John Brown Wells

May 8, 1868


Mayor John Wells was enacted into office today. The Democrats are willing to fight to keep the "negroes" from as much as John Wells is willing to fight for their rights as citizens.


John Brown Wells The speech of Mr. Wells accepting the nomination conferred upon him by the Convention of carpet-baggers, scallawags, and negroes, which assembled in this city on Wednesday,-the said carpet-baggers, scallawags, and negroes, having been deputed to do so by the Freedmen's Bureau-proves clearly what manner of man the new Governor is. His declaration that no political body has assembled in this city since the war " who stood higher in its character" than the Convention aforesaid is not couched in tolerable English; but it informs us at once that he is not disposed to pay much attention to facts when he has a point to make. It is some satisfaction, however, to know that he may have been in good earnest, and made this sweeping assertion because he really is unable to discriminate between men of high character and those who have none. His notions of honor and probity are probably correctly indicated in his tribute of respect to the memory of John Brown. " Men," quod he, " may go backwards sometimes, go down before their rights, and fail to maintain them; but right is marching on like the great spirit of John Brown." If this infamous appeal to the negroes of Virginia-this identification of himself in spirit with a thief and murderer who was hung for his crimes-this attempt to arouse the base passions which the negro naturally indulges in when one who, as he believes, died in his cause is thus referred to-shall not of itself make for Mr. Wells a fame which he would willingly let die, then we are mistaken in our estimate of the people of Virginia and of the United States. John Brown Wells is to be his name henceforth. And he will be hung as high upon the political gallows as John Brown was upon the gallows at Charlestown. Mr. Wells says that " if a man is a free-"man-if he is a citizen, and clothed with " the rights of citizenship-it will be a great "crime to take from him the means necessary " to protect those rights "-that is, the ballot. Now, this is downright hypocrisy. This same man, who thus prates about the great crime of depriving negroes of the right to vote, in the same speech praises a Constitution which disfranchises thousands of men of his own race, and disqualifies for holding office nine out of every ten respectable white men in Virginia. It is all right in Mr. Wells's estimation to disfranchise the Lees, the Stuarts,the Montagues, the Letchers, the Baldwins, the Daniels, the Flournoys, the Goggins, the Masons, the thousands of men of education, statesmanlike qualities, and unsullied characters, but " a monstrous crime " to say that an ignorant corn-field negro shall not vote. Everybody knows that Mr. Wells dissembles either when he lauds the Constitution or when he says that it is a crime to take away the ballot from a citizen. Of a piece with the rest of his speech is Mr. Wells's twaddle about the "supremacy of the law." For a man who holds his own office in defiance of the Constitution and laws of Virginia, in contempt of the wishes of ninety-nine hundredths of the respectable men in the State, and only because the military power of the Government silences all State law, to prate about " vindicating the supremacy of the law " is the acme of impudence. None but a Radical could have had the effrontery to do it.Again: Mr. Wells gives as a reason for making voters of the negroes that the Constitution of the United States provides that " any man, without regard to race or color," who is born in this country, is a citizen. This is another untruth. The amendment in question has not " become part of the organic law of the land." On the contrary, one of the first acts required of the new Legislature of Virginia will be the ratification of the said amendment. New Jersey and Ohio have both withdrawn their resolutions ratifying it. They could not have done so had it become a part of the Constitution. But conceding that Mr. Wells made this assertion in ignorance rather than with on intention to deceive the negroes, how can he excuse himself for teaching the poor ignoramuses that that amendment gives them the right to vote? His own State of Michigan, like the States of Ohio, Connecticut, and indeed nearly all the northern States/refuses to allow negroes to vote. If his auditors had been of that high character of which he would fain have his northern friends to believe they were, they would have had sense enough to know that his speech was an insult to their understandings. Mr. Wells threatens to fight. He declares that if the whites decline to allow the negroes the exercise of the full rights of citizenship, "We must take it from you." How if the disfranchised whites preach the same doctrine ?" What would General Schofield say if they were to hold a public meeting in the Capitol and threaten to take their rights by force? Or is it true that white men's rights are not worth protecting ?-that none but negroes are to be considered as deserving the privileges of freemen? Perhaps the richest thing in Mr. Wells's speech is his declaration to a crowd of ignorant negroes and vagabond carpet-baggers that the way to get the white people of Virginia to vote for negro equality is to educate them ! " The force of folly and impudence could no further go." It is as if Beast Butler were to tell a crowd of thieves that the way to make men good men like themselves is to educate them. It is as if Donnelly were to say that Mr. Davis must be educated until he is able to rival him in the use of Billingsgate. Education, indeed ! Negroes and carpet-baggers talking about educating the people of Virginia! But we are giving too much importance to the rantings of this Bureau nominee. As he has sown, so let him reap. Let him look to negroes and to Jonn Brown white men for support and countenance. Let him educate his own associates to regard and treat the negro as an equal. Let him take his rights " by force," and see whether we cannot use as much "force" as he can.
About this article

Contributed By

Joshua Hurlburt




“John Brown Wells,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 30, 2023,