Speech of John R. French, esq., of Chowan County: on the question of suffrage, delivered in the Constitutional Convention of North-Carolina, February 18th, 1868






SPEECH
OF
JOHN R. FRENCH, ESQ,
OF
CHOWAN COUNTY,
ON THE
QUESTION OF SUFFRAGE,
DELIVERED IN THE
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF NORTH-CAROLINA,
FEBRUARY 18th, 1868.

It will be noticed, Mr. President, that our Committee were a good deal divided in opinion on the important questions submitted to them, and that we have made several Reports. I agree with the majority in recommending that the Ballot be free to all citizens—and while all know that the Howard Amendment, (which must be-come a law of the land before we can return to the Union,) renders certain citizens ineligible to office, differing from the majority, I would not try to blink this fact out of sight, but would have it clearly set forth in the Constitution, that men who went into the Rebellion in violation of solemn oaths to support the Federal Constitution, cannot have the opportunity in North-Carolina of repeating the treachery. I would have the law stand at the portal of the Constitution, like the Angel who with flaming sword guarded the entrance to Paradise. Every time they read the Constitution of the State, I would have these men reminded of their lost condition, peradventure the frequent reminder may work repentance. Neither can I agree with the minority, who, agreeing with me in both these positions, would also demand a system of Registration, and a Test Oath for every voter. Registration is expensive and troublesome, and it seems to me not necessary in North-Carolina, while Test Oaths are of

offensive and out of place in a Republican government. And especially can I not agree with that other minority of your Committee who recommend Suffrage for all the men lately engaged in Rebellion, and its denial to more than 70,000 of the Loyal citizens of the State.

And here permit me to call your attention, Sir, to a statement which recently appeared in one of the newspapers, so-called, of this city, in regard to this Report of the Suffrage Committee. The Editor, claiming to have this Report before him, with his characteristic candor towards his political opponents, and that tender regard for the truth which deems the article too sacred a thing for ordinary use, asserted that in my minority report I recommended the withholding of the right of Suffrage from all rebels Now it this Reverend Ananias had not seen the report he had no right to state its positions—if he had, he knew he was making a statement directly the opposite of the fact. And the Editor goes on with the same Reverend good-manners and like truthfulness to intimate that there is some question as to my right to a seat in this body.

In view of what has transpired in the State of Alabama, since the report now before us was made to the Convention, at the proper time I





2 Speech of John R. French

shall move to add another to the classes ineligible to office, namely:

All who by bribes, threats, or intimidation at-tempt to prevent others from the free exercise of the elective franchise.

After War comes Peace. And "Peace hath its victories no lees renowned than War" The victories of Good-wilt, subduing Hate; of Forgiveness conquering Malice; the victories of that broad catholic charity which harmonizes all discords. These are the duties and labors which come in with Peace. But Peace hath, also, its lessons to remember—the lessons learned of War, and learned at. such cost that they should never be forgotten, but handed down from generation to generation. Lessons written on the black sky of night, by the glare of burning towns; uttered in the shrieks of houseless and homeless women and little children; written like the raked letters of the blind child's alphabet, in the long lines of your soldier's Cemeteries, and by the lonely graves of" unknown soldiers" scattered all over the laud; written in the armless sleeves which pass you upon the streets; written in the uneffaceable sorrows of the widow and the orphan. Are, Sir, written in undying remembrance in the heart of every lover of Liberty and Free Government the world over, who looked on with fearful forebodings as he saw the Great. Republic of the earth, the hope of Freedom everywhere, struggling in the death-clutch of its own fostered, trusted, but traitor-sons.

No, Sir, no, Sir, while ready to yield all the amenities of Peace—glad to rebuild waste places —let is never forget the great lesson of this war. With the majority of your Committee, I am ready to open the Ballot-box to every citizen, that the majority of the people in all things may, rule. Such is the requirement of a Republican government. So much is due to Peace, and necessary for Harmony, and in accordance as I believe with political wisdom. And such is the wish, I am glad to say, of the constituency, that I have the honor to represent in this Convention of the People. I represent, Sir, a black constituency; black, but comely. Comely in the humility with which they, recently Slaves, now Freemen of the Republic, bear their new honors; comely in the fidelity with which they discharge their new ditties; comely In the for-giving spirit with which they would veil the past, and in the charity with which they would humbly share their rights with all classes of the people. Filled with gratitude for the great blessings which have come to them, in their hearts there is no room left for thought of revenge or Punishment for other. But while they would ex-tend the elective franchise to all citizens, remembering that the great mass of the people of North-Carolina who were implicated in the late Rebellion were forced into it by circumstances that they could not well control, still they are not ready to see the control and direction of the Stale, its positions of trust and honor, pass into the keeping of those treacherous instigators of this treason, who, despite the confidence of their fellow-citizens, and their own solemn oaths, lifted perjured hands to tear down this Temple of Law and Freedom, which their fathers had reared, and they sworn to protect. Not quite ready, Sir, for that folly, for that treachery to the sacred interests now entrusted to us.

When you have arrested the midnight incendiary who would fire your house, and torn his torch from him, will you set him at large again, and return to him his implements of destruction, that he may creep back and complete his hellish work, wrap your home in flames, where sleep your wife and babes? These men whom we pro-pose to exclude from office, are not the petty incendiaries who would burn your house or mine, but the men who would set torch to every home in the State, the gigantic villains who attempted to lire the Temple of Freedom, where slept in confiding trust the Hopes of the world.

Call out from their retreats, and back from their exile, these betrayers of your trust, the men who tore down the Flag of your fathers and trampled it in the dust as a vile thing; who hunted you to the swamps and to the mountains, and dragged your sons to ignoble slaughter; made widows of your women and orphans of your children, filling your whole State with want and sorrow; call back such monsters of treachery and evil, and again make them your Governors and Senators and Representatives, your trusted officials ? The proposition is monstrous and suicidal, and can never receive the sanction of this Convention of the Loyal people of the State. The mutineers who would sciatic the old ship, and send her ignominiously to the bottom—are they the men again to walk tier quarter-deck? Forbid it Heaven! And the very earth will cry out against such wickedness, for the, bones of your martyred dead, stirred to indignation at such forgetfulness of the treachery which robbed them of their young lives, would rattle upon their coffin lids in rebuke of the supporters of such a proposition. Aye, Sir, if the spirits of the sainted dead may revisit the scenes of their earthly interest—if the statesmen and the fathers, the wise and patient builders of your foundations, and the patriotic and self-sacrificing defenders of your earlier and better days, arc hovering about this hall, watching with rapt interest the decisions of the hour, upon which





On the Question of Suffrage. 3

hang the destinies of the State and of her million of people. Oh! if they could speak, how earnestly would they pray us to keep the State from the treacherous hands of its once betrayers. Not for Vengeance. Not for Punishment. But for Protection. The Past demands guarantees of the Future.

We cannot forget the past, and its great lesson. The men who dragged North-Carolina from the Union, despite the wishes of a majority of her people, and joined hands with those who fired upon an unarmed vessel bearing food to a famishing garrison ; starved defenceless Prisoners at Salisbury and at Andersonville until the laud was fall of living skeletons; sent infected clothing into Newbern and Beaufort, until thousands of your people died of the terrible Fever; manta-cited the Negroes at Plymouth and hung the white men at Kinston : cannot escape the moral pollution which attaches to such baseness. And these pollutions kill, and kill down through the ages. Who can afford now to be a descendant of a Tory of the Revolution? The man who has become an enemy of his country, his race, or of human liberty, taints his own and taints his child's blood, with a virus terrible as the mark of Cain, the leprosy of Naaman, and the worms of Herod.

And neither you nor I, Sir, nor any other man, can afford to belong, or approach near to, that band of men who planned and wrought for their country's murder. Already the scorn of the nations—a scorn which the centuries shall augment forever as they go slowly by—has traced the black, deep, ineffaceable dead line around that band of criminals, whose meant guilt was to perpetually overthrow Liberty amongst men, and to found government upon the enslavement and chattelization of the souls of God's poor. Guided by the common conscience of the civilized world, and cut by that inexorable pen of iron and point of diamond, with which history engraves the imperishable decrees of the ages, that fatal dead line has been drawn to stand forever. Out from its fearful enclosure none will ever go and be politically alive, and into it none will ever pass, and not be dead.

I care not how exalted may have been the man's previous character. I care not how high he may have towered in the respect and affection of the people. He may have graced the highest chair of the State, and honored by his wisdom and his virtues the Nation's Senate and the President's Cabinet, and in the opening days of these troubles been the hope of his people. Yet, if' he forgets all this and goes in with these conspirators to preside in their conclaves—he passes from among living men. And how sad to see young men, full of manly sentiment and spirit, the dew of youth still fresh and beautiful upon their young brows, sliding all these noble and generous impulses, and joining themselves to the dead.

The appalling events of the War, which these men contrived, its causeless origin, its strange Cruelties, the fiendish malignity of its prosecution. the four years of its relentless struggle for the destruction of the nation, are all too fresh in your agonized hearts to permit their force being hightened by any recital of which speech is capable. As a crime against liberty, this rebellion stands in history unmatched. As a conspiracy through thirty years, it is wholly without a parallel or proximate. As a crime against all free government, it stands alone in its detested pre-eminence. To erect an empire of slavery upon its country's ruin, it laughed to scorn all the restraints of religion, government and law. It took command in the nation's armies, that it might betray and surrender them. If accepted of its government's nurture so that it. might fatally stab the breast from which the nurture was drawn. It grasped the position of ministers oh' State so that the power these gave might ensure them ability, at a blow, to destroy the State. They obtained elections to Congress to the end that in the Congress they might cut off from the nation all means of life. They took the oath to support the Constitution so that they might get. an opportunity to destroy it; and in the nation's council chamber, where they swore to study the nation's safety, they literally invented and sent out the plans of its death. Will you permit such men again to administer your government—at least until they shall have repented of this great crime and brought forth fruits meet for repentance?

By extending Suffrage to all, but closing all places of trust against those, who have violated former oaths of allegiance, as is my recommendation in the report before you, I would have this Convention stand in harmony with the action of Congress—for right or wrong, to its decision must we bow. To the sword has the appeal lawn made—and the conquering power, as of right, dictates the terms. Why are men wasting their breath in discussing questions which the sword has settled. The Rebellion represented the powerful ideas of the superiority of the white race over the black; of the greater fitness of an aristocratic class than a working class to govern; of the material aggrandisement and pecuniary profit of slavery; of the sovereignty of each State; of the dread and supposed danger of setting free four millions of untutored slaves, and giving them rights approximating those of their late masters; and of a Christianity and code of





4 Speech of John R. French

morale and ethics in which these ideas were assumed to be sound, and in the light of which the freeing a slave was on par with stealing a horse, and general emancipation was deemed to be whole-sale "massacre. And for these ideas their champions fought through four bloody years, and with a pertinacity, and a courage, and a spirit of sacrifice that the world has never seen excelled. But they failed. They appealed to the sword—and its arbitration was against them.

A political party in the land cherishing opposite sentiments, on all these questions, rose into such majestic strength that it prevailed in every Northern State, has ruled the destinies of the Union for seven years, overthrown opposing institutions by decrees as revolutionary of antecedent conditions as were ever issued by Czar or Emperor, and enforced their changes by armies as powerful as were swayed by an Alexander, Ceazar, or Napoleon, and is now reconstructing the Union on a basis of Universal Suffrage, which secures the ascendancy of its ideas, ultimately, not merely in the transient politics but in the fundamental Constitution and laws of the lately rebellious States. Never before in the world's history has there been so sublime a vindication of the power of an idea to mould parties, revolutionize governments, raise and mass armies, overthrow institutions, and change our great struggle was, on both sides, a war of the social destiny of races. In the fullest sense ideas.

The triumphant idea was the idea proclaimed by Petal, the apostle of Jesus Christ, when standing in the midst of Mars Hill. One of the Ceasars ears then ruled with undisputed sway. All about the Apostle stood temple and statue, the glories of Grecian art. Wealth and culture aid patrician blood swayed society, and man as man was of so little account that the Roman master chopped his slave into minced meat for food for his petted fish. But Paul, brave old Apostle, in the midst of their pride and oppression pro claimed that of One Blood were made all the Nations. The proud Athenians laughed at Paul as a babbler, as a "radical." But that truth uttered eighteen hundred years ago, has been working among the Nations ever since—and will work on until not a tyrant nor an oppressor shall remain to curse this green earth, end man everywhere lift unfettered hands in adoration of the God v-ho made him, and upon his brow stamped His own image.

In a debate in this Convention, the other duty, a gentleman arose and attempted to cast ridicule upon the immortal declaration of our fathers that all men are created equal, and asserted that its grand assertion of the equality of human rights was a " flaunting lie." The Declaration of Independence, sir, it seems necessary to tell some gentlemen, was not a declaration of social privileges, or of intellectual status, or a treatise upon natural history, but a declaration of political rights; and when it declared that all men are created equal, it uttered a political truth which lies at the foundation of all Republican government—the rock on which is founded all personal and civil freedom. A truth, sir, that despite the attacks of the gentleman from Washington, will stand to the last syllable of time, I tell gentle-men that it is alike in vain that they attack either that grand central idea of the Declaration, or the character of its immortal author. Charges of falsehood and demagoguery and irreligion, re-bound harmless from the spotless fame of Thomas Jefferson, as small shot from the turret of a Monitor. There were giants in those days—yet, in a clear conception of the fundamental principles of free government Thomas Jefferson towered above them all. Jefferson and Adams and Franklin and Sherman and Livingston, were the committee who reported the Declaration. These, "Liars!" "Humbugs!" "Demagogues!" Ah, I these men ask no defence. They command the homage of all men who love Liberty. Their fame has passed into the keeping of History, and she will guard it well. High on her roll of honor has she inscribed all their names—a galaxy of patriots and statesmen more glorious than any galaxy that gems the dome of night. Dipping her impartial pencil in the sunlight, in the clear blue, highest of them all, she has written the name of the Scholar, Statesman and Philosopher, Thomas Jefferson.

It was this doctrine of the equality of political rights, emblazoned upon their banners which won for our fathers the sympathies of the world, and carried them victoriously through their seven years war. Its bold ennunciation shook: every throne in Europe,--and will yet topple every one of them to the ground. It is the cornerstone of our political government. Reject it, and there is nothing for you to build upon this side of kingly prerogative. And the Republicanism which brands it is an imposture and a humbug, is itself the baldest of all impositions.

But we are told that this is a "white man's government." That is the vulgar appeal to prejudice whereby the fomenters of all the troubles now oppressing the, South hope to reinstate them-selves in power and patronage. The grand hailing cry of distress which the Democratic Party sends forth to the ignorance and blind prejudice of the land, hoping, that in the festering purlieus of the cities and in the Egyptian districts of the country, when neither the School-master with his





On the Question of Suffrage. 5

Primer nor the Preacher with his Testament has found his way, there may be found enough of these elements, it vigorously organized, to again give them the public control. "A white man's Government.”

Does that grand charter of your government and your liberties, your Constitution, begin: We the white people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, in-sure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the white people of the United States of America? Does your Declaration of Independence declare among its self—evident truths that all white men are created equal, and endowed with certain unalienable rights? Do gentlemen forget that when the national Constitution was adopted, that in every State of the old thirteen, eve South Carolina, which was always an exception to any wholesome rule, the tree colored man voted? And in a Stale where they voted at will so lately as in North-Carolina, this cry of "a white man's government" is too great an imposition upon our intelligence. What have political rights to do with the color of a man's face, or the quality of the coat upon his back? His rights pertain to him as a man—and have nothing to do with the accidents of his birth, the weight of his purse, or the extent of his mental culture.

Men argue with great absurdity that by recognizing another citizen's right to approach the Ballot box, they recognize the fellow's intellectual, moral and social equality. That if he has a right to vote—a voice in the laws which are to tax and govern him—he therefore has a right. to a seat in every parlor of the, land, and to the hand of every man's daughter in marriage! The way-faring man though a fool, it seems to me, can-not fail to see the absurdity of such an argument. Men who all their days have been familiar with colored people in all the relations of society, who drew the sustenance of their earliest life from colored breasts, would try to make us believe that they are shocked at the idea, now in their manhood of depositing their ballots in the same box with colored men.

According to the best testimony the present population of the earth, embracing Caucasians, Mongolians, Malaya, Africans and Americans, is about thirteen handled millions, of whom only three hundred and seventy-five millions are "white men," or about one fourth, so that in claiming exclusive rights for white men, you de-grade nearly three quarters of the Human family, made in the image of God, and declared to be of one blood, while you sanction a caste offensive to religion and an oligarchy inconsistent with republican government. It is an assumption false in religion, false in statesmanship, and false in economy. Show me a creature, with erect countenance looking to heaven, made in the image of God, and I will show you a man, who, of whatever country or race, whether darkened by tropical sun, or blanched by northern cold, is with you a child of the Heavenly Father, and equal with you in all the rights of human nature. You cannot deny these rights without impiety. And so has God linked welfare with duty that you cannot deny these rights without peril to the State.

When the nation was in the hour of its direst peril, the gallant Gen. Sherman was consulted as to the wisdom of arming the negro. "If you place the musket in his hands, and he perils his life for the nation," replied the brave and true man, "it would be very mean afterwards to withhold from the same hands the ballot" And so answers the heart and conscience of every man in whose veins flows blood, and not water. And he was armed—200,000 black men stepped forth to the defence of the nation, and under perils unknown to the white soldier. They led the terrible assaults at Port Hudson and at Fort Wagner, and with their dead bodies filled the trenches at Petersburg and Richmond, that the soldiers of the Union might march over to victory.

And now, when in the spirit of the most generous forgetfulness, we propose to open the way to the ballot-box to all—even the men who lately confronted the nation, sword in hand; why they, even they, come forward and object to the colored man's suffrage! Was there ever assurance like this? But will the friends of the Republic thus spurn their faithful ally? History, Sir, will compel us to say that it was the black skin that could always be trusted; it was the black man who never betrayed; wherever you found a negro, there was a soul loyal to the Union and true to our country's flag. Never in the annals of history was there such an example of universal fidelity and faith. Among the twelve Apostles of our Saviour there was a Judas. There was a traitor among the Spartan band of Leonidas. Our revolutionary army had its Benedict Arnold. The cause of Hungary had its Goergey who betrayed it at Villagos. The cameo of Henry VI, and Warwich, was lost by the desertion of Clarence. Harold, the Saxon, was betrayed by his own brother, Tosti. Maximilian had his Lopez; and, in short, as far back as history carries us Into the dominions of the past, treason has played its part. There was no cause, no army, no faith, without its traitors,





6 Speech of John R. French

until the universal experience of mankind was defied, for the first time in history, by the example of the negro race. Of four millions of negroes there was not one who betrayed the man who came to him with the magic words:

"I'm a Union soldier, help me, hide Me, save me, my colored friend!" Show me a case in history which is equal to this, of a whole race of millions of black men and women, throughout the land, there was not one who would not have risked his own life for the white Union soldier or refugee who invoked his protection ; not one to whom it may not be said the day of judgment, "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat ; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

We hear of a possible war of races, I would give the colored man the ballot, as a way where-by we may avoid such a war, for the ballot will prove a great peace-maker. Plutarch records that the wise man of Athens charmed the people by saying that equality causes no war--and "both the rich and the poor repeated it." And so master and slave will yet enjoy the transforming power of this principle. The master will recognize the new citizen. The slave will stand with tranquil self-respect in the presence of the master. Brute force disappears. Distrust is at an end. The master is no longer a tyrant. The freedman is no longer a dependant. The ballot comes to him in his depression and says, "Use me, and be elevated." It comes to him in his passion, and says, "Use me, and do not fight." It comes to him in his daily thoughts, filling him with the strength and glory of manhood. Reading and writing are of inestimable value—but the ballot teaches what these cannot teach, and what is of especial importance to the freedman, it teaches him to be a man. As physical labor stiffens the bones and developes the muscle, so the exercise of manly duties developes manly virtues. The Conservative mother who, discovering that her child of twelve months cannot walk, should for that reason continue to keep it in its cradle, may rock it on until it is twenty years old, and she would then have but a great baby. It is the exercise of our limbs and faculties which brings out their powers.

The ballot is a reconciler, Next after peace is reconciliation. Do you wish to see harmony truly prevail in North-Carolina, so that industry, society, government, civilization may all prosper, and the State wear a crown of true greatness? Then give the ballot to all your citizens.

The ballot is a protector, and in the present moment this, above all other, is the reason why it should be given to the colored man. Let the freedman vote, and he will have in himself under the law, a constant, ever-present, self-protecting power. When men know that they may be voted down, they will know that they must be just, and everything is contained in justice. Reconstruction was attempted upon the basis of the white vote only—and it was not until the evils resulting from the plan began to develop in black codes that substantially restored slavery that to the minds of the masses of the Union people, the fatal blunder was discovered, and the public sentiment began to move forward to universal suffrage. But when the white vote organized State and City governments that elected none but rebels to power, such as Gen. Humphreys, in Mississippi, Mayor Monroe in New Orleans, Raphael Semmes in Mobile, and the like; and when the ex-rebels, coming together in the Legislatures, enacted that no negro should own land or hire a house, thus politically breaking up his home, and compelling him to work as a menial; when they required him to hire out for a year during the first weeks of January, and in default allowed him to be sold for a term of years ; when they adopted systems of apprenticeship for blacks, which were not applied to whites; when they laid taxes upon polls and not. upon property, and authorized employers to retain from the wages the taxes thus imposed upon the laborers; when they provided for the lash and whipping-post for blacks, but not for whites; when they excluded colored witnesses from courts of justice ; when they organized rebel regiments, which surrendered under Lee, en masse, into State militia, who disarmed the black troops that conquered under Grant; when they revived the fugitive slave law for blacks who did not work out their contracts, but nu punishment for whites who did not pay the wages due on the same contracts; when they reluctantly, and only under impudent protests, assented to the repeal of the ordinances of secession ; when they drove out Northern emigrants, assailed the Freedman's Bureau, burned freedmen's School-houses and churches, organized bands of negro- killers, and finally culminated these outrages in the massacres of Republicans and negroes at Memphis and New Orleans; when the Southern courts were deciding the Civil Rights bill to be unconstitutional, and Southern State Officers were trampling upon its provisions, and defying the Congress that enacted it, then the Union sentiment of the country fully aroused to the exigencies of the case began to move toward reconstruction on the basis of universal suffrage—seeing that there was no other way given among men whereby this Nation might be saved.

And Reconstruction upon this basis, is to be a success, Sir. Building upon this broad and equitable foundation every one of the late insurgent





On the Question of Suffrage. 7

States will re-establish government and return to the Union. The old flag, first unfurled by Washington, at Cambridge, is again to be lilted up and float in power from the Potomac to the Rio Grande; and the people will hail its coming as the return of an old friend, and in its clear blue no Star shall be firmer set, or irradiate a more patriotic light, than the Star of NORTH CAROLINA.

Unfurl, bright stripes—shine forth, clear stars—swing outward to the breeze

Go bear your message to the wilds—go tell it on the seas,

That poor men sit within your shade, and rich men in their pride

That beggar-boys and statesmen's sons walk 'neath you, side by side;

You guard the school-house on the green, the church upon the hill,

And fold your precious blessings 'round the cabin by the rill,

While weary hearts from every land beneath the shining stun

Find work, and rest, and home, beneath the Flag of Washington.

And never, never on the earth, however brave they be,

Shall friends or foes bear down this great, proud standard of the Free,

'Though they around its staff may pour red blood in rushing waves,

And build beneath its starry folds great pyramids of graves;

For God looks out, with sleepless eye, upon His children's deeds,

And sees, through all their good and ill, their sufferings and their needs;

And He will watch, and He will keep, 'till human rights have won,

The dear old Flag! the starry Flag! the Flag of Washington!

Science teaches us that that great range of Mountains known as the Appalachian Range, which stretches from Canada to the Gulf, was the first land in the morning of creation lifted above the shoreless sea that surrounded our globe. And above all this range, the highest of all, 400 feet higher than Mt. Washington, towers in solitary grandeur old Black Mountain, of North-Carolina,—its black dome undoubtedly the first land lifted from the unsounded depths.

MEN OF NORTH-CAROLINA, to-day, amid these ruins we relay the foundations of our Common-wealth. We would build a Temple of Freedom, wherein we and our children may dwell in Peace and Safety through all the coming generations. Let us lay our corner-stone upon principles as broad and enduring as the foundations of Black Mountain, that the Dome of our fair Temple may rise grandly like his, high in the heavens, defiant of all storms, and the admiration of all who love Free Government.

REMARKS OF JOHN R. FRENCH,
OF CHOWAN COUNTY.

In Constitutional Convention, on the question of Property Qualification. February 13th, 1868.

Mr. French, of Chowan, remarked that there was truth in the observation of the gentleman from Chatham, that laws are not so much needed for the protection of the "big bugs" as for the poor people. Rich men are able to take care of themselves, but it is the poor and the friendless who need the defence of the Constitution and the laws of the land. And he rejoiced to believe with the gentleman from Carteret, that this Convention of the people was fully ready on this very day to bury beyond all hope of resurrection, so far as North-Carolina is concerned, this odious doctrine of freehold and property qualification, either in voter, or office-holder. With all respect for the gentlemen from whom he differed, it seemed to him that these ideas of property and Lee-hold qualification, were in conflict with every principle of' Republican government, and totally at variance with tile spirit and genius of the times, when man's rights are being enlarged, not restricted; the privileges of citizenship extended, not curtailed. This idea of property qualification was it monstrous fallacy which had come down to us from darker ages when the rights of men were less known, and far less regarded—and it should have been carried to its political grave long ago. It was engrafted upon most, if not all, the early Constitutions—but the steady advance of Republican sentiment





8 Speech of John R. French.

had wiped the blot from every Constitution of the land, save the Constitution of our own State, and those of New-Hampshire, South-Carolina and Delaware.

The gentleman from Orange would demand extra qualifications for a Senator; the old idea which our worthy fathers borrowed from the aristocratic institutions of the mother country. The House of Lords represented the Aristocracy of England—the better blood of the realm—and so our Senates, it was thought, must represent the wealth, the first families of the new States; not we, of the "cotton shirts and copperas breeches," but the gentlemen of the silk stockings. Hence the aristocratic and extremely conservative elements which everywhere grew up with Senates, until the people began to talk of the House, in contradistinction from the Senate, as the popular branch of the government. For one, he would have no unpopular branch in our new government, but would make Senate and House both popular branches. He had little sympathy with the notion that we need a Senate chiefly to hold in check the House. That is an idea born of distrust of the people—it is the old fallacy that the people are incapable of self-government. Formerly in North-Carolina to vote for a Senator it required the ownership of fifty acres of land, but the amendment of '57 wiped all that out, and now the venerable and respected gentleman from Caswell, fearful of " innovation," would have us, like the crab, crawl backwards, not to the 50 acres of land indeed some worthless swamp Pocasin, but to $250 worth of property—it may be three like young Jackasses of about that value Here to-day is a man penniless, and he cannot vote. To-morrow, by some good fortune, he becomes the proud owner of three likely jackasses, and can vote for a Senator. Now, Mr. F. would submit it to the gentleman from Caswell, whether it is the man, or the Jackasses, that does the voting? The gentleman would not have the Convention forget that it was building for future generations, neither be unmindful of the glorious inspirations of the times in which they are working. Our fathers wrought according to the light of their day, and have entered upon the reward of their honest toil. Another future opens before us. Not property, not a few families, however old, or however respectable, are to rule the North-Carolina of the hereafter—but the free and-mighty people—the hardy fishermen of the Sounds and the Coast, the unpurchasable ploughers of her fields and her vallies, the stout hewers of her forests, the delvers in her mines, the husbandman who feeds his flocks upon the green slopes of her mountains; these are to be her voters and her Legislators. The people are to govern; not money, not lands, not families, not jackasses.

That strange man Swedenburg, in one of his wonderful books, tells us that during one of his visits to the Spirit-world he 'there met spirits who had been in that state 25 years, and yet didn't know that they were dead. And so we have men in North-Carolina, who don't seem to know what they, politically, and many of their old favorite notions, are dead, and that this Convention is called for their burial. Mr. F. said his had occasion the other day to call attention to those Conservatives of the Plains, the Pawnee Braves, who attempted to stop the - progress of that grandest "innovation" of the ago, the Pacific Railroad. He wished to remind gentlemen that the road was now several hundred miles in advance of the point where the attempt was made to stop it, and at its terminus for the winter, a civilized town had already sprang into existence of more than 5,000 inhabitants. the City of Cheyenne. He thought gentlemen might gather a lesson from this fact.


Title
Speech of John R. French, esq., of Chowan County: on the question of suffrage, delivered in the Constitutional Convention of North-Carolina, February 18th, 1868
Description
Speech of John R. French, esq., of Chowan County: on the question of suffrage, delivered in the Constitutional Convention of North-Carolina, February 18th, 1868. 8 p. 23cm. Includes: Remarks of John R. French, of Chowan County, in constitutional convention, on the question of property qualification, February 13th, 1868 (p. 7-8). Date approximated.
Date
1868
Original Format
books
Extent
Local Identifier
JK4190 .F74 1868
Creator(s)
Subject(s)
Spatial
Location of Original
Joyner NC Rare
Rights
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