Harper's Weekly 06/10/1865


Tennessee is a State which has been reor-
ganized under a constitution which emancipates
slaves, and leaves the political rights of the
colored citizens to be settled by the Legislature.
The consequences might have been foreseen.
The House of Representatives of the State has
lately passed a series of “black laws,” which
constantly allude to the colored citizens as
“free” persons of color, as if slavery still existed
in the State. The whole series shows indeed
that the spirit of slavery does exist. No con-
tract between a white and black citizen is to be
binding unless witnessed by a white person. In
courts the colored citizens may be witnesses
against each other only. On failure to pay jail
fees after imprisonment colored citizens may be
hired out to the highest bidder. The children
of colored citizens, whether orphans or not, may
be bound out to white persons at the option of
the court, and so on.

This is that “unfriendly legislation” which
perpetuates indefinitely the trouble and danger
of this country. While such laws are passed
and valid, Tennessee can not be a truly repub-
lican State. She tramples upon democratic
principles: and a population educated in the
midst of a large class disfranchised in obedience
to the most hateful prejudice, grows up haughty,
unjust, insolent, and most dangerous to the
common welfare.

Now what the House of Representatives in
Tennessee has done every State in which slav-
ery has been abolished by the war will do, if
permitted, and four millions of faithful, honest
people, just as free as Governor Brownlow or
Mr. Aiken, and equally entitled with them to
a voice in the Government, will be reduced to a
condition of serfdom.

But, says some objector, if the people of the
States are opposed to enfranchising them, is it
good policy to do it? Let us see. Who are
the people of the States? Who are “the peo-
ple” of South Carolina? Are they the numer-
ical minority of the population who are white
rebels, or are they the numerical majority who
are colored citizens of unswerving loyalty? It
is curious to see how the dominance of slavery
in this country has destroyed our perceptions of
the simplest facts. That the slaves were men
even the rebels conceded when they proposed to
arm them; that they were citizens Attorney-
General Bates very clearly showed in his offi-
cial opinion; that they are freemen was estab-
lished by President Lincoln's proclamation,
and that they are more than two-fifths of the
entire population of the late rebel States, ap-
pears from the census of 1860. Yet the New
York Times lately uses these remarkable words,
the italics being its own: “What the President
doubtless aims at is to see the people of the South
as distinct from the disloyal political managers
…..recognize the new relations in which they
stand to the negro population.”

The negro population, then, are not even
“people!” In such a remark, springing, of
course, from no unfair hostility to its colored
fellow-citizens, the Times unthinkingly justifies
the old lie of slavery that this Government was
made by white men for white men, and, there-
fore, that white men only are, politically speak-
ing, the people. The truth is that the word
“people” was not qualified by color.

In its very remarkable article the Times fur-
ther says: “When that work [of the people
recognizing their new relations to the negroes]
is once set about, as it appears to be in Arkan-
sas and North Carolina, in a loyal spirit, the
question of negro suffrage will find a natural
solution in course of time.” How it will find
it may be inferred from the action of the Ten-
nessee representatives and from the remarks of
Mr. Holden, the especial representative of this
“loyal spirit” in North Carolina, who speaks
of the right and duty of “the governing race”
to determine whether colored citizens, natives
of North Carolina, shall reside in the State!

Now as we believe that the late slaves in
South Carolina, some of whom have subscribed
to the national loan, are just as much to be
counted among the people of South Carolina as
Governor Megrath, or Mr. Aiken, or Mayor
Macbeth, or Chestnut, or Orr, or Rhett, or
any other white traitor or loyal citizen, we do
not see why they should not be spoken of as
such. And therefore when it is said that the
people of South Carolina are opposed to the en-
franchisement of the colored citizens we can re-
ply only that we do not believe it. And in
any State of which we might suppose such a
statement to be true, we should say that experi-
ence had proved the indulgence of that preju-
dice of one class of citizens against another to
be profoundly perilous to the public welfare.
There is no love lost between Protestants and
Catholics. But what if we should assume the
Protestant citizens in any State to be “the peo-
ple” in distinction to the “Catholic popula-
tion?” Still more, what if we should propose
that the “Protestant people” should determine
upon what conditions the “Catholic population”
should vote, and whether they should be allow-
ed to reside in the State?

As Americans and honest men, let us try to
remember that governments justly exist by the
consent of the governed—that representation
goes with taxation—and that Congress is con-
stitutionally bound to secure a republican form
of government to every State.

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