John Bingham and African-American Rights

Here is another campaign speech that I thought I’d share.  While I edited this for length, it is a powerful statement of John Bingham’s hostility to racism. (The picture on the right, BTW, appears to be the last one taken of Bingham before his death in 1900.)

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“They undertake to alarm you with the plea that we are about to make the ‘nigger,’ to use their nomenclature, equal to a white man. . . . ‘Niggers equal to white men,’ and they wind up saying, ‘This is a white man’s Government.’  What blasphemy! . . . I thought that in the middle of the nineteenth century it had come to be pretty well known that this world of ours was not made for Caesar, but for man; that it belonged, at last only to the common Father of us all, and to all his creatures who worked well upon it. . . .

How would that pretense of theirs have sounded in 1776, when those grand old men assembled in convention at Philadelphia and issued the new evangel to the nations in which they declared that ‘all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’  Why, if Vallandigham had been there he would have stretched out his neck like a crane, and whispered like a gibbering ghost in the ear of Jefferson, the father of Democracy, ‘Put the word white in, so that it will read, all white men are created equal.’  [Applause.]  About that time that grand old patriot, who snatched the lightnings from heaven, would have arisen in his place, and in his own quiet way inquired of Vallandigham:  ‘Pray, sir, how white ought a man to be before he has the right to live?’ [Cheers.] . . .

It is a ‘white man’s government,’ is it?  Why, the very first blood shed for the assertion of your independence and the establishment of your nationality, upon the field of Lexington, was the blood of a black citizen of Massachusetts.  And when they came to the work, after the victory had been achieved, and the independence of the nation acknowledged, of organizing a constitutional government of the United States, in a majority of the States of the Union the black men voted with white men, and the man who denies it is simply ignorant of the history of his own country. . . .

[Y]our armies bore witness that 175,000 of the black population, made free by the proclamation of liberty, were in the army of the republic.  When you consider that the majority of the black population were the slaves of rebels, and within their territory, unable to signify to the United States Government their unwillingness to serve it, the fact that as large a population of the black population as of the free whites rushed to the defense of your flag, speaks well for their patriotism. . . .

But these Democrats are whining through the streets, ‘You propose to enfranchise the nigger, and disenfranchise the white man.’  That is the point where the difficulty is.  I think the black patriot is as much entitled to vote as Jeff Davis, who is waiting across the border, or any of his followers.  The issue is upon us.  One third of the whole population of the South are black freemen.  They are friends of the Union; and if they are to be permitted to exercise the rights of freemen.  Those States must have a republican government, but how can a State be republican in its government where the minority rule over the majority of the natural born citizens of the State?  . . . In South-Carolina the black population exceed in number the white population; and what sort of a republican government will that be, if the white minority, who are traitors, should rule over the majority, who are loyal men? . . .

You have the power, because of your superior numbers, to disenfranchise four millions of natural born citizens of the Republic.  Suppose the state of things were reversed, and the black men had the power, would you have them deal thus with you and your children?  If you would not, you should not deal thus with them.”

New Hampshire Statesman, Sept. 13, 1867.

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