Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The President and Civil Rights


Henry McNeal Turner on one of the major issues during his time--the passage of the Civil Rights Bill that was debated in Congress. This was his response to President Grant wavering on supporting its passage because Republicans had just lost big in a midterm election. Sounds familiar??

Christian Recorder: November 26, 1874

Mr. Editor: -- I find the following in one of our city papers this morning:

Washington Notes
Washington, November 12. – The President has said, within a few days, to those in his confidence, that he will veto the civil rights bill if it passes the House, where it now is as unfinished business, and still on the speaker’s table. If the President should have the opportunity of vetoing the bill, it is conceded that it would make him popular in the South, and strengthen his chances for a renomination. The management of the bill on the floor of the House will devolve upon General Butler, chairman of the judiciary committee, and who will oppose all amendments. As Mr. Butler is not opposed to a third term, he is the more anxious that the President may have an opportunity of finishing it, but the Conservative element undoubtedly be amended and returned to the Senate and there it will fall for want of time.

I am not only surprised to see the above, but astonished. I cannot believe it is true, yet I fear it savors of too much truth to be pshawed at. That Gen. Grant at one time desired the passage of the Civil Right Bill, I think admits of no doubt, but that he has lost some of his ardor, and grown somewhat indifferent in regard to this all important measure, appears too evident for the colored people to pass the fact by with absolute indifference. And if it is a fact as I apprehensively fear, neither those of us who hold positions under him, nor those who have the simple good of the party at stake, should be silent. With me, there is no party, when my rights are in jeopardy. I think every man should measure his party allegiance, as that party measures out his manhood. Neither should governmental positions play the part of hush money. We all, of the colored people of the United States are wrapped up in that Civil Rights Bill. Its failure is our failure. Its success is our success. Indeed it holds in its grasp our destiny as a race. We stand or fall in that Bill. Should it fail, I shall regard it as the indignant proclamation of heaven, saying arise and depart, for this is not your home. This is a White Man’s Government.  But if it succeeds, then it may be interpreted as the voice of God; saying to the negro, “Awake from your lethargy, and build schools, churches, houses, and prepare to run the race of life where you are. But if President Grant is opposed to its passage, woe be to the whole measure, for congress will never pass it in the face of his objections, merely to give him a horse upon which to ride into democratic favor. And certainly the President could have no object in vetoing the Bill except to cluster around him negro haters, and Democrats. I hope the above is false in toto. I know of nothing in Grant’s administration to indicate such a conclusion. My fears are founded upon what ought to be reliable rumors. Three Republican Congressmen have told the writer, that President Grant was opposed to the Civil Right Bill, but I thought they were manufacturing a ruse, to apologize for their own negligence in not passing it. Then comes a report, that the President remarked a few days after the late election, that the defeat of the Republican Party through the country, was owing to the ‘impracticable and utopian theories of Senator Sumner, as embodied in the Civil Rights Bill.” Now, here comes the article that heads the letter. I know the colored people all over this country, would like to say, “It is impossible for President Grant to have made any such remarks.” But when we take into consideration, the number of our great lights that have gone out, and how many of our once distinguished leaders have deserted us, men too, whom we thought had rather die than to vary from their principles; is it I say, beyond the possibility of the President to do the same? Is it not time at least to feel a deep concern?
But if the President does intend to cast his influence against the bill, he should not do so, upon the plea that the late elections were the result of the pendency of that measure. He knows that question is not new to the American people. The Civil Rights Bill, has been before the country for all of six years. At the last election in ’72. the unanimous verdict of the country was in favor of the passage of that bill; and now to saddle upon it, the evil train of consequences, which have grown out of the other charges brought against the party, is to say, the least unfair. We should not allow men in any position, to shift the entire faults of the Republican Party, and place them upon the shoulders of the civil Rights Bill. Let their fault tear their own burdens.
There are too many white men in the land trying to wash away their sins, in the Civil Rights pool. About ninety-nine out of every hundred when they get the devil in them, and want to run over to the democracy, raise the bowl of the social equality, and charge the Civil Rights Bill with contemplating some fearful evil. These miscreants may throw sand in some people’s eyes but they will fail to divert the attention of God, from their treachery; and hence their reward is before them.
If the President feels that his popularity is waning, let him meet the issue, in some other way than in trying to blame the manhood of my race. What would be our status in this country, if that bill fails? None. Why Sir, the Hindostan Pariah would be Princes compared to us. It would take us hundreds of years to recover the dreadful shock. It would brand every negro in the country with eternal infamy. But it is useless to continue this line of argument. To reduce the whole question into a nut shell: Every man in the country who is opposed to the Civil Rights Bill, is opposed to the colored race, and if President Grant is opposed to its passage, then he is our enemy, yes, the deadly enemy of the colored race. I cannot believe however, the President will go square back upon his record. But as our Washington colored gentry, are quite expert in getting up committees, I think it would be highly advisable in them, to send a committee to interview his Excellency and see where the President stands, and urge upon him to recommend the Bill in his next message. But if they should find, that he is trying to charge the recent defeat of the party upon the Bill, let us at once meet the argument, for thanks to God, we are fully able to do it. I believe that the treachery of the party to the negro, caused the defeat because God is displeased, and not the abstract dependency of the Civil Rights Bill.


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