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THE BLACKS AND THE BALLOT
Harper's Weekly, May 20, 1865, page 306 (Editorial)
In his excellent proclamation to the people of North Carolina General Schofield announces that the Unites States troops will protect them "until a civil government can be established in harmony with the Constitution and Laws of the United States." This is a clear statement of the exact situation of the late insurrectionary States. It is desirable, upon every account, that there shall be as little delay as possible in intrusting the local government of the States to t heir own loyal inhabitants. But it is plain that the immediate authority of the national government can not safely be relaxed until that proportion of the adult male population of a State which guarantees internal security is empowered to vote. The question of the hour then is, when the Government is ready to allow an election for any purpose whatever to be held in any such State, who shall be permitted to vote?
By the Constitution of Virginia R.M.T. Hunter is a legal voter in that State. Would the Government of the United States allow him to vote there now? Undoubtedly not. The Constitution of South Carolina did, and probably does, allow only those to vote who own ten slaves or ten thousand dollars. Would not the Government of the United States now permit other persons to vote there? Undoubtedly. There is no authority at present in Virginia and South Carolina except that of the United States; and they, and no other power, will decide who is to vote in reconstructing those States. The conditions of voting will be prescribed by the United States, and not by the State Constitutions. And if the conditions should be those named in the Constitutions they will be valid, not for that reason, but because the United States so determine.
In the States of which we speak there are three classes: the hopeless rebels, the poorer whites, and the blacks. The first of these classes is the smallest, and it will be always disloyal and dangerous, the Bourbons and Jacobites of American politics. The second and third are very large. Together they form the great majority of the population. By the census of 1860 it appears that, in the eleven late rebel States, the exact numbers were 5,447,222 whites, and 3,666,110 colored and Indian population. The present proportion is undoubtedly more favorable to the blacks. In two of the States they are a majority of the whole population. In five others they are more than one-third, and in every one of the old Slaves States they are enough, when united with the loyal whites, to control the State. Upon what good grounds, therefore, can the ballot be refused to the loyal black citizens of the Southern States? They are the sturdy working-class. They have always been unfalteringly true to the Government. Had they been otherwise—had they made common cause with the rebels chiefs, as the poorer whites were obliged to do—the triumph of the Government would have been indefinitely delayed. They are free men, and the plainest good policy requires that their self-respect be aroused, and their willing industry encouraged, without which no class of citizens is contented or valuable. There is but one way of securing this result. It is to give them the ballot.
That the mass of the population at the South, both white and black is ignorant, is very true. But so are great masses of the Northern voters. Education is a good thing; but it appears that some of the stanchest patriots in the land can not read, and that some of the basest traitors are highly educated. Education, although at the expense of their country, did not prevent Lee and his associates from trying to destroy their country. Robert Smalls, whether he can read or not, is to our thinking a much sounder and safer voter than Robert Toombs. Any black man who has succored a Union soldier escaping from the tortures of rebellious slavery is quite as able to vote wisely as the extremely accomplished Judah Benjamin, or Pierre Soule, or Alexander H. Stephens, or John Slidell, or Wade Hampton or Charles J. Faulkner.
The question is not whether, abstractly, political privilege should depend upon education. It is, whether in States, which we wish to restore to their peculiar action in our national system at the earliest moment, we shall require conditions of our black fellow-countrymen whose fidelity has saved the nation which are not required of the whites in the same States, nor in other States of ignorant foreigners who can not speak our language, and who have no especial interest in our institutions. Instruct the, say some, and their political rights will follow. But why is that not equally true of the whites? If ignorance is the difficulty, why intrust the States to ignorant white men? By such a plan a discrimination is made at the outset based upon color. The Government says, in effect, that ignorant loyal men who are black are not fit to vote, but ignorant loyal men who are white are fit. The Government thus flings its whole weight against the ignorant men who have been true to it, and favors those who have been false. The mischief is incalculable. For by that act it recognizes what is called the inferiority of the blacks, which has been always urged as the reason for enslaving them. After such a precedent, is the class of ignorant white loyalists who have believed, and do still believe, that blacks are made to be slaves, Likely to educate or enfranchise them? The whites may not be able to enslave the blacks, but they will in every way despise and degrade them. No disfranchised class has a fair chance. And the very fact that the blacks have been made personally free will make them discontented so long as they are disfranchised. They will presently refuse to be governed by a minority. If they can not have legal redress they will still try to redress themselves. Is this the way to peace?
The colored race was brought into this country against its will and by our inhumanity and cupidity. It has wonderfully increased until there are now some four millions of them among us. Their blood in every degree is mingled with the blood of the whites. They are men and Americans as much as we. Their ancestors came from Africa, as ours from England, Holland, Germany, or Ireland. They are an essential, integral, inevitable, most valuable and important part of our population. Having been enslaved, their color has been a sign of servility, and they have been made the victims of an inhuman prejudice and the objects of the most cruel partisan contempt. They have not resisted, for resistance was hopeless. They have protested silently by still wearing the form of man, of which we could not deprive them. Their long patience which merely hardened our hearts did not alienate God. Whom we forgot he remembered. Our history darkened. The State right to enslave, which we held ourselves bound to respect, struggled with the human right to be free, which we could not deny. The victims did not raise a hand, but the crisis came. The political and commercial effort to outrage nature and to treat men as brutes and chattels culminated in a civil war which has spent costly lives not to be counted, and wasted the long accumulated profits of our sin. It has steeped us in blood to our lips, and utterly failed; and kneeling among the dead and mangled bodies of our firs-born and best beloved, amidst the fire and storm of battle, we have acknowledged that God has made of one blood all the nations of the earth.
We have now the power and the opportunity of settling this question of the colored race in this country which has rent us from the beginning, and will heave and harry us until it is put honorably to rest. We have already declared them to be men and citizens. Our Government rests upon the broad principle that governments justly exist by the consent of the governed. For that principle the colored men fought with our fathers in the Revolution; and side by side in the fiercest fields of this war they have defended it side by side with our brothers. Within the enemy’s lines they have been the guides, the messengers, the friends upon whom we have uniformly relied. To see a black face was to find a true heart. Do we mean to be as faithful and honorable and friendly as they have been? Do we mean to trust them as they have trusted us? Do we mean to give them the chance of securing their own welfare as we have the chance of securing ours? Do we mean to be just? If we do, we shall give them a vote in the reconstruction of the insurrectionary States. If we are unwilling to do it, our victory has come too soon, and we shall pay the penalty of premature success.
Harper's Weekly, May 20, 1865, page 306 (Editorial)

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