« AnteriorContinuar »
ISIDOR RAYNE R.
No attempt will be made here to present a biographical outline of the career of the late Senator Rayner. This sketch will deal with the principles which he championed and the policies which he advocated, rather than with dates and places. The detailed steps of such a career may be important, but they are not, primarily, the factors that arrest the interest and hold the attention of those who study success or those who honor greatness. The fact that in his public service, however, Isidor Rayner stood for something; that he battled for something; that he accomplished something; that he had fixed purposes and adhered to them with a determination that won the applause of a nation, might be appropriately surveyed in a volume containing the best products of his fertile mind.
The circumstances of Senator Rayner's rise to a position of eminence in the greatest deliberative body in the world, are well known to every Marylander. His brilliant record as a student at the University of Virginia; his towering place as an advocate at the Baltimore Bar; his wonderful power as an orator on the hustings; his distingushed service as a member of the Federal House of Representatives; his success as Attorney General of his State, and his memorable defense of Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, are matters of Maryland history. It is unnecessary to review them. They are still fresh in the memory of the people whom he honored and who, in equal measure, honored him.
But the crowning achievements of this lawyer, this publicist, this statesman, were reserved for his service in the Senate of the United States. All that went before was simply preparatory, collegiate, formative. Here at last, was a theatre where his splendid abilities, his profound learning, his forensic skill, his incisive wit and his withering satire had the fullest play. Here it was that the country awarded him a station of primacy and his associates the palm of leadership. Here it was that he met and measured strength with the master minds of his time. Here it was that he dedicated his superb talents to the cause of constitutional government and, planting himself upon the charter of the fathers, he challenged every interest that dared profane that sacred instrument. Into this arena he went, his judgment matured by broad experience, his convictions fixed by a far-reaching study of our institutions and the influences that were assailing and undermining them.
When Isidor Rayner took his seat in the Senate, that branch of Congress had ceased to be a representative body. It was in the hands of a mere handful of men who knew exactly what they wanted and how it could be obtained. Autocracy was rampant. The leadership of Aldrich, of Allison, of Foraker, of Hale and of Frye, had just reached its zenith. That notorious oligarchy, swollen with power and utterly indifferent to the voice of the people, legislated openly and brazenly in behalf of special interests. Lately removed from that stubborn and chastening opposition led by Vance, by Harris, by Morgan, by Blackburn and by Gorman, this combination ruled the Senate, and through it, ruled Congress with a power never before exercised by a single group of men in the history of the Republic. Sweeping changes soon impended, however. Great reforms were gathering force and the fall of this regime ultimately came just as it was ordained. But it did not decline until an aroused public sentiment hastened to the support of such men as Rayner, and Carmack, and Dolliver, and LaFollette and Beveridge, men who could fight and did fight with fists of iron.
And coincident with the rise of Senate absolutism, there developed yet another danger, threatening the order established more than a century ago by the Constitution. This was the
usurpation of prerogative by the Executive, the centralization of authority in a personal magistrate. It was the attempt to “convert an abstract sovereignty into a concrete sovereign. This school of centralizers, of twentieth century Federalists, of New Nationalists was headed and tailed by Theodore Roosevelt. As President, he had sought to govern with a power unqualified, unlimited, plenary, and in this ambition he was supported by all those idealists who regarded the Presidency as an office over which the courts had no restraint and Congress no control. The effort to wipe out the lines between State and national authority, and to destroy the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of the government presented a grave situation.
Isidor Rayner arrayed himself against these evils as soon as he entered the Senate. He denounced them with a vehemence that stirred the whole country. He found the old Constitution which he had sworn to uphold, in disrepute. He found it encroached upon or scoffed at on every side. He found Congress, on the one hand, enacting legislation for which there was no authority under the organic law, and found the President, on the other, appropriating powers never granted to the executive branch of the Government. He found the doctrine of States' rights sadly ignored. He found the sanctity of the courts invaded. He found the administrative departments making and executing treaties with foreign governments without either the advice or consent of the Senate. He found the ancient Monroe Doctrine revived and extended as a cloak to cover a multitude of sins.
Observing all these things Senator Rayner immediately found a field for labor and he threw himself into the contest with enthusiasm. He had studied constitutional law as it had been taught by Thomas Jefferson, by James Madison and John Randolph Tucker. He had taken his interpretations of that law from Marshall, from Taney and from Story and, fortified by these authorities, he combatted with all his might the dangerous tendencies to which Congress was yielding and even the people were becoming reconciled. He thundered day after day against the liberties that were being taken with the fundamental instrument. He denounced every invasion of the reserved rights of the States. He maintained with all the force at his command that the Federal Government was endowed only with delegated and not with inherent powers. He fought against every move that was made by the Senate to legislate under the meaningless “General Welfare Clause" of the Constitution, that blanket excuse for anything and everything on earth.
Again and again Senator Rayner was taunted because of his old-fashioned devotion to the Constitution. And to this impeachment he never failed to respond with a plea of guilty. He was devoted to the Constitution and he gloried in the fact. Derision could not move him. He never retreated in the face of either scorn or ridicule. He believed the future of the Republic could only be safeguarded by the strictest adherence to that charter. He believed that the checks and balances which it imposed were essential to the perpetuity of representative government. He believed that any wilful disregard of the basic law would be fraught with the most serious consequences. He deplored the fact that the people were showing a willingness to turn from the written work to a collection of apocryphal constructions, as a refuge and a relief from the restraints that were fixed when the government was founded.
Senator Rayner, however, did not confine his activities or his debate to domestic matters. These were of the deepest concern to him, it is true, but his interest went further. It extended to every issue between this and a foreign country. He made a special examination of international affairs and the general law of nations. He studied the relations between the United States and other governments, and though a member of