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In the debate, on the passage of the bill amending the Charter of the City of Washington, in May, 1864, prejudice and injustice still insisted on inserting the word while before the word male, so as to exclude Colored suffrage. When all its advocates had finished, Mr. Sumner dropped a few words, especially to Mr. Willey, of West Virginia, who had opposed the extension of the right to Colored people, with the violence indicated by [457] these words:—‘This provision, I undertake to say, is not only odious to the people of this District, but that it will be disastrous in its results, not only here, but in its influence on popular opinion everywhere in the nation.’
Mr. President,—Slavery dies hard. It still stands front to front with our embattled armies, holding them in check. It dies hard on the battle-field; it dies hard in the Senate Chamber. We have been compelled during this session, to hear various defences of slavery, sometimes in its most offensive forms. Slave-hunting has been openly vindicated; and now to-day the exclusion of Colored persons from the electoral franchise, simply on account of color, is openly vindicated; and the Senator from West Virginia, newly introduced into this Chamber, from a State born of Freedom, rises to uphold Slavery in one of its meanest products. Had Slavery never existed among us, there would have been no such prejudice as that of which the Senator makes himself the Representative. * * The Senator says he has not vindicated Slavery. If he has not used the word, he has vindicated the thing, in one of its most odious features. He seeks to blast a whole race, merely on account of color. Would he ever have proposed such injustice, but for the prejudice nursed by Slavery? Had not Slavery existed, would any such idea have found place in a Senator naturally so generous and humane? No, sir. He spoke with the voice of Slavery, which he cannot forget. He spoke under the unhappy and disturbing influences which Slavery has left in his mind.

Now, Sir, I am against Slavery, wherever it shows itself, whatever form it takes. I am against Slavery when compelled to meet it directly, and I am against Slavery in all its products and its offspring. I am against Slavery when encountering the beast outright, or only its tail. The prejudices of which the Senator makes himself the representative to-day, permit me to say, are nothing but the tail of Slavery. Unhappily, while we have succeeded in abolishing Slavery in this District, we have not yet abolished the tail: and the tail has representatives in the Senate chamber, as the beast once had. * * The enjoyment of the electoral franchise by the Colored citizens in the State of North Carolina, for a long time after the Constitution, is not a matter of doubt. Her most eminent magistrate, the late Mr. Justice Gaston, accomplished as a jurist and a man, laid down the law of his State in emphatic words. Pronouncing the opinion of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, in the case of The State vs. Manuel, in 1838, he said: [458]

‘Slaves manumitted here become free men, and therefore, if born in North Carolina, are citizens of North Carolina, and all free persons in the State are born citizens of the State. The Constitution extended the elective franchise to every free man who had arrived at the age of twenty-one, and paid a public tax: and it is a matter of universal notoriety that under it free persons, without regard to color, claimed and exercised the franchise until it was taken front free men of Color a few years since by our amended Constitution.’

At this moment of revolution, when our country needs the blessing of Almighty God, and the strong arm of all her children, this is not a time for us solemnly to enact injustice. In duty to our country, and in duty to God, I plead against any such thing. We must be against Slavery in its original shape, and in all its brood of prejudice and error.

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