Chapter 19

Containing Reflections

 It may be thought preposterous in these young men to attempt force in the matter of an election. That depends on their possessing any other faculty by which they could succeed. Have not all animals recourse to those means of providing for themselves, which nature has given them? The squirrel climbs a tree, while the wolf runs through the brake. The cat lies in wait, and watches for her prey; while the greyhound pursues with open mouth, and seizes the hare or the fox.

Valentine would not seem to have possessed the advantage of mental recommendations; he could not have it in his power to allure and persuade. Why not therefore act by compulsion, and use force? But why not make application of this force upon the voters themselves, and knock down either before or after an election, all those who had been obstinate in withholding their suffrages? It is probable that experiment had been made of this, and that it had been found ineffectual. What then remained, but to repel the intrusion of competitors? It was more convenient, as there were fewer of these: at least it rarely happens, that there are as many candidates as voters. It seems more natural, as beginning at the source and repressing the pretensions of the canvassing individuals, who are usually the first movers in the business. It is of the nature of a summary proceeding, and avoids delay, to break the head of a competitor, and induce him by fear, if not by modesty, to desist.

It may be queried, what respectability in the capacity of legislators can such persons have, after having been elected, without the requisite information on state affairs, or talent of eloquence, to make a figure in a public body? That is no business of mine. It belongs to these that set up for such appointment, to consider this. It may be said, however, that it is not necessary that all should make a figure in the same way. In the exhibition of a circus, you will be as much diverted with the clown who mounts a horse clumsily, or who, attempting to tumble, falls on his posteriors, as with the greatest activity shown by the master. In music, bass is useful; nay, may be thought to be necessary to mix with the treble. An illiterate and ignorant member of a deliberative assembly, forms an agreeable contrast with the intelligent; just as in gardening, we are pleased with a wild copse after a parterre.

It may be thought a vesania, or species of madness, to entertain such an inordinate passion for the legislature. Not at all: it was not a madness properly so called, by which I mean a physical derangement of the intellect. The cause was merely moral; and the derangement only such as exists in all cases, where the mind is not well regulated by education, and where the passions are strong and intemperate. This young man Valentine had conceived, at an early period, the idea of becoming a legislator; and as has been said, from seeing some member of Congress pass the road, with a servant and portmanteau also; not at all comprehending the necessity, or at least usefulness, of a knowledge of the geography of the world in commercial questions; or of history in political. He had been accustomed at home to run a foot race with a wood-ranger; to lift a piece of timber at a house-building, or log-rolling; or to wrestle at cornish-hug with the young men of the village; and had imagined that the same degree of strength and dexterity, which had given him a superiority, or at least made him respectable in these, would raise him to reputation in the efforts of the human mind.

Why need we wonder at an uneducated young man judging so preposterously on great subjects? It is not to be presumed that he ever had an opportunity of reading Cudworth’s Intellectual System, or any other writer on : "the eternal fitness of things.” This belongs to the schools; I mean the higher academies, where metaphysics, and the co-relate science of logic, is taught.

I am aware that malevolent persons, judging from their feelings, will alledge that in the caricature I have given of the mountain candidate, I have had some prototype in view, and hence intended a satire upon individuals. It will not be a fair deduction; unless it is restrained simply to this, that something like it has occurred in the course of my observation, which has given rise to my idea of the picture.

Now that I am upon the subject of elections for deliberative assemblies, I will make a few general observations, without meaning to give offence to any one.

There are but two characters that can be respectable as representative of the people. A plain man of good sense, whether farmer, mechanic, or merchant; or a man of education and literary talents. The intermediate characters, who have neither just natural reflextion, nor the advantage of reading, are unnatural, and can derive no happiness to themselves from the appointment; nor can they be of use to the commonwealth.

But men err, not only judging falsely of their capacity for a public trust, but in the means of obtaining it. I have in view, not only all indelicacy in the solicitation of votes, but in the management that is too often used on election days, in changing tickets, obstructing windows, voting more than once; a thing tolerable perhaps, or at least excusable, in the election of a sheriff, an office of profit; but which ought to be considered indelicate in a competition for honour. It is impossible for any law to reach the cure of this evil; it can be remedied only by attaching disgrace in public opinion, to these or the like arts. I do not mean to represent as indelicate the candidates offering to serve. For I would rather be accused of forwardness to offer myself, than of affectation to decline, when I was willing to be elected. The one savours of cowardice and falsehood; the other, at the worst, can be called but vanity.

The wise and virtuous exercise of the right of suffrage, is the first spring of happiness in a republic. If this is touched corruptly, or unskilfully, the movements of the machine are throughout affected. Not only judicious regulations by positive law are necessary to secure this, but the system of family and scholastic education ought to contemplate it. Anadvice which no father ought to fail to give his son should be to this effect:-- “Young man, you have the good fortune to be born in a republic; a felicity that has been enjoyed but by a small portion of the race of man, in any age of the world. In some ages it has been enjoyed by none at all. It is a principle of this government, that every man, has a right to elect, and a right to be elected. In the exercise of the first, the right to elect, be taught my son, to preserve a scrupulous and delicate honour: and as at school, the sense of shame amongst your equals, would restrain you from all fraud, in obtaining a game at fives; so much more now that you are a man, let it restrain you from all unfairness in this the great game of man. With regard to being elected, your first consideration will be your talent.

Quid valeant humeri, quid ferre recusent.

At school, you would despise the boy who would set himself forward, as an expert swimmer or wrestler, who was deficient in skill at these exercises. In order to be respectable, put not yourself above your strength. If you covet the honour of a public trust, think of qualifying yourself for it; and then let the people think of chusing you to discharge it; that is their business. Lay in a stock of knowledge by reading in early life. Your old age, by these means, will acquire dignity; and appointments will readily follow. You will be under no necessity of soliciting inordinately the suffrages of men.”