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An essay by Israel Zangwill

The Franchise Farce

Title:     The Franchise Farce
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

One American defense of bribery is as clever as it is cynical. It amounts to this: that universal suffrage is such a peril to the commonweal that having been given prematurely, it must insidiously be nullified in practice, even at the cost of universal corruption; in short, if the old society is to be preserved, universal franchise must be transformed into universal corruption. What an ironic commentary on the constitution that was founded by George Washington, who couldn't tell a lie! The honour of America, it appears, "rooted in dishonour" stands, and "faith unfaithful" makes its politicians falsely true. When one remembers some of the other gigantic evils of the society thus conserved by corruption, when one thinks of the great immoral capitalists, playing their game regardless of whom they ruin or whom they enrich, when one thinks of the squalid slums of the great cities, one wonders whether the society which these things shadow were not better damned. It were cleaner, at any rate, to abolish universal franchise than to flaunt this farce in the eyes of Europe. If universal suffrage was a mistake, if indeed the gift of the franchise does not develop a man's conscience and education--and certainly bribery is not the way to give him a chance of such development--then why not honestly admit that America has made this mistake, that the ideals of the Pilgrim Fathers were inferior to Tammany Hall's, and that even the negro is not a man and a brother?

Does our American reply that it is impossible now to take back the franchise? But on his own showing the electors merely regard it as an opportunity for extracting "boodle." All that would be impossible, then, is to take away this ancient concession without compensation. The electors must be bought out at the full market-value of their votes, with a few cents and corpse-revivers thrown in for their loss of amusement. At every election dollars and drinks for the ex-electors would be circulating freely under the direction of the Treasury. And, _ex hypothesi_, the bulk, or a number of electors sufficient to annul the danger to society, will accept the liquidation, and thus the dishonest will be honestly weeded out of the electorate. But if the cynics were wrong, and there remained among the poorer electorate men sufficiently honest to retain their votes, and sufficiently numerous to swamp the old society--why, then the devil take the old society! The object of government is only the good of the majority, and these men, being the majority, have every right to select their own form of good. If they were mistaken, nature would soon convince them of their mistake, and the next generation would profit by the object-lesson. Demos would go on, a sadder and a wiser man.

The solution of the question is that the people must not only govern: it must be fit to govern. To corrupt it with dollars, to drowse it with drink, is only to put off the inevitable day. It were far wiser to help it to educate itself for its functions. For, if the revolutionary economic ideas that are in the air are false, they will destroy themselves. And if they are true, they have got to be realised, and will get themselves realised. No amount of corruption will save society in the long run. Meantime, either let universal suffrage operate honestly, or let it be suspended or abolished. Let even those States which have enfranchised the black man, and which now, in accordance with the deep Machiavellian principle, brazenly revealed by our American, dishonestly render his vote nugatory by a reliable inaccuracy in the counting, withdraw their spurious Christianity. A double standard of morals subtly infects the whole core of the nation. Corruption cannot be localised; it creeps and spreads through all departments of thought and action. To give with the right hand, and take away with the left in exchange for a few dollars, is a manoeuvre unworthy of a great nation. The transaction is fair; let it be above board, let it be lifted into the plane of ethics. To found society upon a farce is to lower those ideals by which, as much as by bread, a nation lives.

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Israel Zangwill's essay: Franchise Farce