Изображения страниц

people of that State in the form of a proposed amendment of their State constitution, but the suggestion of negro suffrage was voted down by this Republican convention, and in lieu of it was adopted, on motion of Senator Doolittle, a demand that Federal representation be hereafter based upon the number of qualified voters, rather than on population, as theretofore. This demand became afterwards the basis of the second section of the fourteenth amendment.35

Of the few prominent men who at this time advocated negro suffrage, the most conspicuous were Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and Frederick Douglas: few, if any, other men of national reputation then favored the idea. Of these men the most influential was Sumner. A powerful and graceful orator, a brilliant and accomplished literateur, he was an impractical idealist, a fanatical partisan, and never a wise statesman. His love for the negro and his hatred of southern white men amounted almost to a mania. He was mentally courageous, and never lost an opportunity to proclaim, and, as far as he could, to enforce, his views on negro enfranchisement. In February, 1865, he successfully conducted against Lyman Trumbull, of Illinois, who cordially disliked him, a filibustering fight in the Senate against the recognition of Mr. Lincoln's reconstruction government in Louisiana, which he opposed because Congress refused to make negro suffrage a "fundamental condition of that State's readmission. The amendment to this effect, which Sumner introduced, could not then muster a respectable following in the Senate; 36 but two years later it became the basis of the general reconstruction act of March 2, 1867. And now, on September 14, 1865, in his speech at Worcester, Mass., herein before quoted from, Mr. Sumner advocated an amendment to the Federal Constitution prohibiting a denial of the elective franchise on account of race or color, which, four years later, became the basis of the fifteenth amendment.

This persistency on the part of a man of Mr. Sumner's note and influence, and the pendency, in no less than four States, of local constitutional amendments granting negro suffrage, began to create uneasiness in those States where negro suffrage was not abhorred. To this measure the West-except possibly Iowa-stood solidly opposed; but there were advocates of unrestricted suffrage everywhere.

In Indiana Gov. Oliver P. Morton, who shortly afterwards, as United States Senator, was one of the strongest advocates of the fifteenth amendment, made an elaborate speech at Richmond, Ind., against negro suffrage. He spoke most admirably of Mr. Sumner, but said that on negro suffrage he was an enthusiast and an impractical visionary. Governor Morton professed himself in favor of giving suffrage to the negro gradually and as he showed himself fit for it, say, within the "next 15 or 20 years'; but, said he, to say these slaves who had never known freedom but a few months were now and already capable of self-government and fitted for indiscriminate manhood suffrage would be "the highest compliment that could be paid to the institution of slavery." He said he was a strong Republican; that the believed the safety of the country required the keeping of the Republican party in power, but that it could be accomplished much better by harmony and concord at home-referring to the fight then raging against President Johnson-"than by seeking to build up a southern wing of our party on the doubtful expedient of negro suffrage." This was one of the first public admissions that negro suffrage was in fact suggested as a means to "build up a southern wing" of the Republican Party. Governor Morton pointed out that the negroes would vote solidly on all matters, because of race prejudice, and that they would thus come to hold the balance of power in Federal matters. In this he prophesied more truly than he realized. He spoke of the long-standing prejudice of the free States against the admission of free negroes; he mentioned the fact that even then the very negroes who had gone away from Indiana to fight in the Union Army were not, under existing laws, permitted to reenter that State and return to their homes; 37 and he suggested that, if negro suffrage could be restricted to the South, it might not be a bad idea, as it would tend to keep the negroes there.38

This speech was widely circulated, and had considerable influence, doubtless, in piling up the majorities, a month or two later, against the negro suffrage amendments submitted to the people in November, 1865, in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Colorado, and Minnesota. But the orator himself, about three years later, seemed to have changed his mind, at least as to the political expediency of general negro suffrage, when, as United States Senator, he helped to railroad the fifteenth amendment through the Senate, telling his associates it was now or never." 39


35 See New York Tribune, September 7, 1865.

36 See debates in Congressional Globe.

37 See Constitution of Indiana, Art. XIII.

38 See this speech in pamphlet form in Congressional Library at Washington, D. C. See also the last idea of negro suffrage for the South to keep the negro there, elaborated in an editorial in the New York Tribune of February 1, 1869.

39 See Congressional Globe for February 17, 1869, p. 1287, and February 26, 1869, p. 1627-1628.

Before the year 1865 ended all the suffrage amendments pending in the several States looking to the admission of the negroes were voted down without a single exception and by heavy majorities. Evidently the country was not yet ready for a fifteenth amendment.

When Congress assembled in December, 1865, the quarrel which it had begun with President Lincoln, and continued against President Johnson, broke out into open war, which, from that moment till the end of Johnson's term in March, 1869, was fiercely and bitterly waged on both sides. Congress refused to recognize any of the governments established in the South under the reconstruction proclamations of either Lincoln or Johnson; it refused to admit Representatives or Senators from those States, and appointed the celebrated Joint Committee on Reconstruction, composed of 15 Members, of which Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania, on the part of the House, and William Pitt Fessenden, of Maine, on the part of the Senate, were chairmen.40

Soon the hostility of Congress for the President ripened into bitterness and the vials of congressional wrath were liberally poured out upon the devoted heads of all whom he favored or who favored him. The treatment of the late Confederate States being the bone of contention, those unhappy communities became the chief sufferers from the controversy.

In justification of its action in repudiating the reconstruction governments erected in the South by Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, it behooved Congress to show that those governments were disloyal and dangerous to the Union; that they were but the recrudescence of the rebel element-in short, to discredit them with the northern people in every way possible. To this task the joint committee on reconstruction addressed itself with vigor; and, unfortunately, the chaotic condition of the South, just emerged, as it was, from a devastating war, with nearly 5,000,000 idle, ignorant, vagabond, newly enfranchised slaves to be assimilated by the body politic, afforded but too much material for criticism.

The joint committee on reconstruction began to take testimony on the condition of the States lately in rebellion, and soon became the Mecca of all the dissatisfied elements of the South. The adventurers, then known as "carpetbaggers," who had followed the Union Armies there, were quick to grasp the political opportunity afforded them for office holding and plunder, if they could but succeed in disfranchising the native white men and enfranchising the negroes, whom they found they could readily control. These carpetbaggers, therefore, at once allied themselves with the northern negro suffragists, and, in the shape of evidence submitted to the joint committee on reconstruction, furnished their northern allies with ample ammunition for their political war at home. Thus the northern heart was fired, the hands of Congress were strengthened, and the efforts of the President to uphold the Federal Constitution in the South were successfully represented to the country as a traitorous cooperation with "southern rebels."

In this contest between the President and Congress it was but natural that the southern whites should side with the President. They did so, and drew upon their heads the consuming fires of congressional wrath. The country was assured that, to all intents and purposes, the negroes were the only loyal element in the South; for Congress well knew that it was only to these negroes and their carpetbagger allies they could look, in the South, for supporters of its policy. The laws adopted in various Southern States to regulate vagrancy and prevent the newly enfranchised slaves from becoming tramps by the hundreds of thousands were represented as veiled attempts to reenslave them. Unfortunately there was much intemperate and unwise legislation of this sort to give color to the charge; and the infatuated lawlessness of the Ku-Klux Klan roused, for its victims, the indignant sympathies of the northern people. Should these negroes, these friends of the Union, these political allies of Congress and of the radical party that then dominated it, be left in a hostile country naked to their enemies? Above all, should these very enemies have their political power increased by computing in the basis of their Federal representation the very negroes whom they excluded from all share in the political power which their presence created? If these States be allowed to come back into Congress under the presidential reconstruction, with their increased representation, it would be no more than political suicide for the party then in power. What was to be done?

It must be confessed that, from a political standpoint, at least, the situation was embarrassing. Unfortunately for the South, she had favored the weaker side in the presidential-congressional fight. Had her white people been able to array themselves strongly with Congress and the Republican Party; had they admitted that political reconstruction was a legislative and not an executive function, and accepted and insisted upon the congressional reconstruction of 1864, it is practically certain that negro

"See Congressional Globe of December 13, 1865.

suffrage would never have been put upon her. Even as it was, Congress was slow to do it, and did not venture upon that step till after a year or more of careful educating of northern sentiment and firing of northern prejudices.

The qualifications for suffrage were in the exclusive control of the States, was a doctrine of such long standing and so well established that, up to this time, practically no one had dared to question it. Mr. Sumner, it is true, had ventured to do so the year before when, in the Senate, in February, 1865, he had opposed the readmission of Louisiana unless she should adopt negro suffrage; but his colleagues had goodnaturedly laughed at him as an extremist, and he had admitted that public sentiment was overwhelmingly against him. How, then, was the Federal Government to secure a satisfactory basis of suffrage in the Southern States? Clearly, other amendments to the Constitution were requisite. But to what extent would the North consent to amendments that necessarily would affect them as much as the South? Let us see. The Dred Scott decision, holding feee negroes not to be citizens, was always unpopular in the North and was rendered much more so by the result of the war. It was reasonably sure, therefore, that an amendment conferring citizenship upon them would be pracitcable. That was one step gained. If he be made a citizen, then that the negro should have protection for his natural and inalienable rights of life, liberty and property, seemed but a natural corollary; the Nation, by giving him freedom, had deprived him of the protection of his master; it was, therefore, but just that it should give him in lieu thereof the protection of the laws. So far, then, the ground was safe; the freedman's civil rights could easily be provided for, and he himself would have been more than satisfied to let matters rest there. It was more than he had ever hoped for and all that he desired, at least so far as 90 per cent of his race were concerned. For be it remembered that the Southern negroes, as a race, had neither requested nor desired suffrage, and the demand for it in the South had come almost exclusively from the white carpetbaggers.

But the negroes' northern friends were vastly more interested in his political than in his civil rights, for these concerned them as well as him. That negroes should ever have been counted in fixing the apportionment of a State's representatives in Congress or the Electoral College was always a bone of contention between the North and the South, and a very sore subject with the former; but, if it were unfair that three-fifths of them should be counted when they were slaves, how much worse was it that now, as free men, five-fifths of them should enter into the computation. There would be no trouble in the North to pass a constitutional amendment correcting this; but what should that amendment be?

At first it was proposed that the registered vote should be taken as the basis of representation, but New England cried out against this, on the ground that the heavy emigration of her young men had made her voters abnormally few in proportion to her entire population, especially as compared with the West. Then it was suggested that the white population only be taken as a basis; but this was resisted by all the advocates of negro suffrage, who hoped some day to see it established. What, then, was to be done? Some were for giving the suffrage to the negro out and out, but they were met, not only by the opponents of negro suffrage, but even by those advocates of it who were opposed to depriving the States of their unlimited control of suffrage qualifications. Many men recognized the peculiar conditions and political exigencies which, in their opinion, called for negro suffrage in the South; but they bitterly opposed it for their own States. In fact, there were not a few who desired it in the South, for the identical reason that they did not desire it at home; that is, that the negro might be induced thereby to remain in the South. He had ever been regarded by the free States as an undesirable immigrant, and they were now in more danger of his invasion than ever before, especially if the first clause of the proposed amendment, securing him citizenship and the equal protection of the laws, should be adopted and thus nullify all their old laws discriminating against him.

All of these perplexing considerations were weighed and discussed by the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, to whom were referred all bills on the subject, including several for general negro suffrage throughout the Union and for the permanent disfranchisement of all "rebels." Finally, it was suggested, as a revelation from heaven, that the difficulty could be solved by so wording an amendment as to induce, rather than compel, the States to adopt negro suffrage; which, it was claimed, could be accomplished by cutting down their representation in proportion as they should deny their male citizens the electoral franchise on account of race. This was believed at the time to be almost a divine inspiration.

This was the plank which Senator Doolittle had placed in the Wisconsin Republican State platform in September, 1865.

Under this arrangement, it was said, everybody would get what they wanted. The States' rights men would observe that each State was left free to regulate suffrage as it chose. The New Englanders would lose no part of their representation. The free States would be at liberty to continue keeping out negro immigrants by denying them the suffrage, and yet their existing colored population was so small that they would lose absolutely nothing in their Federal representation. But the Southern States, where the negroes were nearly half the population, could not, it was said, resist the temptation to double their political power by enfranchising their negroes voluntarily, thus satisfying at once those who wished to reward the loyal negro, by giving him the elective franchise, those who wished to punish the disloyal States, by making them purchase with negro suffrage a right they had always enjoyed under the Federal Constitution, and those who wished to perpetuate the power of the Republican Party with negro votes. The suggestion was promptly adopted by the joint committee on reconstruction, thrown, together with the clause securing his citizenship and civil rights and some other less important provisions, into the form of a fourteenth amendment to the Federal Constitution, and reported, on April 30, 1866, to Congress, which, on June 16, 1866, adopted it and sent it out to the States for ratification.

In the meantime the advocates of general negro suffrage for the whole country continued to press it. President Johnson greatly opposed it, and this alone sufficed to make Congress favor it. But whenever it was submitted to the people it was invariably defeated. In an interview with George L. Stearns, of Massachusetts, on October 3, 1865, which was widely published, President Johnson, referring to negro suffrage, said that "you could not have broached the subject at the North seven years ago," and that he opposed it as much for the South as for the North; that a limited grant of it to colored soldiers and property holders might do, but that indiscriminate negro suffrage would lead to a race war." 42 This he repeated in letters and interviews throughout the

winter and spring of 1866.+3

Measures having been introduced in Congress looking to the establishment of negro suffrage in the District of Columbia, that question was, in December, 1865, submitted to the voters there, with the result, in Georgetown, of 1 vote for and 812 against negro suffrage; and in Washington of 35 for and 6,521 against the measure the aggregate vote in each place being among the largest ever cast there up to that date on any question.44 Yet, notwithstanding this expression of popular disapproval, the House of Representatives, on January 18, 1866, passed a bill establishing negro suffrage in the District. 45 This bill did not pass the Senate that session, but on January 8, 1867, it passed both Houses over the President's veto.4 46

In three or four years, however, this experiment with negro suffrage became so unbearable that Congress (prevented by the fifteenth amendment from restoring the former status of white suffrage)-abolished suffrage altogether in the District of Columbia, whose white citizens very naturally preferred to be governed by foreign whites, rather than by local blacks. Thus a Republican Congress, by unprecedented action in each case, was, at once, the first to establish, and the first to abolish, negro suffrage in America.



In September, 1865, the Territory of Colorado took a vote on the proposition to adopt negro suffrage. The vote stood 476 for and 4,192 against negro suffrage, and so that Territory continued to limit suffrage to "white" men. But in May, 1866, Federal House of Representatives passed a bill peremptorily establishing negro suffrage in Colorado and all the other Territories.48 The bill, however, did not pass the Senate till the following January, when it became a law without the Presidents' signature.19

This apparent purpose of Congress to disregard the expressed will of the people and to force negro suffrage on the country aroused much adverse criticism. Democratic papers and conventions throughout the North denounced Congress and warned the country that it was preparing the way to force negro suffrage on the loyal States. The Republican papers and conventions vehemently denied having any such intention, and said it was a mere chimera, gotten up by the Democrats to prejudice the people

42 McPherson's History of the Reconstruction, p. 49.

43 Idem. pp. 51 and 52.

44 See message of President Johnson, vetoing District of Columbia suffrage bill, Jan. 7, 1867.

45 See Congressional Globe of Jan. 18, 1866.

46 See Congressional Globe of Jan. 8, 1867.

47 Tribune Almanac for 1866, p. 69.

48 See Congressional Globe of May 15, 1866.

See Congressional Globe of January 10, 1867, and McPherson's History of the Reconstruction, p. 184.

against a Republican Congress, 50 but, apparently, their denials were not entirely reassuring to the people. When, therefore, the fourteenth amendment was passed by Congress on June 16, 1866, it was thought wise to follow it up with a report of the joint committee on reconstruction, setting forth the fearful condition of affairs in the South, as the justification of the political sections of that amendment, and to quiet the apprehensions of the people lest Congress be contemplating the forcing of negro suffrage on the loyal States. Such a report was accordingly made two days later, on June 18, 1866; but, it was promptly followed on the 22d by a report from the minority of that committee, drawn by Senator Reverdy Johnson, of Maryland, which deprived the majority report of so much of its force and effect that more than two years passed before ratification of the fourteenth amendment could be secured, even if it ever

[blocks in formation]

Nothing of consequence was done during the rest of this year on the question of negro suffrage. The Democratic papers and conventions everywhere denounced it, and the Republicans, recognizing it as, at best, an unpopular issue, either ignored it or disclaimed any purpose of applying it anywhere, save in the "rebel States," where they said, that justice called for it as a reward to the loyal blacks and as a punishment to the disloyal whites. In the meantime, the northern people, with exception, continued to vote against negro suffrage whenever and wherever it was submitted to them.

In June, 1866, the people of Nebraska adopted a constitution in which suffrage was limited to white persons. In February following, Congress passed a bill over the President's veto, admitting Nebraska on the "fundamental condition," that negroes should not be excluded from the elective franchise, and authorized the legislature of Nebraska, which was Republican in both Houses, 52 to declare the State's assent to this "fundamental condition" by a "solemn public act," without referring the matter to the people or even having the bill approved by the governor. This the legislature proceeded to do, and thus was negro suffrage established in Nebraska over the opposing votes of her people.53

State constitutions were amended or adopted this year in Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia; but negro suffrage was not introduced into any of them.54 When Congress reassembled in December, 1866, the rejection of the fourteenth amendment by the Southern States, reconstructed under the presidential plan, had not only exasperated the advocates of that amendment but furnished them with new and powerful ammunition against presidential reconstruction, under which they claimed that President Johnson had reinstated in authority the old secession element in order to create political power for himself. The northern heart was again fired; the northern people were told that the men whom they had defeated in battle after a long and bloody war were about to outwit them in council and regain in politics the power they had lost in war. Every indiscreet expression of violent hot-headed men in the South was seized upon and exploited as additional evidence that the "South was still in the saddle," and its unrelenting hostility to the North was said to be clearly shown by the unanimity with which it had rejected the just and reasonable provisions of the fourteenth amendment. In fact, it can not be denied that the radical wing, which then dominated the Republican Party, was quite sure of defeat if southern Representatives, elected by white men, should at this time be admitted to Congress, and the radical leaders were fighting for the life of their party, which they insisted was identical with the life of the Union.

[ocr errors]

The advocates of negro suffrage were not slow to see their opportunity and again prescribed their nostrum of enfranchisement of the colored "man and brother" as 'the one all-sufficient remedy" 55 for all the political ills that then afflicted and distracted the country. The negroes and carpetbaggers of the South naturally clamored for the same thing. The radical leaders in Congress considered the suggestion from

50 As a sample of the denials, the "Unconditional Union Party," of Maryland, composed exclusively of loyal men, met in convention on June 6, 1866, and pressed resolutions indorsing the congressional reconstruction measures, but saying that, "The question of negro suffrage is not an issue in the State of Maryland, but is raised by the enemies of the Union Party for the purpose of dividing and distracting it." The resolutions then went on to declare against negro suffrage for Maryland. See full report in McPherson's History of the Reconstruction, p. 124.

See also, to the same effect, the address of the "National Union Committee," composed of Horace Greeley and others, denouncing President Johnson, praising Congress, and denouncing as a slander the charge that Congress contemplated forcing negro suffrage, even on the South, and urging the adoption of the fourteenth amendment. Tribune Almanac for 1867, p. 45.

51 For these two reports in full, see McPherson's History of the Reconstruction, p. 84, et seq.

52 Tribune Alamanac for 1867, p. 70.

58 Thorp's Const. History of the United States, p. 254 and note. President Johnson's proclamation, declaring Nebraska a State, Mar. 1, 1867. For a curious bit of private history concerning the origin of the Nebraska Constitution, see Thorp, supra, p. 251 and note.

54 Poore's Constitutions.

55 See resolution of the Convention of Southern Loyalists at Philadelphia, in August, 1866. McPherson's History of Reconstruction p. 242.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »