Chapter 4

It is an epoch in the life of man when he puts on breeches. The heart of the mother is glad when she sees her son run about in pantaloons. A second era is the going to school. She bids him be a good boy, and learn his book. It is the father’s business more especially, or at least the father has then more to do with him, when he puts him to the plough, or to a trade, or a profession. He gives him lessons and instructions of industry, and morals.

But when he comes to be his own man, at the age of twenty-one; and has a right to vote at an election, what a change does his situation undergo! What a right devolves upon him! I may say a trust for the under age, and for posterity. What honour attaches to his right! What delicacy ought to be used in the exercise of it.

In the age of antient chivalry, when the youth had come to manhood, and was made a knight, it was with matter of ceremony, and his equipment was by the hand of a fair lady buckling on his armour; and inspiring him by her charms and her sentiments, with heroic sense of honour, and the scorn of all that is false or mean. The chevalier of that day was a conservator of the peace.--His prowess was instead of laws. Now the vote of the citizen takes place of the sword of the adventurer. This is at the bottom of all order and subordination. Shall the knight of the golden cross be free from stain in his atchievements; and shall a republican prostitute his vote, or dishonour his standing in society, by bestowing it on the unworthy? Shall he give away his suffrage for a fair word, for a dram of liquor, “for a mess of pottage?” It is his birthright. Shall he give his vote but on the principle of conscience and of honour? Shall he decline his duty to present himself at the election? How does he know but that upon his vote may depend the duration of the republic? Who can tell with what particle of air a pestilence begins? And whether it is from a quiescence of that particle that a stagnation of the atmosphere ensues, or from its activity, by gas from the earth, that a hurricane is produced. A vote given wrong, or withheld, may occasion ultimately a convulsion in the commonwealth.

But truth, artifice, fraud, meditated fraud in this noblest of functions, the all of sovereignty, in a vote, how disgraceful, how criminal! And yet it is not always, or every where that disgrace begins to be attached to this the most flagitious of all knavery. If these strictures, shall have the effect to cultivate a sense of honour in our candidates and in our voters, it will be worth while to have written the book.