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Proceedings of the National Convention of the Colored Men of America: held in Washington, D.C., on January 13, 14, 15, and 16, 1869.

1869 National Convention in Washington DC 51.pdf

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III.

Interview with the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee of the National Colored Men's Convention, Messrs. Isaiah C. Weir, of Pennsylvania, chairman; Geo. T. Downing, Rhode Island; Captain G. A. Hackett, Maryland; James M. Simms, Georgia; John F. Cook, D.C.; J. W. Stringer, Illinois; John DeBaptist, Mississippi, and John C. Bowers, of Pennsylvania, and W. J. Wilson, by invitation of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, waited upon that committee on Saturday. The committee was cordially received, and, after introduction, Mr. Weir, the chairman, addressed the committee as follows:

Mr Chairman and gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee, we appear before you as a special delegation sent by the National Convention of Colored men holding its sessions in the City at this hour. Aware of the power that centres in this Committee and of the great learning, the profound scholarship, as well as the devotion to the principles of American liberty of its members, we approach you, indulging the hope that the interview (so far as we are concerned at least) will not be devoid of interest and profit. The all absorbing subject of suffrage to our people, confronted as it is at every point by the mischievous doctrine of State Rights, compels us to avail ourselves of your official liberality to state the fundamental ground upon which we claim, from this nation, protection in the exercise of all political rights belonging to us as American citizens.

In order to the proper understanding of the political and legal relations that each State bear, or should bear, to the General Government, it is important that we should know what was the state of affairs in the earliest hours of our national existence. Every man cognizant of the history of those times, is fully aware that there were no States in existence here—nothing but colonies, whose united independence, and whose united liberty had just been fought for, and, after eight years of was and carnage, secured by the whole people. That we were then a nation is proved by the fact that Great Britain acknowledged our independence. Not the independence of individual States, but the independence of one nation. Now the question is, when did this nation begin to be? I assert, and am safe in asserting, that the first breath of life it ever drew was the Declaration of Independence, publishing, as it did, the character of the movement to the world, in dignity and firmness, by the enunciation of the following:

"That when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people (not States) to dissolve the political bands that have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the law of nature and nature's God entitle them, &c."

Now, the first feature of this declaration is that in it we presented ourselves to the world in general, and to Great Britain in particular, as one people—not as States, nor as colonies, but as one united people, aiming to place ourselves side by side with other and older nations of the earth, and pledging our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor, to secure the object, viz: our national independence.

In order to the easier and clearer understanding of the matter at this point, it is well that is should be understood that the term State, in its original or European acceptation, means a nation. France, Austria, and England are States. William H. Seward in (with us) Secretary of State, because he is Secretary of the Nation.

To be a State, therefore, in the world-wide acceptation of the term, would be to have the right to levy war, to conclude peace, to contract alliances, to establish commerce, and to do all other things that independent States may have a right to do. I am persuaded that no one, whose opinions are entitled to respect, would claim such powers or rights for the States in this Government.

If it is still claimed that they are States, then all that remains for them (while the United States Government exists as a nation

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