Three Acres And a Cow

We haven’t reached the “three acres and a cow” promise yet but we can expect it – or maybe a revival of “a chicken in every pot” – before October 19 when the current promise contest ends in Canada.

Not that we ever refer to a general election as a promise contest. We prefer to puff our chests and boast about the democratic process while solemnly listening to three men and a woman endlessly promising how they will spend the next four years improving our life-style – if we elect them. All they want is to serve, to make life better for us sluggers in the trenches if we just give them a chance.

Unfortunately for politicians the electorate has refined its tastes since the 1800’s when “three acres and a cow” first became a popular political campaign slogan. It was still popular in the early 1900’s when it became an amusing but never believed whisper of a promise to soldiers who survived WW1. Since then voters have become increasingly skeptical about election promises although I have a feeling the promise of three acres and a cow would still be welcomed by the electorate – as long as it came with funding to hire someone to care for the three acres, milk the cow and process the milk.

In the United States where bigger has always been believed to be better, and where they had room to make the most grandiose of promises the slogan during the Civil War (1861-65) became “Forty acres and a mule” promised freed slaves. Not that slaves had a vote, but they were too large and potentially dangerous in numbers to be ignored without a bribe. The promise was believed, and some effort was extended to make the dream a reality, but like so many flamboyant political promises truth proved to be illusory.

In its brief history of “Forty acres and a mule” Wikipedia notes: “Many freedmen believed they were told by various political figures they had a right to own the land they had long worked as slaves…but Federal state policy (after the war) emphasized wage labour, not land ownership, for African Americans.”

I love that phrase “many freedmen believed” used in conjunction with “but Federal state policy” later changed and a dream vanished. We are not so trusting – but the politicians of all stripes continue to think we are.

We laugh at their promises – whether they’re are coming from Conservative (in every way and late in the day) Stephen Harper; NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, with a switched on smile that barely hides bad temper; Liberal Justin Trudeau, with a half-smile show of youthful apology that he’s having to bother voters on sunny day; or Elizabeth May with a promise of evergreen acres but no mention (yet) of a cow or “a chicken in every pot”. We laugh because we know as the English people and the American slaves came to know, that when the “war” is over the promises being made will be forgotten – or the words now being spoken will have different meaning.

We have about a month to go before we vote, a month of promises never to be fulfilled. So, who to vote for? Bernard Baruch,(1870-1965) who served many years as an advisor to USA Presidents, offers the plausible suggestion that the candidate who makes the least promises will be the least disappointing if elected.

It’s worth a thought. Come voting day vote for the person you think will take integrity to Ottawa, will represent you honestly – and will promise only what he or she can deliver.


  1. The foundation of democracy is an informed electorate but for some unfathomable reason too many voters suspend their intelligence during a campaign and succumb to being bribed with their own money. Can we blame politicians who get away with this?

    I suggest that democracy would be better served if skepticism were its foundation.

  2. What drives me crazy is that too many people, including the media, think there are only 4 people running in this election: Mulcair, May, Trudeau, Harper. I plan to talk to each of my constituents and see what I think of them as individuals; the ones I actually vote for and the only ones I have an impact on. If everyone voted for the person they thought has the best integrity and best interests of the people at heart we’d have some decent politicians and even better ones would bother to step up. Naive, yes, but wouldn’t it be loverly.

  3. Hear hear Jean Ives. My sentiments exactly. Look at the people in your riding and see who is best suited to your beliefs. i cannot vote for Mulcair, Trudeau or Harper because i do not live in their ridings.

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