Sometimes we get busy, or complacent, and we think, "What difference does one vote make anyway?" So many recent elections have hinged on small voting margins. I thought I'd share this glimpse of history with you, taken from my upcoming book, OH SAY CAN YOU SEE? It illustrates the power of one man's vote.
Joseph Hopper Nicholson was a member of the House of Representatives during a critical vote. Maybe you won't see the same power in your vote as a private citizen, but the tenacity of his patriotism, and the sacrifices he was willing to make to have his voice heard is humbling, and a good lesson for each of us to remember.
“You asked the captain if there was something he just couldn’t do, he said you asked the wrong man. Do you know what he meant by that?”
Abel shook his mighty head, keeping his eyes riveted to a spot of ground.
“In 1801, what Captain Nicholson wanted more than anything else was for Thomas Jefferson to be elected President of these United States, but the voting in the Electoral College resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Electing the new president then fell to the House of Representatives, where the captain was currently serving the state of Maryland.
“It was February 11. The captain was just a judge then, and very ill . . . so ill that his doctor felt he was about to draw his last breath. It was then that a courier arrived detailing the dilemma in Washington. Though it was snowing, the judge would not allow an entire nation’s destiny to turn on his concern for his own well being. So, he had his sick bed loaded onto a wagon and he rode into Washington with his wife by his side, so he could cast his vote.
“He was placed in a committee room to rest between ballots. Thirty-five were cast, all ending in a tie. In between each, his dear wife Rebecca administered medicines to keep him lucid. When the Federalists realized he was determined to cast his vote for Jefferson until his last breath, a few delegates were so moved they stepped away from the vote, handing the advantage to the Republican-Democrats who elected their candidate, Thomas Jefferson, the third American President. That’s what a man can do when he wants something badly enough, Abel.”
When we consider what Jefferson's connections to the French produced during his presidency--the Louisiana Purchase-- and the impact that singular acquisition has had on America, we can hardly imagine where we would be had that one vote not been cast.
So I hope we all get out to exercise this sacred privilege today.