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Τ Η Ε
THE PENNSYLVANIA CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
C VER since the adoption of the Constitution of the United
I States, the scheme of defining and limiting in a written instrument the rights of the co-ordinate branches of the government, and of laying down in it broad principles by which to guide them in the performance of their duties, has been regarded by the average American citizen as the sure foundation upon which the fabric of State legislation should be erected. We are so familiar in this country with this system, and so accustomed to regard as axiomatic the theories which induced our ancestors to adopt it, that we look with distrust upon the advocates of a government where the Legislature is practically omnipotent. Each score of years we dole out to our legislators a fresh lease of power with increased restricions, unwilling to trust them with more of Jove's power than is absolutely necessary to carry on the affairs of men while Jove nods. We are strongly inclined to think that this idea is a false one, and that it would be far preferable to grant almost unlimited powers to our representatives, and at the same time to hold them strictly responsible for their most trifling acts. Disguise the fact as our vanity may prompt us to do, broadly stated it amounts to this—that every quarter of a century we elect a respectable and intelligent legislative body to bind us, though voluntarily, hand and foot, for another generation, and to undo by the enactment
of general propositions for our future government the evil which has accumulated through bad legislation in the past. Cunningly as your restrictions may be devised, there are always new abuses which it is impossible to foresee, and which can only be remedied after their occurrence. Our views on this subject are, we believe, not generally shared; but we are convinced that, as the average voter grows more intelligent, the crazy governmental machine will be simplified, and that a system by means of which complicated legal locks are devised to keep in safety the most precious of our liberties, and a set of professional thieves then solicited to pick them for a large reward, will be regarded as less safe than to have them guarded by men in whom we can confide, on whichever side of the fastenings they may be placed.
It is our design in this article to examine briefly the causes which have contributed to render our State politics so degraded, and to suggest such modifications in the present Constitution as may lead, we believe, to purer legislation.
Perhaps the most potent evil from which we suffer is the prevalence of a system by means of which so vast a body of men, including all nationalities and containing all grades of mental capacity in their number, has a share in the choice of their representatives. Apart from its more obvious vices there is one which is, we think, frequently lost sight of, and which might be materially diminished. This is the difficulty of making personal worth felt in a large constituency, and the existence of strict party discipline which becomes necessary to manoeuvre successfully the vast array of voters on either side, in consequence of which his identity and individuality is almost entirely lost. Take, for example, Philadelphia, with its four senatorial districts and its vote, which varies, according to the exigency of the occasion, from 120,000 to 150,ooo ballots. Each State Senator has, therefore, a constituency of from 30,000 to 40,000 voters to whom to address himself. All possibility of intelligent combination is of course lost in this incoherent mass, limited as it is, not by any community of interests, but by curious mathematical figures contrived by the ingenious brain of some master in the art of gerrymandering.
We should suggest for this evil, as well as for the bribery which renders an honest man so helpless in all his attempts at reform, a common remedy, the advantage of which has long been felt both
in England and in Massachusetts. We mean a considerable increase in the number of members of the Legislature of the State. The certain result would be that each voter would take more interest, because he would possess more importance, in the election, and that the candidate for office could canvass his district far more easily and efficiently. A man's character as it is known among his neighbors is a far more accurate test of his moral worth than the scandalous innuendoes or the fulsome praises of a newspaper campaign; and such a character would be his principal recommendation to office. Hearsay would give way to personal observation.
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem
Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus. To be unknown would no longer be a recommendation to office. Another important result from such a system would be the much greater difficulty in packing conventions, and the greater facility with which party discipline might be broken. The voter, too, would take a more individual interest in his representative, and a greater responsibility, because owed to fewer persons, would be felt by the latter. It is true that the dishonest man would still have relatively an equal share in the selection of the candidate, but isolated, his power is gone, and his helplessness becomes at once apparent.
But how are we to cope with ignorance on the part of the voter, which is, after all, the prime cause of our present sufferings ? We must have recourse to that potent instrument which we have forged with so great toil and at so vast an expense—the Public School.
Let us not be misunderstood; the present system appears to us far from perfect, both in what it teaches and in the manner of conveying what is taught. Our weapon needs sharpening, and, as we all know, it is far harder to sharpen a dull instrument than to keep one already sharp from becoming dull. Two theories have always prevailed concerning the system of public schools— the one, that, it is unjust to take their money from the rich to supply the poor with the so-called luxury of education; the other, which after hard struggles has won the day, that in a country where universal suffrage prevails, the State should see that every citizen is rendered as capable as possible of exercising the important