A man, wishing to be elected to an office, generally agrees with most everybody he meets. If he meets a Prohibitionist, he says: “Of course I am a temperance man. I am opposed to all excesses my dear friend, and no one knows better than myself the evils that have been caused by intemperance.” The next man happens to keep a saloon, and happens to be quite influential in that part of the district, and the candidate immediately says to him: “The idea that these Prohibitionists can take away the personal liberty of the citizen is simply monstrous!” In a moment after, he is greeted by a Methodist, and he hastens to say, that while he does not belong to that church himself, his wife does; that he would gladly be a member, but does not feel that he is good enough. He tells a Presbyterian that his grandfather was of that faith, and that he was a most excellent man, and laments from the bottom of his heart that he himself is not within that fold. A few moments after, on meeting a skeptic, he declares, with the greatest fervor, that reason is the only guide, and that he looks forward to the time when superstition will be dethroned. In other words, the greatest superstition now entertained by public men is, that hypocrisy is the royal road to success.
A public man, to be successful, must not assert anything unless it is exceedingly popular. And he need not deny anything unless everybody is against it. Usually he has to be like the center of the earth – draw all things his way, without weighing anything himself. One of the difficulties, or rather, one of the objections, to a government republican in form, is this: Everybody imagines that he is everybody’s master. And the result has been to make most of our public men exceedingly conservative in the expression of their real opinions.
I have known a great many private men who were not men of genius. I have known some men of genius about whom it was kept private, and I have known many public men, and my wonder increased the better I knew them, that they occupied positions of trust and honor. But, after all, it is the people’s fault. Our public men will be better and greater, and less superstitious, when the people become greater and better and less superstitious.
Today the need of our civilization is public men who have the courage to speak as they think. We need a man for President who will not publicly thank God for earthquakes. We need somebody with the courage to say that all that happens in nature happens without design, and without reference to man; somebody who will say that the men and women killed are not murdered by supernatural beings, and that everything that happens in nature, happens without malice and without mercy. We want somebody who will have courage enough not to charge an infinitely good and wise Being with all the cruelties and agonies and sufferings of this world. We want such men in public places – men who will appeal to the reason of their fellows, to the highest intelligence of the people; men who will have courage enough, in this the nineteenth century, to agree with the conclusions of science. We want some man who will not pretend to believe, and who does not in fact believe, the stories that Superstition has told to Credulity.
The only way to have brave, honest, intelligent, conscientious public men, men without superstition, is to do what we can to make the average citizen brave, conscientious and intelligent. If you wish to see courage in the presidential chair, conscience upon the bench, intelligence of the highest order in Congress; if you expect public men to be great enough to reflect honor upon the Republic, private citizens must have the courage and the intelligence to elect, and to sustain, such men. I have said, and I say it again, that never while I live will I vote for any man to be President of the United States, no matter if he does belong to my party, who has not won his spurs on some field of intellectual conflict. We have had enough mediocrity, enough policy, enough superstition, enough prejudice, enough provincialism, and the time has come for the American citizen to say: “Hereafter I will be represented by men who are worthy, not only of the great Republic, but of this modern century.”