Frederick Douglass? Stephen Decatur Miller? Woody Jenkins? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A prominent public speaker once asserted that the preservation of liberty depended on three boxes:
The ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.
This statement employed metonymy: the “ballot box” referred to input from the populace via the electoral process; the “jury box” referred to oversight via the judicial process; and the cartridge box referred to control via firearms.
This saying has been attributed to the famous anti-slavery orator Frederick Douglass. Also, the Governor of South Carolina Stephen Decatur Miller has received credit. Would you please explore the expression’s provenance?
Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the “Niles’ Weekly Register” on October 9, 1830. Stephen Decatur Miller had recently delivered a speech in the Sumter district of South Carolina which included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
There are three and only three ways, to reform our congressional legislation. The representative, judicial and belligerent principle alone can be relied on; or as they are more familiarly called, the ballot box, the jury box and the cartouch box. The two first are constitutional, the last revolutionary.
The word “cartouch” is an alternative spelling of “cartouche” which is a cartridge for firearms. Many other commentators have used variants of this expression over the years. Frederick Douglass employed an instance by 1863, and details are given below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1830 October 9, Niles’ Weekly Register, Edited by H. Niles, Volume 39, Number 7, Governor Miller of South Carolina (Extracts from speech by Miller at a late celebration in Sumter district, South Carolina), Start Page 117, Quote Page 118, Published by H. Niles & Son, Baltimore, Maryland. (Google Books Full View) link ↩