Should the Chicago Aldermanic Elections Next Spring Be Non-Partisan?, November 29, 1913

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The question, "Should the Aldermanic Elections Next Spring Be Non-Partisan?" was discussed at the City Club Friday, November 7, by Allen B. Pond of the Municipal Voters' League, George C. Sikes, Jane Addams and Alderman Charles E. Merriam. Judge Robert McMurdy, chairman of the City Club Committee on Political Nominations and Elections, presided.

Allen B. Pond

"In 1895 the critical situation of Chicago with reference to important matters of public policy -- especially the proposed traction grants -- drew the earnest attention of all observant citizens to the character of the Common Council. Groups of citizens came together to consider ways and means for improving its quality.

"Two sharply divergent views cropped out at once. On the one hand, some persons believed it utterly hopeless in Chicago and in American cities generally to rely upon the national party organizations to bring about good civic conditions. The immediate program of that group was the organization of a municipal party.

M. V. L. Organized to Aid Independent Voting

"In the other group were those who realized that however desirable ideally a municipal party might be, to put such an organization into the field effectively so as to secure and hold the balance of power in the Council would be a work of several years at least, and that in the interim the proposed franchise grants which were sought from the city and which were so adverse to its interests would be nailed down, possibly for fifty or a hundred years. It was therefore necessary to find some method of stimulating independent, non-partisan voting as a means of securing, with the least delay, a City Council fit to deal with the issues at stake. The opinion of this second class prevailed, and there was organized as a result the body which came to be known as 'The Municipal Voters' League.' Thus the 'Municipal Voters' League' was based from the beginning upon the idea of non-partisan aldermanic elections and the ignoring of national party issues.

"The result of the first election after the organization of the League, that of 1896, was that eight wards voted counter to their prevailing party politics, and that in three wards independent candidates were elected. Evidently there were in the city at that time a considerable number of people willing to ignore national parties in municipal elections. [page 2]

"If we want good government in this community we must awake from our lethargy and handle the situation with vigor. To do that we should have some agency -- in fact, a great many agencies working together -- affirmatively for the independent nomination of alderman in this community." (Applause.)

Jane Addams

"I take it that I have been asked to participate in this discussion largely because the women of Illinois have a vote in municipal affairs. While I have no possible right to speak for any woman's vote but my own, I think I am quite justified in saying that the sentiment among the majority of the women with whom I have talked ever since the good news came that we possessed the vote, has been in favor of non-partisanship in municipal affairs and in the election of alderman. This is not for theoretical reasons but simply because for so long a time women have studied municipal matters from the point of view of municipal needs and not from the point of view of party success, that it is quite impossible for them to change that viewpoint all at once. 

The Psychology of Politics

"Graham Wallas, in his very interesting book, 'Human Nature in Politics,' recently published in England, says that while we have learned to study education from the point of view of child psychology, so that instead of telling teachers only how to organize and manage a school they are taught to understand children, and that while we have begun to study the criminal from the point of view of criminal psychology so that instead of merely classifying crimes and punishments the offender is studied as a human being, we have not yet learned to apply social psychology to the field of political action.

"We go right on talking about the individual voter as if he were merely a party adjunct, a useful unit for party organization, exactly as the old economists used to talk about the 'economic man.' The economic man, you remember, was a sort of lone wolf who was impelled by no other desire than to keep himself and his family from starving. He would do anything to secure that and to accumulate money afterwards but no other motive could possibly be brought to bear upon him. Of course, we all know, in the words of Artemus Ward, that 'there ain't no sich person' as the economic man and that the science of political economy made little progress until it got rid of that fiction and looked at men as they really exist, each with a bundle of complicated and overlapping motives.

"There is little doubt that at the present moment the science of politics with its arbitrary division of the voters into party adherents, is in much the same dreary condition as the old political economy was, and that many blunders are going to be made until we study the real facts of human nature in relation to political action.

Why Independent Candidates Fail

"So long as we remain under the party concept of politics -- the mechanical concept which assumes that a voter will respond only to recognized party cries and loyalties -- it is easy to understand why independent candidates have so often failed; and no one in Chicago knows more about failures in independent candidacies than a resident in the Nineteenth Ward like myself.

"The independent candidate fails largely because the party has become such a permanent and beloved object to the average voter that he finds it difficult to marshal any enthusiasm or interest when the party appeal is lacking. He has been trained from childhood to adhere to the party, to shout for its emblems, to respond to its demands and to vote in its column. His political party has obtained a certain hold upon his affections which the independent candidate, making an abstract appeal, cannot secure.

Voter Will Not Respond to Intellectual Appeal Alone

"Something of the glamour, something of the loyalty that attach to the party, must be transferred to the independent candidates or, of course, he can never be successful. But, with a curious disregard of the human nature of the average voter, such a candidate too often deals with political measures as if they were pure abstractions, and too often talks only of principles and reforms; and because his campaign lacks, perforce, the [page 3] glamour that surrounds the party, he conducts it without the aid of any glamour at all. Naturally this lack of color results in failure, for while the candidate and his managers may be sustained by a sense of virtue and consciousness that their reform will save the city, they do not get this across to the voter, who either does not know that there is a non-partisan campaign going on at all, or vaguely wonders what new graft there is in it, or -- most commonly of all -- resents the entire effort as a criticism upon all existing parties and upon his own in particular.

"At the time of election, and during the campaign preceding it, his emotional nature has been accustomed to a state of expansion, for he loves his party and his candidates with a real affection, and it is largely this genuine affection for political entities called parties which makes political union possible and accounts for the tactics of an ordinary election, which consists largely of appeals to this assumed affection. The independent candidate who ignores all this and takes his stand upon abstract principle naturally excites hostility. It has been cleverly said that the Athenians put Socrates to death really because his dialectics turned the gods back into abstractions.

"While this exact fate does not befall the non-partisan, independent candidate, something very like it often occurs. The easiest way -- possibly the only way -- to establish the zeal and devotion which shall be able to compete with the old party loyalties is to walk straight away from the conception of the voter as a party unit, as the political economists have already abandoned their conception of the 'economic man,' and to organize municipal campaigns upon the basis of human nature as we all know it and have learned to deal with it in our daily relations outside of politics.

The Part That Women Will Play

"In this present need of relating human nature as it is to political action which shall push forward municipal measures upon their merits, irrespective of party slogans, the newly enfranchised women voters will doubtless prove of inestimable value, because they are accustomed to understand the people as they are in their daily lives, to find out what they want and to try to secure it from the existing governmental officials rather than from party leaders.

"I don't wish to claim too much for women; on the whole the women who have wanted to vote have, I admit, always claimed too much for themselves. But I contend that women coming into politics freshly are going to take them from the point of view of human needs, and that they will more easily discover the great gaps which at present exist between the reasonable ministration to those needs and the pretensions of the various political parties.

Women to Be Candidates

"Because of that situation and because of the value of the very newness of the vote among the women of Chicago, some of us are quite resolved to put up two or three women as candidates for alderman, and it seems to me quite clear that these women candidates should be non-partisan. I realize that it is too soon to begin to inaugurate a campaign for any particular aldermanic candidate, but because the idea of women candidates may not be popular I take this occasion to announce the intention to this Club that its members may get used to the idea, for there is nothing so kindly as time in healing the wounds made by new suggestions upon our stocks of fixed ideas.

"When I was in London thirty-four years ago, about the time that the London County Council was established, two women were elected members of the new Council, for then, as now, householders in London, -- women as well as men -- had a vote. One of these women was the daughter of Richard Cobden and was elected, I believe, partly because of her father's name, as people occasionally are elected even here in Chicago. The other was Victoria Cons, a woman who had stood for much needed reforms in the most neglected part of London. These two women, although elected, were not allowed to sit because of a court decision which declared them not eligible, but if women could be elected to the London County Council thirty-four years ago I am sure we might reasonably expect to elect women to the Common Council of Chicago in the year 1914.

Human Welfare the Keynote

"I do not in the least know what the platforms of the women will be. I am [page 4] quite sure that if Miss McDowell is a candidate for alderman the question of garbage disposal will not be omitted from her program, and I am also convinced that the women will not make their primary appeal to the intellectual voter who can balance between abstractions, but to sympathetic men and women who are eager to make Chicago a better place to live in if they can see how it may be done. Doubtless, some aldermanic candidate -- man or woman -- will see the importance of unnecessary arrests. 84,581 people were arrested in Chicago last year and of this number 48,563 were discharged because the policeman had made a mistake. We can all easily imagine what it means to a family to have one of its members arrested -- the disgrace, the fright, the emotional disturbance, not only to the immediate family, but to the remotest relatives. When Mr. Gaynor became mayor of New York one of the first things he did was to cut down the number of arrests from 235,000 to 132,000 -- not because he was a politician, but because he was a big-hearted man who realized the unnecessary wretchedness which unjustified arrests brought about. It was that sort of thing, I suppose, which brought to his side many people who were not members of his party.

"I am quite sure that some woman candidate will say something about the feeble-minded children of Chicago who, because they are uncared for, get into all sorts of difficulties so that one-third of the boys in Pontiac and more than one-third of the girls at Geneva are subnormal. These children should have been cared for long before they became criminals and it is only reasonable to insist that they be safeguarded.

"One could mention endless human needs, such as good housing, which ought to become part of the municipal program. These are not abstract propositions -- they have to do with things which need to be done and can be done only by the people who take them at their face value, irrespective of party distinctions.

The Municipal Program and National Parties

"I think the woman's vote will keep the politicians guessing until they get hold of this clew, that it will be the task of the women to translate human needs into political action. I cannot see that such a municipal program will have any reasonable connection with national parties. If, in Chicago, we can put into office those candidates who will endeavor to minister to these great human needs, who will try to improve the conditions of neglected children, of badly housed families, of bewildered immigrants, I do not believe we need be worried as to whether the candidates stand in any party, Democratic, Republican, Progressive or Socialist." (Applause.)