Negro Suffrage in 1865

This editorial from the American Sentinel appeared in the October 20, 1865, issue of The Liberator.

Negro Suffrage

One objection which is urged against permitting the negroes of the South to vote is that they are not prepared for the proper exercise of that right. Well,perhaps they are not as fully prepared as the Yankees,born among free institutions nurtured in our educational institutions, who read the papers and engage in public affairs. They may not be as intelligent as these, but when will they become such?Will keeping than in a degraded state do it? Will depriving them of all opportunity for improvement for gaining self-respect, do it? Not at all! They must have opportunities for culture; they must be made to feel they are somebody, and this can be done by placing them in a higher situation and presenting to them something to contend for. This, the right of suffrage will do, it will stimulate them to the effort by showing them they are somebody; it will incite in them a desire to attain knowledge, distinction,  position.

If they need education to it, them for the appreciation of this right, which we grant, then educate them, “A boy cannot learn to swim on dry land. He must try the water, and run the risk of being drowned. So the use of the ballot is the best training for the responsibilities of the citizen, although lenders may for a while result. Put the Bible, the Spelling book, and the ballot in the field together, and they will win the victory.”

William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator was a weekly abolitionist newspaper published in Boston. The paper held true to the founder’s ideals. Garrison was a journalistic crusader who advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves and gained a national reputation for being one of the most radical of American abolitionists.
But how are they to acquire this education? Is it at all probable that the men who have heretofore been their masters, who have looked upon them as mentals and threaten them as subjects, that they will be especially ready to engage is efforts to educate their former slaves? We do not believe it. It is not at all likely that they will encourage any such efforts, because they know that education would deprive them of control over the blacks, of using them as tools, of keeping them in subservience.

If education is requisite for them, and that it cannot be questioned, then place them in situations where they can acquire it, where, seeing its importance, they will be ready to engage in, foster, and encourage efforts for their education.

Give them a voice in ejecting the rulers, in making the laws; this will stimulate them to acquire knowledge; this will give them a position so that when they demand laws for the advancement of education, they will be felt as a power,and their influence cannot be disregarded.  This then is a strong reason why they should have the privilege of voting; it will incite them to attain knowledge, social elevation.

We may ask with propriety if you deprive the negroes of the ballot because they are ignorant, why does not the same rule apply to white men who are also ignorant? But this one thing is certain, the negroes of the South cannot make a greater failure in the exercise of the ballot than the white population of that section have done; we also assert that they will value the right more sacredly,and will exercise loyalty.

Top Image: The Georgetown elections – the Negro at the ballot-box

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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