Should Ex-Presidents Be Put to Death?
To the Editor of The Nation:
Sir: In party platforms, and even in candidates' letters of acceptance, every one naturally looks for loose, illogical, and inconsequential political thought. When, however, a man like Mr. R. H. Dana, Jr., takes up his pen in the North American Review we have a right to expect something better. In his political article in the January number of that periodical, Mr. Dana adopts the proposition of making the President ineligible for re-election, on the ground that, being thus deprived of all selfish inducement thereto, he will not abuse his power and patronage by using it as a political weapon. The doors of preferment being closed upon him, the President of the future will devote himself wholly to the present and to immortality! You have already pointed out in your columns the singular practical illustration of this theory in the recent public action of President Grant. Going out of power himself, he has exerted his whole official influence and patronage, as no President ever allowed it to be exerted before, to secure the succession to the candidate of the party which he (the President) says "he represents." Mr. Dana surely, therefore, must have seen that the remedy he proposes does not meet the difficulty. Ineligibility does not secure impartiality. What, then will ? Clearly we must go further.
It is obvious, the fact that a President cannot be reelected by no means deprives him of all interest in the election of his successor. But the hope of reward or political office, as well as partisanship, may induce him to sell his influence to a candidate. Logic must teach us, then, to guard against this danger, and a Constitutional amendment disqualifying one who has been President from ever holding any office of trust, honor, or emolument might meet the case, and deserves consideration. Even this, however, would not ensure unselfish devotion. Presidents may be poor men, they may have families; after a brief term in the Presidency they must have the means of decently ending a life in retirement. Here is a terrible temptation for poor human nature. Surely it should he cut off. Logically I can see, therefore, but one remedy for that great evil. To ensure in our Presidents a perfectly unselfish and unpartisan devotion to the duties of their great position, they must he so situated that they cannot possibly draw any benefit from abusing them. If every President knew that he was, like Lincoln, to die in office, he would strive to make his administration worthy to rank with Lincoln's. Worldly ambition would be eliminated from his official thoughts. I would suggest, therefore, that death, and not ineligibility or disqualification, is the true Constitutional remedy for the political evil which Mr. Dana so acutely points out. The President throughout his term should be elevated by the thought that when he lays his office down it will be to join the select circle of the immortals. Under these circumstances we might surely count on our Presidents putting worldly motives behind them; and surely it would add greatly to the impressiveness and solemnity of our now somewhat meagre inaugural ceremonies if it were made the Constitutional duty of the Chief-Justice to immediately put to death, before all the people, the old President, after administering the oath to the new one. This would be a complete, as well as both logical and philosophical, remedy for a confessed Constitutional defect. X. Y. Z.