Historical Songs About Voting

By Katherine Rhoda for folkVOTE

Since you invite historical songs as well as new material, I’d like to share a few I’ve found in my research into songs of the Grange (https://katherinerhoda.com/offerings/vintage-grange-songs/) and of the Farmers’ Alliance, which gave rise to the Populist Party in the 1890s.

“The Laborer on Election Day” by Katherine Rhoda

Though pre-19th Amendment and thus about male voters only, The Laborer on Election Day, from the 1874 songbook The Trumpet of Reform: A Collection of Songs, Hymns, Chants and Set Pieces for the Grange, the Club, and All Industrial & Reform Organizations, is worth a look. Words are by J.G. Whittier, who I assume to be Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, and music by G.F. Root, presumably George F. Root who edited the collection and who wrote a number of noted Civil War songs. The whole songbook can be downloaded for free at https://archive.org/details/reformc00root This song is #76, on p. 81 of the PDF.

The proudest now is but my peer, The highest not more high;Today of all the weary year A king of men am I.Today, alike are great and small, The nameless and the known;My palace is the people’s hall, The ballot box my throne!Who serves today 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 today;And sleekest broadcloth counts no more Than homespun frock of gray.Today let pomp and vain pretense My stubborn right abide;I set a plain man’s common sense Against the pedant’s pride.Today 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 redress, Or balance to adjustWhere weighs our living manhood less Than Mammon’s vilest dust,While there’s a right to need my vote, A wrong to sweep away,Up! clouted knee and ragged coat: A man’s a man today!

The very first song (lyrics only) in the 1890 Alliance Songster: A Collection ofLabor and Comic Songs for the Use of Grange, Alliance or Debating Clubs (https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/209680) is To the Polls. The words there are a little mangled, but I’ve attached an image of it as well as another instance of it (not sure what book it’s from) showing words and music. The music is from the Christian hymn To the Work.

“To the Polls” performed by Katherine Rhoda

To the polls! To the polls! Ye are thus serving God;
Let us follow the path that our fathers have trod;
With the light of their counsel our strength to renew,
Let us do with our might what our hands find to do.

CHORUS: Voting on, (Voting on,) Voting on, (Voting on,)
        Voting on, (Voting on,) Voting on, (Voting on,)
        Let us work (and watch), let us vote (and trust)
        And labor till the vict’ry comes.

To the polls! To the polls! Let the hungry be fed;
To the banner of life let the weary be led;
In our ballot and banner our glory shall be;
While we herald the tidings the people are free.

To the polls! To the polls! There is labor for all,
For the kingdom of rapine and error shall fall,
And the rights of the people exalted shall be,
In the loud-swelling chorus the people are free.

To the polls! To the polls! We will rally again;
We will free our dear homes from the bondman and chain;
Then the home of the faithful our dwelling shall be,
And we’ll shout with the ransomed the people are free.

I’ve also been researching songs of women’s suffrage (https://katherinerhoda.com/offerings/songs-of-womens-suffrage/). Some of those may also be germane to the folkVOTE project, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Index of songs about voting and suffrage compiled by Jean Geiger of KBCS radio, Seattle