GOVERNOR Spotswood's explanation of the way Virginians gained office in the assembly was that they lowered themselves to the level of the mob, catering to the passions and prejudices of the louts whom they filled with drink. 1 At first sight this diagnosis seems to be supported in the classic portrayal of a Virginia election, Robert Munford's play, The Candidates, written in 1770. 2 The play opens with the hero, Wou'dbe, grumbling about the campaign he must undertake to please the voters.
Must I again be subject to the humours of a fickle croud? Must I again resign my reason, and be nought but what each voter pleases? Must I cajole, fawn, and wheedle, for a place that brings so little profit?
The questions are rhetorical, and the play furnishes several vignettes of candidates cajoling, fawning on, and wheedling the freeholders. These very arts, we have already suggested, are testimony to the fact that the voters mattered, that they had to be won. But the larger lesson of the play is that cajoling, fawning, and wheedling did not win them. In spite of his opening speech, Wou'dbe does none of these things. When asked by the voters whether he will achieve this or that impossible goal for them, he says honestly that he cannot. He leaves it to his rivals to lie and flatter. For a time it looks as though he may lose, but then Worthy steps in. Worthy is evidently____________________