How can we Protect Ourselves?

September 15, 1866


Realizing that black suffrage cannot be defeated, plans on how to maintain some power and control are being suggested. One is for southern landowners to refuse to employ any "negro", thus forcing them to flee to the north in order to find work. Consequently, straining the relationship between freedmen and northern white laborers. The hope was enough pressure would be put on Republican politicians that they would rethink some of their reconstruction policies.


How can we Protect Ourselves? In view of the probable success of the Radicals in the fall elections, and the measures which they will adopt for the punishment and humiliation of the people of the South, it is natural to inquire whether there be any means of avoiding the full force of the blow which is to be aimed at us. There is one measure which would prevent the establishment of negro suffrage from seriously injuring us, and it is one which we can not only adopt, but which would ruin the Radicals. They tell the northern people that if the negroes are not enfranchised in the South, and made satisfied with their condition, the northern States will be overrun with them, and the laborers and mechanics there will have to compete with them. If we will only send the negroes all off, or, which is the same thing, refuse to employ them in any capacity whatever, the laborers and mechanics of the North will have to compete with them before Congress can force negro suffrage upon us. This would be a harsh, and we might say a cruel measure. Nothing would justify its adaption except the well. grounded fear that if we keep them here they will be made no out our equals at the ballot-box, but as landlords--owners of the soil. This is unquestionably the intention of Thaddeus Stevens, Wendell Phillips, Brownlow, Forney, Greeley, and all of the leading spirits among the Radicals. They design to confer the right of suffrage upon the negroes, and to furnish thorn with lands-- the confiscated lands of unreconstructed rebels. It would be a small matter to allow the few negroes now it the North to vote; but It would be a very different affair here, where they constitute almost half of the population. If the Northern people had the negroes among them, and we had few or none, their tune would soon be changed. Indeed, it would not at all surprise us if within less than ten years they should reenslave them. Let us try the experiment upon them. We can do without negroes--not very well, it is true, for we need laborers; yet we can much better do without them than live among them as equals (and rivals!) There is not one of them that can live here unless supported or employed by a white man. Now, Mr. Greeley--philanthropist, philosopher, and statesman--we put the question to you: Will you let us live in peace and do the best we can by our negroes, or will you compel us to cut ourselves off from them, and leave them to their fate?
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Nat Berry




“How can we Protect Ourselves?,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 18, 2022,