Robert Green Ingersoll
14 page printout Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship. **** **** Contents of this file page SUFFRAGE ADDRESS. 1 THE THREE PHILANTHROPISTS. 7 **** **** This file, its printout, or copies of either are to be copied and given away, but NOT sold. Bank of Wisdom, Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 The Works of ROBERT G. INGERSOLL **** **** This address was delivered at a suffrage Meeting in Washington, D.C., January 24, 1880. SUFFRAGE ADDRESS. 1880. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I believe the people to be the only rightful source of political power, that any community, no matter where, in which any citizen is not allowed to have his voice in the making of the laws he must obey, that community is a tyranny. It is a matter of astonishment to me that a meeting like this is necessary in the Capital of the United States. If the citizens of the District of Columbia are not permitted to vote, if they are not allowed to govern themselves, and if there is no sound reason why they are not allowed to govern themselves, then the American idea of government is a failure. I do not believe that only the rich should vote, or that only the whites should vote, or that only the blacks should vote. I do not believe that right depends upon wealth, upon education, or upon color. It depends absolutely upon humanity. I have the right to vote because I am a man, because I am an American citizen, and that right I should and am willing to share equally with every human being. There has been a great deal said in this country of late in regard to giving the right of suffrage to women. So far as I am concerned I am willing that every woman in the nation who desires that privilege and honor shall vote. If any woman wants to vote I am too much of a gentleman to say she shall not. She gets her right, if she has it, from precisely the same source that I get mine, and there are many questions upon which I would deem it desirable that women should vote, especially upon the question of peace or war. If a woman has a child to be offered upon the altar of that Moloch, a husband liable to be drafted, and who loves a heart that can be entered by the iron arrow of death, she surely has as much right to vote for peace as some thrice-besotted sot who reels to the ballot-box and deposits a vote for war. I believe, and always have, that there is only one objection to a woman voting, and that is, the men are not sufficiently civilized for her to associate with them, and for several years I have been doing what little I can to civilize them. The only question before this meeting, as I understand it, is, Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 1 SUFFRAGE ADDRESS. Shall the people of this District manage their own affairs -- whether they shall vote their own taxes and select their own officers who are to execute the laws they make? and for one, I say there is no human being with ingenuity enough to frame an argument against this question. It is all very well to say that Congress will do this, but Congress has a great deal to do besides. There is enough before that body coming from all the States and Territories of the Union, and the numberless questions arising in the conduct of the General Government. I am opposed to a government where the few govern the many. I am opposed to a government that depends upon suppers, and upon flattery; upon crooking the hinges of the knee; upon favors, upon subterfuges. We want to be manly men in this District. We must direct and control our own affairs, and if we are not capable of doing it, there is no part of the Union where they are capable. It is said there is a vast amount of ignorance here. That is true; but that is also true of every section of the United States. There is too much ignorance and there will continue to be until the people become great enough, generous enough, and splendid enough to see that no child shall grow up in their midst without a good, common-school education. The people of this District are capable of managing their educational affairs if they are allowed to do so. The fact is, a man now living in the District lives under a perpetual flag of truce. He is nobody. He counts for nothing. He is not noticed except as a suppliant. Nothing as a citizen. That day should pass away. It will be a perpetual education for this people to govern themselves, and until they do they cannot be manly men. They say, though, that there is a vast rabble here. Very well. Make your election laws so as to exclude the vast rabble. Let it be understood that no man shall vote who has not lived here at least one year. Let your registration laws prohibit any man from voting unless he has been registered at least six months. We do not want to be governed by people who have no abode here -- who are political Bedouins of the desert. We want to be governed by people who live with us -- who live somewhere among us, and whom somebody knows, and if a law is properly framed there will be no trouble about self-government in the District of Columbia. Let the experiment be tried here of a perfect, complete and honest registration; let every man, no matter who he is or where he comes from, vote only by strict compliance with a good registry law. We can have a fair election, and wherever there is a fair election there will be good government. Our Government depends for its stability upon honest elections. The great principle underlying our system of government is that the people have the virtue and the patriotism to govern themselves. That is the foundation stone, the corner and the our base of our edifice, and upon it our Government is on trial to-day. And until a man is considered infamous who casts an illegal vote, our Government will not be safe. Whoever casts an illegal vote knowingly is a traitor to the principle upon which our Government is founded. And whoever deprives a citizen of his right to vote is also a traitor to our Government. When these things are understood; when the finger of public scorn shall be pointed at every man who votes illegally, or unlawfully prevents an honest vote, then you will have a splendid Government. It is humiliating for one hundred and seventy-five thousand people to depend simply upon the right of petition. The few will disregard the petition of the many. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 2 SUFFRAGE ADDRESS. I have not one word to say against the officers of the District. Not a word. But let them do as well as they can; that is no justification. It is no justification of a monarchy that the king is a good man; it is no justification of a tyranny that the despot does justice. There may come another who will do injustice; and a free people like ours should not be satisfied to be governed by strangers. They would better have bad men of their own choosing than to have good men forced upon them. You have property here, and you have a right to protect it, and a right to improve it. You have life and liberty and the right to protect it. You have a right to say what money shall be assessed and collected and paid for that protection. You have laws and you have a right to have them executed by officers of your own selection, and by nobody else. In my judgement, all that is necessary to have these things done is to have the subject properly laid before Congress, and let that body thoroughly and perfectly understand the situation. There is no member there, who rightly understanding our wishes, will dare continue this disfranchisement of the people. We have the same right to vote that their constituents have precisely -- no more and no less. This District ought to have one representative in Congress, a representative with a right to speak -- not a tongueless dummy. The idea of electing a delegate who has simply the privilege of standing around! We ought to have a representative who has not only the right to talk, but who will talk. This District has the right to a vote in the committees of Congress, and not simply the privilege of receiving a little advice. And more than that, this District ought to have at least one electoral vote in a selection of a President of the United States. A smaller population than yours is represented not only in Congress, but in the Electoral College. If it is necessary to amend the Constitution to secure these rights let us try and have it amended; and when that question is put to the people of the whole country they will be precisely as willing that the people of the District of Columbia shall have an equal voice as that they themselves should have a voice. Let us stop at no half-way ground, but claim, and keep claiming all our rights until somebody says we shall have them. And let me tell you another thing: Once have the right of self- government recognized here, have a delegate in Congress, and an electoral vote for President, and thousands will be willing to come here and become citizens of the District. As it is, the moment a man settles here his American citizenship falls from him like dead leaves from a tree. From that moment he is nobody. Every American citizen wants a little political power -- wants to cast his vote for the rulers of the nation. He wants to have something to say about the laws he has to obey, and they are not willing to come here and disfranchise themselves. The moment it is known that a man is from the District he has no influence and no one cares what his political, opinions may be. Now, let us have it so that we can vote and be on an equality with the rest of the voters of the United States. This Government was founded upon the idea that the only source of power is the people. Let us show at the Capital that we have confidence in that principle; that every man should have a vote and voice in the South, in the North, everywhere, no matter how low his condition, no matter that he was a slave, no matter Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 3 SUFFRAGE ADDRESS. what his color is, or whether he can read or write, he is clothed with the right to name those who make the laws he is to obey. While the lowest and most degraded in every State in this Union have that right, the best and most intelligent in the District have not that right. It will not do. There is no sense in it -- there is no justice in it -- nothing American in it. If this were the case in some of the capitals of Europe we would not be surprised; but here in the United States, where we have so much to say about the right of self-government, that two hundred thousand people should not have the right to say who shall make, and who shall execute the laws is at least an anomaly and a contradiction of our theory of government, and for one, I propose to do what little I can to correct it. It has been said that you had once here the right of self-government. If I understand it, the right you had was to elect somebody to some office, and all the other officers were appointed. You had no control over your Legislature; you had very little control over your other officers, and the people of the District held responsible for what was actually done by the appointing power. We want no appointing power. If it is necessary to have a police magistrate, I say the people are competent to elect that magistrate; and if he is not a good man they are qualified to select another in his place. You ought to elect your judges. I do not want the office of the judiciary so far from the people that it may feel entirely independent. I want every officer in this District held accountable to the people, and, unless he discharges his duties faithfully, the people will put him out, and select another in his stead. I want it Understood that no American citizen can be forced to pay a dollar in a State or in the district where he lives who is not represented, and where he has not the right to vote. It is all tyranny, and all infamous. The people of the United States wonder to-day that you have submitted to this outrage as long as you have. Neither do I believe that only the rich should have the right to vote; that only they should govern; or that only the educated should govern. I have noticed among educated men many who did not know enough to govern themselves. I have known many wealthy men who did not believe in liberty, in giving the people the same rights they claimed for selves. I believe in that government where the ballot of Lazarus counts as much as the vote of Dives. Let the rich, let the educated, govern the people by moral suasion and by example and by kindness and not by brute force. And in a community like this where the avenues to distinction are open alike to all, there will be many more reasons for acting like men. When you can hold any position, when every citizen can have conferred upon him honor and responsibility, there is some stimulus to be a man. But in a community where but the few are clothed with power by appointment, no incentive exists among the people. If the avenues to distinction and honor are open to all, such a government is beneficial on every hand, and the poorest man in the community may say to himself, "If I pursue the right course the very highest place is open to me." And the poorest man, with his little tow-headed boy on his knee, can say, "John, all the avenues are open to you; although I am poor, you may be rich, and while I am obscure, you may become distinguished." Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 4 SUFFRAGE ADDRESS. That idea sweetens every hour of toil and renders holy every drop of sweat that rolls down the face of labor. I hate tyranny in every form. I despise it, and I execrate a tyrant wherever he may be, and in every country where the people are struggling for the right of self-government I sympathize with them in their struggle. Wherever the sword of rebellion is drawn in favor of human rights I am a rebel. I sympathize with all the people in Europe who are endeavoring to push kings from thrones and struggling for the right to govern themselves. America ought to send greeting to every part of the world where such a struggle is pending, and we of the District of Columbia ought to be able to join in the greeting, but we never shall be until we have the right of self-government ourselves. No man who is a good citizen can have any objection to self-government here. No man can be opposed to it who believes that our people have enough wisdom, enough virtue, enough patriotism to govern themselves. The man who doubts the right of the people to govern themselves casts a little doubt upon the question, simply because he is not man enough himself to believe in liberty. I would trust the poor of this country with our liberties as soon as I would the rich. I will trust the huts and hovels, just as soon as I will the mansions and palaces. I will trust those who work by the day in the streets as soon as I will the bankers of the United States. I will trust the ignorant -- even the ignorant Why? Because they want education, and no people in this country are so anxious to have their children educated as those who are not educated themselves. I will trust the ignorant with the liberties of this country quicker than I would some of the educated who doubt the principles upon which our Government is founded. But let the intelligent do what they can to instruct the ignorant. Let the wealthy do what they can to give the blessings of liberty to the poor, and then this Government will remain forever. The time is passing away when any man of genius can be respected who will not use that genius in elevating his fellow-man. The time is passing away when men, however wealthy, can be respected unless they use their millions for the elevation of mankind. The time is coming when no man will be called an honest man who is not willing to give to every other man, be he white or black every right that he asks for himself. For my part, I am willing to live under a government where all govern, and am not willing to live under any other. I am willing to live where I am on an equality with other men, where they have precisely my rights, and no more; and I despise any government that is not based upon this principle of human equality. Now, let us go just for that one thing, that we have the same right as any other people in the United States -- that is, to govern this District ourselves. Let us be represented in the lawmaking power, and let us advocate a change in the fundamental law so that the people of this District shall be entitled to one vote as to who shall be President of the United States. And when that is done and our people are clothed with the panoply of citizenship, you will find this District growing not to two hundred thousand, but in a little while one million of people will live here. Now, for one, I have not the slightest feeling against members of Congress for what has been done. I believe when this matter is laid before them fully and properly you will find few men in that august body who will vote against the proposition. They have had trouble enough. They do not Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 5 SUFFRAGE ADDRESS. understand our affairs. They never did, never will, never can. No one who does not live here will. The public interests are so many and so conflicting, and touch the sides of so many, that the people must attend to this matter themselves. They know when they want a market, a judge, or a collector of taxes, and nobody else does and nobody else has a right to. And instead of going up to Congress and standing around some committee-room with a long petition in your hands, begging somebody to wait just one, it will be far better that you should go to the polls and elect your representative, who can attend to your interests in Congress. But above all things, I want to warn you, charge you, beseech you, that in any legislation upon this subject you must secure a registration law that will prevent the casting of an illegal vote. Do this before it is known whether the District is Republican or Democratic. I do not care. No matter how much od a Republican I am, absolutely, I would rather be governed by Democrats who live here than by Republicans who do not. And now, while it is not known whether this is a Democratic or Republican community, let us get up a registration that no one can violate; because the moment you have an election, and it is ascertained to be either Democratic or Republican, the victorious party may be opposed to any registration or any legislation that will put in jeopardy their power. I have lived long enough to be satisfied that any State in this Union, whether no matter weather Democratic or Republican, will be safe as long as the people have the right to vote, and to see that the ballots will be counted. This country is now upon trial. In nearly every State. in this Union there is liable to happen just the same thing that only the other day happened in Maine. In every State there can be two legislatures, one in the State-house and the other on the fence. Let us in this District so guard the right to vote and the counting of the ballots, that we shall know after the election who has been elected and know with certainty the men who have been elected by the legal voters of the District. It becomes us all, whether Republicans or Democrats to unite in securing such a law. Let us act together, Democrats and Republicans, black and white, rich and poor, educated and ignorant -- let us all unite upon the principle that we have the right to govern ourselves. Then it will make no difference whether the District of Columbia shall be Democratic or Republican, provided it is the will of a legal majority of her people. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you.