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October 2, 2016

Sunday election season democracy/freedom fun: guess the political speaker, the party and the context for a potent quotable about "the degenerate vote"

I love reading books about American political and social history, especially in the midst of of an yet another overwrought election season, and the one I am reading now had this remarkable quote that I just could not resist sharing as early voting begins in many jurisdictions for just the very latest and greatest "most important election of our lifetime."   When thinking about how best to share this quote, I figured it might be fun on this Sunday to encourage readers to try to guess who said the following, representing what party, and in what context.  The source of the quote will appear after the break, but here is first the potent quote:

"It is the degenerate vote that has in the past overwhelmed the liberties of free people.  And it is the degenerate vote in our big cities that is a menace to our institutions." 

This quote's repeated reference to the "degenerate vote" especially struck a chord with me in the wake of Hillary Clinton's infamous recent statement about half of Donald Trump's supporters being a "basket of deplorables."

But I also could not help but think about the on-going fight in Virginia over trying to have former felons enfranchised or national fights over voting rights to reflect another set of view on the potential harms of "the degenerate vote."

And, for a real hint about the context for the quote, readers might also consider my own research interests in how marijuana reform initiatives might be helping to turn out certain voters.

So, dear readers, before clicking through, perhaps comment on or at least think about who you think might be the political speaker, the party and the context for this potent quotable concerning "the degenerate vote."



HobsonAnswer: this quote is attributed, in the book I am now reading, to Richmond Pearson Hobson who was a United States Navy Rear Admiral and who served from 1907–1915 as a Democratic U.S. Representative from Alabama.  Rep Hobson was a decorated veteran of the Spanish–American War, and he is famous in part because, after being denied renomination in the 1914 Democratic primary, he became the only Congressman from the Deep South to vote for the (failed) women's suffrage bill in the 1915 lame-duck session of Congress.

As his vote for women's suffrage bill suggests, Hobson was not referencing women voters back a century ago when decrying "the degenerate vote."  Rather, Hobson was fond of using the term "degenerate" to reference those men who consumed alcohol, and he did so because he believed quite strongly that science proved that alcohol turned men into degenerates.  This perspective is on full display in this lengthy speech in support of alcohol prohibition delivered by Hobson 102 years ago on the floor of the US House of Representatives, where he explained his views and built the argument for a Prohibition amendment to the US constitution:

The first finding of science that alcohol is a protoplasmic poison and the second finding that it is an insidious, habit-forming drug, though of great importance, are as unimportant when compared with the third finding, that alcohol degenerates the character of men and tears down their spiritual nature.... Alcohol tears down the top part of the brain in a man, attacks certain tissues in an animal, certain cells in a flower. It has been established that whatever the line of a creature's evolution alcohol will attack that line. Every type and every species is evolving in building from generation to generation along some particular line. Man is evolving in the top part of the brain, the seat of the will power, the seat of the moral senses, and of the spiritual nature, the recognition of right and wrong, the consciousness of God and of duty and of brotherly love and of self-sacrifice.....

Science has thus demonstrated that alcohol is a protoplasmic poison, poisoning all living things; that alcohol is a habit-forming drug that shackles millions of our citizens and maintains slavery in our midst; that it lowers in a fearful way the standard of efficiency of the Nation, reducing enormously the national wealth, entailing startling burdens of taxation, encumbering the public with the care of crime, pauperism, and insanity; that it corrupts politics and public servants, corrupts the Government, corrupts the public morals, lowers terrifically the average standard of character of the citizenship, and undermines the liberties and institutions of the Nation; that it undermines and blights the home and the family, checks education, attacks the young when they are entitled to protection, undermines the public health, slaughtering, killing, and wounding our citizens many fold times more than war, pestilence, and famine combined; that it blights the progeny of the Nation, flooding the land with a horde of degenerates; that it strikes deadly blows at the life of the Nation itself and at the very life of the race, reversing the great evolutionary principles of nature and the purposes of the Almighty.

There can be but one verdict, and that is this great destroyer must be destroyed. The time is ripe for fulfillment. The present generation, the generation to which we belong, must cut this millstone of degeneracy from the neck of humanity....

To cure this organic disease we must have recourse to the organic law. The people themselves must act upon this question. A generation must be prevailed upon to place prohibition in their own constitutional law, and such a generation could be counted upon to keep it in the Constitution during its lifetime. The Liquor Trust of necessity would disintegrate. The youth would grow up sober. The final, scientific conclusion is that we must have constitutional prohibition, prohibiting only the sale, the manufacture for sale, and everything that pertains to the sale, and invoke the power of both Federal and State Governments for enforcement. The resolution is drawn to fill these requirements.

October 2, 2016 at 11:48 AM | Permalink


Common sense should apply all around.

1. Anyone not incarcerated nor under state or federal probation or parole should be allowed to vote. (I say the same thing for delegating gun ownership of ex-felons to individual determinations, but I digress). The primary PRAGMATIC purpose for "no felon voters" is to depress the vote on voters likely voting on one side.

2. Everyone must have an identification card that validates their voting eligibility prior to voting. This includes physically at the precinct location, or the ID card number in mail-in ballots that can be tied into legal citizens. In addition, this card should be made available at NO cost to everyone, not just low-income individuals, regardless of their "historic group oppression." The primary PRAGMATIC reason for "no voter id" proponents is to facilitate the ease for fraud to increase voters likely voting on one side.

3. Voting should never be made mandatory. The primary PRAGMATIC purpose for "mandatory voting" proponents is to facilitate the ease for one side to get voters without making their case during the campaigns.

4. Voters should be of adult age at ALL stages of voting, not just primaries, though this is lately of less importance to either side.

To be honest, any arguments against the pragmatic here is one that is more anti-Constitutional, but I'm sure I'll get the attacks coming nonetheless.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Oct 2, 2016 2:12:45 PM

I'm okay generally with #1 though don't think the regions (including Puerto Rico) where people in prison are allowed to vote are problematic (except perhaps if there is job right to vote in the district of the prison; this can be addressed). Given various constitutional provisions, there is a good constitutional case for this. The 1970s case that upheld felony disenfranchisement to me is dubious, support the dissent and anyway as applied it often has clear problems.

I don't need to show id when I vote -- I sign in. Richard Hasen, an electoral law expert, has noted that in person voting fraud is simply not a real problem. Traditionally, there was no general need to show id and ids were but one more way to suppress vote. This plus the general idea it is of little value plus for certain groups is a sort of "tax" or unnecessary burden is why people are against them. Not seeing any "anti-constitutional" motivations as such on the "anti" side. OTOH, I think an all purpose id can be helpful & if the duty of the state, it should be okay, especially if it is worked in over a span of time and we see what happens. But, that isn't what voter id jurisdictions do.

Voting should be voluntary. But, if it is mandatory, there can be "none of the above" option. Some who are for mandatory voting do so for civics reasons. From what I can tell, only a small number are, even if it does lean one way for partisan advantage.

I don't really see the fourth as much of a concern but a set rule for all voters seem sensible. Basic common sense here is automatic registration at that age and when people move, it can be done by some other route, including by property records (some requirement to set your residency) or whatever.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 2, 2016 4:55:21 PM

"yet another overwrought election season"

I have been thru a good many of them. Trump is not just "yet another" candidate.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 2, 2016 4:57:55 PM


FWIW I think 10 year olds should be able to vote. If 10 year olds could vote we would probably have an anime character as our national mascot and ice cream parlors on every corner and in all honestly that would be OK with me.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 2, 2016 9:53:17 PM

Re: Anima characters. A cartoon character called Hank the Hallucination won the election for University of Texas Student's Association President over one Paul Begala in 1982 by write-in.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Oct 3, 2016 9:04:59 AM

It's also vaguely hilarious that we are offended as an electorate by terms such as degenerate and deplorable. The more clever "mobocracy" was in common use at the time of the Revolution and much feared by the Federalists and was probably as or more inflammatory than calling the electorate degenerates or deplorables. Frankly, I'm surprised many Americans even know what deplorable means.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Oct 3, 2016 9:10:36 AM

various strong labels and not just in one speech to supporters ... "black Republicans" was a general term tossed out to show how "deplorable" the party was with an additional edge that was in effect "negro [insert more nasty word] lover"

Posted by: Joe | Oct 3, 2016 10:19:59 AM

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