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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Citizen’s Duty

By Thomas Corwin (1794–1865)

[From a Speech on Current Political Issues. Ironton, Ohio, 19 August, 1859.]

LET those gentlemen who consider themselves quite too respectable and decent to mingle in our elections, remember that God Almighty will hold them responsible for the manner in which they discharge their duty as voters. That right and privilege is not given to them for their benefit, or to be used at their pleasure, but for my benefit, for your benefit, and for the benefit of the thirty millions of people in the United States. If one sees an unworthy man go to the polls and take possession of the Government, and he will not prevent it, if there be such a thing as future responsibility—as we all believe—that man will have something to answer for upon that final day when all of us must account for our acts.

Do you suppose that the old men who published that Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to your national existence, for the maintenance of which they appealed to the God of nations, approve of this neglect? They felt their own weakness, they, acting upon the commonly accepted principles of human reason, felt that they would perish in the conflict into which they were then about to enter; and at last, as poor feeble man always does when he feels he has nothing to lean upon but his own arm, he goes to the Almighty for help in that hour of trouble. They appealed to Him, and He answered well in the day of their trial; and all the struggles they endured, all the blood they shed, all the pains and privations they suffered, were simply to end in just one thing—in communicating to every rational free man equal power to govern the nation. That office they communicated to you—the voting people of the country. Did they suppose—could they have believed that the people of this country, the respectable people of the land, would so scorn the great and priceless estate which they left them, as that they would not attend to appointing the agents to take care of it, but that some mercenary spirit was to take care of them….

Don’t let us blame our Presidents so much! Don’t let us anathematize the men we have elected to these offices of State, too much! Let us abuse the people who elected them. They are to blame for wrongs done, if any have been done. If you elect a judge, and he does not attend at court, and if an innocent man is hung because he was not there to try him, what do you with him? You take him to Columbus and impeach him. He is removed from office, and the brand of disgrace and ignominy is placed upon his brow. But you can be absent from elections, and let unworthy men be elected to office. You don’t like some party or other. The judge might say he did not like his associate; he did not like to sit near him—he had not a very sweet breath. I tell you, sirs, that is quite as valid as many of the excuses that men make for staying away from elections.