Harper's Weekly 02/17/1866


THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMEND-
MENT.


THE Amendment to the Constitution, of
which we spoke last week, has been passed
by a triumphant majority in the House. Of
course our view of its adequacy to obtain un-
aided the special result sought is unchanged,
but as one of a series of measures designed to
secure certain indispensable ends—which is
probably the truer light in which to regard it—
it may yet appear to be wise. If, for instance,
as Mr. Stevens urges, this is all that the coun-
try will now bear, while the discussions and de-
lays consequent upon its passage will educate
the public mind to further essential measures,
the objections to it as an independent proposi-
tion will disappear.


But lest any one should be inclined to think
this sole amendment enough, let us look at its
probable operation. Mr. Stevens says that
the ambition of political power is the strongest
feeling of the white people in the Southern
States, and that this will induce them, under
the pressure of the amendment, to enfranchise
the colored population. Now it is perfectly
clear that this feeling, which undoubtedly ex-
ists, is controlled by another just as powerful,
and that is the feeling of caste. That the pro-
posed amendment is intended to make it the
interest of the white inhabitants of every State
to overcome this feeling we do not deny, and
that it may ultimately do so is very possible.
But we have a very plain duty to the living
generation of the colored population, and we
have no right to sacrifice them to an ulterior
advantage. Let us see, then, what would be
the probable operation of this sole amendment.


In the State of South Carolina the popula-
tion is about equally divided between the white
and colored citizens. Let us suppose that it
has now three representatives, and would lose
one of them if the colored basis were excluded,
and would gain three if it were counted. There
are no people who know better than the whites
of South Carolina that the colored men are not
born fools. Their instincts are as good as other
men's, and their knowledge, if not of the read-
ing and writing kind, was quite sufficient to in-
form them who were their friends in the late
war. With every advantage apparently upon
the master's side, the colored population were
against him. Despite the liberal lying, the
unblushing and consistent story that the Yan-
kees were coming to sell them to Cuba, or that
they would be left to starve and freeze; de-
spite the insane orders of Halleck and M`Clel-
lan,
which were the most convincing apparent
proof of the truth of such representations, the
colored population believed in the Yankees
with an unshaken faith; the name of “Lin-
kum
” was as sweet to their hearts as that of
liberty, and the whites could not coax or drive
the blacks to fight for them.


The war ended, and for ten months the same
whites have shown the bitterest hostility to the
blacks, and both sides know it. On what ground
of reason or experience is it supposed that, if
the blacks were enfranchised, whether by the
State or the Nation, they would vote with the
late masters? Nobody knows better than the
whites that they would not. Why, then, should
the white population wish to neutralize the
three representatives whom they now elect and
control? Rather than do it they would infi-
nitely prefer to lose one that they might still
have two. That is human nature, and espe-
cially Southern human nature, as much as the
desire of political power. Indeed that is what
the whites would do if they wished to retain
political power. For they know that the three
supposed representatives upon the colored basis
would act with the liberal party of the country,
while the three of the white basis would ally
themselves to the Democratic or Tory party.
As sagacious men, therefore, they would pre-
fer to have two voices for their own purposes
rather than no voice at all. And how could
we excuse ourselves for having delivered the
freedmen into the hands of the whites upon the
plea that we thought we had devised a method
of inducing the latter to be just? Mr. Beech-
er
deprecates rigor in the treatment of the
Southern States; but, unless the report mis-
represents him, he said in his Philadelphia
speech, at the Freedmen's Anniversary Meet-
ing, that the one point upon which he could
not trust the white Southern brethren was
their treatment of the colored population.


Other objections to the amendment as an
independent proposition might be easily stated.
But its intention is right, and it will doubtless
be followed by other suggestions from the Com-
mittee. The object of the amendment is to
punish arbitrary deprivation of political power,
based upon race or color, by reduced represent-
ation, and no object could be more laudable.
Thus the State of New York politically discrim-
inates against a part of her population, not on
account of ignorance or incapacity, but of col-
or; a discrimination as outrageously unfair as
if it were based upon bodily height or weight.
The amendment will exclude that part of the
population from being reckoned in the basis of
representation. It may, indeed, be so distrib-
uted in the various districts as not to affect the
whole number of representatives, but any na-
tional act imposing a penalty upon the indul-
gence in so unmanly and demoralizing a preju-
dice will hasten a reform. Meanwhile the col-
ored voter in the State will not be deprived of
his vote, and he will be very sure to cast that
vote for the men and measures which will
soonest make the organic law of the State con-
form to common-sense and equal rights.



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