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The Democratic Party

ISSUE:  Spring 1925


At the last Presidential Election, the Democratic Party was overwhelmingly defeated. The popular vote received by Coolidge, the Republican Candidate—15,717,426 votes—exceeded the popular vote received by Davis, the Democratic candidate by 7,331,188 votes; and the popular vote received by La Follette, the Progressive candidate, exceeded one-half of the popular vote received by Davis by 627,971 votes. While La Follette electors were elected in only one state of the Union—Wisconsin,—in no less than twelve states La Follette received a larger vote than Davis. Only two Democratic Senators—Walsh, of Montana, and Bratton, of New Mexico—were elected outside of the limits of the eleven former Confederate States.

The primary cause for the Democratic defeat was, unquestionably, the profound apprehension created in the minds of the conservative voters of the United States by the Progressive platform, its agrarian and proletarian planks, and, above all, its plank which advocated the subjection of the jurisdiction and authority of the Supreme Court to the caprices and passions of Congress; and by the highly inflammatory speeches of La Follette and Wheeler, the Progressive candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency. This apprehension was awakened not only in the breasts of the conservative Republicans of the country but in those of thousands of conservative Democrats as well. The desertion from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party was not unlike that produced by the first candidacy of William J. Bryan for the Presidency on a Free Silver platform. It is safe to say that this desertion would not have been so marked had the Democrats in the Senate during the first session of the 68th Congress not allowed themselves to be drawn into close cooperation with the Progressive element in that body; and had the last Democratic Convention not adopted a platform, tinged to no little extent with Progressive coloring, and nominated, as its candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, two men so hopelessly antithetical to each other, in point of political background and ideas, as Davis and Bryan; one of whom was entirely too Eastern for the West, and the other entirely too Western for the East; but it is the belief of the writer that, no matter whom the Democratic Party might have nominated for the Presidency last year, he would have been defeated. Fear and anxiety, excited by the La Follette Campaign, were morbidly acute and tense; the pronounced conservatism of Coolidge and his regular Republican adherents seemed to offer the safest harbor of refuge for panic at such a crisis; and thousands of sober Democrats became more and more disinclined, as election day approached, to take any risks with their own party candidates in a contest with the Progressive candidates.

Will the Democratic Party ever get firmly on its legs again? This question may be confidently answered in the affirmative. Its existence dates back unbrokenly to the early stages of our national history; it survived the shock of the surging Whig onset in 1840, of the Civil War, and of the Bryan brain-storm; it is invested with the glamour of such great names as those of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson; and the fundamental articles of its faith, resting, as they do, upon universal conceptions of justice and equality, can never become obsolete. It is impossible to think of American politics without thinking of some national party deriving its life from the spirit of Jefferson’s inaugural: “Equal and exact justice to all men of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; the support of the State Governments in all their rights as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-Republican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor as the sheet-anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.”

It is quite true that the old Jeffersonian principles of government have been profoundly influenced by the social, political and economic changes which have taken place since Jefferson’s day; but, like the intimations of immortality, of which Wordsworth speaks in his noble ode, they can never be “utterly abolished or destroyed” until the original lineaments of the Federal Constitution shall have been entirely effaced.


To regain its lost place, the Democratic Party must studiously eschew all connection with the extreme principles and purposes of the Progressive Party, such as the public ownership of the railroads, the total abolition of the process of injunction in labor disputes, and the re-enactment of statutes by Congress, when declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The real object of the movement to bring about government ownership by confiscatory methods of valuation and arbitrary legislative rate-making is to build up on such ownership a solid structure of selfish political power. The entire abolition of the process of injunction in labor controversies would leave the State without any means of protecting itself against lawless violence in times of strikes except the billy and the bayonet; to which resort should never be had except in cases of over-riding necessity; and were the calm judicial conclusions of the Supreme Court reversible by a heady, partisan body like Congress, our Government would, indeed, deserve the famous reproach of Macaulay that it is all sail and no anchor. Attacks upon the wealth, the industry and the Courts of the Country could have no effect except that of indefinitely deferring the return of the Democratic Party to power. They would alienate from it the good will of the small as well as the big business world, the confidence of the ordinary savings-bank depositor or policy-holder, and of the industrial worker or farmer as well as that of the capitalist, and of the prosperous banker, manufacturer, merchant or trader. In other words, the Democratic Party would suffer as it suffered when it was discredited by its participation, limited or general, in the Greenback, the Populist and the Free Silver movements. The rabid Communist, the restless Socialist, the brainsick enthusiast, and the demagogic agitator constitute but a relatively small minority of the American People. The sane, the conservative, the thrifty elements of society constitute the great majority, and, with the growth of radical influences in the United States, they are more and more tending to side with a conservative party like the Republican Party.

In the next place, the Democratic Party should commit itself fully to the principles of taxation which have come to be known as the Mellon Tax Plan. The most important of these principles, namely that, if oppressive surtaxes are imposed upon large incomes, the property producing them will be converted by the owners into tax-exempt securities, or corporate stock, or other protective holdings was earnestly asserted, before Mr. Mellon acquired his great and deserved reputation as Secretary of the Treasury, by two recent Democratic Secretaries of the Treasury, David F. Houston and Carter Glass; and none of the Mellon tax principles are of a nature intrinsically to involve real party differences. In 1916, the net income returned by persons returning net income in excess of $300,000 per annum amounted to $992,972,986; in 1921, it amounted to only $153,534,305. When income steals off in this manner, the only way in which it can be lured back, for the purposes of taxation, is to reduce the surtax itself; with the result, of course, that the money would be re-employed in active business; and thereby not only promote the general economic welfare of the country but alleviate, in particular, the tax-burdens of the smaller income tax-papers. As I have said on another occasion, the payment of taxes on incorporeal property in all of its forms is a thing to be secured by policy rather than by compulsion.

The present federal tax on bona fide gifts should be revoked. Why should all gifts be taxed merely because some are occasionally made mala fide? Inheritance taxation should be abandoned to the states exclusively. There is no reason why the Republican Party should have a monopoly of wise taxation and sound finance. There is nothing liner in the career of that great Democrat, Grover Cleveland, than his fearless replenishment of the federal gold reserves by the sale of bonds as fast as they were depleted by the endless chain of a perverse currency law. It was mainly by the efforts of Woodrow Wilson and Carter Glass, both Democrats, that the Federal Reserve Banking Law, one of the most memorable enactments of our times, was finally passed. Among the ablest Secretaries of the Treasury within the last fifty or sixty years, have been three Democrats, McAdoo, Houston and Glass. No good reason can be given, therefore, why the Democratic Party should not be a fit instrument for the most urgent undertaking that is now demanding public attention; that is to say, the reduction of federal and local taxation which has reached such a height that, as has been frequently demonstrated, it is entirely possible for a man to die, leaving a large estate, only to have it completely absorbed by Federal and State taxes of one kind or another. The frightful increase of taxation in the United States, is far the most distressing phenomenon of our political life at the present hour; and the Democratic Party could not adopt a shrewder policy than that of championing the economies and improved methods by which alone this menace can be abated.

In the next place, the Democratic Party should take a firm stand against the paternalistic tendencies and the encroachments on the rights of the states which have become so prominent in the operations of the Federal Government. That its enormous growth should have been attended by some extensions of federal authority into the province of State benevolence was to be expected, and the increased centralization in it of a large part of all the powers that belong to political sovereignty could not but follow from the intimate intercourse between the states which has been brought about by modern facilities of intercommunication, the triumph of the national idea in Civil War, and its constitutional sequels; and the 18th and 19th Amendments. But the consolidation of the federal jurisdiction is now going on at a rate which threatens soon to eat into the very core of State authority. Not to speak of such centralizing Acts of Congress as the cotton futures act, the grain futures act, the packers and stockyards act, the maternity and infancy welfare act, or of the organization of such an invasion of State regulation as the Federal Children’s Bureau in the Department of Labor, the present pendency of the Child Labor Amendment to the Federal Constitution, which proposes to endow Congress with the power to limit, regulate or prohibit the labor of all persons under 18 years of age, is a startling illustration of the extent to which Congress is prepared to push federal dominion into the very vitals of the domestic life of the States. Closely associated with this proposition is the movement on foot in and outside of Congress to vest the control of education throughout the Union in the Federal Government. A companion movement is the one to amend the Constitution by giving Congress the power to pass uniform laws relating to marriage and divorce. To say nothing of the rest of the United States, it is curious to ask what the situation of the South would be when Congress had the power not only to forbid a 17-year old boy, when not at school, to help his father in the latter’s cotton or tobacco field, but to require white and black children to sit side by side on the same bench in school, and to legitimate intermarriage between whites and blacks. Naturally enough, these consolidating tendencies have been accompanied by a steady increase of paternalistic sentiment on the part of the people of the United States; even where they have not actually made for Socialism itself. Especially is this true of certain portions of the West where State background is wanting, where but a short time ago states were only public lands or territories, and where the habit of relying upon Federal supervision and pecuniary aid is, in consequence, very deeply rooted. But there is not a little to indicate that the same spirit is creeping over the South, once the very citadel of individualism and local autonomy. Not only did nine Democratic members of the Senate from the South vote, during the first session of the 68th Congress, for the submission to the people of the Child Labor Amendment, but all, or practically all, of the members of the Senate from the South voted during the second session of the same Congress in favor of giving the Federal Government the power to manufacture commercial fertilizers at Muscle Shoals in competition with its own citizens.

The Democratic Party should also seek to secure the repeal of the Volstead Act; so that each state of the Union may be free, in accordance with its own local usages, habits and convictions, to allow or disallow to its citizens the use, within the limitations of the 18th Amendment, of light wines and beer. In the great cities of the United States, at any rate, that Act is supported by no moral sanction whatever, and serves no purpose but that of bringing the most reputable and the most disreputable elements of human society into the closest working relations; with all the general depravation of morals and widespread contempt of law that such an unnatural liaison is certain to engender. Nor can the state of things in rural communities be much better; seeing that last year more stills were discovered in 12 of the “dry” Southern States than in 32 of the other States.


The Democratic Party cannot afford to be a mere conservative party. Nationally speaking, it has, ever since the Civil War, been the minority party; and the reputation of the Republican Party for staunch, not to say hidebound, conservatism is too well established for the Democratic Party to compete with it in that respect alone. It should continue, as it has done in the past, to rebuke class-selfishness, to assail monopoly and special privilege in every form, and fearlessly to uphold in all regards the rights of the People. In a land with such a vast business structure as ours, there will always be a function of this kind to be performed by one of the great national parties. But in the League of Nations the Democratic Party has an issue of a character even to irradiate the vision and to vivify the energies of the strongest and noblest party that any Commonwealth has ever known. Far the most momentous question of our day is this: Is the world to be deluged with blood and steeped in misery again by another such hideous war as the World-War? Fifty-six nations of the earth have responded to that question by organizing the League, and pledging to it their joint support; and already its healing and restraining hand has repeatedly made itself beneficently felt. Up to the present time, the relations of the Republican Party to the League have been marked by hypocrisy, factious pettiness, and a provincial, if not parochial, pur-blindness; and it is time for the United States to give up the idea of sneaking into the League by its back door, and to walk resolutely and proudly through its front door to its Council table, and to assume our proper share of the burdens and responsibilities of World-Peace. The popular referendum on the League, called for by the last national platform of the Democratic Party, should be ignored by it. The electoral defeats, if any, which have been inflicted upon it by the League issue, should be disregarded by it as it disregarded defeat when Grover Cleveland was nominated and elected in 1892 on the issue of Tariff Reform, after he had been defeated in 1888 on the same issue. That the United States will forever remain outside of the Council Chamber of the League is an idea irreconcilable with the manner in which the expanding moral aspirations of the human race and the Providence of God have heretofore asserted their influence in the progress of humanity. Come what may, the Democratic Party should be prepared at the earliest opportunity to risk its fortunes, as Wilson risked his life, in maintaining the Supreme obligation that the United States owes both to itself and the world to enter into the League and its Court.


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