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THE SETTING FOR JOHN W. DAVIS
No one, I think, can understand the took on the character of a social revdeeper issues of this campaign who has olution in the victory of Andrew not first understood how that passion- Jackson, played a determining part in ately popular convention in New York the Civil War, and has since then turned against all its own preconcep- inspired every important expression of tions to nominate John W. Davis. For political discontent from the Greenwhen it assembled very few delegates backers through the Populists to thought that he could be chosen. The Bryan, the Bull Moose, and La Foljinxes of politics had apparently done lette's candidacy in 1924. It is the their best to destroy him. He came division first between town and counfrom a small border state; he had been try, generalized into a conflict between Ambassador to the Court of St. James; those sections where the towns are he was a Wall Street lawyer. Thus he dominant and those where the rural violated all the tabus in the political counties are dominant. The distress ritual, and he was impossible. Yet two of the agrarian West during the last few weeks later he was the inevitable choice years would in any case have revived of a convention which had displayed this old sectional conflict. But it had more unvarnished popular feeling than been embittered by the historic coinany important assembly of our time.cidence that the old economic, social,
The delegates did this extraordinary and cultural division corresponds thing because they had gone through roughly to a new racial and religious an extraordinary experience. They had division. The ancient suspicions of the learned more at first hand about the countryside against the bankers, the really dangerous problems of America, wholesalers, and the magnates of they had learned more of the actual the towns fused with the dislike of the motives which move the great masses older Protestant villages for the Cathof men, than anyone of this generation olic, Jewish, and foreign-born populahad thought it possible to learn. In the tions of the great cities. It happened face of what they saw, the standardized that Mr. McAdoo became the rallying rules of the political game, reactionary, point of the antipathies of the West conservative, liberal, or radical, seemed and South, Governor Smith for those of remote and inconsequential.
the North and East. They brought For they saw the oldest American an historic conflict to a dramatic issue. conflict renewed once more. There in This conflict was suppressed in the Madison Square Garden was that same Republican and in the La Follette sectional division which arose over the conventions for the simple reason that adoption of the Constitution and the neither was a true sample of the nation. fiscal policy of Alexander Hamilton, The Republican Party is a sectional II
party. It does not exist in the South, revealed the actual emotional alignand its Southern delegates are picked ments within the convention. I am not from rotten boroughs owned by ab- criticizing them. They did what any sentee political landlords in the North- politician would do if he could. I am east. There is no possibility, therefore, simply trying to point out that Chairin a Republican Convention, of a coali- man Butler and Mr. La Follette could tion of South and West against the avoid the issue of sectionalism because East. The West fights alone, and in the country was not truly represented such a contest it has no chance. It is in the conventions they had to deal easily overridden by the Eastern polic with; and that it was not easy, probticians whenever they are not engaged, ably it was impossible, for the Demoas they were in 1912, in a factional crats to follow their example. For the quarrel which leads one faction to form Democratic Party is actually national a temporary alliance with the insurgent in scope, and in its convention the West. That is why the sectional con- main antagonisms within the nation flict which prevails as truly in the were correctly represented. Republican as in the Democratic Party came to nothing at Cleveland but an hour of jeering at the Wisconsin delegates. The Republican managers The forces arrayed there were not had no South to consider and, rather two factions in the Democratic Party, than debate with the West, they in- but two cultures in America. They vited La Follette to leave the party. were divided by the suspicion that is The President would have preferred engendered between divers communot to appear as candidate of a purely nities, blind suspicion and misundersectional party, and at the eleventh standing and profound self-righteoushour attempted to cross the Mississippi ness. They were not quarreling about in search of a Vice-President. But the the Mellon Plan, the Fordney-Mcsectional feeling of the Northeast, even Cumber Tariff, the McNary-Haugen in his own Massachusetts delegation, Bill, the League of Nations, Prohibition, was too powerful to turn the conven- or any other seizable, arguable, contion toward any Western candidate who crete thing. Should the Ku Klux Klan would accept its nomination. Thus the be denounced by name, or denounced Republican Party avoided an open not by name? A ridiculous issue to a conflict in its convention by identifying cold observer, but a passionate one to itself entirely with one section of the those engaged, for on that triviality country.
deep distrust was expended. The sheer The La Follette Convention was in emptiness of the ostensible issue made this respect the complement of the the passion engendered all the more Republican. It, too, had no representa significant to those who managed to tion from the South; it had no signifi. look beyond the heat and noise, and cant connections. with the East. The the little personal destinies involved, to core, as distinguished from the fringe, the meaning. For here, still within the was the most frankly sectional of all the bounds of a common patriotism and the conventions. Senator La Follette's narrower bounds of party loyalty, were managers refused to allow debate on the makings of exactly the sort of any popular issue, much less on such antagonism that lies between Ulster burning issues as the Klan, Prohibition, and the Irish Free State. and foreign policy, which would have There were times when it seemed as
der intrinsically, and had bonusovered, thatnce,
inem knew, busly congth of expe
if the Democratic Party must split, as thing which counted was not what the Republican Party had split, under somebody might say of him, but what the strain of the conflict. It would, I intrinsically he was. And every man of think, have been a bad day for Amer them knew, and had known long before ica had that happened. The breakdown he was seriously considered, that in of the only remaining national party sheer equipment, breadth of experience, would have left the government at the and dignity of utterance he was the mercy of three or four sectional parties, outstanding Democrat of his time. no one of them responsible for accommo- That is how a most disorderly condating the differences that must of vention came to select a man with a necessity exist in a continental nation. deep sense of order; how a convention It would have surrendered American boiling with passion selected a man of politics to that most wretchedly cor- serenetemper;howa convention charged rupt of all systems, the coalition of log with ignorance and prejudice selected rolling blocs. We may still arrive at a man of lucid and judicious intellithat. But as long as one party remains gence; how a convention filled with national in scope, the other cannot long crusaders selected a man who has no remain divided. By some kind of re- trace of fanaticism in him; how a conalignment and accommodation, per- vention in which two factions utterly haps within both parties, unity will be distrusted each other united at last restored, and while that unity exists the on a man who gives at once a sense sectional conflict will remain under of assurance. I am no believer in the control. The danger point would have doctrine of the mysterious rightness of arrived were each party wholly identi- the popular will, but in this case men fied with a section, and if every ambi- who had looked into a witches' caultious politician's personal interest lay dron of hatred and disunion yielded to in outbidding his rival by sharpening a half-conscious judgment which was sectional complaints and sectional de- far more reliable than their common mands. But as long as one party bids sense. For they turned to the one for votes in every part of the country, candidate who embodied preëminently the other party must do the same. And those very qualities for lack of which in the need to make a diverse appeal, the party had almost destroyed itself. though it means much ambiguity and hypocrisy, lies also the necessity of tolerance and moderation. And on the will to live and let live depends the His nomination was the result of ultimate safety of a varied common- confidence in his character rather than wealth.
of studied agreement with his views. In the Democratic leaders who finally He was assumed to be in the orthodox assumed control after ten days of sense a conservative, partly because of factional warfare, the principle motive, his professional associations in the last of course, was to save the party. They three years, and partly because of his had very little time to formulate personal bearing. He had made no conscious judgments. They obeyed an active campaign for the nomination, intuition which told them that in an and had nearly broken the hearts of his
good enough. They were shocked into make one gesture which would seem to an agreement on John W. Davis by the reflect on his clients, or to betray the · realization that in such a storm the slightest distrust of the soundness of the
working what to plan cook. It to advis
legal services he was engaged in. I have for ten years ago progressivism was seen a good many men under the awful pledged to the aggrandizement of the temptation of the Presidency. I have federal power as the only quick and sure never seen another who had such abso- way of curing social evils. The war lute self-respect. The practice of hang- came, and the federal power was ing your soul out on the clothesline for aggrandized with a vengeance. It an airing was not the fashion in West 'took over' everything down to advisVirginia when John Davis's character ing the cook how to cook. It told the
farmer what to plant, and it told the It was formed apparently in a society workingman where to work. It manwhere itching ambition and the need to aged credit, and imports and exports, push did not prevail. He has retained and production and consumption, and that more old-fashioned tempo of soul. wages, and hours and prices, and perAnd this is, I think, the quality which sonal opinions, and school textbooks, causes people to call him distinguished. and the hymns to be sung in church. He is singularly distinct in a gathering It was all in a good cause and done, no of successful New Yorkers, for example, doubt, with the noblest motives, but it by the absence of that stress in his face concentrated upon the Federal Governand in his manner, which success under ment a terrifying burden of expectamodern conditions costs most men. He tions, ambitions, and complaints. You seems more reserved, and gives a sense settled nothing at home after a while of having arrived without losing his by agreement with your neighbor. You breath. Yet he has made his own way boarded a train for Washington and in the world. Only he has made it demanded a law compelling him to somehow without wrenching himself, agree with you. And the more laws you as a man might in a smaller community had the more patriotic you were, and where outstanding ability and great the more inspected you were the more personal charm advertise themselves. moral you were, and the more laws you He has ambition, of course, for worldly passed to 'curb’ the other fellow the things. But it does not torture him. more progressive you were. Success has come to him in the ordi- In the post-war world governnary course of events. He has little lust ment has been the last thing to deof power. He has exercised power in mobilize. It has remained inflated, every community where he has lived pretentious, overnationalized, quarrelfrom the time he was a country lawyer, some, and a perpetually tempting and it seems to fascinate him far less prize for quarrelsome people to seize. than it does most men. He has a nat. John Davis is a radical opponent of ural composure within him, which is this whole tendency toward the aga less tricky thing than self-control, in grandizement of government. That a man who sets out to deal dispassion makes him an opponent of some things ately with the problems of the modern that are no doubt in themselves desirworld.
able, and of many more things that are The framework of his mind was undesirable. Whether this is to be formed in West Virginia. It is that of called progressive or conservative, I do the traditional Democrat with the not know, but that in the maladies of Jeffersonian distrust of centralization, the modern world it is wise and liberal, a powerful dislike of bureaucracy, and I have little doubt. a strong prejudice in favor of home rule. And by the same token, Mr. Davis Ten years ago this was conservatism, seems to me the only one of the three. candidates whose mind actually deals ones, because nobody in public office with the post-war world. He alone in knows enough. The main task of the last ten years has had direct experi- government is, in the largest sense, so ence of it, first as Solicitor-General and to police the world that individual and then as Ambassador to Great Britain. corporate arrangements can be made Mr. La Follette had a deep experience without resort to force. In that sense of the vindictive intolerance of war; the Jeffersonian Doctrine is for the he had no first-hand experience of its circumstances in which we find ourgreat problems. Mr. Coolidge was selves the most apt. removed throughout from the main Mr. Coolidge's conservatism, involvexperience so far as it involved the ing economic concentration of power taking of the important decisions. under a high tariff and political Mr. Davis was in the thick of it from isolation through a refusal to share start to finish. It is not surprising, the burden of preserving order in the therefore, that his mind defies classifi- world, seems to be inspired by no sense cation as conservative, like Mr. Cool- of responsibility for any appreciable idge's, or as progressive, like Mr. future. Mr. La Follette's progressivism La Follette's. If that seems unsatis- is at least gallant, but from my point factory to anyone, let him try to classify of view it is more the expression of pain under pre-war categories a man like than a cure for the malady. It is, of Lord Robert Cecil, or Lord Haldane, course, a movement of protest without or even Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. He a programme meant to be carried out, will find it difficult because the post- and it would not be fair to pick out this war world does not submit to the plank or that in the platform as the formulæ of orthodox progressivism and considered demand of all his followers. conservatism.
But if they have yet to draw up their This is what makes Mr. Davis so programme, their tendency is evident. bewildering to both camps of his oppo- It is to increase the managing activity nents. American progressivism has of government by entrusting it with a not reconsidered its position for ten leading rôle in the solution of economic years, and American conservatism for questions. That was the hopeful course about twenty-five. To both, the war ten years ago. Is it so to-day? was an interlude, and its conclusion a For to do that is to make the control signal for the conservatives to return of government a prize of such enormous
lette Progressives to return to the un- it fiercely. Is that desirable? Ten finished task of busting the unbustable years ago we should have said that in trusts.
such contention democracies are eduThe real problems of government in cated. To-day, with our experience of the world after the war lie elsewhere. how the mind of the mass of men can be What government can do toward the moved, with our enormously increased actual ‘solution’ of post-war problems electorate and our greatly complicated is, I believe, comparatively little. By life, we should be less certain that we means of high tariffs, armaments, wish to accentuate the fierceness of the adventures in security, and dishonest struggle for power. For if it came, it fiscal policies, it can do an enormous lot would not come, I think, as a debate on to prevent people from making the the merits of economic issues. It would necessary post-war adjustments. It come, as it came in the Democratic cannot direct them to make the right Convention, in tidal waves of anger and