The following is a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier in honor of Tuesday’s election.
The work is from an 1898 volume, “Whittier’s Snow-Bound and Other Poems.”
My apologies to women voters for the gender-specific thrust of this poem. Women’s suffrage wasn’t official in the United States until the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. It developed at state and local levels in a gradual process during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Whittier (1807-1892) was a newspaper editor. But more significantly, he was an abolitionist, leading an anti-slavery crusade that led to his being “mobbed, stoned and run out of town.” He was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and signed the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833.
He actually ran for Congress in 1832 and suffered a nervous breakdown after losing the election. But his political skills served him well throughout his life as a lobbyist, pushing the abolitionist cause.
The Quaker poet was also an elector in the presidential elections of 1860 and 1864. Both times he voted for Abraham Lincoln.
The abolition of slavery was his passion, and slavery was the theme of much of his poetry before the emancipation of American blacks. And when the eventually freed black man was given the right to vote, it helped spur on the proponents of women’s suffrage.
I hope this inspires you to appreciate and exercise your right to vote on Tuesday.
“THE POOR VOTER ON ELECTION DAY”
(John Greenleaf Whittier)
The proudest now is but my peer,
The highest not more high;
To-day, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I.
To-day alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known;
My palace is the people’s hall,
The ballot-box my throne!
Who serves to-day upon the list
Beside the served shall stand;
Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,
The gloved and dainty hand!
The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong to-day;
And sleekest broadcloth counts no more
Than homespun frock of gray.
To-day let pomp and vain pretence
My stubborn right abide;
I set a plain man’s common sense
Against the pedant’s pride.
To-day shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land;
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand!
While there’s a grief to seek redress,
Or balance to adjust,
Where weighs our living manhood less
Than Mammon’s vilest dust, —
While there’s a right to need my vote,
A wrong to sweep away,
Up! clouted knee and ragged coat!
A man’s a man to-day.