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Address of Hon. Fred. Douglass, delivered before the National Convention of Colored Men, at Louisville, Ky., September 24, 1883


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The States in which this illiteracy prevails either can not or will not provide adequate systems of education for their own youth. But however this may be, the fact remains that the whole country is directly interested in the education of every child that lives within its borders. The ignorance of any part of the American people so deeply concerns all the rest that there can be no doubt of the right to pass laws compelling the attendance of every child at school. Believing that such is now required and ought to be enacted, we hereby put ourselves on record in favor of stringent laws to this end.

In the presence of this appalling picture presented by the last census we hold it to be the imperative duty of Congress to take hold of this important subject, and, without waiting for the States to adopt liberal school systems within their respective jurisdictions, to enter vigorously upon the work of universal education.

The National Government, with its immense resources, can carry the benefits of a sound common-school education to the door of every poor man from Maine to Texas, and to withhold this boon is to neglect the greatest assurance it has of its own perpetuity. As a part of the American people we unite most emphatically with others who have already spoken on this subject, in urging Congress to lay the foundation for a great national system of aid to education at its next session.

In this connection, and as germain to the subject of education under national auspices, we would most respectfully and earnestly request Congress to authorize the appointment of a commission of three or more persons of suitable character and qualifications to ascertain the legal claimants, as far as they can, to a large fund now in the United States treasury, appropriated for the payment of bounties of colored soldiers and sailors; and to provide by law that at the expiration of three or five years the balance remaining in the treasury be distributed among the colored colleges of the country, giving the preference as to amounts to the schools that are doing effective work in industrial branches.


The colored people have suffered much on account of the failure of the Freedmen's bank. Their loss by this institution was a peculiar hardship, coming as it did upon them in the days of their greatest weakness. It is certain that the depositors in this institution were led to believe that as Congress had chartered it and established its headquarters at the capital the Government in some way was responsible for the safe keeping of their money.

Without the dissemination of this belief it would never have had the confidence of the people as it did nor have secured such an immense deposit. Nobody authorized to speak for the Government ever corrected this deception, but on the contrary, Congress continued to legislate for the bank as if all that had been claimed for it was true.

Under these circumstances, together with much more that might be said in f vor of such a measure, we ask Congress to reimburse the unfortunate victims of that institution, and thus carry hope and give to many fresh encouragement in the battle of life.


We desire, also, to call the attention of Congress and the country to the bounty and pension laws and to the filing of original claims. We ask for the passage of an act extending the time for filing original claims beyond the present limit.

This we do for the reason that many of the soldiers and sailors that served in the war of the rebellion and their heirs, and especially colored claimants living in parts of the country where they have but meagre means of information,

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