of obtaining the suffrage are gone for ever. We are not blind to the importance of making use of the power which we now have in our hands, before it escapes from us; but we would use it to gain a real advantage, not a measure so doubtful as this. We would not willingly suffer the re-establishment of civil authority, until the civil and political equality of the races is secured. But even if we fail in this, and a premature reconstruction takes place, we should not for that reason despair of eventual success; nor indeed should we deem it, on the whole, an unwholesome discipline for the colored people to be obliged to wait and struggle a while longer for their full rights. But we believe that freedom, by its natural workings, will necessarily and speedily bring after it all that we desire. It has already secured one inestimable right, the acknowledgment that negroes are American citizens; and this carries with it the right to testify in Federal courts. Already, in Charleston, the testimony of colored persons has been received against United-States officers, much to the consternation of the whites; and what is permitted in national courts cannot long be prevented in State courts. If the right to vote in national elections were once granted, it would soon be followed by the right to vote in State elections. So, too, the organization of the militia is entirely in the hands of Congress; and, at this day, the freedmen of South Carolina have the same right to be enrolled in the militia that their masters have. And, if it is urged that the disqualifications that negroes are under in certain Northern States are an indication of what we might expect in the South, we will say that these disqualifications are simply the result of the political power of the institution of slavery. With the destruction of the institution, its power is gone; and the whole train of abuses that sprang out of it will speedily follow.

It is not true that an educational test will bear proportionally hard upon the colored people. The mass of the whites, throughout the Southern States, are as ignorant as the blacks; and, at the present time, it is not the whites, but the blacks, that are learning. By the time that civil institutions can be established, certainly as soon as they ought to be, there

[ocr errors]

will be a sufficient number of colored people qualified for the suffrage to make themselves felt as an element of power. Indeed, for this purpose there are enough now; for, be it observed, it is not necessary for their protection that they should form the preponderating power in the State, but only that they should be numerous enough to take a position for themselves, and demand respect. Once get the edge of the wedge in, and the work is done. When it is seen that intelligence carries with it political power, these people will have a direct incentive to self-culture, which, at present, does not exist; and, if it is made impossible for the ruling class to exclude any who are qualified, new applicants will throng in year after year, until the vast majority of the colored people -all who are good for any thing-will be endowed with the suffrage.

This leads us, indeed, to a consideration of great importance, but which is frequently overlooked in this connection. It is trite enough to say, that no nation will ever be good for much, which does not make itself; and that no possession will do us much good, which we do not earn by hard labor. But this is precisely what we are prone to forget in the case of the colored people. They did not free themselves, we freed them. Except for the few colored regiments that have distinguished themselves in battle, it is not too much to say, that the popular mind- we do not say thinkers and philanthropists, but the common people would never have believed that the race deserved freedom. It had come to them, without any effort of their own, as the result of our fighting. They had not earned it for themselves; but their heroic deeds proved that they could have earned it for themselves, and all were satisfied. Now that they are free, comes the further demand for political rights. Shall this, too, be conferred upon them as a boon, or shall we wait, and let them earn it? In point of fact, they are too much disposed to expect it as a matter of course, and to intermit their efforts for self-culture. Adult schools among the freedmen are, as a rule, failures. Some strong inducement, like the promise of the suffrage, is needed to stimulate them to attend regularly

and study faithfully.* Let us say to them of the suffrage, "This is yours, but first you must earn it by industry, intelligence, and morality."

This is no idle counsel. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that emancipation is still an experiment. We believe, without any question, that it is to be a successful experiment; but, strong as our faith may be, the world is not yet convinced, nor is it right that it should be. It cannot take it on trust, that these half-civilized people will, all of a sudden, become good citizens, still less, intelligent voters. It is due to the white citizens of the South, it is due to the cause of free institutions all over the world, most of all it is due to the colored people themselves, that they should not be intrusted with a mighty power until they have shown themselves fit for it. We, democrats, do not claim that democracy is good for all people, Esquimaux and Hottentots as well as AngloSaxons. And it is a serious reflection, that, if the power is once conferred, it can with difficulty be taken away, however scandalously it may be abused.

A chief source of fallacious reasoning upon both sides of this subject is an ambiguity that exists in the word equality. The advocate of slavery asks, "Is the negro equal to the white man?" And we answer, "We do not know nor care. That is a matter of fact, to be decided only by a comparison of individuals. All we claim is, that he is a man, and is thus entitled to equality before human law."-"But," he asks again, "will you marry a negro?"-"That," we reply, "has nothing to do with the question. Equality may be social, civil, or political. With social equality the law has nothing to do; that will be determined by events. Civil and political equality, on the other hand, are the common right of all men.". "Then," interrupts the champion of universal suffrage, "if all men are politically equal, you have no right to deny to any the elective franchise." Neither do we. We would simply require that every one should make himself com


The writer made an attempt, in Charleston, to instruct a class of adults in the simple principles of the American government. They began well, but the experiment soon fell through from a lack of persistent interest on their part.

petent. A man disqualifies himself by crime; why not by ignorance? It is only civil rights to which we can lay claim as a matter of course, and by virtue of humanity. It is in these that freedom really consists: it is the possession of these that makes a man or a woman a citizen. If any person is forbidden to hold property, to marry, to testify in court, to bring a suit, - that person is not free. All these rights are essential But political rights are necessary only as a guaranty and safeguard for these. They are not mere individual rights, like these, but invest the holder of them with power over the lives and fortunes of his fellow-citizens. We know what has always resulted, in times past, from power placed in the hands of ignorant and vicious masses; and we have no desire to see the experiment tried anew in any section of our Union.


What we must secure is, that the newly acquired freedom of the colored people shall not be endangered by unfriendly legislation, as has lately been the case in Tennessee. To insure this, we would not lay special stress upon the ballot, even for the most intelligent among them, but would make every effort to carry an amendment to the Constitution, forbidding any discrimination on account of race or color. The true principle is not "negro suffrage," but equality of race. If it is not thought advisable to wait for an amendment of the Constitution, we hold that Congress has a right to require this of the rebel States, as a condition of their resuming their places in the Union. Or we could wish that President Johnson had thought himself warranted in declaring that all intelligent citizens, of whatever color, should be entitled to take part in the reconstruction. But it certainly would have been a much more arbitrary exercise of power on his part, thus to widen the basis of suffrage, than it was to exclude the notoriously disloyal from the polls. As Republicans, we should be slow to censure him for abstaining from an act which was wholly outside of his legitimate authority, and which would indeed have been strictly a usurpation of the highest functions of sovereignty. However brought about, this equality before the law is the indispensable condition of any permanent ar

rangement. The suffrage can be established afterwards, on a just and satisfactory basis, upon this principle.

A chief reason for preferring an amendment of the Constitution to either of the other methods is, that we should thus secure a principle which would be of equal force in all parts of the Union,-in Illinois and Connecticut, as well as in Alabama and Florida. We should clear our own skirts first of all complicity with this wrong. There would be complaint at the South, and with much justice, if a rule were imposed upon them which was not also observed at the North. This alteration of the Constitution, or one which should either lay down a rule of suffrage in national elections, or give Congress the power to establish such a rule, would be manifestly just and proper, and would, we believe, recommend itself as such to the good sense of the Southern people; while a law made to apply to them alone would naturally be regarded by them as intrusive and oppressive. If the safety of the nation should demand it, let all such considerations give way. But believing, as we do, that very much depends upon gaining the good-will and co-operation of all classes at the South, we are in favor of a broad and generous principle which could be made acceptable to them, rather than of a special rule which would cover the ground only of the present emergency. We should, moreover, be careful to maintain the true principles of our political system. Now that we have put down the heresy of State supremacy, we are in danger of running into the opposite extreme of centralization. Let us never forget, that the doctrine of "State Rights," correctly understood, is simply a development of the democratic idea.

There is an argument, advanced by many persons, to the effect, that all men, as men, have an inborn right to take part in the organization of any new government (such as it is claimed that these are), whatever be the rights accorded to them in the administration of the government when in regular operation under its Constitution. If this argument is rendered complete by being made to include women, who have precisely the same natural rights as men, and who are citizens as well as men, we will listen to it. At present it has no logical value.

« VorigeDoorgaan »