# 6: Right to Instruct [Dupre]


Dupre, Daniel. Barbecues and Pledges: Electioneering and the Rise of Democratic Politics in Antebellum Alabama. The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Aug., 1994), pp. 479-512.


“The following year a new controversy over electioneering stirred the political waters of the community. Were voters’ demands that candidates pledge their support for specific policies an extension of the constituents’ right of instruction or were they a dangerous infringement upon the independence of representatives? Madison County’s two newspapers, united in their opposition to the political barbecues, found themselves in opposite corners over the question of pledges. The discomfort and debate over those two forms of electioneering revolved around the issue of trust. Could voters be trusted to behave properly during the campaigns and to vote responsibly at the polls? Could candidates be trusted to give honest portrayals of their policies and their sentiments and to avoid misrepresentation and demagoguery” (480).

** next is one long quote:

“The unanimity of support for Jackson’s administration in Madison County belied a clear ideological division over campaign pledges and political democratization. Generally, the Democrat advocated the ex- tension of popular power by linking the constituents’ right to instruct representatives to the voters’ right to demand pledges from candidates in support of specific policies. The Southern Advocate believed that pledges would encourage divisive partisanship and would corrupt re- publican government. Both called upon similar rhetorical themes- faction, corruption, and manipulation-which reveal a profound mistrust of politicians and voters alike. But in doing so, the Democrat and the Southern Advocate presented two very different responses to the rise of democratic politics.

“The debate over pledges opened during the legislative campaign of 1830; candidates elected that year would choose a United States senator in 1831. The Democrat’s choice for that office was John McKinley. Several readers wrote to the newspaper suggesting that voters demand from candidates pledges in support of McKinley. In doing so, the voters would avoid electing “the political hypocrite,” who “would vote against the known will of their constituents” in order to “obtain a lucrative situation.” Candidates unwilling to make known their position on such an important subject “are the kind of men to form coalitions to obtain places independent of the people, whom they secretly hate and fear.” The editor of the Democrat concurred, reminding his readers that the people “have both the right and the power, to instruct their subordinate officers” on policy issues and arguing that they should have the same power in the election of a senator. “The representative is the agent of the people: and when their will is known, it is his duty to act in strict accordance with it.” As a candidate for the state legislature himself, the editor of the Democrat, Thomas J. Sumner, acknowledged his duty, “as a representative of the people’s wishes … to obey their voice, which he would cheerfully do, notwithstanding it might be contrary to his own private opinion.” The Democrat, by linking pledges to the right of instruction, clearly placed sovereignty in the voters’ hands. “Subordinate officers,” “agent of the people,” “representative of the people’s wishes”-those were images of political power far removed from the statesman ideal of enlightened and detached leadership.

“The Southern Advocate also claimed to support John McKinley’s bid for the Senate in 1830 but opposed the idea of pledges, revealing its strong resistance to an emerging partisan democracy. The newspaper argued that pledges would lead to “bargaining, intrigue and management,” which would destroy “the purity and simplicity of republican institutions.” Factions and patronage would be encouraged by pledging. Responding to the pressure on candidates to pledge support for McKinley in 1830, the Advocate offered an image of “a factious [and?] meddlesome, or ambitious squad of politicians” demanding that candidates “pledge to elevate their favorite to the bench, to [the] Bank directory, or some other place of power.” Pledges also under- mined the statesman ideal by devaluing “honesty and capability” in candidates and regularizing allegiance to “a peculiar political creed.”‘ Touching on the issue of autonomy, which was also used to challenge the barbecues, the Advocate asked who would want a representative who “possesses no more independence and self-respect than to come under such binding obligations.” The pledge was “an odious badge of bondage-of party discipline . . . unworthy to be worn by those who aspire to be the representatives of freemen” (503-504).


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