Ethics of Democracy
Chap. 2, Universal Suffrage
of the people, by the people, for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.
- Speech at
Gettysburg; by Abraham Lincoln
of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a
self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are
fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old
story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim.
- Essay on Milton by
I will have never
No lineage counted
choppers and ploughmen
Shall constitute a
"Boston Hymn," by
Ralph Waldo Emerson
as a single one amongst your brothers has no vote to represent
him in the development of the national life, so long as there is one
left to vegetate in ignorance where others are educated, so long as a
single man, able and willing to work, languishes in poverty through
want of work to do, you have no country in the sense in which country
ought to exist - the country of all and for all.
- On the Duties
of Man by Mazzini
I charge thee, Love, set not my aim too low;
If through the cycling ages I have been
A partner in thy ignorance and sin,
So through the centuries that ebb and flow
I must, with thee, God's secrets seek to know.
Whate'er the conflict, I will help to win
Our conquest over foes without - within -
And where thou goest, beloved, I will go.
Set no dividing line between the twain
Whose aim and end are manifestly one;
Whate'er my loss, it cannot be thy gain
Wedded the light and heat that make Life's sun.
Not thine the glory and not mine the shame.
We build the world together in one Name.
'The New Eve to the
Old Adam," by - Annie L. Muzzey, in Harper's Magazine
O blood of the
people! changeless tide, through century, creed and race!
Still one as the
sweet salt sea is one, though tempered by sun and
The same in the
ocean currents, and the same in the sheltered
fountain of common hopes and kindly sympathies;
Indian and Negro,
Saxon and Celt, Teuton and Latin and Gaul-
shadow and sunshine; while the sounding unifies all!
One love, one
hope, one duty theirs! No matter the time or ken,
There never was
separate heart-beat in all the races of men!
But alien is one -
of class, not race - he has drawn the line for himself;
His roots drink
life from inhuman soil, from garbage of pomp and pelf;
His heart beats
not with the common beat, he has changed his
He deems his flesh
to be finer flesh, he boasts that his blood is blue:
aristocrat, tory - whatever his age or name,
To the people's
rights and liberties, a traitor ever the same.
The natural crowd
is a mob to him, their prayer a vulgar rhyme;
speech is sedition, and the patriot's deed a crime.
Wherever the race,
the law, the land, - whatever the time, or throne,
The tory is always
a traitor to every class but his own.
Thank God for a
land where pride is clipped, where arrogance stalks
Where law and song
and loathing of wrong are words of the common
Where the masses
honor straightforward strength, and know, when veins
That the bluest
blood is putrid blood - that the people's blood is red.
- "Crispus Attucks,"
by John Boyle O'Reilley
and plebeians, aristocrats and democrats, have alike stained
their hands with blood in the working out of the problem of politics.
But impartial history declares also that the crimes of the popular
party have in all ages been the lighter in degree, while in themselves
they have more to excuse them; and if the violent acts of
revolutionists have been held up more conspicuously for condemnation,
it has been only because the fate of noblemen and gentlemen has been
more impressive to the imagination than the fate of the peasant or the
- Froude's Caesar,
prosperity through freedom, equality, local
autonomy and respect for the commons.
The Ethics of Democracy
by Louis F. Post
Chapter 2, Universal Suffrage
GOVERNMENT by all the governed, commonly designated self-government,
can be administered only by universal suffrage. All the people do not
govern unless all have a potential voice in the government. Universal
suffrage may indeed fail to secure government by all, but there is no
such thing as government by all without it. The question, then, of
whether or not suffrage is a natural right is determined by the
question of whether government by all or government by superior force
is the natural kind of government.
It may well be objected that a majority under universal suffrage is in
no wise different from an oligarchy under restricted suffrage, for it
is true that majorities are often autocratic. But this is chargeable to
defective methods. In essential principle, and to a very high degree in
actual practice, majorities are radically different from oligarchies.
Majorities proceed upon the principle that rights to life and liberty
are natural and equal; oligarchies proceed upon the theory that these
rights are neither equal nor natural, but are gifts from superiors. In
actual practice an oligarchy, which is a stable class placed over other
classes, is unresponsive to their demands; whereas a majority, a
shifting quantity in only one class but that a class which embraces the
whole community, is affected by all. With these distinctions clear, all
rational objections to government by majority are removed, if we
conceive of government as confined to its legitimate functions. When
government is conceived of as possessing power to regulate private
concerns, government by majority is as intolerable as any other species
of tyranny. But when it is conceived of merely as the agent for
protecting natural rights and administering common property, government
by majority commends itself as fair and natural. It is the only method
of securing in common concerns common action in accordance with common
The same distinction also makes the naturalness of the right of
suffrage self-evident. To have a voice in the management of the
organization which is charged with the protection of everyone's life
and liberty and the administration of everyone's interest in common
property, is a natural right if anything can be.
Objections to universal suffrage as a right, which rest upon the
absurdity of extending the suffrage to minors, to convicted criminals
and to the insane, assuming that universal suffrage logically demands
that extension, are the veriest pettifogging.
There is a period in everyone's life when he is concededly incompetent
to participate in government. This is indubitably true of an infant in
arms. Later there comes a period when, if of sane mind, he is
competent. This is certainly true of the man or woman of 30. But as no
general rule can be formulated for determining as to each person when
he crosses the line between the incompetency of childhood and the
competency of manhood, it is customary to fix an age period of general
application arbitrarily. If the period fixed be reasonable, it involves
in no rational sense a denial of the suffrage.
A similar principle applies to the insane. Men who are adjudged
incompetent from insanity to manage their own affairs, may be denied
the suffrage without the slightest prejudice to the principle of
suffrage as a natural right. And as to convicts, the same principle
that justifies the denial to them of life or liberty consistently with
the theory of natural rights to life and liberty, may deny them the
suffrage without raising any question of inconsistency with reference
to the suffrage as a natural right.
In other words, to withhold the suffrage from persons incapable of
performing ordinary obligations is not inconsistent with the principle
that suffrage is a natural right. Liberty is a natural right. But
consistently with that right children are held in tutelage.
Consistently with that right any one who is "non compos" is restrained.
Consistently with that right again convicts are imprisoned. To argue
that the suffrage is not a natural right because it is properly
withheld from immature individuals, from individuals adjudged "non
compotes," and from criminal convicts, is to argue that liberty itself
is not a natural right. And if liberty be not a natural right, then the
only basis for natural right is superior force, which is a moral
Self-government has been defined as not a right at all but a capacity;
and the right to exercise a capacity, as depending on the possession of
it. That is a queer inversion. Without enjoyment of the right, the
capacity can never be acquired. It is experience in governing himself
that gives strength of character to the individual ; it is the
experience of their members participating in public affairs that gives
strength of character to communities. Even if that were not so, the
anti-suffrage contention falsely assumes that some people can govern
other people and some communities other communities better than the
others can govern themselves. If this were true, it would lead straight
to universal monarchy. For there must, in that case, be at any given
time some man who can govern all the rest better than they can govern
themselves; and in accordance with the contention he ought to be
enthroned. At any rate, that contention is the essential principle of
monarchism, which derives all its force from the theory that the masses
cannot govern themselves, but must be governed, both with reference to
their individual and their communal rights, by others.
Though we admitted this principle, we should still have to ask how the
governing nations or classes are to be selected. If they were selected
by the governed, that would be government by consent of the governed.
But they never are so selected. They select themselves. And they do so
selfishly. No nation or class has ever forced its dominion upon another
for the good of the latter, and none ever will. The desire for
mastership is the most evil of all passions; and however it may mask
its designs in philanthropic pretensions, the nation or class that
seeks to govern others does so for its own aggrandizement. "It is not
for my breakfast that you invite me down," said the goat in the fable
to the wolf who had urged him to descend to the foot of the cliff where
rich grass would give him a better breakfast, "but for your own."
The mob that blows up a factory with dynamite is not to be let alone,
it is objected; as if the right of its members to self-government
demanded that it should be let alone. The objection is not pertinent.
In such a case the mob is restrained because it is denying the right of
self-government to others. If the mob could harm no one but its own
members, and not disturb or jeopardize the public peace, there would be
no right of interference on the part of the community. Again, the
hypothesis of government of physicians and keepers in a lunatic asylum
by the insane inmates, is gravely advanced as an illustration of the
unsoundness of government by majorities. This is on a par with the
familiar and oft-answered objection to universal suffrage, that infants
in arms would under that doctrine have the right to vote. To make
exceptional conditions like these the basis for an argument against
self-government and universal suffrage is to expose the weakness of the
cause in behalf of which it is made.
No such plea would be offered by any candid man who had analyzed the
principle of self-government by universal suffrage before attacking it.
Let it be clearly understood that the principle of self-government has
a twofold application - in its relation to the individual, and in its
relation to the community; that in its relation to the individual, it
implies that his freedom shall be limited only by the equal freedom of
everyone else; that in its relation to the community, it implies that
each ordinary person of maturity shall have an equal voice with every
other in affecting the majority which determines the current management
of affairs that are common to all let these simple and
self-commendatory propositions be apprehended, and all the frivolous
talk about voting in lunatic asylums, about voting by babies, about
majority government not being self-government, will sound as puerile as
in fact it is. And as to the common assertion that the end of all good
government is self-government, that will sound as empty as the same
sentiment applied to an individual, thus: "The end of all good conduct
is self-conduct." As the individual's conduct cannot be good unless it
is self-controlled, neither can government be good unless it is
self-government. Despotism may preserve the peace, but despotism cannot
make men peaceable. Self-government by universal suffrage, and this
alone, can do that. It may not do it at once, for character is not made
in a day. But it is the only kind of government that can do it
* Same subject further considered in Part VII, Chapter II, "Patriotic
Ideals" and Chapter III, "Trampling Upon Patriotic Ideals."
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