Saturday, July 18, 2009

Theodore Roosevelt on the "Tyranny of the Majority"

From his introduction to "Majority Rule and the Judiciary" by William Lynn Ransom

"There are sincere and well-meaning men of timid nature who are frightened by the talk of the "tyranny of the majority." Those worthy gentlemen are nearly a century behind the times. It is true that De Tocqueville, writing about eighty years ago, said that in this country there was great tyranny by the majority. His statement may have been true then, although certainly not to the degree he insisted, but it is not true now. That profound and keen thinker, James Bryce, in „ "The American Commonwealth," treats of this in his chapter on the "tyranny of the majority," by saying that it does not exist. His own words are that:

"It is no longer a blemish on the American system, and the charges against democracy from the supposed example of America are groundless. The fact that the danger once dreaded has now disappeared is no small evidence of the recuperative forces of the American government and the healthy tone of the American people."

I shall protest against the tyranny of the majority whenever it arises, just as I shall protest against every other form of tyranny. But at present we are suffering in no way from the tyranny of the majority. We suffer from the tyranny of the bosses and the special interests—that is, from the tyranny of minorities. Our respectable opponents among the leaders of business and the bar are acting as the servants and spokesmen of the special interests and are standing cheek by jowl with the worst representatives of politics, when they seek to keep the courts in the grasp of privilege and of the politicians; for this is all they accomplish when they prevent them from being responsible in proper fashion to the people. These worthy gentlemen speak as if the judges were somehow imposed on us by Heaven, and were responsible only to Heaven. As a matter of fact, judges are human just like other people, and in this country they will either be chosen by the people and be responsible to the people, or they will be chosen by and be responsible to the bosses and the special interests and the political and financial beneficiaries of privilege. In die course they are taking, the great corporation lawyers are, in some cases certainly unconsciously, and in other cases I fear consciously, acting in behalf of the special interests, political and financial, and in favor of privilege, and against the interests of the plain people, and against the cause of justice and of human right.

I wish to keep the courts independent. But at present the independence of the courts is far more frequently menaced by special privilege than by any popular tyranny. I wish to protect them against both. The safe way to prevent popular discontent with the courts from becoming acute and chronic, is to provide the people with the simple, direct, effective, and yet limited power to secure the interpretation of their own constitution in accordance with their own deliberate judgment, by the method I have above outlined."

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