Harper's Weekly 12/02/1865


The suffrage question has many aspects. It
is both denied and asserted with equal vehe-
mence that political rights are natural rights;
but every American at least must be very wary
how he commits himself to the negative of the
proposition. If governments justly exist by the
consent of the governed, it is rather difficult to
show that there is no higher claim to a share
in political power than the consent of those
who already enjoy it. That it may be with-
held is very possible. That it can be justly
withheld is not evident.

But in the discussion of impartial suffrage
in the late rebel States we may descend from the
heights of abstract right, and regard the point
as purely one of expediency. It is asked, and
fairly enough, whether in the condition of pub-
lic opinion in the loyal States, as shown in the
Connecticut refusal of impartial suffrage; in
the defeat of the same proposition in Wiscon-
sin by a majority of ten thousand in the popu-
lar vote, while the Union ticket was elected by
eight thousand; and in the disabling suffrage
laws of many of the other States, it is advisable
to insist upon impartial suffrage in the States
which are to be reorganized. We say this
question is fair and natural enough, but the
subject must be regarded from the point of view
of the national welfare.

Thus, in a State like Connecticut, which is
indisputably faithful to the Government, it is
not directly essential to the national safety that
the two thousand colored men should be al-
lowed to vote. It is a pitiful disgrace to the
State; but it is not essential to the nation, be-
cause the non-voters are so few, and because
the political power remains steadily in patriotic
hands. So also in Wisconsin and other West-
ern States. But in Georgia or Mississippi the
considerations are very different. In those
States the question of impartial suffrage in-
volves directly the national welfare. The point
of inquiry is, whether if political power be in-
trusted exclusively to the late rebels with their
present disposition, the State will maintain that
intimate and hearty relation with the National
Government which is indispensable, and wheth-
er the dangers of impartial suffrage there are
not very much more than balanced by those of
partial suffrage?

It is not a question for passion or rhetoric,
but for the calmest and most thorough deliber-

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