Friday, June 12, 2015

The Eighteenth Century to the Twentieth

 Jefferson 3

Judged by the quality of the men it brought to power the eighteenth-century Virginia way of selecting political leadership was extremely good; but judged by modem standards of political excellence, it was defective at nearly every point. As for voting qualifications, there was discrimination against women, poor men, and Negroes. There was no secrecy in voting, and polling places—only one in each county—were spaced too far apart. The two-party system was not in existence. Local government was totally un­democratic, and few offices at any level of government were filled by direct vote of the people: only burgesses in the colonial period and not many other officers for many years after the Revolution. Such modem refinements of political processes as the nominating primary, initiative, referendum, popular recall, proportional voting, and mechanical voting machines were, of course, unknown.

Nearly every detail of the political processes of eighteenth-century Virginia has been repudiated; but, at the same time, the men elevated by those processes have come to be regarded as very great men. Here is a dilemma in an area of fundamental importance, and its resolution is no simple matter. Was eighteenth-century Virginia so full of great men that a random selection would have provided government with a goodly supply of great statesmen? If not, must it not follow that the selective system played an important part in bringing to the top the particular men who managed the public affairs of that day?

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