The Poor Voter on Election Day – A Poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1852

This poem, written in 1852, puts forth the idea that within the context of an election, all voters are equal. It is an interesting notion, given at the time, that people of color and women were not allowed to vote. Whittier, a well known abolitionist and poet, was an elector representing Essex County and Amesbury specifically, in the 1860 presidential election.

The proudest now is but my peer1,
The highest not more high;
To-day, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I.
To-day alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known
My palace is the people’s hall,
The ballot-box2 my throne!

Who serves to-day upon the list
Beside the served shall stand;
Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,
The gloved and dainty hand!
The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong to-day;
And sleekest broadcloth3 counts no more
Than homespun frock4 of gray.

To-day let pomp and vain pretence5
My stubborn right abide;
I set a plain man’s common sense
Against the pedant’s6 pride.
To-day shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand!

While there’s a grief to seek redress7,
Or balance to adjust,
Where weighs our living manhood less
Than Mammon8’s vilest dust, –
While there’s a right to need my vote
A wrong to sweep away,
Up! clouted9 knee and ragged coat!
A man’s a man to-day!

1 Peer = ”the same as I am”
2 Ballot-box = place where votes are collected
3 Broadcloth = fancy material used for coats
4 Frock = ”frock coat,” a man’s dressy coat
5 Pomp and vain pretence = ”showing off”
6 Pendant = a showy person
7 Redress = a remedy for a wrong action
8 Mammon = getting money by evil means
9 Clouted = ”battered” ?


John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Poor Voter on Election Day”, 1852. National Archives, Waltham, MA.