We electors have an important constitutional power placed in our hands; we have a check upon two branches of the legislature . . . the power I mean of electing at stated periods [each] branch. . . . It becomes necessary to every [citizen] then, to be in some degree a statesman, and to examine and judge for himself of the tendency of political principles and measures. Let us examine, then, with a sober, a manly . . . and a Christian spirit; let us neglect all party [loyalty] and advert to facts; let us believe no man to be infallible or impeccable in government any more than in religion; take no man’s word against evidence, nor implicitly adopt the sentiments of others who may be deceived themselves, or may be interested in deceiving us.1
Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.2
Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable characters. The public cannot be too curious concerning the character of public men.3
Consider well the important trust . . . which God . . . [has] put into your hands. . . . To God and posterity you are accountable for [your rights and your rulers]. . . . Let not your children have reason to curse you for giving up those rights and prostrating those institutions which your fathers delivered to you. . . . [L]ook well to the characters and qualifications of those you elect and raise to office and places of trust. . . . Think not that your interests will be safe in the hands of the weak and ignorant; or faithfully managed by the impious, the dissolute and the immoral. Think not that men who acknowledge not the providence of God nor regard His laws will be uncorrupt in office, firm in defense of the righteous cause against the oppressor, or resolutly oppose the torrent of iniquity. . . . Watch over your liberties and privileges – civil and religious – with a careful eye.4
I have one great political idea. . . . That idea is an old one. It is widely and generally assented to; nevertheless, it is very generally trampled upon and disregarded. The best expression of it, I have found in the Bible. It is in substance, “Righteousness exalteth a nation; sin is a reproach to any people” [Proverbs 14:34]. This constitutes my politics – the negative and positive of my politics, and the whole of my politics. . . . I feel it my duty to do all in my power to infuse this idea into the public mind, that it may speedily be recognized and practiced upon by our people.5
[T]he time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics or the Lord will curse them. . . . Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter. But the time has come when they must act differently. . . . Christians seem to act as if they thought God did not see what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it – and He will bless or curse this nation according to the course they [Christians] take [in politics].6
Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. . . . [I]f the next centennial does not find us a great nation . . . it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.7
If the time ever comes when we shall go to pieces, it will . . . be . . . from inward corruption – from the disregard of right principles . . . from losing sight of the fact that “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but that sin is a reproach to any people” [Proverbs 14:34]. . . .[T]he secession of the Southern States in 1860 was a small matter with the secession of the Union itself from the great principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, in the Golden Rule, in the Ten Commandments, in the Sermon on the Mount. Unless we hold, and hold firmly to these great fundamental principles of righteousness…our Union…will be “only a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.”8
A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.9
Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.10
The Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon and choosing the forms of government under which they should live.11
The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people.12
[T]he rational and peacable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people.13
[S]hould things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.14
When the righteous rule, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.15
Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them; and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good and the government cannot be bad. . . . But if men be bad, let the government be never so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn. . . .[T]hough
good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may want [lack] good men and be abolished or invaded by ill men; but good men will never want good laws nor suffer [allow] ill ones.16
Impress upon children the truth that the exercise of the elective franchise is a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform; that a man may not innocently trifle with his vote; that every elector is a trustee as well for others as himself and that every measure he supports has an important bearing on the interests of others as well as on his own.17
In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate – look to his character. . . . When a citizen gives his suffrage to a man of known immorality he abuses his trust; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor, he betrays the interest of his country.18
When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, “just men who will rule in the fear of God.” The preservation of government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be sqandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.19
Those who wish well to the State ought to choose to places of trust men of inward principle, justified by exemplary conversation. . . .[And t]he people in general ought to have regard to the moral character of those whom they invest with authority either in the legislative, executive, or judicial branches.20
1 John Adams as ‘U’ to the Boston Gazette, August 29, 1763, The Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977), 1:81.
2 Samuel Adams in the Boston Gazette, April 16, 1781, The Writings of Samuel Adams, ed. Harry Alonzo Cushing (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907), IV:256.
3 Samuel Adams to James Warren, November 4, 1775, Writings of Samuel Adams, ed. Cushing (1907), III:236-237.
4 Matthias Burnett, An Election Sermon, Preached at Hartford, on the Day of the Anniversary Election, May 12, 1803 (Hartford: Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, 1803), 27-28.
5 Frederick Douglass speech delivered at Ithaca, New York, October 14th, 1852, The Frederick Douglass Papers, ed. John Blassingame (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 2:397.
6 Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868), 281-282.
7 James A. Garfield, “A Century of Congress,” July, 1877, The Works of James Abram Garfield, ed. Burke Hinsdale (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883), II:486, 489.
8 Rev. Francis J. Grimke, from “Equality of Right for All Citizens, Black and White, Alike,” March 7, 1909, published in Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence, ed. Alice Moore Dunbar (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000), 246-247.
9 Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett (New York, Columbia University Press, 1962), III:544-545.
10 John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston (New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1890), IV:365.
11 John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston (New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1890), I:161.
12 Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Albert Bergh (Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), 10:235.
13 Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905), 12:136.
14 Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905), 10:245.
15 Supreme Court Justice William Paterson reminding his fellow justices of Proverbs 29:2. United States Oracle (Portsmouth, NH), May 24, 1800.
16 William Penn quoted from: Thomas Clarkson, Memoirs of the Private and Public Life of William Penn (London: Richard Taylor and Co., 1813), I:303.
17 Daniel Webster Remarks at a Receiption to the Ladies of Richmond, Virginia, October 5, 1840, The Works of Daniel Webster (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1853), II:108.
18 Noah Webster, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education to which is subjoined a Brief History of the United States (New Haven: S. Converse, 1823), 18, 19.
19 Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), 336-337.
20 John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), IV:266, 277.
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