A common man must ask a man of influence for whom he must vote

Lawrence Lessig points to a quote of Patrick Henry at the Virginia Ratifying Convention in which he points at the weakness of the virtue-based justification for elections:

It has been said, by several gentlemen, that the freeness of elections would be promoted by throwing the country into large districts. I contend, sir, that it will have a contrary effect. It will destroy that connection that ought to subsist between the electors and the elected. If your elections be by districts, instead of counties, the people will not be acquainted with the candidates. They must, therefore, be directed in the elections by those who know them. So that, instead of a confidential connection between the electors and the elected, they will be absolutely unacquainted with each other. A common man must ask a man of influence how he is to proceed, and for whom he must vote. The elected, therefore, will be careless of the interest of the electors. It will be a common job to extort the suffrages of the common people for the most influential characters. I he same men may be repeatedly elected by these means. This, sir, instead of promoting the freedom of election, leads us to an aristocracy. Consider the mode of elections in England. Behold the progress of an election in an English shire. A man of an enormous fortune will spend thirty or forty thousand pounds to get himself elected. This is frequently the case. Will the honorable gentleman say that a poor man, as enlightened as any man in the island, has an equal chance with a rich man, to be elected? He will stand no chance, though he may have the finest understanding of any man in the shire. It will be so here. Where is the chance that a poor man can come forward with the rich? The honorable gentleman will find that, instead of supporting democratical principles, it goes absolutely to destroy them.

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3 Responses

  1. >he points at the weakness of the virtue-based justification for elections:

    Really? It strikes me more as an argument against the Federalist case for large constituencies, rather than the principle of election.

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  2. Yes, Henry is proposing small voting districts as a remedy to the epistemological problems of elections. The proposed remedy is of course ineffective, but the problems that he is pointing at are very real.

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  3. Epistemic.

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