What’s the Point of Voting?

Today, we prove once again the proposition that few believed three hundred years ago; today, we prove our greatest right: “the capability of a people to govern themselves.”[1] Today, we exercise our power as persons and Americans to choose who will govern us. Today, we vote.  

 Today, I ask: “What’s the point?”

 When politicians are corrupt—when the money raised by increasingly higher taxes is wasted on ill-conceived ventures—when Democrats and Republicans sound almost exactly the same, and there is no viable third option—what’s the point of voting?

Today, I jolt myself out of jaded complacency with a good dose of Abraham Lincoln. For Mr. Lincoln, the point of voting is to protect and defend the Union.

What is the Union? For Lincoln, the Union is a group of American states, perpetually bound together by universal law and by a rational determination to uphold the U. S. Constitution.

 Based on historical precedence, Lincoln believed that “the Union of these states is perpetual.”[2] No people, when they write their government’s founding laws, plans to dissolve their government at a given date. Our Founders—from the moment they signed the Declaration of Independence to the moment they signed the U. S. Constitution—planned for a government that would last.

 The Union cannot simply go away. Since the Union was birthed by the patriots’ blood, it is more than simply a legal entity that cannot dissolve—it is a family. According to “universal law,”[3] a family does not fall apart when one member deserts it; the family remains and campaigns for the wayward loved one’s return. So it was during the Civil War: the South, the proverbial Prodigal Son, had abandoned its family, and the North fought to bring the family back together. The Union was not destroyed when the South left; and the South, Lincoln believes, could not technically leave.[4]

 The Union’s other hallmark, for Lincoln, is a reasonable dedication to uphold the Constitution. When the British crown oppressed the American colonies, the Americans first responded by rationally arguing their case to King George III. When reason failed, the colonists turned to the passion necessary to fight a war. Each person who experienced that passionate fight for freedom became “a living history”[5]—someone who loved the Constitution because he or she had suffered to obtain it. But as generations have passed, we’ve become disconnected with those living histories; therefore, Lincoln argues, we cannot depend on their passion to preserve the Union any more. “Passion has helped us,” he says, “but but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our support and defence.”[6]

Once we have lost our rational “attachment” to the Constitution, Lincoln believes, the Union will collapse.[7] Yes, collapse; and if the perpetual Union collapses, it will only be because of us: “If destruction be our lot,” Lincoln writes, “we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”[8] Lincoln sees this collapse occurring either through “mob rule”—an undirected, excessive passion Lincoln calls a “mobocratic spirit”[9]—or through “loftiest genius”—a Caesar or Napoleon willing to tear apart the Constitution to achieve his own personal “distinction.”[10]

In either case, Lincoln prescribes the same remedy: the American people must reasonably uphold the Constitution. “Let every American,” Lincoln writes, “every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never the violate in the least particular, the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others.”[11]

So what’s the point of voting? To defend the Constitution. Because whenever the American people “universally” pledge themselves to protect the Constitution, “vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.”[12]


[1] Lincoln, Abraham. “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27,1838.” In Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basher (Cleveland: Da Capo Press, 2001), 82.

[2] Lincoln, Abraham. “First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.” In Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basher (Cleveland: Da Capo Press, 2001), 582.

[3] Ibid., 582.

[4] Lincoln, Abraham. “Last Public Address, April 11, 1865.” In Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basher (Cleveland: Da Capo Press, 2001), 799.

[5] Lincoln “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” 84.

[6] Ibid., 84.

[7] Ibid., 80.

[8] Ibid., 77.

[9] Ibid., 80.

[10] Ibid., 83.

[11] Ibid., 80-81.

[12] Ibid., 81.

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Filed under Being a Bookworm, Politics, aka 'Rubbish', Torrey Honors Institute

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