations, to mere business aggregation, but "to combinations that restrain." And his thinking on this subject is sharply defined in his December interview in the New York Times, wherein he said: "A score of searching investigations have recently disclosed with perfect clearness just what is being done by the managers of great corporations to throttle competition and monopolize markets. Those who once denied all wrong-doing on the part of the trusts, and defended them without qualification against all criticism, now admit (their very officers included) that they have been guilty of inexcusable wrongs in the restraint of free opportunity and the smothering of rival enterprise."

The Money Trust

HE knows, too, that there is a "money trust." He described its operations in his Nashville address and concluded with "that is what is charged. And it is not charged without evidence." Before the Virginia Assembly he was more specific, saying: "But I know perfectly well, and I have been told by men who dared not speak above their breaths with regard to it for fear they would be punished, that I could not start a great enterprise in this country that needed a million or more of money to start it, unless I made an agreement and combination with certain gentlemen who control the great credits of the country."

His Remedy

AND in the Nashville address upon the tariff and the trusts Governor Wilson gave evidence that he had the clearest notion imaginable of what to do to curb and discipline the trusts. His plan is this:

"We can oblige every corporation to file with the proper officer of the law a sworn analysis of the way its business is done which will be conclusive - not merely presumptive evidence - upon any trial, an analysis which it cannot controvert upon trial; which will show that such and such transactions are ordered by the president, such and such transactions are ordered by a committee of its board, certain other transactions are ordered by the board as a whole, others by its first vice-president, and so on down through the analvsis. Then when a wrong is committed, we will turn to the analysis and find the officer who, according to that analysis, ordered that particular thing done, and we will indict him, not as an officer of the corporation but as an individual who used that corporation for something that was illegal. Then you say we will find out that he was a dummy. Very well, go on, push the trial, draw in all the collateral evidence and find out whose dummy he was, then amend the indictment and include the gentlemen whose dummy he was, whether it happens to be an official connected with the corporation or not, because in this process we have nothing to do with corporations. We are finding men . . . when you have found that person and given him a season to think it over in the penitentiary the thing will be stopped, and business will be relieved of the embarrassment of breaking up its organization in order to stop these practices."

Direct Legislation

A MAN'S position on the initiative, the referendum and the recall is just now one of the acid tests of his progressivism. On this subject Woodrow Wilson has charted a crooked course. In his book, "The State," he rejected these ideas utterly. Now he stands for them emphatically, but with certain reservations. One reservation is: "The recall of judges I am absolutely against, and always have been." The other reservation is that the chief value of these principles is in their moral effect as "a gun behind the door," rather than as instruments of daily reliance. In changing his opinion in regard to these new features of popular government, he states frankly that his reasoning has been compelled to bow to the superior logic of events. They have proved serviceable to the cause of popular government, and he cites the cases of Oregon and California to prove this. He explains that they do not constitute a national issue, because such things are in the power of the states to remedy, and he anticipates that "the people will in my opinion demand these measures only where they are manifestly necessary to take legislation and the control of administrative action away from special hopelessly entrenched interests."

On conservation Governor Wilson speaks emphatically but not at length, and for the reason that he feels that the practical details are in themselves such vast, far-reaching problems that while the time is at hand for attacking them the man would be foolhardy who attempted to define himself fully now. The Governor has thought of all these questions, but regards them as measures to be worked out practically and accepted or adapted or rejected by the people; and mostly in the individual states as conditions ripen. His utterance regarding conservation will hold here and for a large number of other issues of socio-industrial character. He is clear as to the principal and intention; the measures must be left to the future hour and to the genius of the practical men upon whom their solution will more directly devolve.

The best guide post here to the trend of Woodrow Wilson's mind is that considerable body of legislation beneficial to the condition of the workers which was enacted under his leadership in New Jersey, and perhaps a special indication of the ripeness of his heart if not of his mind on advanced social legislation, is the appointment of a commission to inquire concerning old age pensions and insurance. It must be borne in mind, however, that the Governor considers these all state questions rather than national issues.

Governor Wilson's speech of acceptance has already discussed and made clear his acceptance of the general principles of the Baltimore platform. It didn't sharpen it - a disappointment. In the light of what has already been written here and in the light of what is known of Woodrow Wilson's public career, his personal platform becomes of vast importance because if elected, this is the platform which he will seek to build into the statutes of the United States. In that personal platform and in the wrinkling skin of Woodrow Wilson may be bound up much of history.


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