With the House of Governors rests the power of securing through the cooperative action of the State legislatures uniform laws on vital questions demanded by the whole country.
Continuing The U.S. National Association of Governors Began,
with a selection from The House of Governors (1907) and from The Craftsman by William G. Jordan published in October, 1910. This selection is presented in 3.5 installments, each one 5 minutes long.
Previously in The U.S. National Association of Governors Began.
Place: Washington D.C.
With the House of Governors rests the power of securing through the cooperative action of the State legislatures uniform laws on vital questions demanded by the whole country almost since the dawn of our history, but heretofore impossible of enactment. The Federal Government is powerless to pass these laws. For many decades, tight held by the cramping bonds of Constitutional limitation, it has strained and struggled, like Samson in the temple, to find some weak spot at which it could free itself, and endangered the very supporting columns of the edifice of the Republic. It was bound in its lawmaking powers to the limitation of eighteen specific phrases, beyond which all power remained with the States and the people. In the matter of enacting uniform laws the States have been equally powerless, for, though their Constitutional right to make them was absolute and unquestioned, no way had been provided by which they could exercise that right. The States as individuals, passing their own laws, without considering their relation or harmony with the laws of other States, brought about a condition of confusion and conflict. Laws that from their very nature should be common to all of the States, in the best interests of all, are now divergent, different, and antagonistic. We have to-day the strange anomaly of forty-six States united in a union as integral parts of a single nation, yet having many laws of fundamental importance as different as though the States were forty-six distinct countries or nationalities.
Facing the duality of incapacity — that of the Government because it was not permitted to act and the States because they did not know how to exercise the power they possessed — the Federal Government sought new power for new needs through Constitutional amendments. This effort proved fruitless and despairing, for with more than two thousand attempts made in over a century only three amendments were secured, and these were merely to wind up the Civil War. The whole fifteen amendments taken together have not added the weight of a hair of permanent new power to the Federal Government. The people and the States often sleep serenely on their rights, but they never willingly surrender them, yet the surrender of a right is often the brave recognition of a higher duty, the fine assumption of a higher privilege. In many phases the need grew urgent, something had to be done. By ingeniously tapping the Constitution to find a weak place and hammering it thin by decisions, by interpretations, by liberal readings, by technical evasions and other methods, needed laws were passed in the interests of the people and the States. Many of these laws would not stand the rigid scrutiny of the Supreme Court; to many of them the Government’s title may now be valid by a kind of “squatter’s sovereignty” in legislation, — merely so many years of undisputed possession.
This was not the work of one administration; it ran with intermittent ebb and flow through many administrations. Then the slumbering States, turning restlessly in their complacency, at last awoke and raised a mighty cry of “Centralization.” They claimed that the Government was taking away their rights, which may be correct in essence but hardly just in form; they had lost their rights, primarily, not through usurpation but through abrogation; the Government had acted because of the default of the States, it had practically been forced to exercise powers limited to the States because the States lapsed through neglect and inaction. Then the Government discovered the vulnerable spot in our great charter, the Achilles heel of the Constitution. It was just six innocent-looking words in section eight empowering Congress to “regulate commerce between the several States.” It was a rubber phrase, capable of infinite stretching. It was drawn out so as to cover antitrust legislation, control and taxation of corporations, water-power, railroad rates, etc., pure-food law, white-slave traffic, and a host of others. But even with the most generous extension of this phrase, which, though it may be necessary, was surely not the original intent of the Constitution, the greatest number of the big problems affecting the welfare of the people are still outside the province of the Government and are up to the States for solution.
It was to meet this situation, wherein the Government and the States as individuals could not act, that the simple, self-evident plan of the House of Governors was proposed. It required no Constitutional amendment or a single new law passed in any State to create it or to continue it. It can not make laws; it would be unwise for it to make them even were it possible. Its sole power is as a mighty moral influence, as a focusing point for public opinion and as a body equal to its opportunity of transforming public opinion into public sentiment and inspiring legislatures to crystallize this sentiment into needed laws. It will live only as it represents the people, as it has their sympathy, support, and cooperation, as it seeks to make the will of the people prevail. But this means a longer, stronger, finer life than any mere legal authority could give it.
The House of Governors has the dignity of simplicity. It means merely the conference of the State Executives, the highest officers and truest representatives of the States, on problems that are State and Interstate, and concerted action in recommendations to their legislatures. The fullest freedom would prevail at all meetings; no majority vote would control the minority; there would have to be a quorum decided upon as the number requisite for an initial impulse toward uniform legislation. If the number approving fell below the quorum the subject would be shown as not yet ripe for action and be shelved. Members would be absolutely free to accept or reject, to do exactly as they please, so no unwilling legislation could be forced on any State. But if a sufficient number agreed these Governors would recommend the passage of the desired law to their legislatures in their next messages. The united effort would give it a greater importance, a larger dynamic force, and a stronger moral influence with each. It would be backed by the influence of the Governors, the power of public sentiment, the leverage of the press, so that the passage of the law should come easily and naturally. With a few States passing it, others would fall in line; it would be kept a live issue and followed up and in a few years we would have legislation national in scope, but not in genesis.
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