Who Shall I vote for come April 2003


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Mobolaji E. Aluko



Sunday, March 23, 2003





And who shall I vote for on April 19, 2003, in the Nigerian presidential election, between Aremu Obasanjo (PDP), Muhammadu Buhari (ANPP) and Gani Fawehinmi (NCP)?  That is, if the elections still hold?


That is a question begging for an answer.


But first things first.   If you are too busy watching the Iraq-Attack Show,  or do not care much for US history, skip this essay: it ends in 1865 anyway.





The Continental Congress of the original thirteen states approved  the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, and the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777, articles which did not take effect until four years later,  March 1, 1781.


With the acceptance of the federal US Constitution of 1787 by the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention (September 17, 1787), its legal adoption on June 21, 1788 (following 9th state New Hampshire’s approval) and it effectiveness on March 4, 1789, all of this paved the way for the election, also on March 4, 1789, of the 1st President George Washington in 1789 (-1797; he received every electoral vote possible; John Adams was vice-president). He was inaugurated April 30, 1789.


And so began partisan politics in the United States.  The only two parties then were the pro-Union Federalist Party (led by Alexander Hamilton; also the party of George Washington) and the pro-states-rights Democratic-Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson (3rd US President; 1801-1809) and James Madison (4th US President; 1809-1817; during the War of 1812 against Great Britain)).  Hamilton was Washington’s Treasury Secretary, and Jefferson was his Secretary of State, an unusual political marriage.  Democratic-Republican presidents followed: James Monroe (5th President; 1817 – 1825) and the very erudite John Quincy Adams (6th President; 1825-1829), speaker of seven languages, educator, philosopher, and natural historian and scientist.  He was the son of the 2nd President John Adams 1797-1801 under who the federal government had moved permanently to Washington DC in 1800, after beginning in New York (for 1 year, starting in 1789) and a 10-year stop in Philadelphia.


With the election of John Quincy Adams (JQA) in 1824 came a charge of electoral “corrupt bargain” in the House of Representatives that had to cast the deciding votes (he had not won a majority in the electoral votes).  The supporters of popular military hero and poorly educated General Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee (who lost to JQA) split off from the Democratic-Republican Party to form, in 1825, the Democratic Party, with the rump party being called National Republicans.  Four years later, Jackson became the 7th US President (1829-1837), soundly beating the incumbent JQA easily. As the saying went, the man who could fight had beaten the man who could write.  The sword had overwhelmed the pen in a democracy.


Democrat Martin van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson as the 8th POTUS (1837-1841; during the US first economic depression), and it was not until 1840 that the Whigs won their first presidential contest (William Henry Harrison, 9th President, beat the incumbent Democrat van Buren; Harrison served only one month as president  in 1841 before he died suddenly), followed by another Whig John Tyler (10th President, 1841-1845).


It was the replacement election of Tyler in 1844 that we now will dwell upon to attempt to answer who I would vote for in April 2003.





In 1829 when Andrew Jackson became President of the United States (POTUS), Abraham Lincoln was an uneducated – or poorly self-educated – 20-year-old, but by 1834 he became an Assemblyman in the State of Illinois under the new Whig Party, formed in 1834 (during Jackson’s tenure) under the leadership of  House Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky (who had favored Adams in 1828) to oppose other National Republicans and “Jacksonian Democrats,” and to include southerners who favored state rights.


In 1844, about 17 years before he himself became the 16th president of the United States, 35-year-old Abraham Lincoln (then ten years an Illinois State Assemblyman, rising national presence and a member of the Whig Party) was faced with a dilemma similar (in some respects) to mine. 


The issue of the day was slavery, the annexation of Texas (then a Mexican province) and expansionism into other Mexican territory, much as it is insecurity, corruption and the economy in Nigeria today.  Top on the agenda was slavery.  Up until that point, Lincoln’s party  (the slightly anti-Slavery Whig party ) and the Democratic Party (the pro-slavery party) were the two major parties.  However, a third party, the explicitly abolitionist Liberal Party, made up of decampees from both major parties, had been formed around 1840 because they were very doctrinaire in stating that both the Whig and Democratic parties were actually hypocrites who SUPPORTED slavery,  opposed abolition and that their difference was just cosmetic.  In fact, some members of the leadership of the Whig party were slave-owners, despite their being in favor of the No-Slave rule in the Northern and new states, and were for phased emancipation in the South.  


In 1844, the Democratic Party presidential candidate was James K. Polk (a former Speaker of the House from 1835-1839), the Whig Party candidate was Henry Clay of Kentucky (also a former Speaker and JQA’s Secretary of State) and the Liberty Party Candidate was James G. Birney (who had first run in 1840, against van Buren and William Henry Harrison).  The Liberty Party framed the election in terms of good versus evil.


Lincoln was naturally a campaigner for Clay. The race was tight.  Lincoln APPEALED to the Liberty Party defectors not to waste their votes, that a vote for the Liberty Party candidate, who was not going to win anyway, was in fact a vote for the pro-slavery Democratic Party.


Lincoln framed his advice in the following way:




This general proposition is doubtless correct – but did it apply?  If by your votes you could have prevented the extension, &c. of slavery, would it not have been good and not evil so to have used your votes, even though it involved casting of them for a slaveholder?  By the fruit the tree is to be known.  An evil tree can not bring forth good fruit. If the fruit of electing Mr. Clay would have been to prevent the extension of slavery, could the act of electing him have been evil?




Later on, he was again to expound:




The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than good.  There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good.  Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two;  so that our best judgement of the preponderance between the two is continually demanded.”




Nothing doing.  The Democratic Party candidate won by a whisker-thin margin, and a shift of just five thousand votes in New York would have made Henry Clay the winner. So Polk became the 11th President (1845-1849) and Lincoln was dejected. 


Slavery continued to flourish, because the Liberty Party would not compromise.


Not only did slavery flourish, but on December 29, 1845, the US annexed Texas (a non-slave province under Mexico, which had abolished slavery in 1829). Texas became the 29th state of the Union, otherwise George Bush (43rd POTUS, 2001 - ?)  today would have been a Mexican, and we would not be having this Iraq attack.  Furthermore, on May 13, 1846 the United States under Polk declared war on Mexico, which eventually led to the ceding by Mexico, in a treaty signed in Mexico on February 2, 1848, of California, Nevada, Utah, most of New Mexico and Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming, enlarging the territory of the United States by a whopping 619,100 sq miles[Nigeria has an area of 356,669 square miles, or 923,768 square km].


Lincoln, who became a Whig Party Congressman to Washington DC from Illinois in 1846, denounced Polk for the war against Mexico, saying it was aggressive, expansionist and pro-slavery.  The new congressman rose up several times in Congress to rain abuse on President Polk, even though he always made sure he said that he supported the appropriation of money to make sure that the soldiers were well-fed on the front.


President Polk, for all his Mexican war victory, was not well liked by either party. 


One of the Mexico war heroes was a legendary 62-year-old career soldier named General Zachary Taylor with no formal education and no desire for one – and he was a Democrat with “reluctant” presidential ambitions.  He is quoted as saying in November 1846 (in preparation for the presidential elections in 1848) that “I will not say I would not serve if the good people were imprudent enough to elect me.”  He won fame in the final battle of Buena Vista of February 1847 when his unit defeated a Mexican unit three times its size, and he escaped death with bullets grazing him – or at least that was how the story went.


1848 came, and Lincoln’s old favorite presidential candidate Henry Clay was again angling to win the Democratic party ticket in the primaries, hoping for Lincoln support over Zachary Taylor.  The funny thing though was that Lincoln did not like Zachary Taylor at all!  In fact, the author Miller (“Lincoln’s Virtues”)  called him “an empty of empties” as far as politics went.    But Lincoln did not want the opposing Democratic Party to win the presidency again in 1848, and he considered that Henry Clay had become too “anti-Slavery” to win votes in the South, and that Zachary Taylor was the only electable member of the Whig Party because of his war hero status.  The “emptiest of the empty candidates” came back a war hero, and the realist Lincoln knew that he had to back him, even with his hand over his nose.


The “emptiest of the empty candidates” General Zachary Taylor, Mexican War Hero in a war that Lincoln had denounced vehemently, did win the presidential election of 1848 hands down – by the way over 8th POTUS Martin van Buren (now of the Free-Soil Party) and General Cass of the Democratic Party -  and in 1849 became the 12th President of the United States, a Whig,  the first one never to have been a legislator before his presidency. 


Abraham Lincoln’s action was not altogether altruistic:  he did not stand for re-election to the Congress in 1848 (he had become very unpopular in Illinois because of his anti-Mexico War stance), but still hoped that because of his support, Zachary Taylor would give him some high office in his cabinet.  That offer never materialized, but after some months of waiting and lobbying (one person who he lobbied for a reference letter for the job that he and another fellow wanted badly wrote to the president that BOTH candidates for the job were excellent!), he ALMOST was made a miserable Commissioner of Government Lands, a position that he would have taken because he needed the money. The offer never came, and he had to return to his law offices in Springfield Illinois (He had studied at home and passed a Law bar exam in 1837 while an Illinois state legislator).


Unfortunately Zachary Taylor lasted only sixteen months in office, before a suspected arsenic poisoning killed him on July 9, 1850.  (This poisoning conspiracy was later debunked upon exhumation in 1991; it appeared that it was cholera or gastroenteritis contracted from a hot-afternoon bowl of cherries and a pitcher of milk that he fed on under unsanitary conditions on July 4, 1850)


After Taylor came president Millard Fillmore (13th President, Whig, 1850-1853), Franklin Pierce (14th President, Democrat, 1853-1857), James Buchanan (15th President, Democrat, 1857-1861) – and then Abraham Lincoln (16th President, Republican, 1861-1865;  the Republican Party was formed in 1854, with Lincoln as one of the founders; the second party that he co-founded in 20 years, the other being the Whig Party in 1834.)





What is the moral of the stories?  Three things from the stand of the “ethical” Lincoln:


(1)    The Polk/Clay/Birney Story:  Be careful who you vote for in April 2003. A protest vote may throw up a winner that is diametrically opposed to what you stand for, and lead to unintended consequences (eg. flourishing insecurity and economic poverty, or a religious war you don’t plan for).


(2)    The Zachary Taylor Story:  Although not completely apropos to the Nigerian situation, the moral here is that if you want your party to win, you may have to hold your hand over your nose to vote for the candidate that you think will win, even if he is “the emptiest of empty candidates”, rather than the one you think is a better candidate.


(3)    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  “Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two;  so that our best judgement of the preponderance between the two is continually demanded.”  This might as well refer to Iraq and the United States.





I am still trying to decide who is the “emptiest of the empty candidates” in this 2003 presidential race in Nigeria. I am still also trying to find out who of Obasanjo and Buhari, in my best judgement, has the preponderance of good or of evil.  I will however be careful not to throw my votes in a manner that will lead to unintended consequences.


That is, if the election still hold.


I still have time.


Best wishes all.






“To the Best of My Ability- The American Presidents” – General Editor: James M. McPherson, The Society of American Historians, Dorling-Kindersley (London, New York, et.c), First American Edition 2000.


“Lincoln’s Virtues:  An Ethical Biography”, William Lee Miller, (2002); Vintage Books Edition, February 2003,


The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2003, World Almanac Books, 2003.



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