We are at an important point in our city’s history. Fewer voters came out to vote in the preliminary election than has probably ever happened before. Let me tell you two stories. One comes from the time of Andrew Jackson, while the other comes from the Soviet Union. Here’s how they were told:
In the 1830’s Texas was trying to become a state, to the delight of both President Andrew Jackson, who had retired, and President Samuel Houston, who was the leader of the nation of Texas. A vote was approaching on the statehood request of Texas, and neither House of Congress could decide the answer to the issue. Former President Jackson was pushing hard for statehood and so was President Houston. They saw what few could see, the Manifest Destiny of the average American to live in a country that bordered both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. That’s right we were not there yet.
In Indiana, a tight Representative race saw one State Representative winning by one vote. Someone got curious, could they determine who the man was who voting as the markedly sure voter who placed that State Representative in office. At the time, the public could not vote for the U.S. Senator but the State Representative could. That was because the founding Fathers thought the average voter could not be trusted to vote for the most educated, best man. The State Legislatures voted the Senators into office.
What happened was this. The state representative from Indiana embroiled in the controversy was a Jackson man. He wanted Texas to join the Union. His opponent was against the acquisition of Texas. He, the Texas-leaning state representative, voted in the legislature for a pro-Texas Senator elect. That Senator won the State Representative house by one vote. In the meantime, they discovered the identity of the most likely voter to vote for Texas statehood. The Jacksonian State Representative was elected by one vote- the vote of the man in Indiana who was so sick that his children, against their better wisdom, put him on a bed in the carriage and carried him nine miles to the voting booth. He got up walked to the booth, and voted for the pro-Texas representative. That man won by one vote, the old man died on the trip home, and his last act was to vote for the state representative who went on to vote for the U.S. Senator. The U.S. Senator won by one vote, the State Representative’s.
The U.S. Senate had to vote on the Texas issue. It carried by one vote, the Senators, from Indiana. Thus, Indiana handed Texas its statehood, by one vote. The vote of the old man who died on the way home from the election booth.
(Manifest Destiny). Now, not all was beautiful. Texas was one of the eleven Confederate states a few years later, but we would not have Texas as a state is it had not been for that one vote by that one old farmer.
The second story is just a measure of facts. In the 1930’s the Soviet Union wrote the best Constitution available up to that time. It took care of women, it took care of health concerns. It was perfect. Except for one thing. It refused anyone who was not in the Communist Party the right to vote. That meant that, at the outset, fifty percent of the people could not vote. So it was an egalitarian society. Only the few would be allowed to vote.
Cut to America. While anyone can vote, a full fifty percent of the voting populace is not even registered to vote. Of the remaining fifty percent, fewer than half of the remaineder vote. That means that, like the Soviet Union, less than fifty percent vote. In a local election, we are lucky to get twenty five percent of the people registered. We all have our reasons for not voting, but we do not know that Russia is better at getting its voters to the ballot box than an American election. As a Democrat I cringe that George Bush beat, but not in the popular vote, Al Gore. Al Gore won by over 200,000 votes but because of the Electoral College, also put in place by the Founding Fathers because they thought we were too uneducated to vote for President. Surely, we would mess it up they thought.
I hope that you read this entire article because it is true. The state of Texas was brought into the United States by one vote, the old man who traveled nine miles on his deathbed, the State Representative who voted for the U.S. Senator, who voted for Texas. That is a historical fact.
It is also a historical fact that the Soviet Union had more people going to the polls as members of the Communist Party than we have in our elections.
Get to the polls this year and vote even if it’s an effort. Remember, it is not as much an effort as it was to that Indiana man who voted Texas into the Union.
This is the type of thing I taught my students in History.