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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 3
September, 1936
VIEWS OF A VISITOR TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

Page 324

In cataloging the thousands of volumes of newspapers in the Historical Society, we find a letter published in a Western Oklahoma newspaper giving the views of a visitor to the Constitutional Convention which was then in session.

Many of those who were members have written their accounts of this convention and has each put special stress on the part he had in framing our lengthy constitution, but we seldom had the views of a visitor in the gallery. We fear that the letter contains some plagiarism, but we print it as it appears in the paper. It is dated February 8, 1907.

"I had the pleasure of visiting the constitutional convention for two or three days, and I am free to say that I was agreeably surprised at the personnel of that body and was much pleased to see the splendid work that is being accomplished. Many good people have gotten the wrong impression of the convention by reading partizan newspapers and the stuff that is sent out by correspondents who are employed to discredit that body. While there I saw measures adopted by the committee of the whole, which will no doubt become a part of the constitution, regulating railroads and corporations that the people have in vain tried to enact into law at every session of the territorial legislature since 1890, but subtle influences prevented their enactment. I have faith in the organization—believe that the right sentiment is in control, and also believe that we are going to have a better constitution than any state in the Union.

"However, if I were asked for advice, or if I had the temerity to give advice without being asked, I would say: 'Be conservative. Do not try to regulate everything, from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, by the constitution.' I have noticed a disposition on the part of some of the members, and perhaps of the convention itself, to recognize, to legalize, and to constitutionalize societies, unions and associations that are organized to promote the special interests of their members rather than the general welfare.

Page 325

"Our constitution should not attempt to establish Jacobin societies within the state that may in time grow larger than the state itself. Such societies and unions are all well enough for their promoters and the interests that they serve, but they certainly have no part in the organic law of the state.

"You may regulate some of the forces of Nature and you may regulate mechanical appliances by fixed, definite mathematical rules; but you cannot so regulate Man. Humanity is an organism—not a mechanism. It is a mistake when you think you can regulate every act of a man's life by the law of the land; it is a mistake when you think you can control his moral life or regulate his social status by legislative enactment. Experiments of this kind have been tried in every nation and in every age, and they have not only resulted in disaster and defeat, but they have retarded the true development of the intellectual and moral man. In no nation and in no age has humanity made so great progress, nor has it reached so high a plane, as in this age and in our own great free republic.

"This progress has not been made so much as the result of law as of liberty. Man makes but little progress toward the goal of human perfection when lie is hedged about with laws and restrictions upon his individual rights; but when he is thrown upon his own manhood, becomes personally responsible for his own acts, he then rises to the attainment of his highest capabilities.

"You are retarding real progress when you undertake to make man good by the law; you are taking a step backward when you attempt to place a guardianship over American citizens (as if they were imbeciles, children or blanket Indians) by the constitution which you are making. Men assume moral obligations and have certain natural rights that are not the result of legislative enactments nor subject to the will of majorities. This idea was recognized in the constitution of the United States and must be recognized if we would perpetuate free government.

"Correlated with the principles I have above stated, I do not believe that the regulation of the acts of political parties is a proper subject of organic law. I recognize that we must have

Page 326

political parties to effect political ends and carry out political principles, yet they are but voluntary associations of men that may be dissolved or reorganized at any time. Political parties are not recognized in the constitution of the United States and should not be in that of Oklahoma. As a party measure, I believe in primary elections, but when the constitutional convention attempts to say how the candidates of this party or that party shall be nominated, it is assuming functions not within their purview and not consistent with the democratic idea of government.

"I see that it is now proposed to adopt a compulsory primary election law for all political parties for all offices and at the expense of the state. The people of Oklahoma now have a primary election law, but it is for each political party to say whether or not they shall nominate their candidates by convention or primary election; and if a primary election is adopted, the expense of such election is not on the state, but on the political party that adopts it. Not taking into consideration the question of trying to regulate political parties and all other organizations of democracy, which would permit each community to regulate by the constitution, this proposed law violates the first principles its own local affairs and each political party to present its candidates to be voted upon in any manner it may choose.

"There may be some excuse for a compulsory primary law in states where in reality there is but one political party and the man nominated is certain of election. But I never want to see any one party so strong in Oklahoma that it can elect a dishonest or corrupt man to office. If one party makes the mistake of placing dishonest men on the ticket, we have the alternative of voting for the candidate of the other party, or we can put an independent man on the ticket by petition. We have had conventions and we have held primary elections in our Territory, and I do not know of any candidate that the democratic party has presented who was not both honest and capable.

"The Democratic committee of this, the Second congressional district met at El Reno a short time ago, and after due consideration, decided to nominate our candidate for congress in a delegate convention. I have no doubt but that the committeemen attending that meeting represented the sentiments of a majority

Page 327

of the district, yet the constitutional convention proposes to take the right away from the representatives of the people and compel us to hold a primary election.

"The convention has acted wisely in adopting the initiative and referendum, and if the people should decide at any time in the future to pass a compulsory law they could do so, but it is certainly not the part of wisdom to put such a provision in the constitution where it cannot be altered or changed.

"The convention has done well so far, and its work is meeting with the approval of the people, but they should not in their zeal to serve the public, go beyond the legitimate sphere of a constitutional body and try to regulate the affairs of orders, lodges, unions, and political parties."

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