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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Political Compromises and Political ‘Log-Rolling’
By Horace Greeley (1811–1872)
 
From ‘The American Conflict’

POLITICAL compromises, though they have been rendered unsavory by abuse, are a necessary incident of mixed or balanced governments; that is, of all but simple, unchecked despotisms. Wherever liberty exists, there diversities of judgment will be developed; and unless one will dominates over all others, a practical mean between widely differing convictions must sometimes be sought. If for example a legislature is composed of two distinct bodies or houses, and they differ, as they occasionally will, with regard to the propriety or the amount of an appropriation required for a certain purpose, and neither is disposed to give way,—a partial concession on either hand is often the most feasible mode of practical adjustment. Where the object contemplated is novel, or non-essential to the general efficiency of the public service,—such as the construction of a new railroad, canal, or other public work,—the repugnance of either house should suffice entirely to defeat or at least to postpone it; for neither branch has a right to exact from the other conformity with its views on a disputed point, as the price of its own concurrence in measures essential to the existence of the government. The attempt therefore of the Senate of February–March, 1849, to dictate to the House, “You shall consent to such an organization of the Territories as we prescribe, or we will defeat the Civil Appropriation Bill, and thus derange if not arrest the most vital machinery of the government,”—was utterly unjustifiable. Yet this should not blind us to the fact that differences of opinion are at times developed on questions of decided moment, where the rights of each party are equal, and where an ultimate concurrence in one common line of action is essential. Without some deference to adverse convictions, no confederation of the insurgent colonies was attainable—no Union of the States could have been effected. And where the executive is, by according him the veto, clothed with a limited power over the making of laws, it is inevitable that some deference to his views, his convictions, should be evinced by those who fashion and mature those laws. Under this aspect, compromise in government is sometimes indispensable and laudable.  1
  But what is known in State legislation as log-rolling is quite another matter. A has a bill which he is intent on passing, but which has no intrinsic worth that commends it to his fellow members. But B, C, D, and the residue of the alphabet, have each his “little bill”; not perhaps specially obnoxious or objectionable, but such as could not be passed on its naked merits. All alike must fail, unless carried by that reciprocity of support suggested by their common need and peril. An understanding is effected between their several backers, so that A votes for the bills of B, C, D, etc., as the indispensable means of securing the passage of his own darling; and thus a whole litter of bills become laws, whereof no single one was demanded by the public interest, or could have passed without the aid of others as unworthy as itself. Such is substantially the process whereby our statute-books are loaded with acts which subserve no end but to fill the pockets of the few, at the expense of the rights or the interests of the many.  2
 
 
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