Southern Resistance to the 14th Amendment Granting Citizenship to Former Slaves
On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, outlawing slavery. Even with this constitutional protection, however, most freed slaves in the former Confederacy were denied civil and political rights and kept in virtual slavery. To address this, Congress proposed a “Reconstruction” amendment on June 13, 1866, to ensure citizenship for emancipated slaves and guarantee due process of law. Debate over this issue was heated on both sides, with many Northern newspapers running editorials supporting the amendment, while some Southern papers ran editorials, such as the one below, bitterly denouncing the amendment. The Reconstruction amendment was passed when the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868. Even then controversy continued, as two states—Ohio and New Jersey—had threatened to rescind their ratification. It was not until July 28, 1868, that Secretary of State William H. Seward certified that the 14th Amendment was now law.
The following editorial exemplifies some of the passionate debate swirling around the Reconstruction amendment. It was printed by the Memphis Daily Avalanche (Memphis, Tennessee) on June 16, 1866:
The decree has gone forth that the South can regain congressional representation only on condition that she will obey the Radical mandate ordering our people to place themselves on a line with the negro. The reconstruction bill means just that—nothing more—nothing less. Was the infamy of a faction ever more transparent? These Puritan fanatics, under the lead of Sumner and Stevens, proclaim that the South is not yet to be trusted with representation. They charge that she is yet rebellious; that her citizens are too inimical to the North for them to be yet [vested] with the right of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And yet after charging all this upon us they stultify themselves by proposing to restore us to full fellowship with them whenever we will allow the negro to vote! The “nigger” is their panacea for all political and moral evils. The white man of the South, the descendants of the men who moulded and guided this Government during the ninety years of its existence, are pronounced unqualified for exercising the rights and privileges of freemen, unless they will consent, under Radical dictation, to clothe their former negro slaves with all the political rights they themselves have hitherto enjoyed! That degradation will baptize them anew, and wash away their political sins. It will cast out the bitterness and hate which the infamous laws and propositions of the Yankees have implanted in all honest Southern hearts, and breed love and kindness and humility in their stead. Poor dreaming mortals! Is this the way to return that “brotherly feeling,” about which they are always prating? If we are fools, will this association with the negro enlighten us? If we are knaves, will this association make us honest? If we are unfit for congressional representation, will this association with the negro fit us for such honor? These questions, with their suggestive answers, must convince all that the Radical plea that the Southern people are not yet qualified for exercising the rights of freemen, is nothing more nor less than a Radical lie. It is upon a par with all their late legislation. This has never been intended to benefit the Southern people. It has always been to injure them. Instead of inaugurating a policy of kindness toward those whom they say they are anxious to bring back to their former relations of friendship, and with whom they say they wish to live upon terms of justice and equality, their whole legislation has been calculated to heap upon our people insult and injury, which can beget only hatred in return. Would these lords of the cotton looms extend us more respect were we meanly to fawn upon them and lick their boots? When will they learn Southern character? Do they regard us as different from all other people? They tax all the cotton our people raise, to prevent any of it being sent out of the country, that they may get it all; and this is an outrage upon us, but a protection to them. They tax all the wool brought into the country from abroad, in order to protect their wool growers. This is the distinction their legislation makes between North and South, and they insist that we should regard them with kindness and love! Was knavery ever so transparent? They have sown the seeds of oppression and discord. Can they expect from us anything but a harvest of hate? The South has yielded too much already. The constitutional amendments already ratified by the Southern States were ratified because our people were induced to believe that this would secure peace and justice, and restore the ancient relations of equality. The President believed it, and, because he believed it, he advised our people to do what they did. They would have remained silent, submitting to whatever oppression and injustice our enemies might choose to inflict upon them, but never consenting to it by word of acquiescence. From what we know of this Southern race, we can safely and proudly assure our enemies that we have made the last concession. The bobtail Legislature of this State—that Legislature which misrepresents nine tenths of our citizens—may accept the reconstruction amendment. They would accept anything from the Radical Congress. But the people will never sustain them; and, in every other Southern State, the amendment will be spurned with indignant contempt, and its advocates become a by-word and a hissing scorn. The true Southern man who will accept such an insult to him and his fellow citizens will soon find that he is a Southern Yankee, that worst of all bipeds.
The man who would consent that the negro shall vote, rather than he shall not go to the Congress at Washington, is so lost to all pride of character as to render him unfit to represent a proud race, though perhaps qualified to play the supple tool for Radicals. Thank Heaven, there are but few such in all our Southern land. It may be said, in answer to this, that free negroes once voted in Tennessee. True; but it was a privilege conferred as a favor, and by our own citizens. It was not an exaction dictated by Radical hate and lust for power. That privilege was withdrawn when the Constitution of 1835 was adopted; and it has never been re-conferred by those who alone have the power to do it. Then it was given to a few free negroes, who seldom exercised it. Now, it is to be extended to a large class, through whom low, Radical, Peter Funk, political aspirants hope to ride into office. In short, it is legislation productive of evil, and not of good; and for this alone all good men should denounce it. Were the South to accept it, the Radical Congress would show Punic faith, as they always do, and insist that before the South can enter the halls of national legislation, other concessions must be made by her to the darling nigger. He must be allowed to sit as juror, and practice law, &c. The compliance with one exaction but begets the demand for another. Let us summon up our pride. These Radicals are our enemies. It is vain to attempt to disguise it. They hate our race. Let us say to them, “Do your worst. We are prepared for it. We know it is stored with infamy for us; but we will not endorse it by word or deed. Though we may not be able to avert a damnable injustice, we will never consent to degrade ourselves.”
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