Victory in November, 1900, will he won by the party which
appeals most successfully to the new voters, the citizens who have
come of age since the Presidential election of 1896. His first
national ballot is a matter vastly more important to a young man
than a vote is to a veteran. The arguments usually addressed to
men who are in the habit of voting the Democratic or the
Republican Presidential ticket, are by no means the best for those
who have never voted for a President, and who are making up
their minds with which of the two great parties to ally themselves.
There are really only two national parties. It is not likely
that there will ever be more than two, of commanding influence,
at any one time.
With which of the two parties at present dividing the serious
thought of the country can the First Voter ally himself, with
the assurance of promoting his own good as well as that of his
country? The idea that a young voter thinks of himself first,
and then of his country, is, no doubt, shocking to purely
theoretical politicians. Practical men, however, know it to be a fact.
Facts are what the managers of national campaigns have to deal
with, and the campaign manager who gets hold of the most facts
and acts in accordance with them is the one who succeeds. The
fight is won by the man behind the ballot. us leaders theorize,
but he votes. The commanding officer in a battle may have his
manual of tactics at his finger's ends, but the fate of his cause
is decided by the man behind the gun. All the books in the
world cannot teach a greenhorn on the firing-line to shoot his
rifle straight. The fine-spun theories of the scholar in politics
are equally useless to the voter who approaches the polling-booth
for the first time.
Thinking, then, of himself and of his own future, his business
or his profession, his family and his friends, the average young
American must make up his mind along which of the two party
paths his best interests lie. By following that path, he will at
the same time be best serving his country. It seems to me that
there can be no sort of doubt that the welfare of the country, as
a whole, is best promoted by that which is best for its young men.
That disposes of the objection that the view I am advancing of
political duty is a purely selfish one. The youth of the land are
its life blood. How can they be most effectively and wholesomely
stimulated and directed?
It is an inspiring topic, this appeal of the two great national
parties to a million young men for the first time assuming the
highest duty and privilege of citizenship.
Under which banner will American youth enlist in November,
1900? It is quite likely that the decision then made may
determine the political affiliations of these young men, this
magnificent army of American electors, for their lives. It is not
unlikely, indeed, that it will also determine the political views of
their brothers and sons, when they, in turn, reach the age of
franchise. How vastly important it is, then, to the Democratic
party that the young voters should this year cast Democratic
ballots! If there are clear and convincing reasons why the Democracy offers young voters the greatest and surest opportunities,
a public service, a service not only to the party but to the
American people, can be rendered by a presentation of those reasons in
a periodical like THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
The entire number of votes cast in November, 1884, was
10,044,985. Of these, 4,911,017 were polled for Grover
Cleveland, and 4,848,334 for James G. Blame. Of the ten million
ballots, Cleveland had a plurality of only 62,683.
In four years, the Presidential vote of the American people
had increased, in 1888, to 11,380,860, of which Grover Cleveland
received 5,538,233 and Harrison 5,440,216, Cleveland still
having 98,017 more votes at the polls, although Harrison had a
majority in the Electoral College, and was, of course, elected
In November, 1892, the American people cast 12,059,351
votes, of which 5,556,918 were polled for Cleveland, and 5,176,108
for Harrison. Clevelands plurality this time was 380,810.
By November, 1896, the votes of the people for President
had increased to 13,923,102. Of these 7,104,779 were cast for
William McKinley, and 6,502,925 for William Jennings Bryan.
Mr. McKinleys plurality, the first the Republican party had
had, in twelve years, was 601,854, being the largest plurality any
Presidential candidate had had since 1872. In that year General
Grant, the hero of the war, entrenched in power by four years
occupation of the White House, was elected President over Horace
Greeley, the reformer, by a plurality of only 762,691 votes in the
Now, the normal increase in the number of votes for
President, reckoning from one four years to another, is more than ten
per cent. Adding ten per cent. to the vote of 1892, would give
us an estimated vote for 1896 of 13,265,286; whereas the actual
vote in 1896 was 657,816 more than that. It is plain, then, that
unless the excess over the estimated ten per cent. can be accounted
for by immigration, we must reckon on considerably more than
a million first voters every four years. And there will naturally
be a slight continuous increase in the percentage.
Adding, then, ten per cent., as the most conservative estimate
of increase, to the 13,923,102 votes cast in November, 1896, it is
reasonable to suppose that at least 15,315,412 votes will be cast
for President on November 7th, 1900. That is to say, about
1,400,000 more electors will vote for President this year than
four years ago.
But it is not accurate to treat all this increase as new voters,
or rather as first voters. To be admitted to citizenship, the
ordinary immigrant, who has not enlisted in and been honorably
discharged from the army, must have resided continuously in the
United States for at least five years. Evidently this condition
will bar from a vote next month all immigrants, otherwise
eligible, who did not land prior to November 7th, 1895, and who did
not properly follow up their arrival by declaring their intention to
become citizens. A Presidential election has been held since that
date, but none of the adult male immigrants who arrived in this
country subsequent to November, 1891, could have voted in
November, 1896. Therefore, all the adult male immigrants who
arrived in the United States in the last two months of 1891,
and in the years 1892, 1893, 1894, and in ten months of 1895,
may vote in November, 1900, if they have complied with the law.
The total number of immigrants arriving in that period was about
1,767,144. One-fifth of that number would be 353,228. In round
numbers there are 350,000 immigrant adults who may cast their
first Presidential vote next month. Nearly all of them will do
so. Our newly admitted foreign-born citizens seem to have a
higher opinion of the value of the franchise than some whose
families have been here for a hundred years or so.
Deducting this estimate of 350,000 electors naturalized since
the last Presidential election, we still have more than 1,000,000
young Americans to cast their first votes in November, and
thereby to decide whether Mr. Bryan or Mr. McKinley shall go into the
White House on the fourth of next March.
Mr. McKinleys plurality in 1896 was 601,854. There are
twice as many voters now coming to the polls, in addition to
350,000 citizens naturalized since 1896. The right sort of an
appeal to these new voters is all important.
There can be no doubt that these electors casting their first
Presidential ballot will decide this Presidential election.
How are the majority of the new voters likely to go? Which
of the two great parties will they choose - for I assume they will
not throw away their votes by casting a ballot for Caffery, or for
any crank ticket? Where do the interests of the young men lie?
Coming to the United States more than fifty years ago, I
have had, boy and man, opportunities of watching what is to me
the most significant change this wonderful half century has
wrought. I, too, have experienced the perplexities and thought
out the responsibilities attendant on the right casting of a first
vote. In the year 1864, at the age of twenty-one, I cast my first
ballot. I felt then that the Democratic party was the young
mans party; that the young blood of the nation must naturally
be drawn toward Democracy, which made a ready place for the
newcomers, and welcomed them to a share in the management
of the affairs, even into the councils, of the nation. Nor, in the
thirty-six years since I cast a ballot for George B. McClellan, have
I seen any good cause for changing my views on this subject. It
is, indeed, my deliberate opinion that the Democratic party is
the only party which offers an even chance to the first voter, not
only in the political contest, but in the battle of life as well.
The struggle for existence has gradually become harder and
harder in the United States. Man has a right to more than
bare existence. Yet the competition between organized wealth
and individual effort grows more and more cruel. Everywhere
is felt the greedy grasp of corporate monopoly, destroying the first
voters opportunity of making his way in the world; closing the
little shops in which his father made a fair living for himself
and his family; absorbing one individual business after
another; converting the successful lawyers into corporation
advisers, driving the others into poorly paid clerkships;
concentrating into the hands of the few the opportunities which were
formerly open to the honorable competition of the many. Must
the young men of the United States clerk for corporations at
home, or fight for corporations in the Philippines, and see the
other avenues of life gradually closed by the inexorable grip of
I do not believe the first voters in November, 1900, are going
to stand for anything like that, or vote for any party which offers
them no better prospects for achieving success in public or private
This is a young country. The young men must decide its
destiny. Will they cast their first votes for William Jennings
Bryan, the youngest Presidential candidate of the century, young
in blood, young in ambition, young in the healthy activities of
life, willing to give them all a new chance in the world,
representing the party of young men all over the country? I believe
the new voters will answer this question in November by a
tremendous majority for Bryan and Democracy.