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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

In the Monarchy an aristocratic Parliamentarism won


two periods of office mark a complete revolution in American institutions; he has for the Republic as it exists to day the significance of a second founder. From that period dates the frank abandonment of the fiction of the Electoral College as an independent deliberative assembly, and the direct and acknowledged election of the nation's Chief Magistrate by the nation itself. In the constitution of the Democratic Party, as it grouped itself round him, we get the first beginnings of the "primary," that essential organ of direct democracy of which English Parliamentarism has no hint, but which is the most vital feature of American public life. But, most of all, from his triumph and the abasement of his enemies dates the concentration of power in the hands of the President as the real unifying centre of authority. His attitude towards his Cabinet has been imitated by all strong Presidents since. America does not take kindly to a President who shirks personal responsibility or hides behind his Ministers. Nothing helped Lincoln's popularity more than the story--apocryphal or no--of his taking the vote of his Cabinet on a proposition of his own and then remarking: "Ayes one; Noes six. The Ayes have it." Even the "Spoils System," whatever its evils, tended to strengthen the Elect of the People. It made the power of an American President more directly personal than that of the most despotic rulers of Continental Europe; for they are always constrained by a bureaucracy, while his bureaucracy
even down to its humblest members is of his own appointment and dependent on him.

The party, or rather coalition, which opposed these changes, selected for itself, as has been seen, the name of "Whig." The name was, perhaps, better chosen than the American Whigs realized. They meant--and it was true as far as it went--that, like the old English Whigs, they stood for free government by deliberative assemblies against arbitrary personal power. They were not deep enough in history to understand that they also stood, like the old English Whigs, for oligarchy against the instinct and tradition of the people. There is a strange irony about the fate of the parties in the two countries. In the Monarchy an aristocratic Parliamentarism won, and the Crown became a phantom. In the Republic a popular sovereignty won, and the President became more than a king.



The extent of Jackson's more than monarchical power is well exemplified by the fact that Van Buren succeeded him almost as a king is succeeded by his heir. Van Buren was an apt master of electioneering and had a strong hold upon the democracy of New York. He occupied in the new Democratic Party something of the position which Burr had occupied in the old. But while Burr had sought his own ends and betrayed, Van Buren was strictly loyal to his chief. He was a sincere democrat and a clever man; but no one could credit him with the great qualities which the wielding of the immense new power created by Jackson seemed to demand. None the less he easily obtained the Presidency as Jackson's nominee. Since the populace, whose will Jackson had made the supreme power in the State, could not vote for him, they were content to vote for the candidate he was known to favour.

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