Baltimore Evening Sun (29 June 1911): 6.
Which recalls the fact that the elusive Quick seems to have escaped again.
Boil your drinking water! Revere the City Council! Swat the fly!
Why all this pother about Bill Garland’s vote? Certainly there in a touch of the ridiculous, under a democracy, in every effort to deprive an individual at his suffrage. How many Americans, if put to the test, could prove their capacity for voting intelligently, or even their inclination to vote honestly? Not more than three of four in every dozen. We admit ignorant and corrupt voters by the brigade and army corps—fellows who sell their votes regularly, chronic drunkards and incompetents, half-civilized foreigners, the imbecile, the useless and the sub-human–and then we salve our consciences by flying into a frenzy about some stray Bill Garland.
Whatever one may bring against Bill, on the score of his private chicaneries, it is plainly impossible to call him either ignorant or corrupt an a voter. He is, as a matter of fact. one of the most intelligent voters in all Baltimore—a man who devotes practically the whole of his time and energy to considering the practical problems of government. He has a clear-cut, comprehensible opinion upon every subject that ever comes before the people, from the conduct of the public schools to the disposition of vagrant dogs. In all such matters he is a specialist—and one of the most acute and thoughtful, not to say one of the most original specialists that Baltimore has ever produced.
Maybe you will object here that Bill’s undoubted knowledge is unaccompanied by sound judgment—that whenever he has to decide between two men or measures he always chooses the more evil. Possibly you are right—but what right have you to question his choice? His right to his opinion is just as good as your right to your opinion; he is just as much an American citizen as you are and in the eye of the law his manner of deciding a given problem of government, no matter how difficult it may be, and no matter how absurdly he may seem to deal with it, is just as respectable as your manner of deciding it, or Mr. Bonaparte’s, or Dr. Remsen’s, or Cardinal Gibbons’. In brief, he is a free citizen in a democracy, and as a free citizen he is just as good as any other free citizen, and, according to the Constitution, just as wise, no less and no more.
But the trouble with Bill, you may argue, is not so much that he is not intelligent as that he is not patriotically honest. In other words, you may accuse him of deciding between tweedledum and tweedledee, not in accordance with some remote and bloodless code of ethics or civics, but in frank obedience to the dictates of an eager self-interest. Well, suppose he does—how about yourself? Why do you clamor, during these sweaty days of summer, for a reduction of the tariff on wool? Simply because you think it would be nice to get a thick undershirt for the dollar you now pay for a thin one. Why did you vote against Bryan and free silver? Simply because you had money in the bank. Why do you vote for Smith instead of Jones for Mayor? Simply because you think that Smith will give you appreciably more than Jones will give you for the taxes you pay into the city treasury.
True enough, you may be somewhat less consistent and eager in such matters than Bill. You may, on occasion, support a candidate or a measure against your own private interest. Such things have happened. I know a man who has made a comfortable fortune in one of the industries protected by our extortionate tariff laws, and yet he is an ardent free-trader, and voted for Cleveland, and hopes to live long enough to see the Baltimore Custom House burned down. Again, I know a school teacher who is enthusiastically for Van Sickle, despite the fact that Van Sickle has doubled his labors without doubling his pay. Yet again, I once heard of a man who protested against the paving of the street before his house, on the ground that the paving of another street, some distance away, would be of greater public benefit.
Such things happen. Such gladiators of righteousness exist. A good many of us, in rare and soaring moments, achieve such prodigies of self-sacrifice. But what about the average man, facing an average situation? Does he put the public good above his own good or his own good above the public good? Does he root for his brother or for himself? I leave the answer to any fair man. One time in every thousand that answer will put Bill Garland to shame, but the other 999 times it will admit him to fellowship.
In brief, Bill’s morality is merely the average morality of a democracy. He is out for himself first, for those who can be useful to him second, for those who are indifferent to him third, and for those who oppose him fourth. Sometimes he climbs the ladder one rung, or two rungs, or even three rungs, but most of the time he remains on the ground. He is neither better than the average American nor worse than the average American, for that average American, put into his place, would do exactly as he does. When, in fact, Bill lately came before the average Americans of the Third ward for judgment they decided in his favor, at a fair election, by the handsome and impressive majority of 413.
If Bill actually differs from the average American voter, it is not so much because he is more eager to look out for number one as because he is obviously and immeasurably more intelligent. If it can be demonstrated that he is not fit to vote, then it follows quite clearly that the average voter is even less fit to vote. Some day, perhaps, the fact here implied will begin to make its impression and (to mix the figure a bit) to bear its fruit. When that time comes the opening strophes of the Declaration of Independence will be reduced to hard prose, and the citizen’s right to vote will no longer spring out of his mere consent to remain alive, but will be a right that he must first claim in words and then achieve by acts, as he now claims and achieves his right to have a million dollars. Until then we had better let old Bill alone, lest the gods, observing us, snicker behind their hands.
Once more the Sunday-schools are hard at their picnicking; once more the creeks, rivers and estuaries engulf their luckless pupils, and once more the headline writers get out their rubber stamps and startle us with the news that
Drowning Mars Outing.
Contributions to the new dictionary of synonyms for bald heads:
H. L. Mencken