# 0: Right to Instruct [Esarey]


Esarey, Logan. Pioneer Politics in Indiana. Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 13, No. 2 (JUNE, 1917), pp. 99-128.

The Point: Resolutions of Instruction increased partisanship and became a party building tool, with the theory of deliberative democracy and the effect of decreasing the freedom of elected officials to vote their conscious or to fight for a wiser path because the majority party used the people as a bludgeon upon dissidents.


“The situation reached a critical period in Indiana in 1824. There were several important issues dividing the people. Be sides the rising discontent against the office-holders, there was the question of the caucus, both local and national, the manner of choosing the presidential electors, (they had been chosen by the General Assembly in 1816 and 1820) and the question of the relation of a representative to his constituents. This latter question was usually called the “right of instruction.” This question is still alive ; one might say “perniciously” alive in 1912. The Democrats insisted that their representative should vote according to his platform or resign. A number of Democratic members actually resigned their positions rather than vote contrary to the known wishes of their constituents. In the legislative journal are a number of instances in which Democrats explained their votes by saying they were instructed to vote as they did. On the other hand the Whigs as a rule went on the theory that in the election a superior man was chosen but left free to vote as he thought best under the conditions as they arose. A testy Whig in a Whitewater convention said they might as well send an ass to the legislature with instructions tied to his pack saddle as to send an instructed representative. This alternative seems to have been taken in some cases” (110).

“It soon came about that those who opposed the caucus, favored electing presidential electors by popular vote, and insisted that all representatives carry out the instructions of their constituents, were supporters of Jackson. They thus stood for a greater democracy and gradually accepted the name of Jacksonian Democrats in opposition to all those who took the opposite side of these questions and came to be known in Indiana as Clay men, Clay Republicans and finally Whigs.

“The following account from Niles’ Register, February 7, 1824, shows the sentiment of the people on caucuses. Its fate in the General Assembly shows what the office-holders thought of the resolution.

Whereas, the encouragement given to caucus nominations for the office of President and Vice-President of the United States excites in us the liveliest apprehensions for the safety of the Union, because we believe it to be a practice tormenting the people in the exercise of their dearest franchise, at war with their feelings and the principles of their political institutions, nourishing the growth of party intrigue, which carries in its train every species of dangerous and degrading corruption; and a practice which if not checked in its progress will ultimately undermine the sacred rights, the prosperity and happiness of the American people, therefore in obedience to our duty to the State we represent, to our fellow citizens of the Union be it

Resolved, by the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the State of Indiana; that it is the right of the people reserved by them in the constitution to elect the President and the Vice-President of the United States, and that any attempt by congressional nominations, in caucus or otherwise, to exercise this invaluable privilege unless authorized by the constitution, should be regarded by the American people as a dangerous encroachment on their rights, tending to ruin the Republic. Resolved further, that his excellency, the governor, be requested to transmit to our senators and representatives in Congress this plain and matured opinion expressed by the House of Representatives of the people of this State.

“This was indefinitely postponed by a vote of 36 to 8.

“The commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the State militia in their State meeting in April, 1823, resolved “That we do highly appreciate the valuable services of Henry Clay and do most cordially recommend him as a suitable per son to fill the office of chief magistrate of the United States/’ Previous to this the rank and file of the Harrison county mili tia, after their usual exercises on muster day formed them selves into one of the first county conventions spoken of in history” (110-111).

Another Resolution follows—instructing how to vote for representatives: Resolved, That Patrick Shields be recommended to the voters of this district as a suitable person to be supported at the ensuing election to represent us in the Senate to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of the Hon. Dennis Pennington.

Resolved, That Jacob Zenor, Jacob Kintner, and Henry Green, be recommended to the voters of this district as suitable persons to be sup ported at the ensuing election to represent us in the House of Represen tatives.

Resolved, That George Bentley be recommended to the voters of… (112).


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