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Memorial of John Mercer Langston for Colored People of Ohio to General Assembly of the State of Ohio

1854.OH-08.24 (3).pdf

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298

BLACK STATE CONVENTIONS

unites with the disfranchised in begging that it may be impartially and candidly considered.

MEMORIAL OF J. MERCER LANGSTON

To the General Assembly of the State of Ohio

Your memorialist has been selected as the representative of the twenty-five thousand half freemen of Ohio, to ask your honorable body to the necessary and appropriate steps for striking from the organic law of this State, all those clauses which make discriminations on the ground of color.1

In doing this, we feel that we are but asking that the constitution of our State be made to reflect, in all its truthfulness and deep significance, the following living, breathing sentiment of the Declaration:--"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created free and equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

In doing this, we also feel that we but ask that the constitution of Ohio be made to harmonize with the genius and spirit of the constitution of the United States, which was ordained to establish justice and secure the blessings of liberty to the people of this country.

Nor are we unmindful of the fact that in making this request, we are asking your honorable body to take the first step towards making our government a democracy, which in the eloquent language of Hon. William Allen, "asks nothing but what it concedes, and concedes nothing but what it demands. Destructive only to despotism, it is the sole conservator of liberty, labor and property. It is the sentiment of freedom, of equal rights and equal obligations. It is the law of nature pervading the law of the land."

Since we present our memorial in the name of the Declaration, in the name of the constitution of the United States, the supreme law of the land, and in the name of genuine democracy, we are confident that you will consider it patiently and without prejudice.

What then, are the grounds upon which we claim the elective franchise?

In answering this question, we have to say, in the first place, that we are men. Nor is it necessary to enter upon an argument in support of so self-evident a proposition. We possess the physical, the intellectual and the attributes common to humanity. We have the same feelings, desires and aspirations that other men have; and we are capable of the same high intellectual and moral culture. As men then, we have rights, inherent rights, which civil society is bound to respect, nay, more, which civil society is bound to protect and defend. Prominent among those rights, and one which we deeply love and cherish, is the elective franchise. It is the privilege of saying who shall be our rulers, and what shall be the character of the laws under which we live. By none is this right, held in higher estimation than by the colored men. And those greatly mistake who think that we are contented without it. We are not. We know that it is one of our dearest rights. We feel that we ought to have it. We feel that civil society is under obligation to secure it to us, and protect us in its enjoyment. The first consideration that we offer, therefore, in favor of granting our claim, is the fact that it is a dictate of justice and fair dealing, between civil society and men living within its jurisdiction.

But it may be said in reply to this, that the elective franchise is not to be numbered among our inherent rights. It may be contended that the voting privilege is one of expedience. We, however, are not of this faith. We have no confidence in this principle. Self-government, in our opinion, is an inherent right. And without the privilege of saying who shall be the makers of our laws, who shall be their executors, and what shall be their general character, there can be no self-government. This was the view taken of the matter by the Fathers of the Republic. And it was upon this principle as enduring granite that they built up the free institutions of the land.

We could, with propriety, however, claim so much at your hands, if we were foreigners. But when it is remembered that we are native born inhabitants, and by our birth citizens, the consideration which has just been

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