As A Candidate by Bill Nye

Story type: Literature

The heat and venom of each political campaign bring back to my mind with wonderful clearness the bitter and acrimonious war, and the savage factional fight, which characterized my own legislative candidacy in what was called the Prairie Dog District of Wyoming, about ten years ago. This district was known far and wide as the battleground of the territory, and generally when the sun went down on the eve of election day the ground had that disheveled and torn-up appearance peculiar to the grave of Brigham Young the next day after his aggregated widow has held her regular annual sob recital and scalding-tear festival.

I hesitated about accepting the nomination because I knew that Vituperation would get up on its hind feet and annoy me greatly, and I had reason to believe that no pains would be spared on the part of the management of the opposition to make my existence a perfect bore. This turned out to be the case, and although I was nominated in a way that seemed to indicate perfect harmony, it was not a week before the opposition organ, to which I had frequently loaned print paper when it could not get its own C. O. D. paper out of the express office, said as follows in a startled and double-leaded tone of voice:


“The candidate for assembly in this district, whose trans-Missouri name seems to be Nye, turns out to be the same man who left Penobscot county, Maine, in the dark of the moon four years ago. Mr. Nye’s disappearance was so mysterious that prominent Penobscoters, especially the sheriff, offered a large reward for his person. It was afterwards learned that he was kidnapped and taken across the Canadian line by a high-spirited and high-stepping horse valued at $1,300. Mr. Nye’s candidacy for the high office to which he aspires has brought him into such prominence that at the mass meeting held last evening in Jimmy Avery’s barber-shop, he was recognized at once by a Maine man while making a telling speech in favor of putting in a stone culvert at the draw above Mandel’s ranch. The man from Maine, who is visiting our thriving little town with a view to locating here and establishing an agency for his world-renowned rock-alum axe-helves, says that Mr. Nye, in the hurry and rush incident to his departure for Canada, overlooked his wife and seven little ones. He also says that the candidate’s boasted liberality here is different from the kind he was using while in Maine, and quotes the following incident: Two years before he went away from Penobscot county, one of our present candidate’s children was playing on the railroad track of the Bangor & Moosehead Lake Railroad, when suddenly there was a wild shriek of the iron-horse, a timid, scared cry of the child, and the rushing train was upon it. Spectators turned away in horror. The air was heavy, and the sun seemed to stop its shining. Slowly the long freight train, loaded with its rich freight of huckleberries, came to a halt. A glad cry went up from the assembly as the broad-shouldered engineer came out of the tall grass with the crowing child in his arms. Then cheer on cheer rent the air, and in the midst of it all, Mr. Nye appeared. He was told of the circumstance, and, as he wrung the hand of the engineer, tears stood in his eyes. Then, reaching in his pocket, he drew forth a card, and writing his autograph on it, he gave it to the astounded engineer, telling him to use it wisely and not fritter it away. ‘But are you not robbing yourself?’ exclaimed the astonished and delighted engineer. ‘No, oh no,’ said the munificent parent, ‘I have others left.’ And this is the man who asks our suffrages! Will you vote for him or for Alick Meyerdinger, the purest one-legged man that ever rapped with his honest knuckles on top of a bar and asked the boys to put a name to it.”

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I was pained to read this, for I had not at that time toyed much with politics, but I went up stairs and practiced an hour or two on a hollow laugh that I thought would hide the pain which seemed to tug at my heart-strings. For the rest of the day I strolled about town bearing a lurid campaign smile that looked about as joyous as the light-hearted gambols of a tin horse.

I visited my groceryman, a man whom I felt that I could trust, and who had honored me in the same way. He said that I ought to be indorsed by my fellow-citizens. “What! All of them?” I exclaimed, with a choking sensation, for I had once tried to be indorsed by one of my fellow-citizens and was not entirely successful. “No,” said he, “but you ought to be ratified and indorsed by those who know you best and love you most.”

“Well,” said I, “will you attend to that?”

“Yes, of course I will. You must not give up hope. Where do you buy your meat?”

I told him the name of my butcher.

“And do you owe him about the same that you do me?”

I said I didn’t think there could be $5 one way or the other.

“Well, give me a memorandum of what you can call to mind that you owe around town. I will see all these parties and we will get them together and work up a strong and hearty home indorsement for you, which will enable you to settle with all of us at par in the event of your election.”

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I gave him a list.

That evening a load of lumber was deposited on my lawn, and a man came in to borrow a few pounds of fence nails. I asked him what he wanted to do, for I thought he was going to nail a campaign lie or something. He said he was the man who was sent up to build a kind of “trussle” in front of my house. “What for?” I asked, with eyes like a startled fawn. “Why, for the speakers to stand on,” he said. “It is a kind of a combination racket. Something between a home indorsement and a mass-meeting of creditors. You are to be surprised and gratified to-morrow evening, as near as I can make out.”

He then built a wobbly scaffold, one end of which was nailed to the bay window of the house.

The next evening my heart swelled when I heard a campaign band coming up the street, trying to see how little it could play and still draw its salary. The band was followed by men with torches, and speakers in carriages. A messenger was sent into the house to tell me that I was about to be waited upon by my old friends and neighbors, who desired to deliver to me their hearty indorsement, and a large willow-covered two-gallon godspeed as a mark of esteem.

The spokesman, as soon as I had stepped out on my veranda, mounted the improvised platform previously erected, and after a short and debilitated solo and chorus by the band, said as follows, as near as I can now recall his words:

Mr. Nye

“SIR: We have read with pain the open and venomous attacks of the foul and putrid press of our town, and come here to-night to vindicate by our presence your utter innocence as a man, as a fellow-citizen, as a neighbor, as a father, mother, brother or sister.

“No one could look down into your open face, and deep, earnest lungs, and then doubt you as a man, as a fellow-citizen, as a neighbor, as a father, mother, brother or sister. You came to us a poor man, and staked your all on the growth of this town. We like you because you are still poor. You can not be too poor to suit us. It shows that you are not corrupt.

“Mr. Nye, on behalf of this vast assemblage (tremulo), I thank God that you are POOR!!!”

He then drew from his pocket a little memorandum, and, holding it up to a torch, so that he could see it better, said that Mr. Limberquid would emit a few desultory remarks.

Mr. Limberquid, to whom I was at that time indebted for past favors in the meat line, or, as you may say, the tenderloin, through no fault of mine, then arose and said, in words and figures as follows, to wit:

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“SIR: I desire to say that we who know Mr. Nye best are here to say that he certainly has one of the most charming wives in this territory. What do we care for the vilifications of the press–a press, hired, venial, corrupt, reeking in filth and oozy with the slime of its own impaired circulation, snapping at the heels of its superiors, and steeped in the reeking poison and pollution of its own shopworn and unmarketable opinions?

“We do not care a cuss! (Applause.) What do we care that homely men grudge our candidate his symmetry of form and graceful upholstered carriage? What do we care that calumny crawls out of its hole, calumniates him a couple of times and then goes back? We are here to-night to show by our presence that we like Mrs. Nye very much. She is a good cook, and she would certainly do honor to this district as a social leader, in case she should go to Cheyenne as the wife of our assemblyman. I propose three cheers for her, fellow-citizens.” (Applause, cheers and throbs of base-drum.)

Mr. Sherrod then said:

“FELLER-CITIZENS: We glory in the fact that Whatshisname–Nye here, is pore. We like him for the poverty he has made. Our idee in runnin’ of him fer the legislater, as I take it, is to not only run him along in this here kind of hand-to-mouth poverty, but to kind of give him a chance to accumulate poverty, and have some saved up fer a rainy day.

“I kin call to mind how he looked when he come to this territory a pore boy, and took off his coat and went right to work dealin’ faro nights, and earning his bread by the sweat of a sweat-board daytimes, for Tom Dillon, acrost from the express office. And I say he is not a clost man. He gives his money where folks don’t git on to it. He don’t git out the band when he goes to do a kind act, but kind of sneaks around to people who are in need, and offers to match ’em fer the cigars.

“He’s a feller of generous impulses, gentlemen, or at least I so regard him, and I say here to-night, that if his other vitals was as big and warm as his heart, he would live to deckorate the graves of nations yet unborn.”

Several people wept here, and wiped their eyes on their alabaster hands. I then sent my maid around through the audience with a bucketful of Salt Lake cider, and a dishpan full of doughnuts, to restore good feeling. But I can not soon forget how proud I was when I felt the hot tears and doughnut crumbs of my fellow-citizens raining down my back.

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The band then played, “See the Conquering Hero Comes,” and yielding to the pressing demands of the populi, I made a few irrelevant, but low, passionate remarks, as follows:

“FELLOW-CITIZENS AND MEMBERS OF THE BAND–We are not here, as I understand it, solely to tickle our palates with the twisted doughnuts of our pampered and sin-cursed civilization, but to unite and give our pledges once more to the support of the best men. In this teacup of foaming and impervious cider from the Valley of the Jordan I drink to the success of the best men. Fellow-citizens and members of the band, we owe our fealty to the old party. Let us cling to the old party as long as there is any juice in it and vote for its candidates. Let us give our suffrages to men of advanced thought who are loyal to their party but poor. Gentlemen, I am what would be called a poor but brainy man. When I am not otherwise engaged you will always find me engaged in thought. I love the excitement of following an idea and chasing it up a tree. It is a great pleasure for me to pursue the red-hot trail of a thought or the intellectual spoor of an idea. But I do not allow this habit to interfere with politics. Politics and thought are radically different. Why should man think himself weak on these political matters when there are men who have made it their business and life study to do the thinking for the masses?

“This is my platform. I believe that a candidate should be poor; that he should be a thinker on other matters, but leave political matters and nominations to professional political ganglia and molders of primaries who have given their lives and the inner coating of their stomachs to the advancement of political methods by which the old, cumbersome and dangerous custom of defending our institutions with drawn swords may be superseded by the modern and more attractive method of doing so with overdrawn salaries.

“Fellow-citizens and members of the band, in closing let me say that you have seen me placed in the trying position of postmaster for the past year. For that length of time I have stood between you and the government at Washington. I have assisted in upholding the strong arm of the government, and yet I have not allowed it to crush you. No man here to-night can say that I have ever, by word or deed, revealed outside the office the contents of a postal card addressed to a member of my own party or held back or obstructed the progress of new and startling seeds sent by our representative from the Agricultural Department. I am in favor of a full and free interchange of interstate red-eyed and pale beans, and I favor the early advancement and earnest recognition of the merits of the highly offensive partisan. I thank you, neighbors and band (husky and pianissimo), for this gratifying little demonstration. Words seem empty and unavailing at this time. Will you not accept the hospitality of my home? Neighbors, you are welcome to these halls. Come in and look at the family album.”

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The meeting then became informal, and the chairman asked me as he came down from his perch how I would be fixed by the first of the month. I told him that I could not say, but hoped that money matters would show less apathy by that time.

I have already taken up too much space, however, in this simple recital, and I have only room to say that I was not elected, and that of the seventy-five who came up to indorse me and then go home exhilarated by my cheering doughnuts, forty voted for the other man, thereby electing him by a plurality of everybody. Home indorsement, hard-boiled eggs and hot tears of reconciliation can never fool me again. They are as empty as the bass drum by which they are invariably accompanied. A few years ago a majority of the voters of a newly-fledged city in Wisconsin signed a petition asking a gentleman named Bradshaw to run for the office of mayor. He said he did not want it, but if a majority had signified in writing that they needed him every hour, he would allow his name to be used. They then turned in and defeated him by a handsome majority, thus showing that the average patriotism of the present day has a string to it.

Who was the first to make the claim
That I would surely win the game,
But now that Dennis is my name?
The Patriot.

Who stated that my chance was best,
And came and wept upon my breast,
Only to knock me galley West?
The Patriot.

Who told me of the joy he felt,
While he upon my merits dwelt?
Who then turned in and took my pelt?
The Patriot.

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