Chapter 10

The principle of universal suffrage was much agitated: whether every poll, as the word imports, should poll, or have a vote; or that property should also vote. If property alone, the question would arise, whether soil only; or also goods and chattles. If soil only, to what quantity or quality, shall the suffrage be attached? An hundred acres of soil of a bad quality, may not have the intrinsic worth of one of good. How should an inspector, or the judge of an election, determine on the quality, unless the owner brings a sample with him, as the man who had his house to sell, brought a brick. This would be an inconvenience; and would render it impracticable to escape frauds. For a man might dig a sample from his neighbor’s, and pass it for his own. And as to quantity, the occupier of the greater quantity, is the most worthless citizen; at least the one who occupies more than he cultivates; because he neither eats the hay, nor lets another eat it. It is preposterous that soil should vote; a dumb field, a dead tree with a crows nest upon it; an hazle bush; a morass, or a barren mountain; or even a hill with a tuft of oaks upon it. These are all inanimate substances; how can they vote? For goods and chattels, something might be said; a live beast particularly, as the animal could not speak, not with a viva voce vote, like a man; more humano, like a human creature. But with some guttural sound from the throat, or fauces, which might be called its own; and not like the tree with a turkey buzzard on it; and which is not its own voice. I mean that of the tree, said the speaker, who was running on in this manner; and yet it is advocated that stocks and stones that go with the soil, shall have a vote. There might be some reason in improvements voting; a brick house or a dutch-barn; but none at all in the mere brutum tellus of an estate.

This had led the way to an hypothesis, that property in moveables should alone entitle; and this, after some debate, began to be narrowed down to property in living animals; especially to useful quadrupeds, and those of full growth, and who had come to years, I will not say of discretion, but of maturity. From the light thrown upon the subject, the right of suffrage to grown cattle had become so popular, that there was no resisting it; not that viva voca it was proposed or thought of that, inarticulating speaking creatures should speak out, or name their representatives, nor even that they should give in a ballot, but that they should be brought upon the ground to show their faces, that there might be no imposition, the voters alleging that they had cattle when they had not.

But it was not to every owner’s beast that it was advisable to extend the right; but only to the more valuable animals; or such as were of a good breed; Virginia horses that are fit for the saddle or the turf.

It may seem very strange; but actually the thing took; and at a polling, some time after, it began to be carried into effect, that beasts should be constituents, and have their representatives. It was not the principle, but to the individual beast that some exceptions took place; as for instance, an English bull was brought upon the hustings to give his vote. We will have no English bull, said the inspectors. Not that a brute beast is not entitled to a vote, nor that a bull cannot vote or be voted for; but this is an English bull. No English bull can vote. --You might as well bring an Englishman himself, to the polls. It is in right of the bull-keeper, or bull-owner, that the bull claims the suffrage. If an Englishman himself, not naturalized, is excluded, how can his bull or his horse, or any other quadruped be admitted? It would be sufficient to set aside the election if his ticket was introduced. A bull indeed! The name of John Bull is appropriate to an Englishman. An Irish bull is quite another matter; John Bull shall have no vote here.

In the mean time, a man on an iron-grey horse rode up to the window, which was open for receiving tickets, and unequivocally insisted on a vote for his horse. Vouchers stood by, who averred that he was foaled in the county, that, horse and colt, they had known him many years; that as to his paying taxes, they could not so well say, unless his labour on the farm could be considered as paying tax.

In the mean time, the horse putting his nose in at the window taking it for a rack, an inspector gave him a fillip on the snout, which resenting; the owner wheeling round, the horse wheeling under him, he rode over one or more of the bystanders who were in the way.

Certain it is, the horse was a meritorious horse, having seen service in the campaign under General Wayne against the Indians in 1793. Nevertheless, they that had been rode over did not brook the affront, or put up with it unrevenged; for calling out horse, horse, to which some added the word stolen, as fame increases as it goes, it was echoed along the lines stolen horse; upon which the man was apprehended, and carried before a magistrate, who not having heard of the right of beasts to vote, thought this story improbable as he related what had passed at the window of the election house, and for want of proper bail he was committed. It may be material to mention that the horse’s mane and tail were black to distinguish him from a grey horse that belonged to another person. I have known several that knew the horse; but who were not present on the occasion to which we refer, and so, will not undertake to vouch for the truth of it, not having charged their memory with it, or taken a note of it at the moment it occurred. Or it may be, they do not chuse to recollect it, or give information on the subject, thinking it prudent not to involve themselves on elective disputes, as there is no knowing, when parties run high, how far the bare vouching for a fact may involve one. Such is the result of strong passions when not under controul of reason and reflection. Weak persons are always the most positive, because they cannot afford the acknowledgment of an error. It will not do to admit fallibility; for there is no knowing how far the inference may be drawn.

Another man came up who brought a sheep to the polls; a merino ram, who, he said, was entitled to a vote, having resided in the country, since he had been brought in by Humphreys, representing him to be of the breed of the great Fezzen ram, though there were those who thought it might be what is called a yankee trick; not but, that all Americans may be capable of substituting a thing for what it is not; and all are called Yankees by the British; but New England men are distinguished; and called Yankee Doodles.

The ram is not entitled to a vote, said the Inspector, nor ought he to be permitted to put in a ticket, were he of the breed of the golden fleece guarded by the fiery dragons whom Jason overcame; and brought away the wool; no; not if he was the very ram that was caught in the thicket; or that Daniel saw in his vision coupled with the he goat. But he is a Spanish ram born under despotism, how can he be expected to give a republican vote? of papist origin, he may bring the inquisition with him; coming here to vote. Besides, this is a very real sheep, that is offered; and not one whom we call a sheep in a figurative sense of the word. Where we call men horses, or asses, we do not mean always that they are so, puris naturalibus, without overalls on, with the horn and the hoof about them, but shadowing forth the same thing under a veil of metaphor, as the case may be. But not on this ground altogether do I reject him; and because he has wool on his back; but, because he is of barbary origin. The Moors brought the breed into Spain. You may cast a sheep’s eye at the window as long as you please, master ram; but not a vote shall you have as long as I am here. I do not know whether you are not a half breed, and no genuine merino. So away with him, as the song says,

“To ewe-boughts, Marian.”

Another person coming up, brought a large ox, which he called Thomas Jefferson; not out of respect to the ox, but to the man, as having a good name and reputation. Make way, said the voters, for Thomas Jefferson. We will have no Thomas Jefferson, said the inspector; he is out of his district. I assert the contrary, said the owner; he was calved in this settlement. He is called the mammoth ox, and I had thought of driving him to Washington; but that I knew, however he might be made a present to Jefferson, the congress would eat him, as they did the mammoth cheese; so that the president would scarcely get a slice of him. For there are parasites in all countries; and the worthless are chiefly those who dance attendance upon men in office; and how can it be avoided to invite them to partake of civilities? You will certainly allow a vote to Thomas Jefferson.--No; not if he was the real Jefferson from Monticello, said the inspector. How can I tell but he may introduce the same politics? That is true, said another; break judges, abolish taxes, dismantle navies, build gunboats, lay embargoes, depress armies, pay tributes to barbary powers, issue proclamations, wear red breeches, receive ambassadors in pantaloons and slippers, collect prairie dogs, and horned frogs, dream of salt mountains, walk with Petimetres, and be under French influence. We will have no Thomas Jefferson. You may drive off your ox. He shall have no vote here.

No doubt the judges and inspectors, being men of sense, saw the absurdity of carrying the principle so far into practice, as to admit the representation of property, by this property being itself, and in its own individual existence, the constituent. But not thinking it safe, or practicable, to resist this temporary frenzy, and misrepresentation of things, by a direct resistance, it became necessary, by direct means to avoid it. To lay it down in the face of the multitude that these new voters had not a right, would not have been endured; but parrying it by questioning the right in a particular case, gave no umbrage. It was saving the principle, though it denied the exercise.

The man that had rode down the by-standers, and was taken up for a horse thief, was pardoned by the governor. This was done to get quit of the investigation; the governor thinking it for the credit of the country that there should be nothing said about the occasion and manner of the felony; or the mistake under which the imputation had arisen.

But, party spirit continued to run high; some insisting on the right of suffrage to their cattle; and others considering it a burlesque. You might have seen shillelahs in the air, and several bullocks were knocked down that were brought up to the polls. A lad was tumbled from his palfry as he was riding him to water, under an idea that he was bringing him to aid the adverse ticket.-The lad was somewhat hurt by the fall, and the steed ran off, and could not be caught again until salt was shown, and oats in a hat, some one crying cope, cope. The ram that had been offered, seeing arrive the sheep, cried ba; and it was insisted that he had given his vote, which the candidate against whom it was taken down, resented; and hit the tup a stroke, that, in the sailor’s phrase, brought him on his beam ends. The blow, however, which was aimed at a pig in a poke, which a man was carrying home, and which was heard to squeal; struck the man himself. What, said the assailant, are you bringing here the swinish multitude to vote?

Nevertheless, it was not so much admitting quadrupeds, but unqualified cattle that became the subject of the controversy; intelligent persons arguing that it was a thing shameful in itself, and unjust. Because it was a fraud upon the whole community, that stragglers should be brought forward, which the individual concerned in the fraud reconciled to himself on the score of serving the party: That it required some refinement to be aware of the indelicacy of urging an improper vote. Was it reasonable to suppose that a horse creature could give an independent vote, that was in the power of his owner to be stinted of his oats, and rode faster or slower as he thought proper, on a journey? Was it reasonable to expect that the ox would think differently on political subjects from his master? Should he venture to dissent, a crack of the whip or the spur, would bring him to his senses. Even a rational creature, that may be supposed to have more fortitude, is usually in subjection to the master, in matter of opinion, where he is a slave. It is for this reason that slaves are excluded.--Whatever might plausibly be said as to the expediency of extending the privilege of citizenship to those animals that are ferae naturae, and are at their own hands in a forest, it is quite another matter as far as it respects domesticated animals, that have no will of their own, but are under dominion, whether subjugated to a plough or a team. The wild animals that roam, have some spirit of independence. They would starve before they would tamely submit themselves to arbitrary rule, and government. Hence it is, that traps are used. It requires shooting to bring some of them to terms. But an ox may be goaded into acquiescence. He does not drink whiskey, it is true; and for that reason, it cannot be said that whiskey will purchase him; but is there nothing to be done with good grass? The inticements are various that might be held out to allure from the independence of his own judgment.

As to horses voting on the occasion we are speaking of, so far as matter of fact is concerned, I admit it has been denied. For that though a great number of horses were seen to be ridden up; yet it is usual to go on horseback to elections, especially when the voters have to come from some distance; so that the mere circumstance of being on the ground, is no conclusive evidence of having given a vote; and this I am the more careful to note, as in the case of a new government, that like an individual, has a character, in some measure, to establish, it is of moment, that what is groundlessly alleged, be explained. At the same time, I am aware of the impolicy of denying a thing in toto where there is no foundation--were there no other reason that would induce an historian to adhere to the truth. For even where a man is pressing a matter that is difficult to be believed, and he has nothing in truth to concede, he will yield a little, skilfully, in order to give the impression of candour, and secure belief to the more important points. How much more does it behoove a writer to be careful of insisting on the freedom from all blame on the part of those whom he advocates, lest that he bring in question the veracity of his relation, where he has every thing on his side. I do not therefore say positively, that the inspectors and judges of the election, in some districts, were not deceived, and their vigilance baffled; or that they did not connive: for that would be saying too much considering the nature of affairs. The most vigilant cannot always watch; and the most severe in their notions of the rights of persons may indulge. But, granting that some horse creatures did vote, with their riders on their backs, does it follow that the inspectors had notice of it; or that the persons who usually stand by and vouch for the right of suffrage to the individual were not to blame.--They may have announced their names as rational; and under that idea, may have got their votes taken. I have been the more careful in throwing out these hints, because if it were once admitted that such votes did pass, unless surreptitiously, and sub silentio, it might grow into precedent. And we well know that, in matters of political and legal law, precedent has the force of authority. It may be suggested, as not fairly presumable, that inspectors and judges could be deceived. I have seen too much of elections not to think that practice to be unfair, where an individual, powerful for wealth or family, is a candidate, or where there is a contest of party somewhat violent; and unprincipled and daring individuals, will take their stations, and act as common vouchers on an election day, as to the name, age, freedom, or estate of the person who offers a vote. He will be supported by pugilists, or persons prepared with clubs, who though they do not actually strike, will menace with this appearance of force, and intimidate those who might dispute the vouching that is given. I consider all this as immoral and unbecoming a good citizen. But I have seen even inspectors and judges intimidated by this show of hostility; and I would not wonder if I were to hear that, under this awe, in some places, improper votes were taken. Not that I would excuse this timidity of officers, as lessening it from a misdemeanor, to a mere neglect of duty. I reprehend both the overawing and the being overawed in the discharge of a public trust.

But in justice to the character of the country, I incline to think, after all that has been reported to the contrary, that instances of beasts voting were more rare than is imagined; and that a considerable foundation of what has gone abroad on this head, was the epithets bestowed by the contending parties calling one another beasts; such as horses, asses, sheep, buffaloes, oxen, and the names of other cattle. All this metaphorically, just as persons of a less polished education, where they dispute on literary or theological subjects, call each other geese, sucking pigs, or turkey buzzards. I have heard even well bred persons speak of their antagonists after a warm debate, as wood-peckers and mire-snipes. In political controversies, it is no uncommon thing, to bestow the epithets of jack-ass. I have heard even an accomplished lady, use the term-monkey, speaking of an individual of the other sex. It would be endless to enumerate such instances of the application of such terms, that do not in themselves import the natural form or metamorphose of any person.