Election Special – Five True Patriot Tips from 1899

Our provincial election is coming up, but I’m sure that many of us are still scratching our heads and wondering which way to send our vote. As established by Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is our right as citizens to vote in federal and provincial elections, and it is our civic duty to choose responsibly. But politics is such a messy game, with mud slinging left, right, and sometimes up the middle, and it’s difficult to sort out the true from the false to make an informed decision.

If you’re like me and still weighing the choices before you, I found a pleasant little book in our Special Collections that might be of use. Canadian Citizenship: A Treatise on Civil Government was written in 1899 by John Millar, BA, the Deputy Minister for Education for Ontario. Millar wrote this book “to give young people a general outline of the Canadian system of government, and to urge the importance of that moral and intellectual training which forms the basis of good citizenship”.

In his book he touches upon all the important aspects of being a Canadian citizen at the turn of the century — the various types of government (Empire > Dominion > Province > Municipality > Self), what taxation is and why it exists, patriotism (both Canadian and British), and of course, looming “20th Century Problems” such as, large cities, strikes, intemperance, socialism, and non-essential government functions — all in all, quite a bit! For all its palpable idealism and heavy use of masculine-only pronouns, I’m tempted to see this book as a quaint relic from a simpler age before women’s suffrage, but I have to say that some of the values Millar espouses are nevertheless timeless. I found his chapter on political parties to be especially pertinent today, and today I’d like to share with you some True Patriot Tips from our forefathers that you can put to use at your local polling station.

#1. The Choice of a Party – “Every young man upon coming of age is called upon to vote for one of the great parties. Of course he will wish to vote for the best party. How shall he decide what is best? He should not vote for a party merely because his father votes for it, or because he hopes to secure an office at its hands, but should vote for the one that he thinks will act for the best interest of the country. He should make a careful study of the history and principles of all the great political parties, and learn what each has already done for the country, and what each proposes to do, and then decide for himself which one he will vote for. The principles of a party may be found in its platform. A very good way for a young man to choose his party would be for him to decide (without having the party name before him) which of the platforms of the great political parties contains the best principles, and choose the party that declares for those principles, no matter what may be its name.”

True Patriot Tip: Make an objective and informed decision!

#2 The Politicians – “The great number of the people have little time to spend in politics, that is, in the management of government. Beyond voting and occasionally attending a caucus or mass meeting to hear speeches, they are very apt to leave public business in the hands of a few persons. There comes, therefore, to be a class of men in every community who mostly manage the politics. They attend all the caucuses; they are put upon the party committees; they are chosen to go to the great State or national conventions which nominate candidates for office; they are ready and willing to take office themselves. They bring out their neighbors and friends to vote at elections, and work for their party. They are apt to think that they have earned the right to its honors and places if their party gets into power. Such men, who make politics their business, are called politicians. The name is given specially to those who make use of politics to serve or advance their own private interests. It is not usually given to those whose interest in public business is for the sake of the public welfare, and who do not seek place or office for themselves. The name, therefore, while it has not a positively bad meaning, is not one by which the most public-spirited men would choose to be called. The word statesmen better describes the higher class of wise and faithful public servants.”

True Patriot Tip: Down with politicians! Long live the statesmen (and stateswomen!)

#3. Independents – “Among men, as in the school-room, there are always some who ask questions and want to know the reason of things. As on the playground, some do not care always to go with the crowd, or even prefer to be by themselves. Such as these, who think for themselves, and dare to stand alone, make the independents in politics. Sometimes they are wrong-headed, or unsympathetic, or unsocial. They may make mistakes, as the wisest men sometimes do; but it is important to have independent men in every community. They are likely to prefer the good of their country to the success of their party. They will not act with their party, or will leave it, if it is wrong. If the other party changes, as parties sometimes change, and advocates measures that they believe in; if they change their own minds as sensible men sometimes must, or if the other party puts forward better candidates, or if a new party arises, the independent voters are willing to act wherever they believe that they can best secure the public welfare. They therefore help to keep the great parties right.

It will be observed, however, that in a great country, with millions of voters, no individual can effect much with his vote unless he joins somewhere with other who think with him. And although a few patriotic men, if banded together, like the old Greek phalanx, may form a new party, or change the direction of the old party, or hold the balance of power between parties, and accomplish a reform, yet the man who stands by himself, and only finds fault or votes alone, is in danger of throwing his vote away.”

True Patriot Tip: Think for yourself!

#4. Loyalty to party – “After a man has voted for and worked with the same political party for some years, he becomes attached to it, and it is difficult, sometimes, for him to vote for any other party. He becomes a party man — a partisan. If he leaves his party he is pretty sure to offend his party associates, who call him traitor, or mugwump, or some other harsh name. Yet there are times when it is the duty of a good citizen to vote against his party. When he believes the principles of his party are no longer good for his country, or when he is asked by it to vote for dishonest, or dangerous, or incompetent men, it is his plain duty to refuse to do so. In such a case he is called upon to decide, not between one party and another, but between a party and his country. It is a question of patriotism, or love of country. In times of war a man’s love for his country is tested by his willingness to fight and die for it, but in times of peace his patriotism is tested by his willingness to vote right, whatever may be his interests, or prejudices, or party ties.”

True Patriot Tip: Mugwumps be darned, a leopard CAN change his spots!

#5. Political duty – “In closing this account of our party organizations and their operation, emphasis should again be laid on the absolute duty of every citizen to consider his citizenship a public office, and the benefits which he derives from his life in the State as creating an obligation on his part to lend honest assistance towards rendering the political life of his community as high and as pure as possible. This means his active, intelligent and disinterested participation in the political affairs of his country. As far as possible, he is to co-operate with that party which he honestly considers to represent the best public policies, for in such co-operation his efforts will yield the greatest fruit. But where there is no party to which he can conscientiously give his allegiance, independence in politics is his duty.”

True Patriot Tip: Get out there and exercise your right to vote!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed these tips. Read the rest of Millar’s book online here on the Internet Archive. You won’t regret at least skimming it.

Questions about voting? Check out Elections Ontario.
Where are your polling stations? Find out here.
Learn about Ontario’s registered political parties here.
Keep up with media coverage of the election at the CBC here.

One thought on “Election Special – Five True Patriot Tips from 1899

  1. Interesting point of view with the provincial election coming up in a few days.

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