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lative forum, including that of the magazine and newspaper, is not properly a political debate. No debate is complete unless it is followed by some concrete political action, preferably a vote upon a measure embodying the principle discussed. With such decision in prospect the controversy acquires the aspect of a real bout, a duel if there are two contestants, a field contest if there are many, and if these are, as is usually the case, divided into two parties, with the individual members of each so united in principle and program as to supplement the efforts of one another.
The duel, however, is the typical form of debate. Indeed, a field contest, in its general aspect of “team play,” is a duel of one group against another, and in detail is a number of duels between coupled antagonists.
Each contestant maneuvers to gain the superior position over his adversary, and, when this is attained, to drive home his advantage. Direction is given his efforts by the fixed end in view, which, in both parliamentary law and finesse, is the question to be voted upon. Therefore, debate is law in the making, and legislation is the essence of political history.
All great historians recognize this, and so from Thucydides down have studied legislative debates. To what degree they have done so is probably the most accurate test of the value of their work. Certainly it is so in the case of American historians, for the United States is in all political aspects a constitutional democracy, and every important political event must be related to some legislative act, passed almost invariably after discussion, or to some constitutional function, which was originally a legislative act passed after extended debate.
Debate is thus the crucible of law, which is the metal of history. This symbol of the fusing pot is particularly apt in the case of American debate, for almost all the results of Congressional discussion have been of the nature of compromises. Even when a minority has been overborne, its protest has, if not at once some time thereafter, become effective in toning down the original purpose of the majority. Thus the overwhelming and
imperious Radical majority in Congress after the Civil War failed to impeach President Johnson, and could not fasten permanently upon the South the Federal control of elections.
If, then, the historian profits by the study of debate, why should not everyone interested in politics follow his example? Why should he, too, not enjoy the enthusiasm of discovering the original materials of history and forming his own conclusions thereon?
Heretofore there has been a conclusive reasou why this pleasure and profit, this high culture of intellectual insight and judgment, have been denied him. It has been impossible, without devoting, like the historian, many years to research work, and an equal period to comparison and selection, to acquire a discriminating knowledge of the debates in Congress and of their relation to each other. The records of our national assembly are presented in about five hundred large tomes, each averaging a thousand pages of two thousand words, making an approximate total of one billion words. Beginning with the Annals of Congress, and continuing with the Congressional Globe and the Congressional Record, this record is in strict chronological order, routine business being mingled with debates in a fashion most provoking to the investigator. Furthermore, it takes an expert to follow a subject through its widely separated installments by means of the index. Even when he has acquired this facility, the reader must dig his way through a mass of worthless material to find the vein of golden thought for which he is seeking.
Undoubtedly the superior grounding of our early statesmen in their subjects of discussion was due simply to the fact that the literature of debate was still of moderate extent, so that they could compass all that had been said before them on any given question. “Elliott's Debates,” especially after their inclusion of the Madison Papers, rounded up the debates of the Confederation and the Constitutional Convention, although in undigested form. The Annals of Congress contained digests rather than verbatim reports of the debates in Congress for the first quarter of a century, and Senator
Thomas H. Benton's abridgment of Congressional debates down to the close of the first half of the nineteenth century saved recourse to the official reports. Benton's book can hardly be called a compilation, since it follows the chronological order of the Annals of Congress and the Congressional Globe, from which its material was taken, and merely reduces these official records by excision and condensation. It is a digest rather than a selection.
Although the need of a new selection and abridgment of American debates grew cumulatively greater with every year that followed Benton's work, the labor of preparing one increased apace, deterring editors from the task, and none appeared before the present year (1913).
It is true that the list of books relating to American eloquence forms one of the largest bibliographies of works published in the United States; and in this list collections of political orations are notable for their number and extent. But these are disjecta membra of debates, and, while inciting the reader with desire to possess the complete body, do not in any degree satisfy the desire. Even when a debate is ostensibly presented in one of these compilations, it is invariably the rhetorical, rather than argumentative, passages which are extracted and set over against each other. This is notably the case with the "classic" debate between Senators Webster and Hayne.
Believing that the practical American mind prefers argument, the clash of mind against mind, to mere rhetoric, which in its most interesting phase, the revelation of personality, is as far below debate as contrast is below contest, and realizing the entire absence of any work to satisfy this desire, Dr. Edward J. Wheeler, the editor of Current Opinion, several years ago planned a compilation of the great debates in our country's history from colonial times to the present, which should contain in logical arrangement selected public discussions of the most important national events, and forensic controversies over leading political issues, as conducted by our ablest and most brilliant statesmen.
Dr. Wheeler honored me by asking that I compile this important work. Accepting the pleasing but onerous task, I set to work quarrying material in the rough out of the rich and well-nigh inexhaustible mines of colonial historical records and the official proceedings of Congress. Going over hundreds of volumes each of about a thousand pages, almost literally leaf by leaf, in order that no debate of prime importance should slip by, I unearthed at least a thousand debates all of interest to-day to the student of politics and economics. From these, with Dr. Wheeler's assistance, and that of Albert Ellery Bergh, the editor of “The World's Great Classics” and other important compilations, whom Dr. Wheeler called into consultation, I selected the two hundred or more which appear in the present work. While a very profound delver into American political history may regret to find that some debate which he considers of importance has been omitted, nevertheless the editor insists that, taking every element of selection into consideration, the inclusion of any such debate would have forced a better one out of a work which is necessarily limited in its extent.
These are the standards by which the selection has been made. They are arranged in the order of precedence:
1. Importance of the historical event, the legislative act, or the political or economic issue which forms the subject of the debate.
2. Argumentative force of the speeches.
4. Distinguished rank of the speakers among American statesmen, with a minor preference for men of original views and interesting personality.
In preparing these debates the editor has faithfully tried to follow Herbert Spencer's great principle of literary composition: “economy of the reader's attention," and to this end has endeavored to give only that information which is essential to a proper understanding of each issue, and to present this in the place most available to the reader, whether it be preceding, during
the debate, or following it. The work is not intended as a political history (although it is calculated to form a valuable supplement to such a history) and therefore only that information is presented which will connect the debate in hand with others related to it, and which will save the reader recourse to other works in order to understand the political situation at the time of the debate, and the unexplained allusions of the debaters. In this way it is believed that the ends of readability and reference are both attained.
In further obedience to this law, he has abandoned the rule, common among editors of speeches, of indicating omissions by asterisks. Had he continued this practise, so numerous were the omissions, owing to the great exigency of condensation, that the reader might at times think he was contemplating an astronomical chart rather than surveying the galaxy of American forensic eloquence.
In similar consideration, no less for the author quoted than for the reader, the editor has interpolated as an intrinsic part of the speeches certain phrases bridging over the omitted portions. Then, too, except where a grammatical solecism was plainly intended by a speaker, or is indicative of his personality, such a slip has been corrected. In so doing the editor has followed the example of the best Congressional reporters, certainly a sufficient, if not imperative, precedent in the case of editing Congressional speeches. Sticklers for exact phraseology may readily find this in the Congressional records themselves, by using the dates of the present work as indicators. In this connection it may be claimed that, on the important questions for which these vast and voluminous records are consulted in nine cases out of ten, the present work forms a very simple and practical guide book.
Where the substance of a speech, in whole or in part, is given by the editor, this is distinguished typographically from speeches or parts of speeches reported as delivered. However, condensations of speeches, changed from direct to indirect discourse, which was the rule in early reporting before the days of verbatim presenta