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justice to the negro, the principle of human liberty, and the spirit of Christian civilization.1
But these consistent and persuasive arguments had but little weight with the opposition; they clung to their prejudices and to the letter of the law. When the question of the abolition of the discriminating property qualification for negroes had been under discussion in the New York convention of 1868, Horatio Seymour, Samuel J. Tilden and other eminent Democrats, who were opposed to the measure, said little in debate, but marshaled the opposition so as to make the abolition a specific issue at the polls, being confident that the article on abolition would be rejected. Their confidence, as results proved, was well placed. Senator Buckalew, and several of his political associates, now attempted the same tactics in Congress, and urged that the amendment should be made an issue at the polls before being sent to the legislatures for ratification.? The late attitude of Pennsylvania toward negro suffrage convinced Buckalew that the proposed amendment would meet the fate of the negro suffrage clause in the recent New York elections. He saw no other way of insuring its defeat. No Republican Senator entertained an anxious fear for its adoption in most of the States, but many were unwilling to risk its fate in the hands of the legislatures, whose lower House had been freshly chosen, and particularly in New York, Ohio and Indiana, in which hostility to negro suffrage had lately cast an overwhelming vote. Buckalew based his objections on the original and exclusive right of each State to regulate the suffrage for itself.
The history of the suffrage in the United States disclosed an anomaly, which, as Howard of Michigan said, could not have escaped the attention of thoughtful men. All other governments regulated the suffrage, but no such faculty 1 Globe, 911-912.
2 Globe, 912-913.
belonged to the Government of the United States. In this respect the National Government was entirely subject to the action of the States. The power to regulate the suffrage, as history shows, has ordinarily been exercised by the Government which is to be affected by it. The fathers, however, did not see fit to grant such authority to the Federal Government, and the proposed amendment was the first attempt to interfere with the right to control the suffrage long exercised by the States; and to "prescribe the qualifications of voters not only within their own limits but as to the Federal Government.” Howard, who, it will be remembered, was one of the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, objected to the language of the proposed Fifteenth, and for the reasons which Morton had already expressed. He preferred to give the suffrage and the right to hold office to the negro "in direct and plain terms so that 'he who runs may read,'” and he proposed, as a suitable form for the amendment that citizens of the United States of African descent should have the same right to vote and to hold office in the States and territories as other citizens who were electors of the most numerous branch of their legislatures. This language, he said, was both explicit and formal and met the emergency. The Republican party was under promise to guarantee, by Congress, equal suffrage to all loyal men at the South; the promise was in the platform on which Grant and Colfax had been elected.
Hendricks, of Indiana, promptly reminded him that another clause in that platform declared that the question of suffrage in all the loyal States properly belonged to the people of those States; a clear recognition of the true doctrine of the regulation of the suffrage. The word "properly," replied Howard, was used in the sense of "constitutional," and the party was not therefore guilty of perfidy
GEORGE F. EDMUNDS.
as Hendricks charged, in now formulating and passing the suffrage amendment.1
But Hendricks's charge was more serious than that of a broken platform; he maintained that the proposed amendment would be a violation of the original compact between the States, and would change the nature of the government. "I wish to ask the Senator," said Edmunds, of Vermont, “what, in his opinion as a real Democrat, is the true foundation of the Government, and whether he believes that universal suffrage is the true principle or not ?" Hendricks, in reply, referred Edmunds to Jefferson's writings, but also gave an explicit answer; the extension of the suffrage to the colored people of the South was a change which had not been sufficiently tested to justify Congress in making a like change permanent for all the States. If any State chose to extend the suffrage to the negro, it had the right to do so, but this right did not lie in Congress. The negro race and the white could not mingle in the exercise of political power with good results to society; they differed not merely in physical appearance and conformation, but morally and intellectually. The black race did not bring any contribution to the mass of intelligence of the country, nor did Hendricks think it ever would. “The tendency of that race," said he, “is downward, when not supported by the intelligence of the white race.” His sharp accusation of perfidy in the Republican party, and of its violation of the Chicago platform, called forth several replies of which Senator Sawyer's, of South Carolina, doubtless satisfied his political associates, that the doctrine which the Republicans had laid down in its platform, the summer before that the right of control of the suffrage properly belongs to the people of the States—was entirely true at the time and had been very 1 Globe, 986.
2 Globe, 989.
GEORGE F. EDMUNDS.
properly expressed at Chicago, but that, nevertheless, it did not prevent Congress from making proposition for an amendment, in the usual constitutional form. The same argument, he said, would have prevented the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment.1
Several Senators now offered substitutes for the Stewart amendment, and all for the purpose of making the language clearer and more explicit in securing the right of suffrage to negroes. They differed from the Committee's amendment chiefly in arrangement, but most of them contained the well-known phrase of the Civil Rights Bill,
race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Senator Edmunds objected to the Stewart amendment because it left the descendants of every other race than the African entirely at the mercy of the States. "I think this proposition,” said Senator Warner of Alabama, “to single out one race, is the weakest one that can be put before the country. If we want to strengthen it and give it a chance of adoption, we ought to amend it and insert the Irish and Germans.” If the language suggested by Howard was to be adopted, that Senator was asked by Senator Sawyer of South Carolina, whether it would not be competent for any of the States, lately reconstructed, if they fell into the hands of the Democrats, to make such qualifications for the suffrage, without violation of the amendment, as would practically disfranchise four-fifths of the citizens of African descent. Whatever regulations or reconstruction might be established in this regard by a State, was the reply, "it must operate with equal severity upon the white and black
But the Senate was loath to specify a particular race, in the Constitution, and Howard's amendment was at last rejected by a vote of more than two to one.2
1 Globe, 997. 2 35 to 16; February 8, 1869. Globe, 1012.
This brought the Senate back to the Stewart amendment. Warner at once moved a substitute, which was really in the nature of new matter. In addition to the provision that the right of citizens of the United States to vote and to hold office should not be abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of property, race, color or previous condition of servitude, the right to vote should be explicitly declared to be granted to every male citizen of the United States of the age of twenty-one years, or over, who, being of sound mind, had resided in the State for one year; but all who were guilty of engaging in insurrection or rebellion against the United States or who had been convicted of crime should be excepted. Williams at once pointed out the danger of providing in the Constitution that in any and all possible elections which might be held in the States for any purpose, every citizen should have an equal right to vote. It would produce great embarrassment in the States. Senator Sherman remarked that five different causes had at different times excluded from the right to vote in our own and in other countries, namely, race, property, religion, nativity and education, the last, in Massachusetts, and an experiment of our own. Would it not be wiser and better, he inquired, to exclude only for crime? To Senator Williams' objections to the Warner amendment, Howard now added another, that it made a naturalized citizen eligible to the Presidency, which would be a clear violation of the qualification annexed to that office by the fathers and would be dangerous to public safety.
Still another, and perhaps for the time a more serious objection, was pointed out by Willey of West Virginia, that the time had not yet come for universal amnesty and therefore that the amendment suggested by the Senator from Alabama, which provided practically that rebels might