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United States Department of State / Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, with the annual message of the president transmitted to Congress December 2, 1902

Belgium,   pp. 73-100 PDF (2.0 MB)

Page 85

M~. Townsend to 2J'/~. JTa'i,,. 
Brw~meis, Apri7 19, 1902. 
 SIR: 1 have the honor to inform the Department that the revision of the
Belgium constitution proposed by the Liberals and Socialists (the opposition)
was yesterday rejected by the House of Representatives, the final vote being
84 against revision to 64 in favor of it, the Government thus gaining a victory
by a majority of 20 votes. 
 As the Department is aware, the agitation in favor of universal suffrage
in Belgium became acute hi 1893, at which time the Conservative or Catholic
party, which has now been in power uninterruptedly for the past eighteen
years, was strongly opposed to granting universal suffrage, but agreed to
what was called a compromise, in the shape of universal suffrage based on
a system of plural voting. 
 The following scheme was adopted: 
 One vote to every male citizen of 25 years of age, with the exception of
idiots and criminals. 
 One supplementary vote, known as the propel-ty vote, to every citizen of
25 years of age in possession of real estate to the value of 2,000 francs
 One supplementary vote, known as the family vote, to every married male
citizen of 35 years of age, or widower with legitimate issue, who pays to
the State personal taxes amounting to at least 5 francs (~1) i~er annum.
 One supplementary vote, known as the educational vote, to every male citizen
of 25 years of age in possession of a diploma from a university, college,
or high school. 
 Three votes being maximum allowed to any one citizen who may he included
in several of the above categories. 
 This was the system offered by the Government in 1893 as a step toward universal
suffrage; it was adopted at that time and has been in vogue ever since. 
 The Liberals, Socialists, and workingmen generally, have never been satisfied
with this system of plural voting, which they claim entirely favors the Conservative
and Catholic party. They maintain that in the rural districts, where the
people are under the influence of the priests, the opportunities for the
perpetration of frauds at elections are greatly enhanced by this system.
 When this plural system was practically applied it failed to yield the results
claimed by its advocates, and at the last general election for Representatives
the votes polled by the combined Liberals and Socialists virtually equalled
those of the Clericals, yet the latter, by this plural system, actually obtained
a majority of 18 votes in the House of Representatives. 
 The struggle between labor and capital in Belgium has become extremely acute
in the past few years. A large industrial population, confined to a small
superficial area, with long hours of labor and small wages, have combined
to produce a feeling of discontent among the working classes, who, perhaps
unjustly, blame the existing Governinent for a condition of affairs which
may be due to economic conditions rather than political. 

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