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The sovereignty and responsibility of American citizenship involve the performance of many duties. In what spirit do we perform them ? Is it with the purity of sentiment and the dignity of action which their importance requires ? I leave the answer to the conscience of each citizen.
When the voice from Faneuil Hall evoked from the bosom of the times the effort for liberty, and, like the gushing waters which followed the rod of Israel's leader, it poured itself upon the land ; when the fathers, after solemn prayer, made that declaration which is as immortal as the principle which it asserts; when the men of the Revolution had driven from the desecrated homes and ravaged shores of the colonies the mercenary instruments of British tyranny, and when the olive branch once more blossomed, and the Federal Union, supplanting the alliance of the colonies, had given our flag a national character, the duties of the American citizen received their inauguration, the orbit of their performance was designated. The work had begun. The weary warriors of the Revolution, the statesmen who had directed and sustained their efforts, were approaching the hour appointed for all. To their children they bequeathed their swords and their principles : to their children they bequeathed the liberty they had gained, secured by an entail which reckless folly alone can break. In their wisdom and in their great love for that liberty, they placed the responsibility for its preservation upon each citizen. Upon each citizen that responsibility remains': its binding force grows stronger with time. Each year develops the resources of our continent; each day adds to the number of our people, and each moment records our national sins for their final punishment. Every man knows that the wisdom of our ancestors placed in our hands the means of redressing political wrongs. It is a privilege to be exercised with care, but fearlessly. It is a weapon against wrong, only while its purity is preserved. It is a trenchant blade whose polish and edge are so brilliant and keen, that while in honest hands it will hew down the mightiest iniquity, it will tarnish and grow dull if it be wielded in the service of corruption.
This privilege is the Elective Franchise, the proper exercise of which is the first political duty of the citizen. That it has been shamefully abused, has been made time and again to sub
serve dishonest purposes, has been employed to subvert the constitutional sovereignty of the people, has been in some localities so degraded that men of pure and honest sentiment have pronounced it a failure, is, alas, too true. But the fact that this abuse exists, furnishes the strongest motive for those who love their country to rally to its rescue. There are honest men who do not vote, because the ballot-box has been corrupted. Are they guiltless? Do they not, by refusing to exercise a right, commit a great wrong, as well as those who pervert it to
dishonest purposes ? | My Countrymen, the destinies of this nation
are in the ballot-box. He who does not vote. and he who votes corruptly, are alike guilty. Let those who lament the misuse of the elective franchise, yet do not attempt to preserve its standard, remember, that it furnishes its own correction. The people are honest, and it has ever been found that the corrupt are a minority. Never has there been a period in our history, when it was more essential for the people to vindicate their honesty, than at the present. A disposition has been manifested to sully the purity of our dearest rights. The unclean hand
of corruption has reared an altar for its worshippers in the temple of our liberties; the venders of political wares have made its holiest sanctuary their market-place. Let the people drive out the money-changers ; drive them out by the force of honest votes; drive them out, by performing the duties of citizens. Thus shall the glorious covenant with freedom, ratified by our fathers, not be broken. Shrink not from the duty of the elective franchise, if you would preserve, in their primal strength and beauty, the cardinal principles of our system. But if citizens allow business or pleasure to absorb the single hour their country asks them to give to" her service; if they bewail corruption, without arresting its progress, they need utter no complaint if it blasts the purity and truth of the people, and renders our national character a byword and a reproach ; a lie against freedom, a libel upon humanity.
The neglect of this primal duty has led, in various portions of our land, to confusion and anarchy. Because honest citizens have neglected to perform their duties, political corruption has accomplished the vilest purposes; and so powerful in their misuse of the ballot-box had the miscreants who corrupted its purity become,
that revolution was the only means by which they could be ousted from their usurpation. But it is a dangerous experiment. Our system contains its own correction, if the citizen will apply it in time. Vigilance committees were never contemplated by the Constitution ; but every citizen is exhorted, by the spirit of that instrument, to exercise that true vigilance which will destroy an evil before it can mature, and guard our liberty against the insidious wiles of the serpents it has nourished by its warmth.
There are other duties of action and of speech, whose proper fulfilment should ever be operative upon the American citizen ; but they are all intimately connected with his duties at the ballot-box. They must be manfully performed, to render us the efficient champions of the liberties we enjoy.
The future contains the elements of disorganization. There is to be a terrible reckoning in the old world, between the people and their rulers. Liberty and despotism are preparing for their final conflict, and Liberty looks through the gloom to us for a ray of hope to cheer her in the battle.
Upon the plains of Italy, the battle-smoke wreathes upwards from the initial conflicts of a