Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)




Boston, November 8, 2084.

My Dear Louise:

The political campaign which had just begun when I left you is, of course, all over now. How foolish for me to make such a remark when I have a history in my hand which tells all about that campaign and the result. I am sorry, of course, that Mr. Edmunds could not have been elected; but I presume you are perfectly willing to submit to the will of the majority,—the majority of those who voted, I mean.

I have been discussing the politics of your time with Mr. De Demain during the last few days, and some of these discussions have been very warm on both sides, I can assure you. Of course, as you may imagine, he thinks the whole thing a farce from beginning to end. One who does not believe in the State, in presidents and congresses, and who does not believe in the ballot, would be very unlikely to look upon a presidential campaign with any favor

I tell him I think it a grand and noble spectacle,—two men who have risen from the people contesting to see which shall direct the policy of their country. He, however, argues like this:

“A certain number of people, always a minority, meet, and a part of these name three or four men to represent them in another meeting, which selects one man—and he may he selected by a minority—to represent them in another meeting, a majority of which names a man to be voted for by a certain number of men from each state, who are to be chosen by a plurality—often a minority—of the legal voters of the state. It may be often the case that such a man elected to the presidency is the choice of not one-tenth part even of those who vote for him. When Mr. Arthur took the oath of office after the death of Mr. Garfield, it was probably not desired by one million people out of the fifty millions in the country that he be president. That is, if each of all the adults in the United States had written on a slip of paper the name of the man he desired for president, Mr. Arthur’s name would not have been upon one million of them. I doubt if it would have been upon one hundred thousand.

“Perhaps the government of the United States was the best the world ever knew. I am inclined to think that it was. I think the people who lived under it were more prosperous and more happy and more moral than those under any other system which had been tried at that time. Comparing it with the government of Russia, it was grand. Comparing it with Anarchy, it was a tyrannical, cheating master. One-tenth—and often less—of the adult population of the country controlled the government in a manner contrary to the best judgment and the wishes of the individuals composing the other nine-tenths. And still these same individuals comforted themselves with the idea that they were running the whole machine of state. They complained about business depression, about the tariff, about the laws that were passed and that were not passed, and they swore roundly at congresses, and the president and his cabinet, and all government officials, from the heads of departments down. And still every one of the growlers—and they did not growl without cause—would tell you that the ballot was a sure remedy. Not one instance could they name when it had effected a cure for the hundreds of ills of which they complained, but still they put faith in it. They could not see, for some strange reason, that the ballot was the cause of most of their ills, as it puts into the hands of a few designing,—or if not designing, ignorant,—men the power to advance their selfish aims or foolish whims. And even if it accomplished all that was claimed for it,—giving the majority the power to rule the minority,—its result must have been tyranny.

“Under the ballot there was no right but the right of might, and no justice but or that part of the people which called itself the majority. Why, the minority was allowed to exist at all only at the pleasure of the majority!

“You are well aware that more than four-fifths of the people of the United States two centuries ago proclaimed openly that they thought a political campaign a very shallow, nasty thing. But they were so shortsighted that they poked upon such things as necessities. They knew well that more than half the time bribery and lying: combined carried an election. But they were willing to abide by the result. They knew it was possible often for an insignificant third party, made up of political tricksters and cranks, to carry an election one way or the other. But they submitted to all this, and comforted themselves with the old saying: ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God.’ They knew full well that at best they did not get at the voice of the people, but they put lots of faith in God. They must have, or they would not have allowed such men to rule them as were named by the ballots.

“Those who howled against the socialists, on the ground that, if allowed, they would make private property public, went to the polls and did this very thing themselves. One hundred men, who did not, all together, own one thousand dollars’ worth of property, could vote to tax ninety-nine other men, who, all together, might own one hundred millions, eighteen or twenty dollars on a thousand. You may not call this robbery; I do. The ballot in the hands of the voter was a worse weapon than the revolver in the hands of the highwayman. The latter simply used his weapon to get his victim’s money; the former used his to get his victim’s money, his privileges, his happiness, and often his life.”

Mr. De Demain continued at length in this strain, but all his arguments could not convince me that the United States did not owe its prosperity, its greatness, and its freedom to its system of balloting for rulers. But he is to continue his conversation soon on this subject, and he may bring out some points that will interest you. If so, I will write them.


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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2320 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.