On the Other Hand...

by Jim Davies

A Farewell to Cal


A friend of mine died, last week.

"Friend" may be too presumptuous a word. Revd Calvin Warburton and I never shared many of the recreational activities that friends do. He was, in age and stature, far senior to myself. Yet, we were more than acquaintances; perhaps we were fellow-warriors, in the battle for individual freedom.

When the history of how that freedom was restored is written, a decade or two from now, Cal Warburton will have a chapter to himself. He was the first elected politician anywhere ever to change his affiliation to Libertarian. Elected as a Republican State Representative from Raymond, NH, he grew so disgusted with the duplicity of that Party, almost as bad as their best-known opponents, that he switched to the Libertarians in 1991. A year later, three others followed his example. The Freedom Revolution had gained a major victory, and it gained it, very properly, in the Freedom State. Cal Warburton sent a richly-deserved chill down the spine of every complacent Republicrat in the country, and he did it single handed.

He was re-elected as a Libertarian at the age of 82, and stayed strong in office until retirement (only 20 years later than usual) in 1994. One day before he died, he took an active part in the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire annual Convention, vigorous and emphatic as ever.

One of the items of business there was to assess the candidates for nomination as President, of whom two were present: the anti-income-tax warrior and author Irwin Schiff, and the scholar, best-selling author and investment advisor Harry Browne, noted in this column for his appearance in Springfield, NH, at the Granite State Taxpayers' Rally last Summer.

The relative merits of these and other candidates are not for discussion here and now, given that all of them are head, shoulders and torso above anyone the Republicrats have yet produced; but Cal Warburton had his finger very much on the pulse of the arguments and he decided not to support the front-runner. He told me so that Sunday morning, and his reasons were clear and honorable. On a straw-poll form he filled out his present choice as "None of the Above", always and very properly an alternative in Libertarian elections. That entry may be the last time he wrote his name.

Had he lived, I think he'd have made a different choice in due course; but whether so or not, one thing is for sure: he would have continued as a five-star New Hampshire curmudgeon, a truly libertarian independent thinker.

I first met Cal in a hotel restaurant in Chicago; recognizing him, I went over to shake his hand. He had come to attend the National LP nominating Convention for the 1992 elections, and none of us who were there will ever forget that magic moment during the Poll of the States, when the then-chair of the LPNH, Bill Winter, ceded his right to announce the New Hampshire delegates' votes in favor of Cal Warburton - as the first Libertarian ever to hold state office in the Lower 48. The entire Convention of several hundred ardent and vocal freedom-lovers rose as one for a sustained standing ovation, placing strain on the rafters of the roof. Perhaps you saw it on C-SPAN. I have a videotape of the broadcast. It's one of my all-time favorites.

Cal did fall slightly short of perfect, for he was a little hard of hearing, especially when he didn't want to hear something, and it seems he hadn't heard that Libertarians never, ever, vote for any tax of any kind whatsoever. So in 1992 he went to see Governor Merrill and made what he always considered a good deal with him; he would vote for Merrill's horrid tax on business, if Merrill would veto the then-latest attempt to keep the Libertarians off the next ballot. Each of them kept his word. We never quite convinced Cal that principle was that much more important than tactic, but nobody had the heart to place on him any kind of censure. He had done what he thought was right. He always had, and always did, and anyone else's view was, well, just someone else's view.

Possibly his greatest single contribution to the cause of freedom was to urge us, again and again, to place more emphasis on developing local chapters of the Libertarian Party - something that nobody quarrelled with, except as to its ranking among other priorities. He saw, rightly, that individual freedom is in its very essence a grass-roots cause. It cannot be and never will be imposed from the top. It has to grow up, from ordinary people in ordinary towns, throwing off the parasitic burden of government. His advice was not given in a vacuum. He travelled the State (aged 84 and 85!) in pursuit of that purpose, shaming others half his age.

It would be a fine memorial to Cal Warburton if readers of this column, who recognize in it the essentials of a freedom philosophy but who have never taken an active part, were to take that action now and join the grass-roots movement he sought to enhance. The number to call is 735-5427.

Cal's political activities were only a giant post-script to his life. His main profession was that of minister. He spent most of his ministry as an Army Chaplain, comforting the government's soldiers but never shooting at its enemies. More recently he pastored several NH Methodist churches. That Cal could remain a Christian as well as becoming a Libertarian demonstrates that Christians can, after all, take part in the fight for freedom. The only kind of Christian who can not, is the kind who wants to promote his beliefs using force - the force of government. The kind who supports the legalized theft of money to pay for schools, the enforcement of attendance at those schools, and/or the enforcement of its prayers or rituals for those attending. And the kind who not merely preaches against abortion, but also wants that view enforced by law.

I don't think highly of any religion whose beliefs are so poorly supported by reason and persuasion that they need to be advanced by force. But Cal Warburton was not that kind of preacher. The world is the poorer for his departure, but the richer for the example of his life.

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