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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Proceedings of the State Equal Rights' Convention, of the Colored People of Pennsylvania, held in the city of Harrisburg February 8th, 9th, and 10th, 1865 : together with a few of the arguments presented suggesting the necessity for holding the convention, and an address of the Colored State Convention to the people of Pennsylvania.
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Pennsylvania, 1865 165
in behalf of themselves and their fellows, reiterate the oft-made Appeal, that you would do them justice.
In respectfully urging you thus to act, they would remind you that, at one time, men of Color were acknowledged as Citizens, under the Laws of Pennsylvania, and possessed all the political franchises which were enjoyed by their white Fellow Citizens. But nearly thirty years ago, the Supreme Court of the State, decided that this class of persons were not included in the term "Freemen," as it was employed in the Constitution of 1790;--that consequently they were not Citizens, and therefore had no legal title to the enjoyment of the elective franchise.
Subsequently, an amendment of the State Constitution debarred colored men from any claim to that privilege which they might base upon the wording of that document. Here then, was a blow aimed not at any immunity which they might enjoy as Citizens, but at the very citadel of their Citizenship itself. Now your memorialists are not insensible of the importance of this right of Citizenship.
They know how sacredly it has been prized by all Nations and in all ages. They are conscious, that it is now as ever, a Palladium conferring blessings upon the individual whom it shelters;--the sun of the political firmament, gilding every object with its beams, and spreading health and happiness with its rays. They therefore hold tenaciously to the position that they are Citizens of Pennsylvania, in spite of the Supreme Court's decision referred to, and of the amended Constitution; and they insist the more earnestly upon their Citizenship, in view of the fact, that their disfranchisement was based upon the assumption of their not being Citizens. Are they right or wrong in so doing? Let facts attested by our National records decide.
Your memorialists would premise that, if they are Citizens of the United States, they have a guarantee contained in Art. IV. Sec. 2d, of the Federal Constitution, that they are also Citizens of Pennsylvania. Now, in view of the opinion of Attorney General Bates, they are at present recognized in the former character; and, therefore, the latter one follows as a necessary consequence. Is that opinion regarded as unsound? Let it be judged of in the light of History. And to History your memorialists appeal, in order to establish the proposition that Free Colored persons were Citizens of the Union, prior to the year 1789; and that, as they were not declared to be otherwise by the Constitution then adopted, they are Citizens still. To substantiate this let us refer to the debates which took place in the Continental Congress, during the framing of the Articles of Confederation. On the 30th of October, 1777, while the motion in reference to the manner of adopting the Articles was pending, an amendment was proposed for the purpose of excluding Colored persons from taking part in that adoption. The Delegates from Virginia were the only ones who voted in favor of it, and they were afterwards instructed to vote for the Articles as they stood.
And again on the 13th of the following month, the 4th Article of the Confederation was proposed. It read as follows:-
"The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different States in the Union; the free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of free Citizens in the several States." The Delegates from South Carolina moved that the Article should be amended by the insertion of the word "White," before the word "inhabitants." This motion was lost, and the Article was then adopted by a unanimous vote. Here then were two recognitions of Colored persons as Citizens within fourteen days of each other, by the assembled representatives of the Union. This is proof positive that Colored Freemen enjoyed Citizenship under the Confederation. Where is the Article, in the present Constitution, that denies their claims? And in the absence of any such denial, what is more clear than the corollary that Colored men are still Citizens of the United States? The proposition thus sustained finds additional support in the language of various Congressional Laws enacted during the first half century of our National existence, wherein are contained either direct or indirect recognitions of the Citizenship of men of Color; and it is still farther substantiated by the explicit declaration of such men as Chancellor Kent, the profoundest legal authority of America, and as Alexander Hamilton35 and Rufus King,36 both of whom were members of the Convention that drafted
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