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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 54.pdf

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                                                VI

I ask those who differ with me on this point to admit the hypothesis for a moment, that if the people fail to vote from any cause, I care not what, wherein the absence of voting is the power to perpetuate a government of this kind, does not the government occupy a humiliating position, almost inviting contempt, to stand cowering before a petty State, which has just been subjected, through the aid of the men that she is just stripping of their rights, to perpetuate that government by their ballots? Is it not folly to talk about protecting our naturalized citizens in their rights abroad, by war, if needs be, with one of the greatest powers of the earth, while the smallest State at home can strip them of all their rights? With the doctrine of States rights a success, a man might be a naturalized citizen for twenty years or more and be deprived of suffrage rights, without their being the justification of crime or idiocy to sustain the disfranchisement.

Suffrage cannot, with justice or safety, be regulated by intelligence or systematic education. If an intelligent class just above, have a right to deprive the class just below them on account of want of attainmeuts in this direction, there would surely be found a class further advanced in intelligence than they who would (on the same principle) have the right to deprive them; and so on it might go upward and upward until the right would be confined to the few, which would be in direct violence to the principles of our Government, but in perfect harmony with the sentiments of the great political economist and secessionist of the South, DeBow, who wrote just previous to the rebellion, says: "The right to govern resides with the few, and the duty to obey is inherent in the masses of mankind."

And, again, says DeBow: "All government begins with usurpation and is continued by force, nature putting the ruling classes uppermost and the masses below. Anything less than this is not government." This is State right's doctrine fully fledged, fearlessly propagated when it was thought the rebellion would prove a success. If, therefore, we would see more clearly the importance of caution in admitting to the halls of Congress men imbued with such abstract principles of government, if we would see the necessity, before restoring them fully, of providing for probable contingencies and as far as we can for possible ones, let Democrats and Republicans ask themselves the question, that if they occupied a position when the rebellion was in full blast and they in the Confederate service had lost a limb, or a mother or sister had lost a husband, or suppose every dollar we had owned, had been given by us or taken from us to sustain the rebellion, and we at this hour held the bonds for the faithful payment with interest--if ever we went ourselves or sent others to Congress, would we not, if our wealth was in those bonds, do our best to make them valuable, if by so doing we could regain something of the standing and comfortable sufficiency that we had previous to the rebellion? If others were receiving pensions for the loss of husbands or the loss of limbs, would we not do our best to see to the interest of ourselves and relatives? And if we could not succeed in this with the aid of our northern allies would it not be expecting too much of us who had broken faith with the Government that we would not be tempted to force the Government to repudiate its liabilities, if by so doing, we could relieve ourselves and our constituents from the responsibilities of an onerous taxation, created by the successful effort to subdue us? Though we might be willing to admit ourselves conquered, it would be the excess of credulity to expect us to pay for it willingly.

Suffrage cannot be regulated by color, for the reason that if suffrage can be taken away or withheld on that account, then the right of property, in either real or personal estate, the right of residence, of personal liberty, or of life itself, would have no tenure by which they would be secure. We are reminded to stand back, that this is a white man's country. So it is: butit is also a black man's country, and a poor man's country--a country for wise men, and for those that are otherwise, but exclusively belonging to neither. It is urged that the colored man is too ignorant to be trusted with the ballot. This comes with an ill grace to us from the

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