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Two-Thirds Rule

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TWO-THIRDS RULE, a provision of constitutional and parliamentary law intended to restrain and prevent unjust and inconsiderate action on the part of majorities. It was un known in the legislative assemblies of ancient Greece and Rome, and has no precedent in the Parliamentary history of Great Britain. It may be regarded as American in its origin, and grew out of the jealous vigilance with which the smaller communities included in the Union of States sought to safeguard their political rights. The Constitution of the United States, in con ferring on the Sehate the power to try impeach ments, provided that no conviction should be had by less than a two-thirds vote, thus secur ing to a minority of the States as represented in the. Senate, the power to decide the result. The effect of the two-thirds provision, in the case of President Andrew Johnson, when tried on articles of impeachment, was to prevent his conviction, the vote being 35 senators for con viction and 19 for acquittal. A change of one vote would have carried conviction and al though public feeling ran high at the time, some senators who voted against the President ex pressed themselves in subsequent years as gratified with the result. In this case the two thirds rule had exactly the effect intended by the framers of the Constitution. A similar rule regarding trials of impeachment has been adopted in State constitutions. The Constitu tion of the United States also provides that in the event of a veto by the President of any measure which has passed Congress, an affirma tive vote of two-thirds shall be necessary to enact the measure into law, and such vote must be taken by yeas and nays, and the names oi the persons voting entered on the journal of each house respectively. This rule has also been adopted in the States in which governors possess the power of veto.

The two-thirds rule is best known through its adoption and political effect in national con ventions of the Democratic party held for the nomination of candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States. It was adopted in the first Democratic National Con vention, held in the city of Baltimore, 21 May 1832, when the Committee on Rules reported the following resolution: °Resolved, that each State shall be entitled, in the nomination to be made of a candidate for the Vice-Presidency, to a number of votes equal to the number to which they will be en titled in the electoral colleges under the new apportionment in voting for President and Vice-President, and that two-thirds of the whole number of votes in the convention shall be necessary to constitute a choice.° The rule applied only to the nomination for Vice-President for the reason that there was no difference of view as to the nomination for President, Andrew Jackson being the unani mous choice for the latter office, while there were several candidates for the Vice-Presi dency. Martin Van Buren was nominated for Vice-President under the two-thirds rule, and was elected to preside over the very body which, by the casting-vote of John C. Calhoun, the former Vice-President, had rejected his nomination as Minister to England.

In the Democratic National Convention of 1836 no reference was made to the two-thirds rule. Martin Van Buren was nominated for President without opposition and Richard M.

Johnson received more than a two-thirds vote on the first ballot for Vice-President. In 1840 Van Buren and Johnson were again made the candidates of their party, without any necessity for invoking the two-thirds rule. They were defeated in the election by Harrison and Tyler.

In the Democratic National Convention of 1844 the two-thirds rule was reaffirmed, and made to apply to both President and Vice President. •Van Buren had a majority of votes for the Presidential nomination, but less than two-thirds, and he maintained this majority on the first eight ballots. Opposition to him was strong, however, and on the ninth ballot James K. Polk, of Tennessee, who had not received a vote until the eighth ballot, received the entire vote of the convention. He had not even been a candidate for the nomination, and his name had not been put formally before the convention, when its members agreed, in view of the opposition to Van Buren, to make him their nominee. The supporters of Van Buren had apprehended from the first that the adop tion of the two-thirds rule would involve his defeat, and they opposed it strenuously, the de bate on the question lasting a day and a half. Since its adoption in 1844 it has never been disputed in Democratic National Conventions. The convention of 1848, which spent three days in organizing, followed the rule, and it was again reaffirmed in 1852 when Lewis Cass, the leading candidate, was defeated, and Franklin Pierce nominated on the 49th ballot. Cass had a majority on many ballots, but did not com mand the necessary two-thirds, while Pierce did not receive a vote until the 40th ballot. In the - convention of 1856 James Buchanan had a majority for President early in the balloting, but did not receive the necessary two-thirds until 17 ballots had been taken.

The Democratic National Convention which met in Charleston, S. C., 23 April 1860, was the most exciting ever held in the history of the party, and the enforcement of the two thirds rule in that body may be said to have indirectly brought about the Civil War. The convention was in session for 10 days, and took 57 ballots without making a nomination. Stephen A. Douglas had a majority over all on all 'ballots, but could not obtain the neces sary two-thirds. There were 303 votes in the convention, and 202 were necessary to a choice. The convention adjourned to Baltimore, and there the party divided on the issues which brought about the conflict between North and South in the following year. It is generally agreed that Douglas, if nominated at Charles ton, and supported by the whole strength of his party, would have been elected, and civil war avoided. That this would probably have been the result is indicated by the fact that Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate, re ceived a popular vote of 1,866,152, against a popular Democratic vote of 1,375,157 for Doug las and 847,953 for Breckenridge, indicating a large popular majority, and electoral majority also, for the Democratic candidates, had the party been united. In subsequent Democratic conventions the two-thirds rule has been ad hered to, but at various times its repeal has been earnestly urged by many Democratic party leaders and newspapers.