Harper's Weekly 04/27/1867


EQUAL SUFFRAGE.

In the system proposed for the reconstruction
of the Union the dominant party has laid down
a principle which should be universally applied.
The taunts of Governor Orr and of Wade
Hampton
are at least suggestive. “This Re-
publican Union party,” they say in substance
to the new voters at the South, “insists that the
colored population shall vote in the States
where they abound and where they were yester-
day slaves, but in the States which this party
controls it will not allow the colored men to
vote equally, and often not at all. It is from no
regard for the principle of equal suffrage, but
from hatred of us that the colored men are en-
franchised.”


The essential injustice of this argument we
do not now stop to consider, for there is no
doubt, and Governor Orr, if well informed,
would himself doubtless admit, that while the
laws of some of the Northern States do disfran-
chise the colored citizen, yet the vast majority
of the Republican Union party favors the equal-
ity of suffrage, and the necessary tendency of
that party from its fundamental principle is
toward a truly popular government. It is,
therefore, no argument against that party, as
the friend of the disfranchised race, that it has
not yet in every State equalized the suffrage.
The important fact is, that all progress in that
direction is due to the Republican Union party,
and that the steady and sullen resistance to
equal rights has proceeded from the Democratic
party. Nor must it be forgotten, when Governor
Orr derides the Republican party for indiffer-
ence to the colored citizens, that he and the
Democratic party have been just foiled in an
attempt permanently to deprive them not only
of political but of all civil and social rights what-
soever.


There is indeed a peculiar reason of policy
for the enfranchisement of the colored citizens
in the Southern States which does not exist in
the Northern. The principle is of course the
same, but it was necessary to apply it imme-
diately in the Southern States to secure a vote
loyal to the Union of an imposing number and
character. But the time has now arrived when
it is of the highest expediency that the Repub-
lican Party should universally assert the prin-
ciple of equal suffrage by an amendment to the
Constitution of the United States. It should
at once declare that it requires the reorganiza-
tion of the Southern States upon the principle
of equal suffrage, because it believes that prin-
ciple to be just and politic every where in the
country.


Not only the thorough debate of the ques-
tion but the experience of the results of the
system have enlightened the public mind. Two
years ago in Connecticut the proposal to equalize
the suffrage was lost by more than six thousand
majority. This year the Republican party, as-
serting the same principle, is defeated by less
than a thousand majority. Even in New Jer-
sey the vote last week in the Lower House to
strike out the disability of color was lost only
by a vote of 35 to 20, and thirteen of the thirty-
five were Republicans. A little more time will
bring those thirteen to the twenty. In the State
of New York the Convention to select delegates
at large to the Constitutional Convention unan-
imously requested them to use all honorable
means to secure equal suffrage. There is no
doubt that the Republican party in the Con-
vention will correct the State Constitution upon
that point. There is as little doubt, we sup-
pose, that the Democratic party will oppose the
correction; for if so intelligent a man as Sena-
tor Henry C. Murphy, who is one of the Dem-
ocratic delegates at large to the Convention,
could deliberately declare, as he did during the
present session of the Legislature, that the col-
ored citizen ought not to vote because of his
mental and physical inferiority, what may not
be expected of his fellow-partisans in the Con-
vention? But the suffrage will without much
doubt be equalized.


It is, however, much too essential a right to
be left to the whim of a State. It should be
established in the fundamental law as much as
personal liberty. It was State interference with
the latter, and its total destruction, which caused
the war. We do not say that the Constitution
could have been adopted without conceding the
authority over this subject to the States them-
selves; but we do say that that concession was
the seed of the great difficulty, and that it would
not be made upon any consideration whatever
at the present time. Let the conviction of the
country upon this most important point be there-
fore expressed in the organic law. Let the po-
litical as well as the civil rights of every citizen
of the country be defined and protected by the
Constitution of the country. Let us, so far as
law can do it, utterly extirpate this ancient root
of bitterness and give ourselves repose.



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