Should the Chicago Aldermanic Elections Next Spring Be Non-Partisan?, November 7, 1913

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<City Club Speech>

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 aldermen. 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 party success, that it is quite impossible for them to change that viewpoint all at once.

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. [page 2]

We go right on talking about 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 such 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.

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 better <more> about failures in independent candidacies than a resident in the Nineteenth Ward like myself. [page 3]

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 demand 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.

Something of the glamour, something of the loyalty that attach themselves to the party, must be transferred to the independent candidate 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 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 [page 4] 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 consist 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 well all know it and have learned to deal with it in our daily relations outside of politics.

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 voter will doubtless prove of [page 5] 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 and 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 administration to those needs and the pretensions of the various political parties.

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 stock of fixed ideas.

When I was in London, thirty-four years ago, about the time that the London County Council was established [page 6] 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 John Bright 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.

I do not in the least know what the platforms of the women will be. I am 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 voters 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 are arrested in Chicago every year and of this number 48,563 are discharged because the policeman has made a mistake. We can all easily imagine what it means to a family to have one of its members arrested -- the disgrace, the [page 7] 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 sub-normal. 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 out 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.

I think the woman's vote will keep the politicians guessing until they get hold of this clue: <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, [page 8] 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 and bewildered immigrants, I do not believe we need to be worried as to whether the candidates stand in any party, Democratic, Republican, Progressive or Socialist. [page 9]

City Club

Speech Nov 1913