Harper's Weekly 05/05/1866
THE PRESIDENT AND THE
President Johnson must not be held re-
sponsible for all the follies spoken in his name.
The vociferous orators who defend him, and in
the same breath declare that this is a white
man's government—meaning that no man of
any other complexion should be allowed to
vote—reckon without their host. The Presi-
dent is not of their opinion, if we may judge
him from his own words on many occasions.
Let us refresh their memories.
In his famous speech to the colored people
of Nashville, on the 24th of October, 1864,
which was certainly not the least illustrious
incident of his life, Mr. Johnson said, speak-
ing of Tennessee: “Loyal men, whether white
or black, shall alone control her destinies; and
when this strife in which we are all engaged is
past, I trust, I know, we shall have a better
state of things, and shall all rejoice that hon-
est labor reaps the fruit of its own industry,
and that every man has a fair chance in the
race of life.”
In April, 1865, Mr. Sumner, Mr. W.D.
Kelley, and Mr. Schurz, whose views were
very radical, were entirely satisfied with the
opinions upon the question of suffrage which
were expressed to them by President Johnson.
In May he told Mr. Kelley, of Pennsyl-
vania, that he should earnestly advocate the
extension of suffrage to her colored citizens, if
he were in Tennessee, but did not feel that, as
President, he had a right to force it upon the
late rebel States.
On the 15th of August, 1865, President
Johnson suggested to Governor Sharkey, of
Mississippi, that he should persuade the Con-
vention to “extend the elective franchise to all
persons of color who can read the Constitution
of the United States in English and write their
names, and to all persons of color who own
real estate valued at not less than $250 and
who pay taxes thereon…….This you can do
with perfect safety.”
On the 27th of September, 1865, President
Johnson told Senator Wilson that the suffrage
question was open for discussion within the
party, and that he should not discriminate be-
tween its members on account of opinions they
might express upon points not settled by the
On the 3d of October Major Stearns made
a memorandum of a conversation he had just
had with the President, during which Mr.
Johnson said: “My position here is different
from what it would be if I were in Tennessee.
There I should try to introduce negro suffrage
gradually: first, those who had served in the
army, those who could read and write, and per-
haps a property qualification for others, say
$200 or $250.” This memorandum was sub-
mitted by Major Stearns to the President,
who returned it with this indorsement: “I
have read the within communication and find
it substantially correct. I have made some
verbal alterations. A.J.”
There is no reason whatever to suppose that
President Johnson has changed his opinions
upon this subject. And no man of common
sense suppose that this large part of the popu-
lation can be long disfranchised with safety.
Differences as to methods will prevail, but in
an intelligent, free republican country there
can be no question as to the right and neces-
sity of impartial suffrage.