Imágenes de páginas



order out of political chaos. But men knew that the institution of slavery was doomed. It remained for the convention to record the fact in a constitutional way, and make some provision toward helping the negroes perform the duties of freedmen. This, of course, meant the establishing of some system of education. The prejudices of centuries must be overcome in a day. The negro

children must be taught, at least the elements of learning, in order to save the State from the dangers latent in an ignorant, idle and vicious population. Those who are inclined to criticise the South for its treatment of the black race, at the close of the war, quite fail to realize the magnitude of the problem which its white men were then suddenly called upon to solve. Whatever may now be thought of the opinions and actions of those men then, it must be remembered, that revolutions, whether welcome or not, do not suddenly and wholly change the inherited beliefs of men. The reorganization of civil affairs in the South in 1865 was the work of a few men. That the people of impoverished States, whatever the cause of the impoverishment, should, even under military pressure, determine to provide for the education of millions, recently their slaves, and to treat them as equals before the law, was evidence of an altruistic purpose never known in ancient times, and but seldom in modern.

The President's suggestion of emancipation and education was strictly adhered to, but not without serious and well-organized opposition. Could Louisiana be expected to deprive herself, at one stroke, of one hundred and fifty millions of property, and tax what remained to educate that which was taken away ?1 It seemed like compelling a man to improve and pay taxes on property of which he had just been robbed. Grinding necessity is often

1 Debates, pp. 142, 143.



[ocr errors]

right, and Louisiana could not now escape the obligation imposed upon her. But there was a third suggestion from the President; the extension of suffrage to negroes conspicuous for gallant services in the ranks of the Union armies. The report of the Committee on the Legislative Department showed clearly how the State would interpret this suggestion. It advised turning the problem over to the legislature and empowering it to extend the suffrage to such other persons, citizens of the United States, as by military service, by taxation to support the government, or by intellectual fitness, might be deemed entitled to the right. But the report gave the elective franchise only to white males; it was therefore open to question whether the suffrage could be extended to negroes, for they were neither white males, nor citizens of the United States.

These critical years in our history will be remembered by posterity as the years when legal and constitutional precedents were freely ignored. What authority, it was asked, had the State to legislate for the education of negroes, or to admit negroes to the elective franchise ? No precedent could be found in the Constitution or the laws of the United States, yet the national government was urging the innovation: Let Congress step forth, and help bear the burden, instead of acting the robber. Where was the money to come from wherewith to educate the hundreds of thousands of negro children in the State ? Emancipation meant only the further degradation of the race; as might be seen by a day's travel in Mexico. The hue and cry of negro equality, it was answered, and future danger from the black race, manifested a spirit of cowardice. What white man was afraid that the despised

1 Report of the Committee on the Legislative Department, p.



African would become his equal ? Give the negro an education, and he would keep his proper place, and find his level. It would make him a useful and responsible being, which was neither more nor less than his due.1 This expression of confidence in education echoed that heard twenty years before in the Northern States, when the question of establishing systems of public schools was first seriously agitated, and public opinion found expression in the saying often imputed to Horace Mann, that education is the cheap defence of nations.?

But the problem in Louisiana in 1864, was very different from that in the Northern States in 1840, when any system of public education which might be established would receive support, not only from local taxation, and State appropriation, but from the land grants of Congress. Louisiana, and its sister States of the South, in 1864, must meet the burden alone.

It is not strange that many Southern men, at this time, insisted that Congress should aid them in the undertaking; but resolutions to this effect were the work of the minority. The majority insisted, and doubtless convinced the minority, that the State could expect nothing from Congress. Slavery was dead, Louisiana must make constitutional record of the fact, and adjust herself accordingly. She must make some provision for taking care of the freedmen, and do this unaided, except by the military power of the United States. It does not appear that the resolution of Congress of 1862, offering to co-operate with any State in abolition, was for a moment entertained

1 Debates, 158.

2 For the account of the establishment of public schools throughout the country, see my Constitutional History of the American People, 1776-1850, Vol. I, pp. 373, 379, 384; Vol. II, pp. 439, 449.

3 April 10, Statutes at Large, XII, 617.



by any Gulf State at the time, for “the expectation of realizing Southern independence was then high.” The President and Congress were in earnest, but to Louisiana, their earnestness was that of an enemy. Now that the hour of abolition had come, Louisiana pleaded for compensation. Congress in 1864, was not in a mood to repeat the offer of two years before, to compensate slave owners, loyal or disloyal, for their slaves.

An explanation was now given in Louisiana: "If there is no slavery in this State to-day,” said a member, “I want to know who is responsible for it? If there has been any robbery of slaves in Louisiana, I wish him to explain, who are the robbers? They are the people of Louisiana, themselves, who of their own accord, by passing the act of secession, and by inaugurating the rebellion, renounced and destroyed their slave property forever. If there is any robber, it is the secessionist, and not the Union army, who came down here to preserve the honor and integrity of the country. This people inaugurated the civil war against the United States, and in its progress, as wise men saw from its beginning, it became a military necessity to emancipate their slaves.”2 As well say, that the government had no right to demand his time of the soldier, and that to make thousands of men leave their business, and join the ranks in defence of the United States, was robbery. “To strike down slavery was then to strike down the strong arm of the rebellion.” The Emancipation Proclamation had not abolished slavery in the State, for it applied only to designated parishes; the State must abolish slavery. The proclamation had freed

1 See the elaborate scheme of classification of slaves at $300, $200 and $100 a head. Debates, pp. 175, 186.

2 Debates, p. 177. 3 Debates, p. 178.



some slaves. This view entertained by the convention coincided with that of the President, and was based on the accepted principle of American democracy, that a State and not the United States could abolish slavery.

The days of the institution were now drawing swiftly to a close, and it is interesting to read the confessions and opinions of some of its former supporters. It had divided the white population, too long, into the rich and the poor; it had created permanent classes of society, and fixed the condition of whites as well as blacks; its abolition would infranchise both races. But the convention delayed its vote. It was an excitable body, and as the day, when decision must be made, drew near, excitement increased. Nearly thirty delegates wished to escape going on record, and absented themselves. It was decided that every vote on the subject of emancipation should be taken by yeas and nays, and that every member should be brought in by the sergeant-at-arms, and required to record his vote.1 At least one-fifth of the members were insisting upon compensated emancipation, and the removal of the freedmen from the State. The economic argument heard in Missouri was also heard here. Adopt immediate emancipation, restore peace to the State, interest the freedmen to remain, pay them for their labor, and the increase in land values, and in the productions of the State would more than compensate for the loss of slave property. If experience should prove that the two races could not live together, the State might colonize the negro elsewhere.

As the excitement increased, angry words were spoken, and words spoken in debate led to personal encounters on the streets. The ordinance to abolish slavery was made the special order for the ninth of May. As the results of the vote, on the sections of the measure, were an

1 Carried, 61 to 2; Debates, p. 196.

« AnteriorContinuar »