« VorigeDoorgaan »
fications of electors, therefore it may deprive a whole race of equal rights and of participation in the Government. Logically speaking, here are most narrow premises for the widest possible conclusion. On the mere statement, the absurdity is so unspeakable as to recall the kindred pretension of Slavery, that, because commerce is lawful, therefore commerce in human flesh is lawful also. If the consequences were not so offensive, this "argal” might be handled over to consort with that of the Shakespearean grave-digger. But the argument is not merely preposterous, it is insulting to the human understanding, and a blow at human nature itself. If I use strong language, it is because such a proclamation of tyranny requires it. Admitting that the States may determine the “ qualifications” of electors, what then? Obviously it must be according to the legitimate meaning of this word. And here, besides reason and humanity, two inexhaustible fountains, we have two other sources of authority: first, the Constitution, in which the word appears, and, secondly, the dictionaries of the English language, out of both of which we must condemn the intolerable pretension.
The Constitution, where we find this word, follows the Declaration of Independence, and refuses to recognize any distinction of color. Search, and you will confess that there is no word of “color" in its text; nor is there anything there on which to found any disfranchisement of a race.
The “ qualifications” of different officers, as President, Vice-President, Senators, and Representatives, are named; but "color" is not among these. The Constitution, like the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, embraces all alike within its mandates and all alike within its promises. There are none who must
not obey it; there can be none who may not claim its advantages. By what title do you exclude a race ? The Constitution gives no such title; you can only find it in yourselves. The fountain is pure; it is only out of yourselves that the waters of bitterness proceed.
The dictionaries of our language are in harmony with the Constitution. Look at “Qualification” in Webster or Worcester, the two best authorities of our time, and you will find that the word means “fitness,” “capability," “accomplishment,” “ the condition of being qualified"; but it does not mean “color.” It embraces age, residence, character, education, and the payment of taxes, - in short, all those conditions which, when honestly administered, are in the nature of regulation, not of disfranchisement. The English dictionaries most used by the framers of the Constitution were Bailey and Johnson. According to Bailey, who was the earliest, this important word is thus defined :
“(1.) That which fits any person or thing for any par. ticular purpose."
“(2.) A particular faculty or endowment, an accomplishment." According to Johnson, who is the highest authority, it is thus defined :
“(1.) That which makes any person or thing fit for anything."
EXAMPLE. — “It is in the power of the prince to make piety and virtue become the fashion, if he would make them necessary qualifications for preferment. — SWIFT."
EXAMPLE. -“Good qualifications of mind enable a magistrate to perform his duty, and tend to create a public esteem of him. – ATTERBURY."
By these definitions this word means “fitness," or " accomplishment,” and, according to the well-chosen examples from Swift and Atterbury, it means qualities like “piety” and “virtue,” or like faculties “of mind," all of which are more or less within the reach of every human being. But it is impossible to extend this list so as to make “color” a quality, - absolutely impossible. Color is a physical condition affixed by the God of Nature to a large portion of the human race, and insurmountable in its character. Age, education, residence, property, - all these are subject to change ; but the Ethiopian cannot change his skin. On this last distinctive circumstance I take my stand. An insurmountable condition is not a qualification, but a disfranchisement. Admit that a State may determine the "qualifications” of electors, it cannot, under this authority, arbitrarily exclude a whole race.
Try this question by examples. Suppose South Carolina, where the blacks are numerous, should undertake to exclude the whites from the polls on account of “color”; would you hesitate to arrest this injustice ? You would insist that a government sanctioning such a denial of rights, under whatever pretension, could not be republican. Suppose another State should gravely declare that all with black eyes should be excluded from the polls, and still another should gravely declare that all with black hair should be excluded from the polls, I am sure that you would find it difficult to restrain the mingled derision and indignation which such a pretension must excite. But this fable pictures your conduct. All this is now gravely done by States; and Senators gravely insist that such exclusion is proper in determining the “qualifications” of electors.
2. Like unto the pretension founded on a misinterpretation of " qualifications” is that other founded on a misinterpretation of the asserted power of a State to make “ regulations.” Listen to this pretension. Assuming that a State may regulate the elections without the intervention of Congress, it is insisted that it may disfranchise a race. Because a State may regulate the elective franchise, therefore it may destroy this franchise. Surely it is one thing to regulate, and quite another thing to destroy. The power to regulate cannot involve any such conclusion of tyranny. To every such wretched result, howsoever urged, there is one sufficient reply, — Non sequitur.
According to the Constitution, “the times, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.” Here is the text of this portentous power to blast a race. In these simple words no such power can be found, unless the seeker makes the Constitution a reflection of himself. The times, places, and manner of holding elections are referred to the States, — nothing more; and even these may be altered by Congress. Being matters of form and convenience only, in the nature of police, they are justly included under the head of “regulations," like the sword and uniform of the army. Do we not familiarly speak of a regulation sword and a regulation sash? Who will dare to say that under this formal power of regulation a whole race may be despoiled of equal rights and of all participation in the Government? This very pretension was anticipated by Mr. Madison, and condemned in
advance. Here are his decisive words in the Virginia Convention :
“Some States might regulate the elections on the principles of equality, and others might regulate them otherwise. .... Should the people of any State by any means be deprived of the right of suffrage, it was judged proper that it should be remedied by the General Government." I
Thus was it expressly understood, at the adoption of the Constitution, that Congress should have the power to prevent any State, under the pretence of regulating the suffrage, from depriving the people of this right, or from interfering with the principle of Equality.
Kindred to this statement of Mr. Madison is that other contemporary testimony which will be found in the “Federalist,” where the irrepealable rights of citizens are recognized without distinction of color. This explicit language cannot be too often quoted. Here it is :
“It is only under the pretext that the laws have transformed the negroes into subjects of property that a place is denied to them in the computation of numbers ; and it is admitted, that, if the laws were to restore the rights which have been taken away, the negroes could no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants." 2
This testimony is as decisive as it is authentic. Consider that it was given in explanation and vindication of the Constitution. Consider that the Constitution was commended for adoption by the assertion, that, on the termination of Slavery, “the negroes could no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants.” In the face of this assurance, how can it
1 Elliot's Debates, Vol. III. p. 367. 2 The Federalist, No. LIV.