Speech of Colonel Walker

March 26, 1869


Prospective Governor Colonel Walker gives a speech to the people of Virginia about working through Reconstruction as fast as possible.


SPEECH OF COLONEL WALKER. Colonel Walker then spoke as follows : Mr. Chairman and fellow- citizens, I appear before you to day under very peculiar circumstances. I have been nominated as the candidate for the high and responsible office of chief magistrate of this noble old Commonwealth ; and nominated, too, as the lawyers would say, without my knowledge, privity, or consent. I am no politician, and I did not seek this or any other nomination. I did not settle in Virginia to devote myself to politics. [Applause.] I came here for business. The genial climate of your State, your vast commercial advantages, the high character your people have ever entertained for honor and integrity, attracted me here. It was, therefore, with more than ordinary surprise, and, I might almost say, with a feeling of regret, that I have found myself thrust before the good people of this Commonwealth as a candidate for the highest office within their gift. But when I consider the character of the men from whom this nomination emanates when I consider the important issues involved and the vast interests at stakewhen I read the platform of principles upon which they desire me to stand and see therein the principal plank, " Peace throughout the broad borders of Virginia, good-will among all her citizens " - I feel constrained to accept the nomination and do the best I can to accomplish the ooject. Fellow citizens, the men who have placed me in nomination are well known to you and to the people of this State. They are men of substantial character, men of broad and catholic views and liberal principles. They are Republicans all yes, Grant Administration Republicans and so am I. These men, you and I, and every citizen of this Commonwealth, have the most vital interest in the real and complete restoration of this State to her relations with the Federal Union. But how shall that be accomplished ? How Bhall Virginia again clothe herself in the sovereign habiliments of a State and again enter the great sisterhood of States? There is but one mode, there is but one road which you and I can travel. We must execute the reconstruction laws of Congress promptly and in good faith, and we again tread to tne music of the Union again consider ourselves a sovereign State again call ourselves freemen ; and then again, gentlemen, prosperity and peace will reign within your borders. I believe, gentlemen, that the time has arrived when the people, or a large majority of the people, of this Commonwealth are in accord with me upon this measure. I believe that they are convinced that the time has arrived when they should not only accept the situation, but realize it in all its force and bearings. I have been one of those who have been always in favor of executing the reconstruction laws of Congress promptly, honestly, and thoroughly. I have said it before, and I repeat it again here, that in my judgment the wise and politic course for the people of this State to pursue is to carry out those measures in good faith. Are the people ready to carry them out in good faith ? Are we ready for this issue ? What other mode is there by which we in Virginia can ever again enter the portals of the Union ? I see none, and I believe you see none, how, fellow citizens, at this juncture there is no election ordered for Virginia. A convention assembled here last winter a year ago and framed a constitution. That constitution I object to. I object to it because of its disqualification clauses, its test oaths, and its county organization. I think the day for disfranchisements has passed. I think the day for good feelings has arrived. I do not believe you can reconstruct the State promptly, that you can have a stable State government, unless all her people are united and peaceful. I have been in favor, as I said before, of executing the reconstruction laws in good faith. It follows as a logical sequence that I have been in favor of placing the colored man upon an equality with the white man so far as his civil and political rights, were concerned. I deem it a necessity for him. I deem it a necessity for you to day. It is a grave question whether it will ever answer in a government constituted like ours to have any large body of our fellow-citizens disfranchised, and unable to exercise the right to vote for those who shall govern them. The same principle which I would apply to the colored man I apply to the white man. I say let everybody vote. Put everybody upon an equal basis, and then let the best man win. That has been my doctrine. That is my doctrine now. It is because the constitution to which I have referred does not recognize this principle that I am against it. But strike from it these objectionable clauses, and I will vote for it not because I approve of all its other provisions, but because, under the circumstances, it is the best we can obtain. Let Congress strike out these provisions, or submit them to a separate vote, and I have no doubt the balance of the constitution will be adopted by an almost unanimous vote. I hope and believe that Congress will do the one or the other, and that speedily. What is needed in Virginia to-day is reconstruction. What is needed is a restoration to the Union. Commerce is paralyzed. Trade, agriculture, everything has the blight of disorder resting upon it. The remedy for all these evils is in reconstruction. We want within our borders " peace." We want peace upon the basis of equality to all men in their civil and political rights, and when you grant that and all recognize it, of every order and of every variety of society, you will have peace in your borders, and Virginia will again march on, again keep pace with her sister States in improvement, in progress, in financial prosperity, in wealth and responsibility and power. When the chosen Chief of this country in his letter of acceptance proclaimed that one single expression, " Let us have peace," it flew like lightning throughout the land. It was echoed from every hillside and from every plain of the South. The southern people, with one acclaim almost, said " Let us have peace." We believe that General Grant, in making use of that expression, meant what he said. We believe that he intends to carry it out in good faith. We believe that what he said in his inaugural he meant honestly and sincerely. We believe that he intends to execute all that he laid down in that inaugural. If he does, why then, again we shall have peace within our borders, and good will among men everywhere. I said a moment ago that what we need in this State is early and immediate reconstruction. You need reconstruction to build up your railroads. You need reconstruction to finish your canals, you need reconstruction to utilize at the eastern point of your State the grand harbor which nature prepared for you, and a commerce which shall vie with New York- which shall vie with any city in the Union in its extent and importance. You need reconstruction to bring within your borders emigrants from the North as well as from Europe. You need reconstruction in every sense of the term. You need restoration to the Union. With that will come these blessings. With that will come peace within your borders. With that will come all the blessings which flow from happiness, contentment, and prosperity. It has been a long time since I have had the honor of addressing any audience in public, or since I attempted to make a speech of any kind, and I feel from what little I have already said that my lungs arc feeling the effects of it. I must wait until I get cleverly in harness, when I promise to address you again, and more fully and more at length. I believe I have indicated to you all the chief points, the main issues, the real questions upon which this organization will conduct its campaign. Thanking you for the attention you have given me for my brief remarks, I bid you good night.
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Joseph McEachon




“Speech of Colonel Walker,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 20, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1298.