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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 (4).pdf

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299

Ohio, 1854

offered, appears doubly significant, and therefore doubly forcible. It is needless for us in grounding our claim to the elective franchise upon our nativity, to remind you that it is a principle fully recognized by the constitution of the country, that natural birth gives citizenship, otherwise, our naturalization laws are absurd and nonsensical. Says Chancellor Kent, in confirmation of our view, "citizens, under our constitution and laws, [means] free inhabitants born within the United States, or naturalized under the laws of Congress. If a slave, born in the United States, be manumitted, or otherwise lawfully discharged from bondage, or if a black man be born within the United States, and born free, he becomes thenceforward a citizen." If Chancellor Kent's principle be correct, we may ask with some degree of force where is the right to disenfranchise us--where is the right to strip us of our citizenship? Said the Hon. Mr. Baldwin, in the U.S. Senate, "When the constitution of the United States was framed, colored men voted in a majority of these States; they voted in the State of New York, in Pennsylvania, in Massachusetts, in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and North Carolina, and long after the adoption of the constitution they continued to vote in North Carolina and Tennessee also. The constitution of the United States makes no distinction of color. There is no word 'white' to be found in that instrument. All free people then stood upon the same platform in regard to their political rights, and were so recognized in most of the States of the Union. The free colored citizens of these States are so much entitled to the rights of citizenship, as are men of any other color or complexion whatever. To this day, in the State of Virginia, free colored persons born in that State, are citizens."

But to deprive us of citizenship, is not only to outrage the well established principle of our political creed, that natural birth gives citizenship, but it is to trample in the dust that practically adopted principle in the law of nations, to wit, that those born in a country become members of the body politic on reaching the requisite age, and discharging the equal responsibilities imposed on all. This is the principle which the nations of earth generally have seen fit to adopt. As we hold this is the correct principle. It is a dictate of reason and common sense. It is in accordance with it, that we desire your honorable body to act in considering the propriety of enfranchising us.

We claim our enfranchisement also upon the ground that we are patriotic. It is a fact that we love this country. We love her constitution, and we love those free Institutions that might and ought to be built up all over this land under its benign influence. Indeed at no time have we manifested for this country any other spirit than that of deep abiding affection. And that too when we have been outraged and abused most barbarously. In proof of our patriotism it is only necessary to refer to our conduct in the revolutionary contest and the war of 1812. It has been said, that those were times that tried men's patriotism. But in neither were we found wanting. Our course in those struggles whether on land or sea, for we were in the campaigns under Washington and Lafayette, and in the cruising under Decatur2 and Barry3, was marked by courage and heroic devotion. That our words may be fully attested we beg leave to offer in this connection the opinions of several distinguished American Statesmen.

Hon. Calvin Goddard, of Connecticut, states that, in the little circle of his acquaintance, he was instrumental in securing, under the act of 1818, the pensions of nineteen colored soldiers. "I can not," he says, "refrain from mentioning an aged blackman, Primus Babcock, who proudly presented to me an honorable discharge from service, during the war, dated at the close of it, wholly in the hand writing of George Washington. Nor can I forget the expression of his feelings when informed after his discharge had been sent to the war department that it could not be returned. At his request it was written for, as he seemed inclined to spurn the pension and claim the discharged."

"In Rhode Island," says Governor Eustis,4 in an able speech against slavery in Missouri in 1820, "the blacks formed an entire regiment and discharged their duty with zeal and fidelity. The gallant defense of Red Bank in which the black regiment bore a part is among the proofs of its valor." The glory of this defence in a very important sense belongs to the blacks. And it has been pronounced the most heroic action of the war. Among the distinguish-

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