Sunday, December 15, 2019

Live-blogging the Fifteenth Amendment: December 15, 1868

 - by New Deal democrat

Sen Orrin S. Ferry (R-Conn), in the course of offering a joint resolution to lift the disabilities mandated by the 3rd Section of the Fourteenth Amendment against those who participated in the rebellion:

[I]t does seem to me as if the experience of the last fifty years ought to enlighten us as to the chimerical character of the dangers which have been apprehended from the extension of suffrage and to eligibility to office at one time and another. 
It has been thought once, even in this land, that poverty disqualified a man from voting, and no man, unless he was the owner of property, was permitted to exercise the suffrage. Time went on; the property qualification disappeared; and nowhere are the law and order more respected, are person and property more secure than in those communities where suffrage is most universal and government rests upon the broadest foundation. 
It has been thought that dangers might assail us in the influx of the enormous immigration from the Old World, and a great party was once organized upon that very apprehension. The fear has passed away, for time and experience have demonstrated that the evils accompanying that immigration are but temporary, and will pass away in a single generation. 
The time has been when the negro was a beast of burden, and nothing else. The time is now when good men too often apprehend the danger of the extension of the suffrage unto him be reason of the ignorance which is the result of centuries of slavery; but it is beginning to be seen by the practical operation of the laws extending suffrage [mandated by the Congress in the constitutions of reconstructed States], that all these fears are chimerical, and that the black man as well as the white is an element of strength and prosperity in civil society.

In support of the resolution, Sen. Willard Warner, a union general, who moved from Ohio to Alabama after the war, and was elected to the Senate from Alabama in 1868, argued that a Republican-controlled legislature in Alabama had removed the disabilities to those who had engaged in rebellion, but that even after that, Republican candidates had triumphed in the next election. 

To which, Garrett Davis, a unionist KY Democrat, replied:

[S]uppose there was no military force moving from this center, this capital, and from States and places outside of Alabama, what would become of the honorable Senator’s negro government and of his representation of it in this body? I am inclined to think they would be fugitives from it. 
.... I will never consent that the Congress of the United States shall vote to force negro suffrage upon the State of Alabama or the State of Kentucky or any other State; and I assert that Congress has not a vestige of power to enforce such a constituency upon the people of any State. 
The honorable Senator [Warner] ... seems to be very much enamored with the idea of negro suffrage, and he seems to think that I and my political party are responsible for the non-existence of that political power in the other States. Who voted down negro suffrage in Kansas? Who voted down negro suffrage in Ohio? Who voted down negro suffrage in Michigan, but the honorable Senator’s political friends.... Now, when Ohio by more than forty thousand, Kansas by eight or ten thousand, Michigan by twenty or thirty thousand, all the northern States, where there are no negroes to vote, voted down the principle of negro suffrage by such immense majorities, with what grace can they or their southern auxiliary, the Senator from Alabama, vote to force negro suffrage upon the ten southern States, under the principle of the Constitution of the United States that the people of a State have the sole and exclusive power of framing their own governments.

[ Source, Congressional Globe, 40th Congress, Third Session, pp. 79, 86 ]

As Davis pointed out, when it came to their own States, northern States had refused to grant to African-Americans the right to vote. That a majority of their own constituents did not actually believe in racial equality, but that the effects of the Fifteenth Amendment would overwhelmingly be felt in the South, has to be taken into account when considering why the Amendment wound up being more narrowly crafted.