Negroes as Officers
July 11, 1867
The Dispatch believes that black people are not eligible to hold office in Virginia under any act, past or future. General Schofield has not given an opinion on this matter of eligibility, and the Dispatch asks him to express his view. The Dispatch believes that no one, in Congress or General Schofield, will decide that black men are eligible to hold office, but is cautious, stating that Congress has already done things they never thought it would.
Negroes as Officers. We have more than once argued that negores are not eligible to office in Virginia even under the most liberal construction of the Sherman-Shellabarger act. The law of the State stands as it did previously in regard to all matters concerning which that act does not alter it. So that the very fact that negroes are by act of Congress made voters, while that act says not a word in reference to their holding office, proves that they are not eligible to any post of honor or profit in Virginia or any other of the States whose institutions prohibit Africans from filling office. "We have never had any expression of opinion from General Schofield upon this joint; and it is really much more important to know his opinion than to know what the act of Congress provides; for whatever he declares to be the law is the law whether we think it ought to be or not, and whether the Attorney-General thinks it is or not, and whether Congress intended it so to be or not. But General Schofield has proved himself to be an expert in expounding the law, and shown that he understands it as it is understood by those whose business it is to expound it, to wit, the lawyers. If, then, Congress has any "policy" upon this question - if it means that negroes shall be eligible to office - or if it means that they shall not be - we not only invite the expression of that intention in the supplementary act which that body is about to pass, but we insist upon it that it is a question as to which no doubt should be left upon the minds of any of the commanding Generals. We here declare that, according to our understanding of the reconstruction acts, negroes are NOT eligible to any office, and we challenge Congress to make them so. This is a question which must ere long stir up in this country, from one end of it to the other, the fiercest passions of the human heart. The cry of "America for Americans," which was used with such powerful effect some years ago by the Know Nothings, was as nothing to the cry of "America for white men," which is destined soon to be heard from Maine to California. There is no such thing as dodging the issue. It has to be met. We ask Congress, then, to relieve General Schofield of all responsibility in this matter by declaring whether it considers negroes eligible to office or not. He will probably hold that they are not, and if Congress holds the contrary opinion he might be censured. There is no reason why there should be any doubt upon so important a question - one much more important than some of those which the new supplementary bill undertakes to settle. We, therefore, on behalf of the people of Virginia, ask Congress to legislate upon the subject. It will not do to overslaugh this question at the present session, and then refuse us admission into the Union next winter upon the pretext that we have made discriminations on account of race and color. All of the States in the Union, North and South, do the same thing, we believe. We claim the right to keep up these discriminations unless Congress shall say to us nay. And we hereby give notice to Charles Sumner, Thad. Stevens, B. F. Wade, and the rest of the extreme Radicals, that unless they pass some act or resolution to the contrary, we shall continue to hold that negroes are ineligible to office in Virginia. So that if Cuffee is left out in the cold it will be by Congress. Does anybody believe that Congress will declare negroes eligible to office? Perhaps it will. It has done many things which we had not thought it would do. But we do not believe that, even this Congress, so bold in denunciation, so brave in the field of legislation, and so devoted to the colored race, will dare to pass a resolution making negroes eligible to office.
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“Negroes as Officers,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 23, 2019, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/658.