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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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166 BLACK STATE CONVENTIONS
the Federal Constitution, and who certainly ought to have known whether or not that instrument had branded Colored men as aliens. Now in view of all this concurrent testimony, your memorialists claim that they are Citizens of the United States, and by virtue of the guaranty of the Federal Constitution before alluded to, Citizens also of the State of Pennsylvania, that they have been unjustly dealt with in being deprived of the elective franchise upon the false assumption of their not being Citizens; and that a proper regard both for the honor of the Commonwealth, and for that consideration which in all true republics is ever due to the meanest Citizen, demands at your hands, the redress of this mighty wrong. They understand fully the importance of this right of suffrage,--the dearest treasure in the gift of any government,--the strongest weapon in the possession of the subject, repelling the approaches of despotism and guaranteeing the possession of all other immunities, a weapon that, in the expressive language of Whittier,
executes a freeman's will, As lightning doth the will of God.
Now, to deny such a right to one class of Citizens, while it is accorded to another, without good reason for such a discrimination, is manifestly unjust and anti-republican. The present State Government is an aristocracy the more intolerable, because by it the insignia republican nobility are conferred upon the many, while they are withheld from the few. Your memorialists earnestly implore you to redress this state of things and to restore to them the rights wrongfully wrested from them. In advocacy of their claim, they insist upon their Citizenship. In the same advocacy, they would modestly and briefly remind you of the proofs of determined manhood and loyalty manifested by Colored men of Pennsylvania, during the course of the existing unholy rebellion, in defence both of the State and of the Union. Your State Capital was endangered. Straightway a band of Colored men rushed to its rescue. A Call for additional troops is issued; and soon twelve thousand black Pennsylvanians respond, and aid in filling up your quota.
There is no need to tell you how these men have comported themselves upon the embattled plain;--at Olustee, before Petersburg, and on other fiercely contested fields. Their general officers have already in many instances alas, lost life in behalf of a country they loved, and which they hoped would yet prove grateful.
Gentlemen, do not say that years must intervene before the wrong in question can be redressed,--that precedent is in the way of an immediate action in the premises. Remember, that your memorialists do not ask for favors. They claim rights. For the conferring of benefits, there may be another, and more convenient time, but
for justice All place a temple and all seasons summer
Then, let custom be disregarded, and "let justice be done though the heavens fall." Do this gentlemen, and your memorialists will ever pray.
Copy in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia.
1. Octavius V. Catto was a Philadelphia black leader who played a prominent role in the struggle of Pennsylvania Negroes to regain the suffrage after this right had been taken away from them in 1838. During the Civil War, Catto was commissioned a major within the infantry. He later became a high school principal and a firm equal rights advocate in Philadelphia. In 1871, along with several other blacks, he was killed by a mob of whites who sought to prevent them from voting, a right which had been recently guaranteed by the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.
2. Jonathan Jasper Wright (1840-1885) was born of free black parents in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. His father was a farmer. Wright received his
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