At the beginning of our country, not everyone was allowed to vote. In many states, the ability to cast a ballot and have a say in public outcomes was restricted to male property owners. Women made up roughly half the population but were disfranchised. Generations would pass before our Constitution stated clearly, through amendment, that the right to vote extends across boundaries of race.
But gradually, our country began to acknowledge a crucial, enduring principle: In a free society, the right to cast a ballot — to participate as an equal at election time — is among the most precious of rights. It is a building block for a healthy society — a vital principle to be celebrated and safeguarded.
Today, Election Day has finally arrived. Many millions of Americans have already cast their ballots early, in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency. Many others will go to the polls today, in an always inspiring exercise of civic duty.
The larger the turnout, the most vigorous our democracy and the more convincing the result. Here in the Midlands, ballots contain some fiercely contested contests. Let’s aim for a strong turnout.
And then, as the results start to come in, let’s all take a deep breath. Yes, emotions are high for many. But election time isn’t a moment only for loyalty to party. It’s also a time for loyalty to country.
That means responsibly accepting the fact that sometimes one’s candidates win, and sometimes they don’t.
Tonight, some election results will come in early; others, late. Some won’t be available today. Don’t be fooled by what you see on social media. All kinds of misinformed and malicious posts will try to whip us into a frenzy. Look under the surface at the source.
Accepting election outcomes is an obligation not only for the public but also for candidates themselves. Over the generations, some Americans leaders have set responsible examples of civility in the wake of hard-fought elections.
The first transfer of power between national political factions in our country came in 1801, after Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams for the presidency. It was a bitterly fought election, with fierce attacks hurled at the candidates. Yet, once the election was decided, Adams made way for a new administration that contained some of his sharpest critics. And when Jefferson issued his inaugural address, he extended an olive branch to his political opposites, telling the young nation, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Jefferson gave warning to “any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form,” that Americans, despite their honest political differences, must stand as one in the defense of the nation’s democratic system.
In subsequent elections, many a presidential candidate has demonstrated respect for outcomes that didn’t go as they’d hoped. After he lost in November 1952 to Republican Dwight Eisenhower, Democrat Adlai Stevenson told his supporters, “The people have rendered their verdict and I gladly accept it.”
One of the most strongly contested presidential elections came in 1860. Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas, for whom Nebraska’s Douglas County is named. Republicans put forward Abraham Lincoln, after whom Nebraska’s capital is named. Lincoln won, and in March 1861 when he gave his inaugural address as the nation’s new president, Douglas stood nearby holding Lincoln’s hat, in a demonstration of solidarity at a time of the gravest national tension and uncertainty.
These are examples for Americans — voters as well as candidates — to follow in the present day. We have an obligation to keep our country’s democracy strong and carry it into the future, the same as our leaders have urged at critical moments in the past.
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