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position I have never said anything to the contrary; but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white
Again and upon a subsequent occasion, referring to the same subject in a public speech, he said:
"I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office or intermarry with the white people; and I will say, in addition, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality."
Notwithstanding these repeated denials, it seems that the editor of an Ohio paper, in September, 1859, charged that Mr. Lincoln was really "in favor of negro suffrage. But in a speech shortly afterwards, at Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Lincoln indignantly denied the charge; he quoted from his former speeches on the subject; and, in conclusion, said:
* * * *
twice once subI presume the editor
"I did not say that I was in favor of negro suffrage; but stantially and once expressly-I declared against it. of that paper is an honest and truth-loving man, and that he will be greatly obliged to me for furnishing him thus early an opportunity to correct the misrepresentation he has made before it has run so long that malicious people can call him a liar." 13
These repeated declarations of Mr. Lincoln against negro suffrage were not only made in public speeches but were published at the time in the newspapers far and wide; and, in the light of these views, of which he had never then indicated the slightest modification, he was nominated and elected President by the Republican Party the next year. It was even claimed by the Republicans at that time that advocates of negro suffrage practically did not exist; and that the alleged favoring of it by their party was a baseless charge—a kind of bugaboo gotten up by the Democrats to scare off Republican voters. In fact, Mr. Lincoln declared in one of his speeches about that period that he had never seen anyone who was in favor of political equality for negroes.14
Such was the sentiment of the country when the Civil War broke out in 1861, and, with the possible exception of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts there can be no doubt that the advocates of impartial negro suffrage could not then have mustered a corporal's guard in a single State of the Union.
In the course, however, of the next decade, covering the period of the war and the reconstruction, events transpired and conditions arose which made negro suffrage possible of accomplishment. The principal agencies which contributed to this result were: First, gratitude to the negro soldiers who had served in the Federal armies-to "save the Union," as it was said; second, apprehension lest the so-called “rebel element" regain control of the Federal Government; and, third, the desire to perpetuate the Republican Party in power. Thus we have, as the inspiration for negro suffrage, gratitude, apprehension, and politics-these three; but the greatest of these was politics.
In tracing the progress of negro suffrage in the United States, from the beginning of the Civil War up to the adoption of the fifteenth amendment, little notice will be taken of the acts of the Confederate States. That the white people of those States were always unanimous in their opposition to negro suffrage, and that their final submission to it was in invitum, are facts too well known to bear contradiction, or even rehearsal. The Union States alone being free, from the close of the war till the proclamation of the amendment, their acts only are worth considering, as expressive of public sentiment during that period.
The first opportunity after January 1, 1861, which a negro suffrage sentiment may be said to have had for expression, was in the "loyal convention which met at Jefferson City, Mo., on February 28, 1861. This convention was composed of Unionists, and remained in session, off and on, till July 1, 1863.15
It adopted numerous amendments to the State constitution, but none looking to negro suffrage. On November 26, 1861, at Wheeling, another "loyal" convention assembled to form the first constitution for the proposed new State of West Virginia and to give expression to the anti-Confederate, antislavery, sentiments of the people. This convention adopted provisions abolishing negro slavery, as did the one in Missouri; but it also failed to suggest negro suffrage. During the next year, 1862, only Michigan
amended its constitution, but no indication developed therein of the existence of any negro suffrage sentiment in that State either.
In the meantime the valiant conduct and valuable services of the negroes in the Union Army, during the trying campaign of 1862, entirely removed the prejudices which many northern men had entertained against their employment as soldiers and fully reconciled them to the propriety and expediency of the military measure of emancipation on January 1, 1863. But when, in December, 1863, President Lincoln, by proclamation, unfolded his plan of reconstruction for the South, he expressly excluded negroes from participation in the elections for the proposed reconstruction convention,16 and expressly declared that the Federal Government would require nothing for the freed negroes except a recognition of their freedom and a provision for their education -not a hint nor suggestion of their being even ultimately admitted to the franchise is contained either in this proclamation or in his message to Congress on the same day, in which he reports, explains, and defends it.17
While negro suffrage at this time, was advocated by no party, and almost by no leading man outside of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, yet it was now beginning for the first time to gather advocates here and there through the country, some of whom felt it was due as a reward to the negroes for their patriotic service in the Army, and others that it should be meted out as a punishment to the rebellious white men of the South, whom they denounced as traitors and hated with a fanatical venom difficult now to appreciate.
A speech delivered by Mr. Sumner about two years later at Worcester, Mass., fairly illustrates the sentiments of some of the earlier advocates of "negro suffrage for the South," who about this time began to make their voices occasionally heard. Mr. Sumner said:
'As those who fought against us should be for the present disfranchised, so those who fought for us should be at once enfranchised, and thus a renovated State will be built secure on an unfaltering and natural loyalty. For a while the freedman will take the place of the master, verifying the saying that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. In the pious books of the East it is declared that the greatest mortification at the day of judgment will be when the faithful slave is carried into paradise and the wicked master sent to hell. * * * Therefore, in organizing this change, we follow Divine justice. "'18
While these sentiments had not in the winter of 1863-64 gained full sway, yet the suggestion of a limited and restricted negro suffrage in the South was making itself felt in the minds of many northern men. The idea of enfranchisement as a reward for military service was as old as the days of Rome and was entirely familiar in America, where some of the States had acted upon it for years. Upon this well-established principle the personal enfranchisement of worthy negro soldiers, as a reward for valiant military service, was reconciled to the minds of many persons, whose natures would have revolted no less strongly against the adoption of general, indiscriminate negro suffrage as a punitive measure against southern white men than they would have done at the suggestion of a general massacre. It was in response to this new sentiment favoring limited and occasional enfranchisement for exceptional individuals among the negroes that on March 13, 1864, Mr. Lincoln, who but two months previous had excluded negroes from the franchise in his plan of reconstruction, wrote in a private letter to his military governor of Louisiana, suggesting, with much misgiving, the experiment of granting suffrage to a few selected negroes. Said he:
"I barely suggest, for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in; as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought so gallantly in our ranks." 19
But neither Governor Hahn, nor the reconstruction convention which he assembled, saw fit to adopt this suggestion. In fact, negro suffrage upon the political sky of 1864 was a cloud which can not be said to have been even as large as a man's hand.
There was then lowering in the heavens, however, another cloud which had been gathering for some time and was now much larger than a man's hand. This was the cloud of radicalism, evolved out of the elements of bigotry and fanaticism, blown together by jealousy and distrust of Mr. Lincoln, and fraught with the thunders and consuming lightnings of that reconstruction tempest which, in a few years, was to break over and devastate the South. But as yet this radical faction had not enough strength to be dangerous; it did not contain many men of national influence, and even that faction itself was not then fully inoculated with the venom of some of its more extreme leaders.
16 Messages and papers of the Presidents, Vol. VI, p. 214.
17 Idem., p. 189.
18 Speech delivered by Charles Sumner on Sept. 14, 1865, before the Republican State convention at Worcester, Mass. See Sumner's Works, Vol. XII, p. 340.
19 Lincoln's Works, Vol. II, p. 496.
Congress as a body was still utterly opposed to negro suffrage. In April, 1864, jealous of the increasing prestige of Mr. Lincoln, some of the radical leaders in Congress charged him with undue assumption of power, and that he was attempting by his conciliatory plan of reconstruction to capture the southern vote for the advancement of his own political fortunes. Congress, therefore, undertook a reconstruction plan of its own-the beginning of that war which it afterwards waged so successfully against President Johnson.
What more suitable leaders could the radicals have found for this movement than Henry Winter Davis in the House, and Benjamin F. Wade in the Senate? These leaders, therefore, introduced and took charge, in their respective Houses, of the first congressional reconstruction act, and it was passed by the House on May 4, and by the Senate on July 2, 1864.20 Only because the plan of reconstruction provided by this bill excluded all others, did Mr. Lincoln decline to sign it and it thus failed to become a law; but for doing this he was roundly abused by the widely published "Davis-Wade manifesto of August 5, 1864.21 This first reconstruction act of the radicals may be relied on, however, as a fair expression of the party's views and the then sentiment of a Republican Congress on the question of Negro suffrage for the South; but when we look at its provisions we see that in prescribing the qualifications of voters in the rebel States, Congress had carefully followed the constitutions of 27 out of the 34 States then existing, and expressly limited the franchise in the South to "white males of 21 years of age."
In thus limiting suffrage to white men, Congress in 1864 did but voice the overwhelming dominant sentiment of the American people. That year was a "presidential year." Mr. Lincoln's successor was to be elected in the fall, and national conventions were being held which laid down the principles of their respective parties as platforms from which their candidates should solicit the suffrages of the people. Neither the Democratic nor the regular Republican platforms of that years made the slightest reference to Negro suffrage.22
On May 31, 1864, however, there met at Cleveland, Ohio, a wing of the Republican Party, which called themselves the "radicals," adopted a national platform, and nominated Gen. John C. Fremont, of California, for President and General John Cochrane, of New York, for Vice President. This convention represented the most rabid and fanatical abolitionists and South haters in the Union, prominent among whom were Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglas. That they favored disfranchisement for "southern rebels," goes without saying. The demand of Wendell Phillips that the Government should "confiscate and divide the lands of rebels" was adopted as an independent plank of their platform. Their nominee for Vice President, General Cochrane, shortly previous, in a speech to the regiment of which he was then colonel, had (doubtless in emulation of the Duke of Alva) said of the southern people that he "would plunge their whole country, black and white, into one indiscriminate sea of blood so that in the end we would have a Government that would be the vice regent of God." 23 The call for the convention, of which this gentle advocate of civilized warfare was selected as the exponent, was addressed to "Men of God, Men of humanity, Lovers of justice, Patriots and freemen." Here then was self-righteousness, fanaticism, and hatred well met; and surely such a body would listen favorably to the pleadings that were addressed to it by Mrs. Stanton, Frederick Douglas, and Wendell Phillips in behalf of negro suffrage. But no, they would disfranchise the rebels, they would confiscate their lands, they would "plunge them into one indiscriminate sea of blood;" but when it came to the infiiction of indiscriminate negro suffrage, even these "red Republicans" balked and refused to put into their platform a demand for more than equal civil rights; and negro suffrage was not even hinted at by either of their candidates in their letters of acceptance.
This was a great disappointment to Wendell Phillips, who, in his letter to the convention, had, as one of his chief grounds of opposition to the President's reelection, said, "Against such recognition of the blacks, Mr. Lincoln stands pledged by prejudice and avowal.''24 But that the country did not agree with Mr. Phillips in regarding this as an objection to Mr. Lincoln was shown by the fact that he was shortly afterwards renominated by the Republican Party and that fall triumphantly reelected by the people.
During this year, 1864, the Union people adopted new or amended old constitutions in Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia; 25 but not by a single one of them was negro
20 Congressional Globe, p. 3491.
21 New York Tribune, August 5, 1864, p. 5.
22 McKee's National Platforms, pp. 122 and 124.
23 McPherson's History of the Rebellion, p. 415. 24 Idem, p. 412.
25 Poore's Constitutions.
suffrage adopted or even mentioned except to expressly exclude it. Nevada was admitted to the Union this year, without objection from Congress, upon a constitution that expressly limited the franchise to 'white" citizens; and, in his annual message of December, 1864, Mr. Lincoln set forth that his ideas on southern reconstruction (which restricted suffrage to white men) had undergone no change.
Thus it will be seen that up to January 1, 1865, the sentiment in favor of unlimited negro suffrage was not strong enough to impress itself upon any State constitution or political party in the United States; that both Mr. Lincoln and the Republican Congress had, by their respective reconstruction measures in 1864, expressly declared against it; and we have Mr. Lincoln's word for it, in the last public speech he ever made, on April 11, 1865, after Lee's surrender and a day or two before his own assassination, that his plan of reconstruction, which limited the franchise to white persons, "was in advance submitted to each member of the then Cabinet, and distinctly approved by every member of it."26
But the sentiment favoring negro suffrage, though weak, was still growing and making its presence felt in various quarters. Lincoln acknowledged this in his speech just quoted from, and reiterated the view, privately expressed a year before by him to Governor Hahn, that, personally, he would "prefer that it (the franchise) were now conferred on the very intelligent (negroes), and on those who served our cause as soldiers." 27
This, however, is as far as he would ever depart from his opposition to negro suffrage, as expressed at Columbus, Ohio, in 1859, and he never agreed to, nor advocated, the forcible establishment of even this modified and restricted form of negro suffrage in any State, by making such suffrage a condition precedent to the State's reestablishment in the Union.
In the meantime the advocates of general negro suffrage were not idle. It was the age of political bigotry, and the advocates of this doctrine, like those of female suffrage, were deeply imbued with fanaticism. The movement was invariably strongest where the negroes were fewest. With a certain class of well-meaning enthusiasts, it became a fad, and, in the three States of Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and in the Territory of Colorado, where a full-blooded negro was almost as great a curiosity as an Eskimo, the advocates of negro suffrage mustered sufficient strength to get through the legislature acts submitting to the people for ratification or rejection, in 1865, constitutional amendments extending the franchise to negroes. But in every instance, without a single exception, the amendments were rejected by large and decisive majorities.2
The "loval" citizens of Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and South Carolina,29 amended their State constitutions this year. In none of them, however, not even in Maine, was "the door of hope" opened for the colored "man and brother"; but race was never referred to, in the new suffrage laws, save only to expressly exclude the negro from all political rights.
Certain things, however, had now transpired which, while of very different characters, yet united in their effect to strengthen the advocates of negro suffrage.
In the first place, the senseless and dastardly assassination of Mr. Lincoln in April, 1865, greatly exasperated the northern people against the South and added fuel to the flames of sectional hatred already burning fiercely, and which were now assiduously fanned by those who, like Sumner, advocated negro suffrage as a punitive measure against the southern people.
In the second place it was realized for the first time, now that the war was over, that the enfranchisement of the slaves would greatly add to the political power of the Southern white men. The North had always rebelled against the injustice of the basis of representation as fixed in the Federal Constitution, under which every five slaves in the South were counted as three freemen in fixing her representation in the Electoral College and in the House of Representatives; but, now that those slaves were free, it was realized that they would be counted as five instead of three persons, thus increasing the strength of the South in national councils as if by the addition of some two millions to her population. If this were to stand, the political fruits of the war would be gathered by the South exclusively, and the vote of one white man in the South would be worth about that of two in the North. What was to be done to correct this injustice? As usual, every quack prescribed his own nostrum, and the negrophilists accordingly prescribed negro suffrage as a solution of
30 Thorp's Constitutional History of the United States, Vol. III., p. 223.
the difficulty. The medicine, at the time, was thought by the great majority of people to be too heroic, but still many of them began to think it worth considering. Finally, and as the most potent of all the influences favorable to the cause of negro suffrage, the radical leaders about this time began to regard it as a promising means of party aggrandizement. Had not Lincoln, the great leader of the Republican Party, emancipated the negroes? Had not his party indorsed and sustained his act, and were they not perpetuating the fruits of a victorious war by adding the prohibition against slavery to the Federal Constitution? Why not enfranchise these freedmen, who, out of gratitude, would ever after pay for their freedom with their votes? These were thoughts then beginning to pass through the minds of the Republican leaders, but as yet few seemed bold enough to speak them out publicly, as they did a few years later.
Nevertheless, the yeast was working, and the political mass beginning slowly to ferment. Already Congress had manifested its dissatisfaction with Executive reconstruction, not because if its exclusion of negro suffrage, for, as we have seen, the reconstruction act which Congress itself attempted to pass in 1864 expressly limited the suffrage to white men; but Congress insisted that political reconstruction, irrespective of its conditions, was exclusively the province of Congress, and it accordingly resented as an invasion of its rights the attempt of the President to prescribe terms or make provisions for reconstruction. This sentiment had led to the refusal by Congress, in 1864, to recognize Lincoln's reconstruction government in Arkansas, and again to its refusal, in 1865, to recognize his reconstruction government in Louisiana; it had produced the "Davis-Wade manifesto," denouncing Mr. Lincoln for not signing the congressional reconstruction bill of 1864 and had caused much bitterness between him and several Members of Congress. His last speech, on April 11, 1865, was a defense of his attempted reconstruction of Louisiana, and it is more than doubtful if even his great tactfulness and powers of leadership, backed by the prestige of his recent victory in the field and at the polls, could have averted the bitter war which Congress was then brewing for the Executive.
But when Lincoln's sudden death placed Mr. Johnson in the presidential chair that war became inevitable, for no more tactless, impolitic, or needlessly combative man ever lived than Andrew Johnson. In his contentions with Congress he was generally right, as is now quite uniformly conceded, but he had the knack of so conducting his controversies as never to gain recruits, and often to prejudice the public against his cause even when truth fought on his side. Consequently for the frst two or three years of his administration, which was one continuous and unseemly contest with Congress, he allowed his opponents to successfully hold him up to the country as little better than a traitor who, as well as his friends and supporters, were looked upon by the northern people with suspicion and distrust. It was enough that he advocated a thing for it to be immediately opposed by Congress, and until by its own excesses it likewise became distrusted, Congress exclusively had the ear of the northern people.
Shortly after the death of President I incoln, Mr. Johnson, on May 29, 1865, promulgated a scheme of his own for southern reconstruction. This was almost a counterpart of Lincoln's plan, and expressly restricted the suffrage to those qualified under the several State constitutions before secession-that is, to the "white" people. On August 15, 1865, apparently in further imitation of President Lincoln, Mr. Johnson sent a private communication to Governor Sharkey, of Mississippi, suggesting the wisdom of the constitutional convention of that State extending suffrage to those negroes who could read and write or who owned $250 worth of land.32
This he doubtless thought would be a tub to the whale, and, while admitting practically no negroes at all, would satisfy the northern clamor against him for his alleged excessive leniency to the "rebel element." But his suggestion was not followed, nor was it repeated by him to any other State. He himself became an open and pronounced opponent of negro suffrage,33 but his opposition only strengthened it with Congress and with the supporters of Congress in the North. However, no one as yet thought seriously of its being applied forcibly to the South, or adopted generally throughout the country.34
On September 6, 1865, in the Republican State Convention at Madison, Wis., the increase of southern representation as a result of the abolition of slavery was discussed, and the injustice of it to the Union States was pointed out. Some proposed to remedy it by negro suffrage, a proposition for which was then pending before the
31 Lincoln's Works, Vol. II, p. 673.
32 Senate Executive Document No. 26, Thirty-ninth Congress, first session, page 229.
33 See President Johnson's speech to delegation of negroes from "National Colored Suffrage Convention," at Washington, February 7, 1866. McPherson's History of Reconstruction, page 52, et seq.
34 Lalor's Political Encyclopedia, page 826.