Why?  I’d go with because I said so, but that never seems to win an argument with anyone….

“I know no means more effectual, than to invite and admit the freemen to the right of suffrage, and to enhance, as much as possible, the value of that right. Its value cannot, in truth, be enhanced too highly. It is a right of the greatest import, and of the most improving efficacy. It is a right to choose those, who shall be intrusted with the authority and with the confidence of the people: and who may employ that authority and that confidence for the noblest interests of the commonwealth, without the apprehension of disappointment or control.” ~ James Wilson, Of Government, The Legislative Department, Of Citizens and Aliens, Lectures on Law, 1791

A loose modern translation “I know no better means, than to give citizens the right to vote as much as possible.  Its value can never be too high.  It is the most important right.  A right to choose the people who will run the government and have authority over the country.”

Before we go onto the rest of my little chat for the day, a brief aside for my terminally under-educated fellow citizens.  Since I know you are wondering, James Wilson was a founding father, signer of the Declaration of Independence, a major player in drafting the Constitution, and one of the Revolutionary era’s most prominent legal minds.  He was also one of the six original justices of the Supreme Court, appointed by George Washington.


My post today is 2 days early, for anyone smart enough to figure out that I post regularly on Thursdays.   There is an important reason why – today is election day in our great country.  What better day to think about the origins of our government and where we are going as a people than on the day when millions of citizens will choose to go and cast a vote in this election.  I’m a historian, and I’m angry, almost always, at the state of our nation, mostly because we’ve deliberately chosen to forget or re-write our own history to make our lives more convenient.  Convenience is assuredly the death of democracy and the republic.  Today, millions of people will vote, but millions more who are eligible will not.  For many reasons….apathy in the process, difficulty in going to the polls, or just generally not seeing the value in doing so.  Even in historically close or tumultuous elections in the last two decades, our voter turnouts have been lower than in the most mundane elections of a century or two ago.  Less than 65% voter turnout for presidential elections is insane, and that does not even begin to touch the numbers for elections for other important government positions like representative and senator (on the federal and state and local levels) that occur during “off” years.  So much for the most important right the founding fathers bequeathed to us.

The most revolutionary of the revolutionary ideals was the right to vote.  By giving that fundamental right to the people, the founding fathers were doing something that was unparalleled.  They were building an entire government on the basis that the people were the sole foundation of authority and power.  That still seems crazy.  People?  I will be honest, my dear fellow Citizens, you frighten me.  With your ignorance, and your pettiness, and your inability to hold most dear this fundamental ability to choose, I am seriously concerned that the founding fathers might have made a dreadful mistake.  Maybe they did, as more and more people abuse or underuse their right to have a voice in our government, it can certainly seem that way, especially to someone as cynical as myself.  But that’s not really the point is it….because honestly, it actually doesn’t really matter what I think.  Our government is dependent on the people, and on people voting.  That’s the whole point of the great American experiment.  Our founding fathers built us a government and left us with an insane level of public trust- to ensure its continuity by choosing our own way, time and time again.

So today, I am reminding you my fellow citizens, that there is nothing more important than the ability to vote.  Voting defines our government and our society as more than just another place ruled by the few.  You should never be undecided at this point, even if the choices are limited and less than the ideal.  Instead, every eligible citizen should be setting out to vote, already sure of what choices they will make and why.  I don’t really care who you vote for, I’m just an angry historian after all, and it will be another 50 years before legitimate historians will truly be able to analyze and discuss this election.  I just care that you do.  And vote for real, don’t just pick a party and check every name on the list next to it off, know who you are voting for (before going in) and why, and if you are lucky enough to have a ballot initiative, research that too!  Even right now, there is still time.  Because that is what the founding fathers really intended, underneath all the problems and all the debates about the nature of our government and our Constitution, lies the one real solution, the ability to vote.  That as the governed, we have the right and the duty to determine who the governors are.  This is the cornerstone of our democratic republic, this is what made us different and what made us great.  And if we want to make all the difference, we must continue to exercise it.  This year, today is the day.  Go be revolutionary, have a voice, vote.

Res Publica

Documentation without Representation:

James Wilson’s Of Government, The Legislative Department, Of Citizens and Aliens, Lectures on Law, 1791

digital version courtesy of University of Chicago Press

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