Harper's Weekly 05/27/1865


THE late Chief Justice of the United States,
Roger B. Taney, will be forever infamous
for endeavoring, under the solemn sanction of
the highest court in the land, to work that utter
demoralization of public opinion which would
have made Jefferson Davis's crimes unneces-
sary, even for his own purposes. The present
Chief Justice, Salmon P. Chase, will be forever
honored as the first eminent public man who has
proposed that policy which will render all future
crimes like Davis's abortive. In a letter read
at the twelfth American Congregational Reunion
in Brooklyn Chief Justice Chase writes: “I
would like to say to the Christians who shall
assemble at your reunion an earnest word on
the present great national duty of granting to
the freedmen of the South the right of self-pro-
tection by the ballot.”

President Johnson also, in a speech delivered
in Baltimore before the death of Mr. Lincoln,
after saying that to save the Union he would be
willing to sink the whole African race, was in-
terrupted by a voice in the crowd which said,
“Don't do that, Governor, give them the bal-
lot;” to which Mr. Johnson instantly replied,
“Yes, and I would do that, too!” Last week,
when a deputation of colored men waited upon
him, the President said, in his reply, that he had
always maintained that the slaves had as much
right to be free as those who claimed them as
property, and that freedom means liberty to
work and enjoy the fruit of your own toil, “in
its most extensive sense.” That is to say, free-
dom is the right to be protected in the fulfill-
ment of all the relations of citizens exactly as
other men are. For no man has the liberty to
work and enjoy the fruits of work, in its most
extensive sense, who is the victim of disabilities
which are not imposed upon other free men.

In this country, where the Government right-
fully exists by the consent of the governed, every
man has an equal right to a share in political
power. Suffrage for colored Americans is,
therefore, not a privilege for which we plead—
it is a right which, as American citizens, we
consistently demand. Nor is the claim of this
right vitiated by any traditional and uniform
exclusion of colored citizens from the ballot-
box. Mr. Justice Curtis, in his masterly opin-
ion dissenting from that of Chief Justice Taney
in the Dred Scott case, distinctly declares that,
in his opinion, it is untrue that the Continental
Congress intended to say that the white race
exclusively were endowed with the natural rights
asserted in the Declaration of Independence. It
is from these rights that our political rights
spring. And that there may be no doubt that
the fathers did not mean to make color a po-
litical disqualification, it is enough to cite the
action of Congress on the 25th of June, 1778,
when, in discussing the articles of Confedera-
tion, South Carolina, always Tory and aris-
tocratic, proposed the insertion of the word
“white” as a condition of general citizenship.
Eight states voted against it, two for it, and one
was divided. The Constitution of the United
States was subsequently adopted by the voters
in the several States, and South Carolina was
the only one in which color was a disability.

The conditions of suffrage in the States at
the beginning were either of age, personal free-
dom, property, or residence, except in South
Carolina. North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia,
Maryland, Delaware, all admitted colored voters
if they were old enough, had lived long enough
in the State and county, owned sufficient prop-
erty, or had paid the proper taxes. The dis-
ability of color has crept into the State constitu-
tions in exact correspondence with the increas-
ing demoralization of the public mind produced
by slavery. White citizens at the North sacri-
ficed the political rights of their colored fellow-
citizens to propitiate the Southern slave interest.
The most abject submission was the price of the
Southern political alliance. Thus in the State
of New York, by the first Constitution, “every
male inhabitant of full age,” who had lived six
months in the county, who had a small free-
hold, or who had paid a certain rent or taxes
was a voter. It was only in 1820 that New
York condescended to tarnish her fame by mak-
ing a man's complexion vitiate his natural rights;
and the provision in her present Constitution of
1846, which decrees that “no man of color” shall
vote unless he has lived in the State three times
longer than is required of any other citizen and
has paid a tax which others are not obliged to
pay, is as absolute and arbitrary a violation of
the principle of our Government as if it declared
that no man between the ages of forty and forty-
five should have the right of voting. Complex-
ion is no more an actual disability than red hair.
Habitual drunkenness is a disability; yet it does
not disqualify.

We may add that slavery was not satisfied
with restricting or destroying the political equal-
ity of colored citizens in the free States. But the
laws passed in some of these States to protect
the personal liberty of colored men, to prevent
the native free inhabitants of Wisconsin and
Massachusetts from being kidnapped by James
M. Mason
and his confederates and sold in Vir-
ginia and elsewhere as slaves, was among the
pretenses for rebellion which Mason and his
party put forth, at the South, and which were
alleged in extenuation of treason by Mason's
political allies at the North. The political fran-
chise of colored citizens is no new thing. It is
older than the Constitution of the United States.
If we are startled by the suggestion now, our
surprise is only an evidence of the terrible thrall-
dom in which we have been held by the slave

But aside from the undoubted original right, it
is enough to urge the voting of the blacks at the
South upon President Johnson's own ground.
Political enfranchisement is indispensable in or-
der to secure to the late slaves the liberty to
work and live, “in its most extensive sense.”
The white population at the South have been
educated in a contempt for colored men of every
degree as an inferior race. Mr. Johnson un-
doubtedly expressed exactly the general Border
State feeling about them in his Baltimore speech,
to which we have alluded. He was willing
either to exterminate them or to enfranchise
them, as a means of conquering the rebellion.
We do not mean, however, in these days, when
we grow ten years in ten hours, to hold public
men too precisely to words or even to opinions;
and Frederick Douglass is doubtless right in
saying that it was only Mr. Johnson's way of
expressing a preference for his own color. We
merely mention the fact to illustrate the uni-
versal feeling of men who have been educated
amidst the influences of slavery.

If this be so, and the political power in the
late insurrectionary State be intrusted ex-
clusively to the whites, the colored population
will be left entirely at the mercy of those who
have always regarded them with contempt, and
who doubtless feel bitterly toward them as the
real cause of the war which has desolated the
South. If colored men are not to be enfran-
chised, it may be made a penal offense in the
reorganized States to teach them to read. They
may be deprived of the right to testify in courts
of law, and any villain may enter the house of a
colored man may commit what atrocity he will,
if only in presence of the family, and go un-
scathed. The colored men may be forbidden
to bear arms; to attend church; to sit upon
juries. Their wages may be restricted. There
is no enormity whatever of which they may not
be made the victims, if they are not to be enfran-
chised. If the sole, final law in the State is to
be the will of those who are unfriendly to them,
it is doubtful whether mere emancipation is an
advantage. And as men of practical wisdom,
knowing history and human nature, we have
no right to refuse, while we have the power, to se-
cure to the Southern freedmen the right to work
and enjoy, “in its most extensive sense.”

Is it said that it is foolish to suppose the
white citizens would lay the black under disa-
bilities? Why so? Are those who were per-
fectly willing to sell other men's children like-
ly to shrink from forbidding those men to learn
to read or to bear arms? Are those who were
willing that others should be made to work
for nothing too humane to say that they shall
have only a shilling a day? Or, again, will it
be urged that palpable self-interest will prevent
such legislation? But the same reason should
have abolished Slavery at the South long ago;
and the people who were too ignorant to see
that can not be supposed to have learned sud-
denly that justice is the truest policy. Why
should we expect of the whites of North Caro-
lina and Georgia, even when they are loyal,
what we do not find in the intelligent Empire
State? When the gilded clubs of the Fifth
Avenue in New York refuse to recognize free
colored men as equal citizens, how can we ask
the hovels of Alabama and Mississippi to ac-
knowledge the equal rights of those who have
been always despised slaves? Five years ago
the white citizens of the State of New York con-
temptuously declared that color should be a po-
litical disability, and that ignorance and drunk-
enness should not. Would it be very wonder-
ful that the white citizens of Louisiana should
declare that color shall be a bar to knowledge
or to high wages?

If we are asked whether it is probable that
the people of New York would wish to do in
South Carolina what they refused to do at home,
we reply that five years have undoubtedly open-
ed their eyes and hearts, and that they will do
it at home whenever the opportunity is offered.
And even if we thought otherwise we should
have no doubt what they ought to do; for the
same principle that makes it right in one State
justifies it in all. The opportunity is not now
given to us to decide the question in New York;
but it is in the late rebel States, through our
Senators and Representatives. The colored
citizens at the South are more than half the
governed. In South Carolina a large majority
of the population is colored. We have no more
right to abandon them to the will of the whites
because their color has been a badge of servil-
ity than we have arbitrarily to disfranchise the
whites because their color has been a sign of
treason. And if the representatives of a State
organization in South Carolina, which disfran-
chised any citizen of the State because of his
color, should claim seats in Congress, it would
be the plainest duty of Congress to refuse to re-
ceive them until a republican form of govern-
ment should be established in South Carolina.

If any opponent of this view should retreat
upon the assertion that the United States have
nothing to do with suffrage in a State—that the
national Government can not even prescribe the
qualifications of voters at the national elections
—we remind him of the simple fact that none
of the insurrectionary States will ever again be
organized except upon the terms that the Unit-
ed States ordain. Not a man will vote in Vir-
ginia or Carolina by any other authority than
that of the United States. According to a doc-
trine which was proclaimed rather truculently
at one time, whenever what was called active
rebellion ceased in a State, the State was at
once restored with all its privileges to the Union.
Active rebellion has ceased in Virginia, in Geor-
gia, in South Carolina. Does any sane man
propose that the forces of the United States
shall be immediately withdrawn, and the voters
under the Constitutions of those States be in-
vited to send Representatives to Congress? No.
The United States will withdraw their hand
when they are satisfied that peace is secure.
They can not believe it to be secure until the
State Constitution shall forbid the State imper-
atively and forever to allow any legal disability
upon the grounds of color or race. And that
result should be secured by an amendment to
the Constitution of the United States, making
every native and properly naturalized citizen, if
unconvicted of crime, a voter. After that the
“Negro question” will take care of itself.

When more than half the adult male popula-
tion of the late rebel States are enfranchised
they will instantly appear to be as good as any
body. The “natural antipathy” will vanish.
They will be courted as much as they are now
contemned. Their most sweet voices will be
wooed by demagogues as obsequiously as those
of ignorant foreigners are now. We shall hear
Fernando Wood assert that his life-long aim
has been the restoration of his fellow-citizens
of African descent to the rights so long and
wickedly withheld; and the Honorable August
declare that, as a free-born American,
he has cherished no hope so dear as the enfran-
chisement of his fellow-countrymen of every

President Johnson says that freedom is the
right to work and enjoy the fruits of toil in the
most extensive sense. That means political as
well as personal liberty.

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