Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/October 23, 1886

We deprecate any approach toward a union of church and state. With sincere earnestness we shall ever oppose the intermingling of religion and politics. The interference with elections by any church, be it Catholic, Methodist, North or South, Jewish or other denomination, shall ever receive our most caustic condemnation. The American people are opposed to religious wars. They believe that the battle-ground of sectarianism is the church edifice and the Sunday-school. Therefore it is that they view with alarm the advent of any organized number of church officials into a heated political canvass. We regret to find that this innovation is now being made in the cause of a gentleman who aspires to a seat upon the Supreme Court bench of this state. Here above all other places in the machinery of a republican government should the advent of extraneous religious influences be interdicted. If the sacred ermine is to owe its anointment to one church influence to the exclusion of all others, or if it is to be made a shuttlecock of contending hierarchies, then farewell to its power as an arbiter over the persons and property of our citizens. The alarm on this subject is already sounded. Public interest is at fever-heat upon the question. An influential contemporary — the Argonaut —on Saturday last notes the case and action to which we refer. It says:

Twenty-five Roman Catholic priests in San Francisco have acted as vice-presidents of political Irish Home Rule meetings in this city; fifteen Roman priests were present upon the floor and in the lobby of the Democratic state convention, actively working for the nomination of Jeremiah Sullivan for the Supreme Pencil, and this gentleman is now traveling from parish to parish in the southern part of California, asking the political assistance of the Roman Catholic clergy for his election; and yet we are informed that the Papal Church takes no part in politics. These priests are all of foreign birth. It is such things as these that suggest the necessity of an American party. There are more Methodists, and more Baptists, and more Presbyterians in America than Romanists; there are more Masons and Odd Fellows than Papists — and yet none of these churches or orders have ever undertaken to assume the direction of political affairs in America, although they are of American birth.

We are certain that this attempt of a church so large and powerful as the Catholic persuasion to influence an election in favor of one of its members, and against gentlemen who are of other religious beliefs, will work to its detriment. His opponents are Americans who rest their claims upon personal integrity and proficiency in the science of law. They will not understand or ever admit that any church should hold the balance of power in a civic contest for judicial honors. Nor will the two distinguished jurists who are on the ticket with Judge Sullivan be less restive, under the handicap thus placed upon them in being denied a kindred support which their sense of propriety prevents them from invoking. Such a course invites retaliation, and the advent into the ring of the Catholic faith in temporal support of one of its disciples is but an invitation —yes, is even a banter —to the several Protestant persuasions to unite in opposition. Although the present candidates, Jackson Temple and Byron Waters, are themselves too dignified, having a properly exalted idea of the proprieties of the occasion, to make such an appeal in their own behalf, yet the propensity of human nature to meet like with like is so strong as to almost insure, even at this election, a union of all anti-Catholic sentiment in their favor. This we claim is a prostitution of the proper functions of churches. They should keep their hands off. They have no business meddling in the filthy contentions of parties, bosses and rings. If they will not keep themselves within the prescribed lines of moral influences, let them be snubbed whenever they appear outside. Send them back to their conventicles when they truant-like cross the boundaries of their proper demesne. Heaven knows they have jurisdiction sufficiently extensive, work grandly noble, and rewards duly commensurate for their chosen duty. Let them then keep within their limits. If they will not do so voluntarily then an incensed public opinion will compel it. It were better to take the hint of an offended popular instinct and abstain in time than to injure its friends by inopportune and offensive intermeddling where they do not belong, and where all the prejudices of a republican form of government forbid them to come.

Our double-page cartoon represents in graphic style the various forms of influence exerted by the church upon its votaries. From the batteries of priestly influence go out the wires that affect the franchise of the voters. Among others that have come practically to our notice are those of church contracts. Within our knowledge is the case of a contractor who would have lost his livelihood if he had not changed from his preferred candidate and agreed to vote for the chosen of the church. What chance has any other man in this election against such a leverage? And when known that such a programme is in operation will it not react with fatal effect upon the objects of its solicitude? We believe it —nay more, we know it. The temper of this people is against ecclesiastical interference with elections, and they will visit with their dire displeasure the candidate of any church organization that invokes its plenary discipline.

A pleasing incident which could have occurred nowhere except in this land of freedom, equality and sovereign labor may rightly be recorded here. A committee of a political party called on Abner Doble to formally apprise him of his nomination for a high office, and found him with his coat off, hand-spike in hand, working like a common laborer. He was assisting in the removal of his safe. It in no way diminished the value and interest of the incident to state that he had received a private intimation of the honor intended him, and was removing the safe to a more secure place.

Mr. Julius Allum is the latest inhabitant of the corporate cemetery across the bay who has preferred to insure himself against a possible return to that locality by leaving it permanently through the agency of a dose of arsenic. The surprised and gratified litterateur who does the reporting for the Oakland press informs us with imperfectly decorous exultation that the deceased “died hard,” a circumstance obviously arising from the natural supposition on the part of his stomach that the arsenic represented a new viand indicating the removal of its consumer from the contiguity of Oakland restaurants, and its willingness to continue business on a strictly reform basis. In the usual post-mortem explanation Mr. A. states, somewhat illogically, that he had become “inured to hardship and the indifference of the world,” a timely admission that insures the prompt circulation of his valedictory as a Bartlett campaign document. It proves he had been electioneering for Swift.

When Dr. Mackenzie tells his congregation that there was justification in the action of a bible harlot who told lies to screen spies that were in the Lord’s service, he belittles the code of divine morals, and degrades it to that dubious maxim of worldly wisdom that the end justifies the means. And when he goes further and says that she did only what the Puritan Fathers were accustomed to do to gain their point, he destroys in addition all reverence for earthly excellence and gives the young to understand that deception is sanctified by God and canonized by man.


Like a worn mother, Swift attempts in vain

To still the unruly offspring of his brain;

The more he rocks the cradle of his chin

The more uproarious grows the brat within.


The difference between Swift and Bartlett on the Chinese question seems to be that Bartlett has made the Chinese pay him money for rent while Swift has been paying out money to the heathen for house-boys and vegetables. The account, however, stands that for each $20 that Bartlett took from them Swift gave them $100.

A certain Washington society lady has been earning fame—or notoriety—by her festive behavior at a well-known Eastern watering-place, where a promising young Baltimore lawyer pledged her in champagne drunk out of the fair one’s slipper. That the “lady” is married simply adds zest to the delectable story. The exploit has been telegraphed far and wide, and the innocent little episode received recognition by a New York pictorial paper which gave a full-page illustration of strong erotic tendency. This was further improved upon by a suggestive “interview” in which the “lady” explains that the whole party was “excited” (shall we say intoxicated?) with wine. This is all as it should be if there had been any novelty about the proceeding. But in point of fact the chestnut bell should have resounded through the land. We believe the old yarn dates from Aristophanes. In any case a similar incident is worked up by Goethe in his “Elective Affinities.” Again, an artistic example of this bald-headed story was reported from London some two years ago, which runs as follows. It was at Ascot Race Meeting, on the “Cup” day. He had lost some £1,200 over the race. She was a lady of title, and at least twenty years his senior. She was garrulous, and devoid of tact, failing to observe that he had something on his mind. Said she: “Do you know, Major, that on this very course I once lost my shoe!” He betrayed no profound interest, but just smiled and nodded. “And the bold boys, Major,” she continued, “picked it up, and wouldn’t give it back, for they insisted on drinking champagne out of it!” Here he felt he must pull himself together and say something, although the event dated from the early days of Queen Victoria. Glancing down at her foot, he abstractedly remarked: “Did they, by Jove; they must have used magnums for the purpose?” Tableau! This story ought to bury that old gag. Let it R. I. P.

(Source: Internet Archive, https://ia600704.us.archive.org/27/items/waspjulydec188617unse/waspjulydec188617unse.pdf)