The trouble is not in our institutions, imperfect as they doubtless are. The crying necessity for reform springs from the fact that while our institutions are representative theoretically, our public officials are not so, actually.
The men needed for all our offices are men to whom righteousness, temperance and judgment are obligations which they feel called upon to fulfillnot men who, like Felix, tremble, self-convicted, when these are urged upon them. A candidate for office should be as white in principle and in practice as his title indicates or suggests that he is.
Profligacy in taking office is so extreme that we have no doubt public men may be found who for half a century would postpone all remedies for a pestilence, if the preservation of their places depended upon the propagation of the virus.
A faithful setting forth of Christian duty at the polls, not to vote for this or that man, but to vote conscientiously as before God, and to make the use of the franchise a solemn duty to be prayerfully performed, is a part of the ministers function, when he is teaching his people how to live on earth as representatives of Gods truth.
Let the ministry hold high and fast the standard of Christs cross, which means pardon and renewal to every sinner that repents and trusts in His atoning sacrifice. Let this be the first and main work of the Christian ministry, and from this, as a source, let the life of both minister and people be fitted to discharge the personal duties which belong to them both as men and citizens. So will the ministry best work to purify our politics and to serve the state.
Municipal government is corrupt simply because corrupt and corruptible men are elected to office. Corrupt men are elected to office because office pays, and corruptible men yield because they make money by yielding. If municipal governments had no profitable contracts to award, if school boards had no text-books to select, we should have no municipal problem.
It must recognize and hold up before men the moral character of this corruption of the ballot. Bribery is a sin. It is condemned in the laws of Moses: And thou shalt take no gift; for a gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous. These words are as true to-day as when they were written.
Politics is the only serious subject that men think themselves qualified to act upon without any previous education or instruction whatever. If it happened to be astronomy, or botany, or medicine, or law, he would never be allowed to work in any of these arts, or to take a decisive part in the history of any one of these sciences without having, at least, acquired the A B C of it; but the awful fact of politics is that we do not take the trouble seriously to understand the political situation.
I have seen the sea lashed into fury and tossed into spray, and its grandeur moves the soul of the dullest man; but I remember that it is not the billows, but the calm level of the sea, from which all heights and depths are measured. When the storm has passed and the hour of calm settles on the ocean, when the sunlight bathes its smooth surface, then the astronomer and surveyor take the level from which to measure all terrestrial heights and depths. Gentlemen of the convention, your present temper may not mark the healthful pulse of our people when our enthusiasm has passed. When the emotions of this hour have subsided, we shall find that calm level of public opinion below the storm, from which the thoughts of a mighty people are to be measured, and by which their final action will be determined.
Parties are an essential part of representative governments, and can be effective only by organization; but when organization degenerates into a brutal machinery that stifles intelligence and true patriotism, the republic is moribund. As the perfunctory and bigoted exercise of the suffrage has gradually extinguished much of the manhood of American citizenship, so the restoration of intelligence, conscience and individual independence in this prime duty will be the sole effective means of curing many existing evils and preventing others that might be equally dangerous.
The large use of money, both before and after election, in the political campaigns of the present day, is a phase of modern public life that represents one of the great changes in our political methods since our forefathers established and practiced the principles laid down in the constitution. The constitution, as we know, was based on the pure democratic idea of government, in which all power and initiative should proceed from the people themselves. Gradually we have substituted for this, which we might call the spontaneous expression of the people, a mechanism by which, instead of the peoples instructing their delegates, the presumption is that the delegates are going to instruct the people. In other words, we have absolutely inverted the original idea that lay at the basis of our political fabric.
One of the most iniquitous forms of taking from an American citizen his right to a free ballot is through intimidation. This is not bribery; it is oppression. It is oppression in a free land. It is practiced by both parties, sometimes through corporations and capitalists, and sometimes by threats of violence at the polls. The evidence is spread before the nation that it is practiced at elections in various states at the South for the suppression of the colored voters.
You cannot help being a politician. You cannot live for an hour without being a politician. But what a man generally means when he says that he is not a politician I am afraid is thisthat he has been all his life enjoying his political privileges and grossly neglecting his political duties; and in that sense the observation is scarcely to his credit. As a matter of fact, politics, properly understood, is simply Science of Lifethe doctrine of the way in which I am to do my duty to my neighbor, which is an essential part of true religion. It is nothing in the world except religion applied to human society; in fact, it is the practical recognition of the Second Table of the Law of God.
Now, I do implore those who are listening to me to realize the gravity of all these questions. There is nothing that you do in all your life for which you are more accountable to God, or which is more serious, than the vote which many of you are going to give at the approaching general election (1892). I dare say you have already made up your mind which party you are going to vote for, but I confess I have some suspicion that, even in an unusually intelligent audience like this, if I brought some of you up to this platform and elicited from you for whom you were going to vote, and then were permitted to cross examine you as to why you were going to give that vote, the answers which you would give would not satisfy yourselves or the audience.
It is because politics, as I have already said, have been confounded with party politics; have often been contemptible and wicked beyond description; and, indeed, when not carried so far as that, there are a great many persons who positively cannot discuss politics without losing their temper. And this is so well known that the subject is tabooed to a very great extent in polite society, so-called, so that if you go to a dinner party the one thing of which you must not speak is politics, and the place that might reasonably be occupied by noble and instructive conversation about the science and art of life, and human progress, is occupied by inane, and worse than inane, gossip.
It is difficult to estimate the cost of a great presidential campaign. There is no doubt but what it might be measured by millions of dollars, apart from the loss involved in the general destruction of business. It has been said that frequent elections have their value in keeping alive public interest in public affairs, and in educating the people upon the great questions that are to be solved. But when we recollect that a great part of the expenses of the campaign are spent in badges, torchlight processions and other appeals to the imagination and sensation rather than to reason, it seems probable that a very large part of this expenditure is practically valueless, so far as the education of the people is concerned, and is really spent to pervert their intelligence.