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Robert Ingersoll Political Morality

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Political Morality

Robert Green Ingersoll


THE room of the House Committee on Elections was crowded this
morning with committeemen and spectators to listen to an argument
by Col. Robert G. Ingersoll in the contested election case of
Strobach against Herbert, of the IId Alabama district. Colonel
Ingersoll appeared for Strobach, the contestant. While most of his
argument was devoted to the dry details of the testimony, he
entered into some discussion of the general principles involved in
contested election cases, and spoke with great eloquence and force.
In part he said:

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The mere personal controversy, as between Herbert and
Strobach, is not worth talking about. It is a question as to
whether or not the republican system is a failure. Unless the will
of the majority can be ascertained, and surely ascertained, through
the medium of the ballot, the foundation of this Government rests
upon nothing -- the Government ceases to be. I would a thousand
time rather a Democrat should come to Congress from this district,
or from any district, than that a Republican Should come who was
not honestly elected. I would a thousand times rather that this
country should honestly go to destruction than dishonestly and
fraudulently go anywhere. We want it settled whether this form of
government is or is not a failure. That is the real question, and
it is the question at issue in every one of these cases. Has
Congress power and has Congress the sense to say to-day, that no
man shall sit as a maker of laws for the people who has not been
honestly elected? Whenever you admit a man to Congress and allow
him to vote and make laws, and there is any doubt as to his title,
you poison the source of justice -- you poison the source of power;
and the moment the people begin to think that many members of
Congress are there through fraud, that moment they cease to have
respect for the legislative department of this Government -- that
moment they cease to have respect for the sovereignty of the people
represented by fraud.

Now, as I have said, I care nothing about the personal part of
it, and, maybe you will not believe me, but I care nothing about
the political part. The question is, Who has the right on his side?
Who is honestly entitled to this seat? That is infinitely more
important than any personal or party question. My doctrine is that
a majority of the people must control -- that we have in this
country a king, that we have in this country a sovereign, just as
truly as they can have in any other, and, as a matter of fact, a
republic is the only country that does in truth have a sovereign,
and that sovereign is the legally expressed will of the people. So
that any man that puts in a fraudulent vote is a traitor to that
sovereign; any man that knowingly counts an illegal vote is a
traitor to that sovereign, and is not fit to be a citizen of the
great Republic. Any man who fraudulently throws out a vote, knowing
it to be a legal vote, tampers with the source of power, and is, in
fact, false to our institutions. Now, these are the questions to be
decided, and I want them decided, not because this case happens to
come from the South any more than if it came from the North. It is
a matter that concerns the whole country. We must decide it. There
must be a law on the subject. We have got to lay down a stringent
rule that shall apply to these cases. There should be -- there must
be -- such a thing as political morality so far as voting is

New York Tribune, May 13, 1882.

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