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Excerpts on Black Suffrage

Excerpts on Black Suffrage, Teaching Comprehensive History, January 2023

Fredrick Douglass, “Our Work Is Not Done,” (Philadelphia, Dec. 4, 1863)

“I am one of those who believe that it is the mission of this war to free every slave in the United States. I am one of those who believe that we should consent to no peace which shall not be an Abolition peace. I am, moreover, one of those who believe that the work of the American Anti-Slavery Society will not have been completed until the black men of the South, and the black men of the North, shall have been admitted, fully and completely, into the body politic of America….I have said that our Work will not be done until the colored man is admitted a full member in good and regular standing in the American body politic….I know it will be said that I ask you to make the black man a voter in the South. Yet you are for having brutality and ignorance introduced into the ballot-box. It is said that the colored man is ignorant, and therefore he shall not vote. In saying this, you lay down a rule for the black man that you apply to no other class of your citizens. I will hear nothing of degradation or of ignorance against the black man. If he knows enough to be hanged, he knows enough to vote.”

Abraham Lincoln, his last speech (April 11, 1865, Washington D.C.)

Context: Under the terms of Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction (Dec. 8, 1863), Louisiana Union loyalists organized a new state government and adopted a new state constitution that abolished slavery. 

In his last speech, Lincoln endorsed limited Black suffrage. Referring to objections in Congress to the new Louisiana government, Lincoln stated:

“It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is, ‘Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it; or to reject, and disperse it?’ ‘Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State government?’”

Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase to Lincoln (correspondence of April 13, 1865)

“Once I should have been, if not satisfied, partially, at least, contented with suffrage for the intelligent and those who have been soldiers; now I am convinced that universal suffrage is demanded by sound policy and impartial justice. I shall return to Washington in a day or two, and perhaps it will not be disagreeable to you to have the whole subject talked over.”

Sen. Lyman Trumbull, on the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (April 4, 1866), Congressional Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess. 1761

That the second clause of the [Thirteenth] Amendment gives [Congress] power [to enforce that Amendment] there can be no question. Some have contended that it gives the power even to confer the right of suffrage. I have not thought so, because I have never thought suffrage any more necessary to the liberty of a freedman than of a non-voting white, whether child or female. But his liberty under the Constitution he is entitled to, and whatever is necessary to secure it to him he is entitled to have, be it the ballot or the bayonet. If the bill before us [the Civil Rights Act of 1866], and which goes no further than to secure civil rights to the freedman, cannot be passed, then the constitutional amendment proclaiming freedom to all the inhabitants of the land is a cheat and a delusion.”