Powerful, stirring, inspirational wisdom from the Founders.
The Duty of Citizens in Electing Their Representatives by Samuel Adams published in in the Boston Gazette, April 16, 1781
Extract of a Letter from the Southward.
“As we have a Constitution which is admired for its genuine Principles, I have been sollicitous to know, whether our Countrymen at large partook of the Spirit of those who formed it. I have conceived strong Hopes, that in organizing their Government and electing Persons to fill the important Places of Trust, no Consideration would avail, to govern their Suffrages [i.e. Votes] in Favour of any Candidate, unless he was possessed of those Qualities which are necessary, to enable him to perform the Duties of the Office to be filled, to the Advantage of the Publick. I have flattered myself, that both the Governors and the Governed would have lain aside the gawdy Trappings of Monarchy,[gawdy Trappings of Monarchy; i.e. Riches, beauty, extravagance, flowery speeches] and put on that Simplicity which is the Ornament and Strength of a free Republick. How far it has been done, I am not able to judge at this Distance. It is a great Satisfaction to me to be informed, that some of the best Men in the Commonwealth have been elected into the Principal Departments of Government. Men, who will dignify the Character of our Country—who will revive and disseminate those Principles, moral and political, to propagate which, our Ancestors transplanted themselves into this new World—Men who by the Wisdom of their Councils and their exemplary Manners, will establish the public Liberty on the Foundation of a Rock.—These Men will secure to themselves more of the Esteem of their virtuous, and even of their vicious Fellow-Citizens, than they could by a thousand courtly Addresses [i.e. speeches] which are commonly the Breath of Vanity and Adulation.—There is a charm in Virtue to force Esteem.—If Men of a different Character have by any Means been advanced to those hallow’d Seats, who have even sollicited public Employments to give a Scope to Views of Ambition and Avarice, [avarice; i.e. greed, desire for wealth, power] Passions which have in all Ages been the Bane [bane; i.e. ruin, downfall] of human Society; or, to gratify the raging Thirst for popular Applause, a Disease with which little minds are usually tormented, it is our Happiness that the Constitution requires annual Elections, and such Mistakes may be corrected at the next.
“I was sorry to hear, that the Number of Votes returned, the last Time, did not amount to a Quarter of the Number of qualified Electors in the Commonwealth. The Choice of Legislators, Magistrates and Governors, is surely a Business of the greatest Moment, and claims the Attention of every Citizen. The Framers of our Constitution, while they gave due Attention to Political were not forgetful of Civil Liberty—that personal Freedom and those Rights of Property, which the meanest Citizen is intitled to, and the Security of which is the great End of political Society. It was not indeed their Province to make particular Laws for these Purposes. To do this, and to provide for the equal and impartial Execution of such Laws, agreeable to the Constitution, is the Duty of the Legislature. Hence every Citizen will see, and I hope will be deeply impressed with a Sense of it, how exceedingly important it is to himself, and how intimately the welfare of his Children is connected with it, that those who are to have a Share in making as well as in judging and executing the Laws should be Men of singular Wisdom and Integrity. Such as are conscious that they are deficient in either of these Qualities, should even tremble at being named as Candidates! I hope the great Business of Elections will never be left by the Many, to be done by the Few; for before we are aware of it, that few may become the Engine of Corruption—the Tool of a Junto [Junto; i.e political group]—Heaven forbid! that our Countrymen should ever be byass’d in their Choice, by unreasonable Predilections [i.e. bias, favoritism] for any man, or that an Attachment to the Constitution, as has been the Case in other Countries, should be lost in Devotion to Persons. [Devotion to persons; i.e. devotion because of who the person is] The Effect of this would soon be, to change the Love of Liberty into the Spirit of Faction. Let each Citizen remember, at the Moment he is offering his Vote, that he is not making a Present or a Compliment to please an Individual, or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn Trusts in human Society, for which he is accountable to God and his Country.
“When the great Body of the People are determined not to be imposed upon by a false Glare of Virtues held before their Eyes,[i.e. soundbites, speeches, false fronts] but, making up their own Minds, shall impartially give in their Suffrages, after their best Enquiries into the Characters of Candidates, for those whom they judge to be the fittest Persons, there will be no Danger that the generous Enthusiasm of Freedom, so characteristic of the People of Massachusetts, will ever sink into the Violence and Rage of Party, which has often proved fatal to free Republicks.’
TO CALEB DAVIS.
[MS., Samuel Adams Papers, Lenox Library.]
Philadephia, April 3 1781