Voting - Moral Obligation of Citizenship
In presenting Saint-Gaudens's statue of Abraham Lincoln to the British people in London in l920, the American statesman Elihu Root said: "Politics is the practical exercise of the art of self-government, and somebody must attend to it if we are to have self-government; somebody must study it, and learn the art, and exercise the patience and sympathy and skill to bring the multitude of opinions and wishes of self--governing people into such order that some prevailing opinion may be expressed and peaceably accepted. Otherwise, confusion will result either in dictatorship or anarchy. The principal ground of reproach against any American citizen should be that he is not a politician. Everyone ought to be as Lincoln was."
Today it is more important than ever before for American citizens to engage in politics. If we are to continue to enjoy self-government in America and "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," then good Americans must accept their moral obligation to participate in the political life of our country.
Pope Pius XII made it clear that this moral duty obliges women, as well as men, when he strongly exhorted: "Your day is here, Catholic women and girls. Public life needs you. To each of you might be said your destiny is at stake." In this address "on the practical activation of woman's social and political life," Pope Pius XII added: "The electoral ballot in the hands of Catholic woman is an important means toward the fulfillment of her strict duty in conscience."
Americans have developed many ingenious excuses to rationalize refusal to engage in politics. Some say, "I have just one vote. What does one vote matter?" Many close elections prove Pope Pius XII's words: "There is a heavy responsibility on everyone, man or woman, who has the right to vote."
Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President by just one vote in the Electoral College. His election was contested, and it was referred to an electoral commission, where again Hayes won by one single vote. The man who cast that deciding vote for President Hayes was a Congressman from Indiana, who was elected by just one vote. That one vote was cast by a friend who got up from his sick-bed to go to the polls.
Just 575 votes in New York elected Grover Cleveland to the Presidency. Only l,904 votes in California elected Woodrow Wilson. In l960 the Presidency was won by less than one vote per precinct over an entire nation. Only one vote gave statehood to California, Idaho, Oregon, Texas and Washington States. The Draft Act of World War II passed the House of Representatives by only one vote.
But voting is not enough. If you are content merely to vote on election day, you are only a part-time citizen; you have disfranchised yourself from your right to determine most of the major decisions that confront our country today. The history of American government for the last 30 years shows that the major national and international issues have been decided within each of the major parties, rather than between them. Only when you are active in the political party of your choice can you exercise your full privileges as an American citizen. Only then can you help choose public officials from a wide field of qualified candidates in the primaries, instead of just between the two that appear on the ballot on election day. Only then can you have a voice in determining the character of the party organization, the platform on which the candidates run, and the making of appointments and other decisions that come after the election.
Don't be intimidated by the smear words "POLITICAL" and "CONTROVERSIAL." These are clever slogans designed to paralyze the will of good Americans. Nearly every man and woman in history who accomplished anything was CONTROVERSIAL at the time: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Joan of Arc, Christopher Columbus, Louis Pasteur, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the women suffragettes.
No matter who or where you are, you live in one of the l45,723 election districts or precincts in the U.S. These divisions are kept small so that you can participate in the running of your government.
Shortly after the U. S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia in l787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, "What have we, Dr. Franklin?" "Madam," he replied, "We have a Republic -- if we can keep it." We can keep it only if American citizens dedicate themselves to their full responsibilities of citizenship. We should remember the warning by Plato 2,400 years ago: "The punishment of wise men who refuse to take part in the affairs of government is to live under the government of unwise men."