Democracy in America, Volume 1

Contents:

Influence Which the American Democracy Has Exercised on the Laws Relating to Elections

When elections are rare, they expose the State to a violent crisis—When they are frequent, they keep up a degree of feverish excitement—The Americans have preferred the second of these two evils Mutability of the laws—Opinions of Hamilton and Jefferson on this subject.

When elections recur at long intervals the State is exposed to violent agitation every time they take place. Parties exert themselves to the utmost in order to gain a prize which is so rarely within their reach; and as the evil is almost irremediable for the candidates who fail, the consequences of their disappointed ambition may prove most disastrous; if, on the other hand, the legal struggle can be repeated within a short space of time, the defeated parties take patience. When elections occur frequently, their recurrence keeps society in a perpetual state of feverish excitement, and imparts a continual instability to public affairs.

Thus, on the one hand the State is exposed to the perils of a revolution, on the other to perpetual mutability; the former system threatens the very existence of the Government, the latter is an obstacle to all steady and consistent policy. The Americans have preferred the second of these evils to the first; but they were led to this conclusion by their instinct much more than by their reason; for a taste for variety is one of the characteristic passions of democracy. An extraordinary mutability has, by this means, been introduced into their legislation. Many of the Americans consider the instability of their laws as a necessary consequence of a system whose general results are beneficial. But no one in the United States affects to deny the fact of this instability, or to contend that it is not a great evil.

Hamilton, after having demonstrated the utility of a power which might prevent, or which might at least impede, the promulgation of bad laws, adds: "It might perhaps be said that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones, and may be used to the one purpose as well as to the other. But this objection will have little weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws which form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments." (Federalist, No. 73.) And again in No. 62 of the same work he observes: "The facility and excess of law-making seem to be the diseases to which our governments are most liable. . . The mischievous effects of the mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid succession of new members would fill a volume: every new election in the States is found to change one-half of the representatives. From this change of men must proceed a change of opinions’and of measures, which forfeits the respect and confidence of other nations, poisons the blessings of liberty itself, and diminishes the attachment and reverence of the people toward a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity."

Jefferson himself, the greatest Democrat whom the democracy of America has yet produced, pointed out the same evils. "The instability of our laws," said he in a letter to Madison, "is really a very serious inconvenience. I think that we ought to have obviated it by deciding that a whole year should always be allowed to elapse between the bringing in of a bill and the final passing of it. It should afterward be discussed and put to the vote without the possibility of making any alteration in it; and if the circumstances of the case required a more speedy decision, the question should not be decided by a simple majority, but by a majority of at least two-thirds of both houses."

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Chicago: "Influence Which the American Democracy Has Exercised on the Laws Relating to Elections," Democracy in America, Volume 1 in Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Trans. By Henry Reeve, 2 Vols. (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1900), Pp.207-209 Original Sources, accessed April 23, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CKUHQWXL1UFJJ1H.

MLA: . "Influence Which the American Democracy Has Exercised on the Laws Relating to Elections." Democracy in America, Volume 1, in Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Trans. By Henry Reeve, 2 Vols. (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1900), Pp.207-209, Original Sources. 23 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CKUHQWXL1UFJJ1H.

Harvard: , 'Influence Which the American Democracy Has Exercised on the Laws Relating to Elections' in Democracy in America, Volume 1. cited in , Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Trans. By Henry Reeve, 2 Vols. (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1900), Pp.207-209. Original Sources, retrieved 23 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CKUHQWXL1UFJJ1H.