1882 Anniversary Debate: “Universal Suffrage”

The Wake Forest Student, March 1882
Editorial – In an About the College, page 144-147

ANNIVERSARY.-In the great desert of college life there are occasional oases which refresh the weary, drooping student, as with a foretaste of the Elysian fields. Such an occasion was the forty-seventh anniversary of the Euzelian and Philomathesian Societies, which was celebrated on the seventeenth of February. The forces of nature had combined to make the occasion one of rejoicing, and when at 2 1/2 o’clock p. m., to the music of the Raleigh string band, the representatives of the two Societies marched down the aisle of the new-chapel, an appreciative audience bad alreadyassembled to enjoy the feast of reason so shortly to be set before them.

After pleasing and appropriate remarks by Mr. STRINGFIELD, president of debate, the secretary, Mr. FLEETWOOD, read the question for discussion: “Is the system of universal suffrage conducive to the best interests of the Republic?” and announced as first speaker on the affirmative, Mr. W. J. FERRELL, of Wake county, who proceeded to make a speech teeming with the good sense and good reasoning by which this gentleman is distinguished. Universal suffrage, he said, involves the most vital principle of the Republic. Through the system of suffrage in the United States regards all citizens by birth or naturalization as fit candidates for the exercise of the right of suffrage, yet each State may have such regulations as conduce to the best interest and harmony of the majority of its citizens. Property qualification, restricting suffrage to those who can read and write, and tax prerequisite,are adopted by some States in the Union, and can be by all. Although the principles embodied in universal suffrage have elevated humanity more than all other political systems, yet the political dyspeptics and democratic hypocrites are crying, change! Change! and murmuring and sighing for the flesh-pots of England and the onions and garlic of the feudal ages. (2). It is the embodiment of our national character. Nations having universal suffrage have made the grandest achievements in political history, and for men to denounce it as a failure and for political eclectics to exasperate the people by berating their character and taking away the right of equal freedom, is but to lay up wrath against the day of wrath. (3). Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been decreed to man in the chancery of heaven. In this Republic tell a man he is free and not allow him to vote, and you insult him. The deadliest enemy of the Republic is centralization of wealth and power, the only check to which is the suffrage of the masses. There is not an instance in history where the masses overthrew a nation not cruelly despotic.

Mr. E. E. HILLIARD, of Harnett, was the first speaker on the negative, who made an earnest and impassioned speech. He noticed the great regard of all people for political liberty and especially the regard due to American liberty. Three things, he said, prove the system not conducive to the best interests of the Republic. 1. Men in office are corrupt. Under this head, he showed, first, that the object of government is the highest development of the people, and for the accomplishment of this, great care ought to be exercised in the selection of rulers. To fill well his office, a man must be a patriot, and not have in view the object of many office holders-to II get fat.” Secondly, rulers ought to know something of the principles of government, and thirdly, men who hold office ought to have the good of the people at heart. Yet some, to gain office, ” would drain the life-blood to fill their own coffers and satiate their own morbid greed.” 2. They are put there by those unfit to do it. Corruption in office ought not to be. The remedy is a restricted system. A man to cast a vote for good must do so intelligently. Demagoguism is taught for patriotism, in the name of civil liberty. 3. Men not qualified for a public duty ought to have no share in its privileges. Men are not born equal, are not born free, but in subjection to society and law. Natural rights are not political rights. No government can stand on such a foundation as sycophants and artisans make of such elements as they can purchase in the ignorant negro freedmen and the swarms of immigrants to our shores.

Mr. E. G. BECKWITH, of Wake, for the affirmative, made a speech showing decided genius and ability. Since republics are the outgrowth of oppressed liberty tile voice of the people is conducive to tile best interests of the republic. He showed how association sharpens and develops intellect, instills honesty and integrity. Hence the importance of diffusing knowledge and honoring patriotism. When all are equally free, they work for the common good; when a few enjoy this privilege, a division grows up between these few, and the people; and divisions work destruction in all re publics. By the rule of the few are nourished the ambitious projects of corrupt statesmen. The negative say the people are too depraved to rule. Are the people more depraved than the Grants who robbed them? Have their political intrigues been generators of true morals and upright conduct? Who rules the political machine that brings our Republic on the verge of destruction? Is it the people? No: it is the wise and educated, the bribers and caucusers, whose only virtue is their money and whose only valor is their talents. ‘!’he people may be fools in many things, but are they fools on such questions as the promotion of the Republic? They have been closest to difficulties, and have learned that political wisdom which life teaches in its sternest school. At the appearance of a people’s government, despotic kingdoms vanish. The American republic caused the throne of France to fall; and the happy results of the French Revolution spread over Europe. The wise few might hold sway where liberty had never penetrated the heart of the people, but our republic will never he disturbed by their exploding theories.

The cause of the negative was then taken up by THOS., DIXON, of Shelby, in a manner no report can do justice to. His clear enunciation and his animated style; gained for him the closest attention of the audience. The theory of the System, he argued, the underlying principle of which is “all men are born free and equal,” is erroneous. Any institution ,with error as its foundation cannot be conducive to the best interests of any nation, Human rights are of two kinds, Natural and acquired. Natural rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Acquired rights arise from agreement, concession, compact. Such are the rights of the citizen. The man who voles is a sovereign. The system that declares ignorance and sloth entitled to equal consideration with knowledge and virtue is erroneous. How can a dull untutored intellect pierce the mazy labyrinth of governmental machinery? No Man deprived of the advantage of the press can vote intelligently. An educational qualification is absolutely necessary to the expression of a wise voice in government because that voter not possessing it, –l. Cannot possibly know his political duty, –2. Cannot be sure that his ballot really represents his wish, –3. Cannot secure the counting of the votes, when cast, nor protect himself in his electoral privilege. Universal suffrage is the true basis of the best form of government; but its stability and purity require that universal teaching should precede universal suffrage.

The system as we now have it, by reason of aggregated ignorance, gives its sanction to corruption, opens the grandest field in the world for the demagogue, by supplying him with nearly two millions of ignorant voters upon whom to operate. Require these men to read and write, and the power of the demagogue is destroyed. It also fosters ignorance, degrades the lofty functions of a free citizen, and augments the undue influence of wealthy by multiplying dependent voters.

During the debate the utmost excitement and enthusiasm prevailed. By a vote of the audience, the question was decided in the negative by a majority of 70. At 7 ½ p.m., the audience again assembled to hear tile orators of the Societies: Mr. H. G. HODDING, of Wake Forest, from the Euzelian, and Mr. D. W. HERRING, of Pender County, from the Philomathesian. As we intend to publish these orations in full we will attempt no synopsis, but will only say that both acquitted themselves in a manner that reflected credit upon their Societies. The audience was then invited by Marshal BIGGS to the Halls, where, to some, the most pleasing and profitable (?) part of the entertainment was prolonged till the wee small hours.