The House having under consideration the Civil Rights bill--
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts, said: Mr. SPEAKER, I recognize
fully the importance of the bill now before the House, as well
to the legislation of the country as to the great interests of
political science, and the spread of just ideas of the equality
of men in all nations of the earth. No graver subject, I agree
with the gentleman from; Georgia, [Mr. STEPHENS,] can occupy the
attention of any legislative body. I desire, therefore, representing
from my position as a member of the committee the majority party
in this House upon this occasion, that there shall be nothing
done herein by us, who have the power to do as we will, that shall
not be done after the most careful consideration and deliberation,
so that it shall be a measure when made law to commend itself
to the judgment of all mankind. This is made a double duty upon
us, having so great a majority, and being opposed by so small
a minority in numbers, to see to it that by our legislation the
republic shall take no detriment. And therefore it will be convenient
for me to indicate the purpose I have, after finishing what I
have to say, and that is, to move to recommit the bill to the
committee, in order that the ten or twelve amendments which have
been offered—and which are cut off by the motion to recommit—shall
not fail to have that full consideration by the Law Committee
of the House, to which all amendments offered in good faith are
entitled in so grave a matter; and I desire further--
Mr. WOOD. The gentleman from Massachusetts indicates his intention—indeed
he has so declared—after he has closed his remarks, to move
that the bill with the amendments be recommitted?
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. Yes, sir.
Mr. WOOD. Now, I think it due to frankness to say that after
he has exhausted three or four days in fruitless debate, a proposition
to recommit the bill in the same form in which he reported it
is, in my judgment, trifling with this House, and with this country.
He has succeeded in producing irritation and in exhausting time
in impracticable speeches on a question of no practical use to
the country, to the exclusion of legislation useful and necessary
to the country. I &ay, sir, that he owes an apology to the
House and the country if he proposes to recommit in view of the
circumstances to which I have referred.
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. I may, Mr. Speaker, owe an apology
to the House and the country if I move to recommit this bill,
but certainly I shall not owe any apology to my friend from New
York for taking such action as I believe to he just and proper
when he lectures me in the time which I grant him. Further, sir,
I am sorry to hear the gentleman front New York characterize this
debate as "fruitless," because a large part of it has
been carried on by those who associate with him politically. I
thought the same thing in some degree, but I (dare not say it;
and I am very glad that he has said that to his political associates
which my sense of courtesy to them has prevented me from saying.
I leave him and the learned and distinguished gentleman from Georgia,
['Mr. STEPHENS,] Who occupied more time than anybody else, to
settle that question of fruitlessness of debate between them.
It is no affair of mine. I have nut occupied ten minutes yet.
Now, sir, my apology to the House for moving to recommit this
bill is that I desire that these amendments which have been offered
shall be fully and fairly considered. There are some twelve of
them. Other-wise the majority of the House would be placed in
this unpleasant position, they must either refrain from allowing
amendments to be voted upon, or must take up two days in calling
the roll in voting upon these twelve amendments. That is my apology
to the House and the country; for let me say to the gentleman
and the House that when we bring back the bill matured, after
due consideration of all this "fruitless debate," and
carefully weighing all the amendments offered in good faith—and
in bad faith, as one or two of the latter seem to have been—we
shall not allow any more time to be spent in "fruit-less
debate" over it, but make it the law as speedily as due regard
to legislative forms will permit.
Now, sir, let me point to a few of the arguments which have been
adduced against this bill on the other side of the House.
Mr. DAWES. If it will not disturb my colleague I would like to
inquire whether the order authorizing the committee to report
at any time will extend to a new report of the bill?
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. I so understand it. I understand
that the order to report at any time will extend to a new report
of the bill.
The SPEAKER. The Chair would so rule.
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. I so understood, and was proceeding
on that assumption. I thought it due to the minority to consider
their objections to the bill, dealing with them fairly, openly,
and in a spirit of candor after we heard them. I was saying, when
interrupted, that I proposed to reply now to some of the arguments
which have been adduced as well as I may in the very short time
I have reserved for myself. I should have considered more at length
the constitutional argument, were it not for the exhaustive presentation
by the gentleman from South Carolina [Mr. ELLIOTT] of the law,
and the only law quoted against us in this case that has been
cited, to wit, the Slaughter-house cases. He, with the true instinct
of freedom, with a grasp of mind that shows him to be the peer
of any man on this floor, be he who he may, has given the full
strength and full power of that decision of the Supreme Court.
If I should criticise that decision at all, it would be to say
that I think the court has too strictly confined the operation
of the fourteenth amendment to the establishment of human rights
alone, for the decision says it was meant to secure human rights,
personal rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
and was meant for nothing more and did nothing more, and the decision
expressly points to the security of those rights by the appropriate
legislation which was enacted by that great amendment—an
amendment which was a step forward in the progress of human events-which
gave liberty to the world. Having myself no doubts upon the constitutionality
of the measure, not believing for a moment that there is any right
which a subject of Great Britain has under the Magna Charta that
a citizen of the United States has-not under the Constitution
of the United States as now amended to conform to that great bill
of rights of the subject, I pass to some other objections.
The first objection we meet, but last presented, is that we propose
to establish social equality; and the gentleman from Tennessee
[Mr. CRUTCHFIELD] offered an amendment that our daughters shall
be prohibited by penalty from their right of choice iii those
who propose marriage to them. If he has got no further than that
after hearing the debate, of the last few days, then, indeed,
I agree with the gentle-man from New York, that to some men the
debate has been futile and fruitless. If he does not understand
we are not enacting any such proposition, then he could never
oven appreciate the answer a lady of the North would make to his
addresses when she answers "no," which after fathoming
his capabilities would assuredly be given.
"Equality!" We do not propose to legislate to establish
any equality. I am not one of those who believe that all men were
created equal, if equality is to be used in its broadest sense.
I believe that "equal" in the Declaration of Independence
is a political word, used in a political sense, and means equality
of political rights. All men are not equal. Some are born with
good constitutions, good health, strength, high mental power;
others are not. Now, we cannot by legislation make them equal.
God has not made them equal, with equal endowments.
But this is our doctrine: Equality, if I understand it and may
be allowed for the moment to speak for the republican party—and
I will embody it in a single phrase, as the true touch-stone of
civil liberty—is not that all men are equal, but that every
man has the right to be the equal of every other man if he can.
Let the repeat it. Every man has the inalienable, God-given right
to be the equal of every other man if he can. And all constitutions,
all laws, all enactments, all prejudices, all caste, all custom
in contravention of that right is unjust, wicked, impolitic, and
unchristian, and surely will be brought to naught.
This bill of ours only removes all impedimenta to every man in
making himself the equal of every other man if God has given him
the power to become thus equal; and I think the exhibition of
yesterday showed that God has given to one of the negro race the
power to be the equal, in all that makes a man, of the proudest
man on this floor. And the debate has not been so far fruitless
if it teaches us that God has not given to every man on this floor
the power to be the equal of the colored man who spoke for his
race yesterday, and such equality we cannot attain by legislation,
or legislate some white men up to and Some negroes down to the
same level, however much we may try so to do. [Laughter and applause.)
Sir, we were told yesterday also that vie must respect, in this
regard, the prejudices of the South. Pardon me; we must lament
the prejudices of men in the South. We cannot respect them; we
lament them, and we pity them. With deep sorrow, and not offensively,
I say this: prejudice can never be the ground of legislation in
regard to the rights of the citizen—never, We must legislate
to give every man who is a citizen of the United States all the
rights that every other man has. We must demand that prejudice
shall square itself with the law. It is to meet that prejudice
that this legislation has been devised; that the fourteenth article
of amendments to the Constitution of the United States was enacted,
and to control which this legislation is brought forward.
I thank the gentleman from Virginia [Mr. HARRIS] for saying,
as I find in his reported speech he did say, that upon the subjects
covered by this bill no State has legislated. That is exactly
why we must legislate here and now. States have made no guarantees
in behalf of this class of their citizens; have established no
safeguards around them. It becomes our imperative duty, they being
citizens of the United States, to make these guarantees, and to
place around them these safeguards. That is why we are here. If
it was not for this we should not have wasted any time in debate—"
fruitless" or other-wise.
Again, we are told that if we do pass this bill we shall break
up the common-school system of the South. I assume this is intended
as a threat. If so, to that I answer, as Napoleon did, "
France never negotiates under a threat." I regret the argument,
if it was one, was put forward in that form. " Break up the
common-school system of the South!" Why, sir, until we sent
the carpet-baggers down there you had not in fact a common-school
system in the South. [Laughter.]
Mr. MILLS. I would call the attention of the gentleman from Massachusetts
[Mr. BUTLER] to the fact that Texas had the finest common-school
system in the United States.
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. What State?
Mr. MILLS. Texas; and more lands appropriated to it than any
other State, and educated every indigent child in the State long
before a carpet-bagger came into it.
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. I have a report on that subject,
which I had intended to read to the House.
Mr. MILLS. What report is it?
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. Hold a moment and
you will hear it. I at first read from the North Carolina Common-School
Journal, published in 1856, and from the third annual report of
the superintendent of common schools of North Carolina:
COMMON SCHOOLS IN THE UNITED STATES.
There are State systems of common schools in the States of Maine,
New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut,
New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina,
Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri
And there it stops, so far as the Southern States
are concerned. Where was the "finest school system" of
Texas then? The report goes on:
There are also imperfect systems, intended mostly for the
poor, in Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina; and in various
counties in Virginia this system is doing good.
That is, they had pauper schools, where nobody could
go unless he went as a pauper—as a matter of charity—and
few took advantage of that.
There is a system in Arkansas that seems to be very imperfect,
and is attended by very few children. In Mississippi there is
no uniform system of common schools but in each county there
is a reservation of public lands devoted to the cause of general
education. Georgia has a small school fund, from which donations
are made for the poor, &c.
That is the system which I find, from southern authority, was
in vogue in the Southern States before the war. There were no
common schools to which every boy and girl who was of age for
scholarship could with honor go, freely and without price. Of
a school system the pet of the people and the pride and boast
of the State, as in the North, nothing was known in the South.
Indeed, if you reflect for a moment you will see that such a school
system for all was then impossible. Because of your large estates
you did not live within two miles of each other, and you could
hardly get two small children to ether within a reasonable distance
to make a school. [Laughter.]
Now, then, for Texas. Texas, the gentleman says, appropriated
large bodies of lands for educational purposes. Let me read from
a report which bears this title: "First Annual Report of
the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Texas."
When do you suppose it is dated? In 1871, long after the "carpet-baggers"
had gone among you and taken control of your affairs. [Laughter.]
Now, let us see what became of this immense fund.
I ask the Clerk to read the passage I have marked.
The Clerk read as follows:
This fund, that in 1861 amounted to $2,592,533.14, became
during the war the prey of the enemies of the national Government,
and every available portion of it was used by them, in violation
of all law, for furthering their treasonable purposes. One million
two hundred and eighty-five thousand three hundred and twenty-seven
dollars and five cents of available funds were, from time to
time during the existence of the rebellion, withdrawn from the
school fund and expended, most of it under the direction of
the military board. Part of this fund accrued from sales of
school lands, the balance was cash in the treasury, accrued
interest and negotiable bonds and coupons. The amount ($320,367.13)
given in Statement H, as part of the permanent school fund,
is the interest and principal paid in by railroad companies
during and at the close of the rebellion in State warrants that
had been issued during the war or at its close, and represented
so mach money that had been applied to unlawful purposes by
the rebellious State government.
Mr. MILLS. I now call the attention of the distinguished gentle-man
from Massachusetts to the incorrectness of the assertion he made
that there was no such thing as common schools in any of the Southern
States until the "carpet-baggers" took possession of
those States. The report just read shows what I intended to state
to the gentleman—that out of the sales of a portion of her
territory many years ago Texas set apart two of the five million
dollars paid to her, and devoted the amount to common schools,
or to school purposes if the gentleman likes the term better.
The interest on that amount and a portion of the revenue derived
from taxation were set apart for the education of her children.
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. I cannot yield my time to the
gentleman further. The difficulty is that the gentleman does not
know what a system of common schools for a State is.
Mr. MILLS. Not such as you advocate.
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. There was a very large fund devoted
to schools in many of those States but it was used only for education
in the higher institutions of learning, or for "indigent
scholars." There was no system under which all children could
go to common schools supported at the public expense: There was
a large fund; but, as shown by the report of the Commissioner
of Education, (which I have here but have not time to read, a
report made before the. war,) this fund existed on paper only,
and not as an operative fact.
The gentleman from Kentucky [Mr. BECK told us how generous a
provision had been made by the State of Kentucky for the school
fund; and he threatened the repeal of that provision in case we
should pass this bill. I have in my hand the laws of the State
of Kentucky, and I read from an act passed in 1866:
SECTION 1. That all the taxes hereafter to be collected from
negroes and mulattoes in this Commonwealth shall be set apart
and constitute a separate fund for their use and benefit, one-half,
if necessary, to go to the support of their paupers, and the
remainder for the education of their children.
How generous! What noble generosity! [Laughter.] You collect
from the poorest class in your State a capitation tax, and then
say that one-half of the money so raised shall go to their paupers,
and the other half to educate their children. That is all.
I read further from the same act:
Sec. 7. The auditor shall apportion each year the revenue
from the fund realized under this act for the benefit of said
paupers among the several counties of the State, according to
the number of said paupers in each county, as shown by the re-ports
of the several county courts, but no part of said fund.
That is the other half of it--
shall not be otherwise drawn than pursuant to this act in
aid of common schools for negroes and mulattoes.
Now you say that if we pass this bill you will take away that
fund. Certainly, then, you will not tax the negro, will you? Let
us have that understood.' If you take away all use from them of
the fund raised by their taxation, do not continue to tax them.
The poorest class of its citizens are taxed to support their own
paupers and educate their own children; and that is a Kentucky
idea of a common-school system!
I am not to be moved by threats because the negroes are beyond
your reach, if you choose to go into any unfriendly legislation
against them. You are dependent upon them for the cultivation
of your soil, for the labor in all departments of your industries,
for the making of your States habitable. If you legislate against
them, they will leave you to the poverty and disgrace consequent
upon lazy, disgraceful poverty. [Laughter and applause.] Therefore
I would, in all sincerity and kindness, advise no retaliatory
or antagonistic legislation to the negro.
But there are reasons why I think this question of mixed schools
should be very carefully considered. The negroes, children as
well as parents, have never, till the last few years, had any
opportunity for education. It is to them the greatest boon on
earth. It is to them the manna from heaven. They seek it as eagerly
as did the Israelites seek the good gift of God which fed them
from the clouds. Therefore, in negro schools which I established
as military commander during the war I found that while I had
plenty of school-boys with "shining morning faces,"
there were none "creeping unwillingly to school." They
sprang to the school as to a feast; their advancement and acquirements
were wonderful. And I shall move to recommit this bill, among
other reasons, because I want time to consider whether upon the
whole it is just to the negro children to put them into mixed
schools, where, being in the same classes with the white children,
they may be kept back by their white confreres, and not get on
in learning as fast as they otherwise would. [Laughter.]
I do not think there will be any difference in the races in
the next generation. There may be unwilling colored school-boys
then as there are unwilling white school-boys now in my own State.
I do not mean that white boys in Kentucky are different from white
boys in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts we have truant-commissioners,
who go round to see that our children go to school, because the
schools are an every-day task to them—but for the colored
child there is no need of any commissioner, and for this generation
there never will be. And, therefore, I am quite content to consider
this question in the light of what on the whole is best for the
white and the colored child before the matter is again before
I come now, sir, with your leave, to deal with what is the only
argument which has been introduced here, the argument to prejudice
The learned gentleman from Georgia [Mr. STEPHENS] agrees with
me that every colored man now has all the rights which this bill
gives him, but insists it is the States' duty to enforce them.
But because of prejudice the States will not enforce them. What
then? To show how deep that prejudice is in the South and that
it is not shared by the North, I call the attention of the House
that there has yet, in these two days of fruitless debate, been
no man from the North who calls himself a democrat who has risen
to oppose this bill or make a speech against its provisions. If
I am wrong in this, point him out. It shows that the North have
all come to a conclusion on this subject—we on this side
of the House actively, they on that side of the House passively-that
these are rights guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen,
and that every citizen of the United States should have the means
by which to enforce them.
Mr. DEWITT. Mr. Speaker, as a northern–democrat, I, for
one, repudiate the inference which the gentleman chooses to draw
from my silence in this debate.
Mr. BUTLER, of Massachusetts. Who is next? [Laughter and applause.]
Now, Mr. Speaker, if these are rights, again let me ask, why
should they not be given to all citizens of the United States,
if we have the constitutional power so to do? If the States give
them and execute them, then there will be no longer any need for
this statute. It will not be enforced and will do no harm. Where
a State will do its duty, there this statute will be inoperative.
Where the State does not do its duty in this behalf, then the
flag of the United States, and the power of the United States,
and the judiciary of the United States, should protect the citizen
against all unfriendly State legislation, or against the want
of legislation. And I have the authority of the gentleman from
Virginia [Mr. HARRIS] for saying "that no State has legislated
on the subject."
And it is because of the very prejudice which has prevented such
legislation that I claim the passage of the bill.
Is it a prejudice at all? Was there any objection in the South
to consorting with the negro as a slave? 0, no; your children
and your servants' children played together; your children sucked'
the same mother with your servants' children; had the same nurse;
and, unless tradition speaks falsely, sometimes had the same father.
[Laughter and applause.]
Would you not ride in first-class cars with your negroes in the
olden time? What negro servant accompanying its mistress or master,
and administering to his or her health, was ever denied a first-class
passage in a first-class car in the South before the war? What
negro girl, being the nurse or servant of a lady, was not allowed
to sit by that lady and her child in a first-class car? What negro
servant, accompanying a lady or a gentleman, was ever denied admittance
to a first-class hotel? My friend from Tennessee, confirming this,
told us that in the olden time the master and his slave always
used to worship together in the same churches, but that now there
are separate churches, and the negroes prefer to worship by themselves.
These are facts before the war? You talk about your prejudices
against social equality! I put this question to the minds and
consciences of every man of you. Who is the highest in the social
scale, a slave or a freeman! You once associated with the slave
in every relation of life. He has now become a freeman, and now
you cannot associate with him; he has got up in the scale, and
you cannot stomach him. Why is this? It is because he claims that
as a right which you accorded him always freely as a boon. It
is because the laws of your land, the Constitution of your country,
gave all men equal rights in accordance with the fiat of God Almighty
which has made some of them your equal in all things, and therefore
he is no longer to be associated with or tolerated! This is not
a prejudice against the negro or any personal objection to him—it
is a political idea only.
I had sir to deal with this question early in the war, and I
cannot better explain the operations of this kind of prejudice
than by stating the exact fact which happened on board one of
the boats upon Chesapeake Bay, between Baltimore and Fortress
Monroe. A member of the Christian Commission went North after
two school-teachers, and brought back two lathes, one of whom
had some colored blood in her veins but so much more white that
it took a connoisseur to find the color: The women bought first-class
tickets, and took their state-room, sat down at the table, and
paid for their supper. A Virginian, who was on board, being able
to know a negro, from long use, whenever he saw one smoked out
the fact that one of them, a lady in dress, a lady in culture,
a lady in manners, had some negro blood in her veins, and he complained
to the clerk of the boat that he could not eat at the table in
the saloon with her, and the clerk ordered her forward among the
deck-hands and servants. The lady and her companion, frightened,
ran to their stateroom, and locked themselves in. The Virginian
insisted on her being taken out of that. But a provost messenger
on board was roused to his duty and insisted that all that should
be stopped. Next morning complaint was made to me as commanding
general, and I sent for the clerk—an inoffensive old, gentleman,
who looked as if he would not harm anybody. I said, “What
is all this?" He said, " I was only carrying out the
rules of my boat." I said, " Do you not recognize the
fact the war has made a difference in these things ? " He
answered, "Not in the rules of our boat." I asked, "
What were the rules of your boat before the war? Could not a colored
nurse go with the children of her mistress, and occupy a state-room
with them? " " Yes, sir." " Could she come
to the table with them "Yes, sir." "Which do you
think, Mr. Clerk, is the highest in the social scale, a freeman
or a slave?" " O, a freeman, General, of course."
" Very well, Mr. Clerk; I think I can make a rule for your
boat now that will be easy of enforcement. Do not go away and
say that the commanding general says that the negro is as good
as a white man. I am not going to say any such thing. But hereafter
let this be your rule: Let no free person ever be deprived of
any privileges on your boat that were ever accorded to a slave
person. Do this, and there will be no trouble hereafter."
And there was none.
That tells the whole story and covers the whole argument of prejudice.
It is not a prejudice, gentlemen. You make a mistake. A prejudice
is where you do not like the thing itself. We in the North had somewhat
of this prejudice against the colored. You of the South had none.
From the rarity, they were offensive to us. But we are getting used
to the negro, and are getting free from our former mode of feeling
and speaking on the subject. That was a prejudice. But you had not
any such feeling of dislike or offensiveness at the South. Now I
am getting over that feeling and you are getting it. And it is a
political idea you are getting and not a prejudice at all. [Laughter.]
Now, sir you will allow me to state how I got over my prejudices.
I think the House got over theirs after the exhibition we had yesterday.
I think no man will get up here and say he speaks only to white
men again. He must at first show himself worthy before he can speak
to some colored men in this House after what occurred yesterday.
I got over my prejudices from the exhibition of like high qualities
in the negro, but in a different manner from that in which, I have
no doubt, many a prejudice was removed against the negro in the
House yesterday. In Louisiana, in 1862, when our arms were meeting
with disasters before Richmond, I was in command of the city of
New Or-leans with a very few troops, and those daily diminishing
by the diseases incident to the climate, with a larger number of
confederate soldiers paroled in the city than I had troops. I called
upon my Government for re-enforcements, and they could not give
me any, and I therefore called upon the colored men to enlist in
defense of their country. I brought together the officers of two
colored regiments that had been raised by the confederates for the
defense of the city against us—but which disbanded when we
came there because they would not fight against us, and staid at
home when their white comrades ran away—and I said, "
How soon can you enlist me one thousand men," "In ten
days, General," they answered; and when the thou-sand men were
brought together in a large hall, I saw such a body of recruits
as I never saw before. Why, sir, every one of them had on a clean
shirt, a thing not often got in a body of a thousand recruits. [Laughter.]
I put colored officers in command of them, and I organized them.
But we all had our prejudice against them. I was told they would
not fight. I raised another regiment, and by the time I got them
organized, before I could test their fighting qualities in the held,
the exigencies of the service required that I should be relieved
from the command of that department.
I came into command again in Virginia in 1863. I there organized
twenty-five regiments, with some that were sent to me, and disciplined
them. Still all my brother officers of the Regular Army said my
colored soldiers would not fight; and I felt it was necessary that
they should fight to show that their race were capable of the duties
of citizens; for one of the highest duties of citizens is to defend
their own liberties and their country's flag and honor.
On the 29th of September, 1864, I was ordered by the Commanding
General of the armies to cross the James River at two points and
attack the enemy's line of works; one in the center of their line,
Fort Harrison, the other a strong work guarding their left flank
at New Market Heights; and there are men on this floor who will
remember that day, I doubt not, as I do myself. I gave the center
of the line to the white troops, the Eighteenth Corps, under General
Ord, and they attacked one very strong work and carried it gallantly.
I went myself with the colored troops to attack the enemy at New
Market Heights; which was the key to the enemy's flank on the north
side of James River. That work was a redoubt built on the top of
a hill of some considerable elevation; then running down into a
marsh; in that marsh was a brook; then rising again to a plain which
gently rolled away toward the river. On that plain, when the flash
of dawn was breaking, I placed a column of three thousand colored
troops, in close column by division, right in front, with guns at
"right shoulder shift." I said, "That work must be
taken by the weight of your column; no shot must be fired;"
and to prevent their firing I had the caps taken from the nipples
of their guns. Then I said, "Your cry, when you charge, will
be, ' Remember Fort Pillow!" and as the sun rose up in the
heavens the order was given, "Forward," and they marched
forward, steadily as if on parade—went down the hill, across
the marsh, and as they got into the brook they came within range
of the enemy's fire, which vigorously opened upon them. They broke
a little as they forded the brook, and the column wavered. 0, it
was a moment of intensest anxiety, but they formed again as they
reached the firm ground, marching steadily on with closed ranks
under the enemy's fire, until the head of the column reached the
first line of abatis, some one hundred and fifty yards from the
enemy's work. Then the ax-men ran to the front to out away the heavy
obstructions of defense, while one thousand men of the enemy, with
their artillery concentrated, poured from the redoubt a heavy fire
upon the head of the column hardly wider than the Clerk's desk.
The ax-men went down under that murderous fire; other strong hands
grasp the axes in their stead, and the abatis is cut away. Again,
at double-quick, the column goes forward to within fifty yards of
the fort, to meet there another line of abatis. The column halts,
and there a very fire of hell is pouring upon them. The abatis resists
and holds; the head of the column seems literally to melt away under
the rain of shot and shell; the flags of the leading regiments go
down, but a brave black hand seizes the colors; they are up again
and wave their starry light over the storm of battle; again the
ax-men fall, but strong hands and willing hearts 'seize the heavy,
sharpened trees and drag them away, and the column rushes forward,
and with a shout which now rings in my ear, go over that redoubt
like a flash, and the enemy never stop running for four miles. [Applause
on the floor and in the galleries.]
It became my painful duty, sir, to follow in the track of that
charging column, and there, in a space not wider than the Clerk's
desk and three hundred yards long, lay the dead bodies of five hundred
and forty-three of my colored comrades, fallen in defense of their
country, who had offered up their lives to uphold its flag and its
honor as a willing sacrifice; and as I rode along among them, guiding
my horse this way and that way lest he should profane with his hoofs
what seemed to me the sacred dead, and as I looked 'on their bronzed
faces upturned in the shining sun to heaven as if in mute appeal
against the wrongs of the country for which they had given their
lives, and whose flag had only been to them a flag of stripes on
which no star of glory had ever shone for them—feeling I had
wronged them in the past and believing what was the future of my
country to them—among my dead comrades there I swore to myself
a solemn oath, "May my right hand forget its cunning and my
tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I ever fail to defend the
rights of these men who have given their blood for me and my country
this day and for their race forever'" and, God helping me,
I will keep that oath. [Great applause on the floor and in the galleries.]
From that hour all prejudice was gone, and an old-time States-right
democrat became a lover of the negro race; and as long as their
rights are not equal to the rights of other men under this Government
I am with them against all comers, and when their rights are assured,
as other men's rights are held sacred, then, I trust, we shall have
what we sought to have, a united country North and South, white
and black, under one glorious flag, for which we and our fathers
have fought with an equal and not to be distinguished valor. [Applause.]
Now, Mr. Speaker, these men have fought for their country; one
of their representatives has spoken, as few can speak on this floor,
for his race; they have shown themselves our equals in battle; as
citizens they are kind, quiet) temperate, laborious; they have shown
that they know how to exercise the right of suffrage which we have
given to them, for they always vote right; they vote the republican
ticket, and all the powers of death and hell cannot persuade them
to do otherwise. [Laughter.] They show that they knew better than
their masters did, for they always knew how to be loyal. They have
industry, they have temperance, they have all the good qualities
of citizens, they have bravery, they have culture, they have power,
they have eloquence. And who shall say that they shall not have
what the Constitution gives them—equal rights. [Continued
The SPEAKER. There has been too much tendency exhibited here of
late to applaud the remarks of speakers. The rules require that
upon any manifestation of applause in the galleries they shall be