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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The British jurist and statesman Viscount James Bryce (1838-1922) tries to explain to a European audience how the American Party Primaries and Conventions worked. He argues that the previous system of “voluntary and extra-legal associations of citizens,” i.e. political parties, had become so corrupt that the nominating process had to be taken over by the state which now wielded statutory power over these new “public political institution(s).” Under the old system narrow and “selfish oligarchies” (the “Ring”) controlled the nomination process and manipulated the outcomes in order to guarantee the election of “their man.” This virtual “nationalization of political parties” by the state, it was hoped, would allow for free and open nominating procedures which would make bribery, fraud, violence, and manipulation a thing of the past.

Other quotes about Parties & Elections:

27 August, 2012

Bryce

James Bryce on the Party Primaries and Conventions in the American political system (1888)

Read the full quote in context here.

The British jurist and statesman Viscount James Bryce (1838-1922) tries to explain to a European audience how “voluntary and extra-legal associations of citizens,” i.e. American political parties, were nationalized by the state and turned into “public political institution(s)” regulated by statutory law:

This (reform) was sought by the novel and drastic method of turning what had been a (private) party Meeting into a (public) Election (by polling) at which the citizens should be entitled to vote (a) for the selection of party candidates, (b) for the selection of delegates to a party Convention, (c) for the members of the local party Committee. All this has now been done in practically every State, though with an endless variety of details in the provisions of the various State laws. Rules are laid down for the making up of the roll of members of a party, for the conduct and modes of voting at the Direct Primary election (as it is now called), for the prevention of bribery, fraud, and violence, in fact for all the matters that have to be prescribed as respects the regular public elections to a legislature or any public office. This legal recognition of Party as a public political institution, this application of statutory regulation to what had theretofore been purely voluntary and extra-legal associations of citizens, strikes Europeans as a surprising new departure in politics.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

None of the conditions which theory postulated had been in fact fulfilled. Comparatively few members attended, while some who would have attended were excluded because too independent. Thus the Primaries did not truly represent the party. When the Primary met, opposition, if any, to the names put forward by the Committee was over-borne by its henchmen, and often outwitted by a partisan Chairman who ruled questions of order against them. Accordingly in the cities and wherever there was a pretty dense population dominated by a Ring, the choice of candidates, delegates, and Committee men was dictated by the Ring. The reform needed, therefore, was to eliminate fraud in making up the party roll, and force as well as fraud in the conduct of business at the Primary. This was sought by the novel and drastic method of turning what had been a (private) party Meeting into a (public) Election (by polling) at which the citizens should be entitled to vote (a) for the selection of party candidates, (b) for the selection of delegates to a party Convention, (c) for the members of the local party Committee. All this has now been done in practically every State, though with an endless variety of details in the provisions of the various State laws. Rules are laid down for the making up of the roll of members of a party, for the conduct and modes of voting at the Direct Primary election (as it is now called), for the prevention of bribery, fraud, and violence, in fact for all the matters that have to be prescribed as respects the regular public elections to a legislature or any public office. This legal recognition of Party as a public political institution, this application of statutory regulation to what had theretofore been purely voluntary and extra-legal associations of citizens, strikes Europeans as a surprising new departure in politics. American reformers, however, had been so long accustomed to regard their parties as great political forces, national institutions which for good or for ill ruled the course of politics, that they jumped at any method of overthrowing a corrupt system, and were not in the mood to be arrested by anything savouring of constitutional pedantry. Nothing weaker than the arm of the law seemed to them capable of democratizing that nominating machinery which had been worked by a selfish oligarchy.

[More works by Viscount James Bryce (1838 – 1922) and on Political Theory]