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The Poor Voter on Election Day


Seacoast poet John Greenleaf Whittier was ahead of his time on the concept of voter rights. Well before the Civil War, he imagined a time when poor and rich, black and white would vote equally. The following poem is from one of his earliest works, Anti-Slavery Poems: Songs of Labor and Reform.



MORE on Whittier

Today Whittier's poem is seen as a solid patriotic sentiment, but his view of open free voting was anything but mainstream in 1848. His Abolitionist views were not widely held and considered downright treasonous in the South. It seems especially relevant again as voter fraud in local elections is again in the headlines.

As a minor note to history, this poem is referenced in the report of the Florida Supreme Court in December 2004 when Al Gore disputed the election recount that lost him the presidency to George W. Bush. The poem is reproduced in a footnote (#16). However, someone got their facts crossed again. The poem quoted in the Florida legal document is not Whittier, but a portion of a much later and similar poem by Walt Whitman about the contentious 1884 election.

Here, minus the Florida comedy of errors, is the actual Whittier poem:

The Poor Voter on Election Day
By 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


READ: More of Whittier’s NH Poems (scroll way down)

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