Collection: Raster Family Letters

Author: Hermann Raster

Recipient: Askan Raster

Description: Letter from Hermann Raster to his brother, Askan Raster, September 21, 1856.

Hermann Raster to Askan Raster, September 21, 1856

English Text

New York, Sunday, 21 September 1856

Dear Brother,

If you were somewhat acquainted with the labyrinthian maze of American party politics - and I hasten to add that you can be happy you are not - I would send you whole volumes besides the clippings I enclose, and describe how your poor brother had to half kill himself during the last hectic months, particularly since l last wrote you . You will find my name listed in the newspaper clippings among those of the men whom the Republican Party selected as presidential electors from our state. This will seem to you a very simple matter, especially when I tell you that an elector really elects nobody, receives no salary nor anything tangible, that his entire duty (fundamentally superfluous but required by the Constitution) consists in registering his vote at the beginning of December for the Candidate chosen by his Party. But I must emphasize that there is much work and sweat connected with this office. An old wise man once said to his son "You will find out with how little wisdom the world is governed." If he been in America he would undoubtedly have said "with how little wisdom is governed”). – Perhaps in the end they mean the same.

To clarify what an "elector" is, here is a short explanation. Actually, the election of a President (in the United States) is an indirect one. Each state elects as many presidential electors as it has Representatives in Congress, plus two electors at large for the Senate. These electors, however, do not run individually in their respective districts but as a bloc on a single "ticket" (list, or however you want to translate it), so that the party which wins in the state wins the entire slate of electors. However, this whole performance, as I have said, is only "pro forms". In reality, one does vote for a presidential candidate, though indirectly. (Currently in my case it will be for Col. Fremont).

Although the office of elector sounds silly, as described, considerable value is attached to it, first because it is rather a presti5e office and second because, if one's party wins the election, it is1aken for granted that the electors will be running the foremost to share in the "spoils", i.e., the booty, or the "fat" jobs which the federal government has to bestow (after, as usual the incumbents who belong to the losing party, if it has been in power, have been fired). In this latter sense the electoral office is valuable for those who have the desire and ability to push themselves and do not shy away from any methods, some of which are pretty dirty, to put themselves into the public eye.

I myself have no inclination to do this. I sought the job for recognition and to have a German name on the ticket; the Germans-Americans are often ignored or by-passed. Finally, should the election be successful for my party, I could be helpful to Fremont. For these reasons I did not go in for the usual things, I even helped one man to be able to go as delegate to the party convention in Syracuse, a pleasure which cost him between ~300 - $500. This Convention selects the electors. I spoke briefly with various influential party members, but did not go to Syracuse myself; I relied on the fact that, as editor of the Abendzeitung I had publicized and backed the principles of the Republican Party and had (some power over) the Germen (vote), and that this would be sufficient to get me the office (of elector). I did not even try to get a recommendation from Col. Fremont, with whom I am acquainted, and which I could easily have done. The successful result of this tactic, namely indifference, proved that it was the correct decision.

Even so, in spite of this passive role, I had to do a great deal of running around, particularly to meetings, There were all kinds, here a die strict club, there a mass meeting, or a Central Committee, or a General Committee, or a party excursion, plus a primary election (i.e. for delegates to a party convention) - these things had to be done, and one must make speeches, work, gain influence, etc. All the crises and intrigues, which added up to mad confusion, had to be taken care of during my "leisure" hours, those which were left after my daily job for the Abendzeitung, correspondence for the Augsburger Nationalzeitung and Augsburger Allgemeine, writing material for flyers, or translations of party documents, which a campaign calls for. Doesn't it seem natural to you that under these circumstances I became an exhausted as though I had gone through a series of battles, and that the continuous tension resulted in a nervous ailment, from which I am just now recovering, I am heartily glad that the Convention is over. To be sure, there are still four weeks to the election, will be bitter campaign and there will be trouble; but at least I don't have any of my own "fish to fry" anymore, because I am now an elector and have thrown in my lot for better or for worse with my party. If my party wins, which I hope and wish for, it will be fine; if we lose, well then, everything was just for fun and one "wipes one's mouth" and starts over.

Your brother,
Hermann (Raster)