Historical Notions #2: A Historical Exhortation to Vote
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This one is going to be short. By the time I send next month’s newsletter, the election will be over. Right now, though, Americans still have a chance to vote. You should definitely do so if you have a chance.
Quite a few years ago, I saved a copy of an item published in the Connecticut Courant (later the Hartford Courant) on September 6, 1809. At that time, many citizens of Connecticut and other northern states were angry over the federal government’s continuing efforts to use trade restrictions and embargos to try to convince all the warring European nations to stop attacking neutral American shipping, and also to convince Britain to stop forcing American sailors into the British Navy.
Just so you know, these efforts didn’t work. Ultimately, American frustration over British impressment of its sailors, among other issues, led to the War of 1812.
The year 2020 is not very much like the year 1809, except that the United States (and other countries) are still trying to use economic means to influence political decisions in other countries. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about foreign navies seizing American ships or sailors these days.
But another similarity to the past is that the anonymous author of this piece, written for the Courant, felt the need to convince the paper’s voting readers – all of them men – of the importance of voting. Some of these sentiments seem remarkably apt for the present day. It’s a little bit too long for this newsletter, so I’m only going to transcribe excerpts for you. Here we go:
FREEMEN OF CONNECTICUT. THE day is drawing near when you will be called upon again to discharge a very important duty to yourselves and to your country. In most of the world the people are nothing, the rulers every thing. Here popular elections return often, and the people exercise full sovereignty on every election day; a sovereignty that should by all means be exercised with coolness, with sober consideration, and upon moral and patriotic principles. Your Governors and your law-makers proceed from yourselves; they exist, as such, and they cease to exist, according to your will and pleasure. This privilege which you now hold in your hands, which your fathers enjoyed before you and transmitted to you, is valuable beyond all price, and lies indeed at the foundation of all your other civil privileges; insomuch that if this is once lost, all is lost; if this is perverted, the whole fabric of your republican institutions totters, and tends to swift decay and ruin.
The privilege of suffrage, like all other blessings, may be abused. It is abused when you vote without due care and consideration. If you were selecting an agent to manage your important personal concerns, you would not fail to act with circumspection, you would carefully examine and weigh the character of the man that you thus betrusted; and no less, but even more circumspection is requisite in selecting the agents to manage your public concerns. It is abused, when the people act from self-will or party spirit, rather than from the all-important consideration of the public’s good. It is abused, when votes are given for men, not because they are well qualified to serve the public and promote its general interests, but because they are forward, violent, and noisy, and are considered as fittest instruments to advance party interests and local views.
Electors (we are now addressing freemen of all parties generally) electors have upon them a solemn responsibility, and every one who is not devoid of moral principle, must feel this responsibility. They are answerable to their own consciences, to their God, and to their country, how they vote. It should be their first enquiries, is the candidate honest? Is he capable? Is he prudent, and of such an established character for integrity that we should be willing to trust him with our private concerns? – They should bring forward modest unassuming worth. – The men most suitable to make laws for and to rule over a free people, are not so commonly found amongst those who obtrude themselves upon your notice and violently press forward for promotion; such men have some bye-ends in view, rather than the public’s good. – They are to be found among those who are prudent and honorable in the transactions of their own personal affairs, who know how to govern themselves, who rule their own houses well, whose integrity in private life has gained them the confidence of their neighbors and acquaintance, and who, having too much modesty and too high sense of honour to thrust themselves forward, will wait till their country calls for their services.
. . .
One and all, “be up and doing;” for your duty requires it; your country now calls for your best exertions.