The Constitution and Negreos

October 31, 1866


A Radical newspaper in Virginia asks whether a government that denies Black citizens the right to vote can be considered a republican government. The Dispatch responds harshly by saying anyone who thinks it isn't is not capable of understanding the English language and suffers from phrenitis, or negro madness.


The Constitution and Negroes In commenting a few days ago upon the absurd question which a few fanatics in New Jersey have raised, and upon which they have Invoked the judgment of the courts--namely, whether that is a republican form of government under which negroes are excluded from the polls-- we remarked that the "glittering generalities" of the Constitution and of the Declaration of Independence were written without the remotest supposition that they would ever be applied to the negro race. The Alexandria State Journal, the only respectable Radical paper published In Virginia, takes exception to this remark, and enters into a recital of historical facts to prove that "at the adoption of the Federal Constitution in 1789 there was but one State whose constitution made any distinction in the matter of citizenship on account of color." That is, a negro born free could be a citizen of any State except one. Whomever argues with us must stick to the question. We cannot appreciate the force of that sort of reasoning which demonstrates that two and two make four in reply to the assertion that the square of the hypothenuse Is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides of a right angled triangle. The propositions are not conflicting ones. The question in this case is, whether that clause of the Constitution which declares that the United States shall guarantee to each State in the Union a republican form of government was intended to guarantee any rights of any sort to the negro race? We answer unhesitatingly, No. And the evidence in the negative is so overwhelming--or rather, there Is such an utter absence of all grounds to support the affirmative--that we are astonished that any one should seriously question the correctness of our original assertion. The Constitution, as we said before, was framed by slaveholders and slave traders--slaveholders from the southern States and slave traders from the northern States. At the time of its adoption slavery was recognized by the constitutions and laws of nearly all the States. The framers of the Constitution knew of course that all of these States recognized slavery, and so knowing, they decided that they all had "republican forms of government." If a State could make slaves of black men on account of their color, and still be "republican," it follows inevitably that a State might deprive him of the right of suffrage and still be republican. This demonstrates that "color " was then a disqualification; for no State would have been admitted into the Union as republican in its form of government which should have enslaved white men. But this is not all. The State Journal admits that South Carolina not only had negro slaves, but excluded all black men from the polls on account of color; and yet South Carolina was one of the States which ratified the Constitution, one of the States which were recognized as having a republican form of government, and one of the States which promised to guarantee a republican form of government to every other State in the Union. Surely these facts prove that the glittering generalities of the Constitution were not intended or expected to be applied to negroes. The case is much stronger in our favor when we add that the Constitution of the United States provided for the pursuit, recapture, and return to slavery of any negro who might escape from a shareholding into a non-slaveholding State, and also for the importation of free negroes from Africa into the United States, and their reduction to a state of slavery. To pretend to believe that a constitution which thus recognized slaveholding States as republican in form, and which provided for the rendition of fugitive slaves, and for the conversion of free negroes Into slaves, was written by men who could have even dreamed that any of its provisions would ever be tortured into a recognition of a right on the part of these same negroes to the elective franchise, is evidence that the person so pretending is either a fanatic or one whose mind is not capable of understanding constitutions, laws, or the English language. At the time when the Constitution of the United States was adopted, the Constitution of Virginia excluded from the polls all white men who were not freeholders. No one ever pretended that these disfranchised whites could claim the right to vote under the Constitution of the United States. Yet, according to the State Journal, negroes may do that which whites may not. That paper, like all other Radical ones, is suffering from the worst species of phrenitis--negro madness. It needs a physician, not argument, and we are wastiog our time. We dismiss the subject.
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Nat Berry




“The Constitution and Negreos,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed September 28, 2022,