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of our institutions, best preserved the equality of the voters, and perfectly removed the choice of President from the baneful influence of the “gerrymander," the practice of all the States was brought into harmony. That this concurrence should now be broken is, I think, an unfortunate and even a threatening episode, and one that may well suggest whether the States that still give their approval to the old and prevailing method ought not to secure, by a constitutional amendment, a practice which has had the approval of all. The recent Michigan legislation provides for choosing what are popularly known as the Congressional electors for President by Congressional districts, and the two Senatorial electors by districts created for that purpose. This legislation was, of course, accompanied by a new Congressional apportionment and the two statutes bring the electoral vote of the State under the influence of the “gerrymander.”'
These gerrymanders for Congressional purposes are in most cases buttressed by a gerrymander of the legislative districts, thus making it impossible for a majority of the legal voters of the State to correct the apportionment and equalize the Congressional districts. A minority rule is established that only a political convulsion can overthrow. I have recently been advised that in one county of a certain State three districts for the election of members of the legislature are constituted as follows: One has 65,000 population; one, 15,000, and one, 10,000; while in another county, detached, noncontiguous sections have been united to make a legislative district. These methods have already found effective application to the choice of Senators and Representatives in Congress, and now an evil start has been made in the direction of applying them to the choice by the States of electors of President and Vice President. If this is accomplished, we shall then have the three great departments of the Government in the grasp of the “gerrymander," the legislative and executive directly and the judiciary indirectly through the power of appointment.
An election implies a body of electors having prescribed qualifications, each one of whom has an equal value and influence in determining the result. So when the Constitution provides that “each State shall appoint” (elect), “in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors,” etc., an unrestricted power was not given to the legislatures in the selection of the methods to be used.
“A republican form of government” is guaranteed by the Constitution to each State, and the power given by the same instrument to the legislatures of the States to prescribe methods for the choice, by the State, of electors must be exercised under that limitation. The essential features of such a government are the right of the people to choose their own officers and the nearest practicable equality of value in the suffrages given in determining that choice.
It will not be claimed that the power given to the legislature would support a law providing that the persons receiving the smallest vote should be the electors or a law that all the electors should be chosen by the voters of a single Congressional district. The State is to choose, and, under the pretense of regulating methods, the legislature can neither vest the right of choice elsewhere nor adopt methods not conformable to republican institutions. It is not my purpose here to discuss the question whether a choice by the legislature or by the voters of equal single districts is a choice by the State, but only to recommend such regulation of this matter by constitutional amendment as will secure uniformity and prevent that disgraceful partisan jugglery to which such a liberty of choice, if it exists, offers a temptation.
Nothing just now is more important than to provide every guaranty for the absolutely fair and free choice by an equal suffrage, within the respective States, of all the officers of the National Government, whether that suffrage is applied directly, as in the choice of Members of the House of Representatives, or indirectly, as in the choice of Senators and electors of President. Respect for public officers and obedience to law will not cease to be the characteristics of our people until our elections cease to declare the will of inajorities fairly ascertained, without fraud, suppression, or gerrymander. If I were called upon to declare wherein our chief national danger lies, I should say, without hesitation, in the overthrow of majority control by the suppression or perversion of the popular suffrage. That there is a real danger here all must agree, but the energies of those who see it have been chiefly expended in trying to fix responsibility upon the opposite party, rather than in efforts to make such practices impossible by either party.
Is it not possible now to adjourn that interminable and inconclusive debate while we take, by consent, one step in the direction of reform by eliminating the gerrymander, which has been denounced by all parties, as an influence in the selection of electors of President and members of Congress? All the States have, acting freely and separately, determined that the choice of electors by a general ticket is the wisest and safest method, and it would seem there could be no objection to a constitutional amendment making that method permanent. If a legislature chosen in one year upon purely local questions should, pending a Presidential contest, meet, rescind the law for a choice upon a general ticket, and provide for the choice of electors by the legislature, and this trick should deterinine the result, it is not too much to say that the public peace might be seriously and widely endangered.
I have alluded to the “gerrymander” as affecting the method of selecting electors of President by Congressional districts, but the primary intent and effect of this form of political robbery have relation to the selection of Members of the House of Representatives. The power of Congress is ample to deal with this threatening and intolerable abuse. The unfailing test of sincerity in election reform will be found in a willingness to confer as to remedies and to put into force such measures as will most effectually preserve the right of the people to free and equal representation.
An attempt was made in the last Congress to bring to bear the constitutional powers of the General Government for the correction of frauds against the suffrage. It is important to know whether the opposition to such measures is really rested in particular features supposed to be objectionable or includes any proposition to give to the election laws of the United States adequacy to the correction of grave and acknowledged evils. I must yet entertain the hope that it is possible to secure a calm, patriotic consideration of such constitutional or statutory changes as may be necessary to secure the choice of the officers of the Government to the people by fair apportionments and free elections.
I believe it would be possible to constitute a commission, nonpartisan in its membership and composed of patriotic, wise, and impartial men, to whom a consideration of the question of the evils connected with our election system and methods might be committed with a good prospect of securing unanimity in some plan for removing or mitigating those evils. The Constitution would permit the selection of the commission to be vested in the Supreme Court, if that method would give the best guaranty of impartiality.
This commission should be charged with the duty 'of inquiring into the whole subject of the law of elections as related to the choice of officers of the National Government, with a view to securing to every elector a free and unmolested exercise of the suffrage and as near an approach to an equality of value in each ballot cast as is attainable.
While the policies of the General Government upon the tarifi, upon the restoration of our merchant marine, upon river and harbor improvements, and other such matters of grave and general concern are liable to be turned this way or that by the results of Congressional elections, and administrative policies, sometimes involving issues that tend to peace or war, to be turned this way or
that by the results of a Presidential election, there is a rightful interest in all the States and in every Congressional district that will not be deceived or silenced by the audacious pretense that the question of the right of any body of legal voters in any State or in any Congressional district to give their suffrages freely upon these general questions is a matter only of local concern or control. The demand that the limitations of suffrage shall be found in the law, and only there, is a just demand, and no just man should resent or resist it. My appeal is, and must continue to be, for a consultation that shall “proceed with candor, calmness, and patience upon the lines of justice and humanity, not of prejudice and cruelty.”
To the consideration of these very grave questions I invite not only the attention of Congress, but that of all patriotic citizens. We must not entertain the delusion that our people have ceased to regard a free ballot and equal representation as the price of their allegiance to laws and to civil magistrates.
I have been greatly rejoiced to notice many evidences of the increased unification of our people and of a revived national spirit. The vista that now opens to us is wider and more glorious than ever before. Gratification and amazeinent struggle for supremacy as we contemplate the population, wealth, and moral strength of our country. A trust, momentous in'its influence upon our people and upon the world, is for a brief time committed to us, and we must not be faithless to its first condition—the defense of the free and equal influence of the people in the choice of public officers and in the control of public affairs.
BENJ. HARRISON. EXECUTIVE MANSION,
December 9, 1891